It’s a small sample size. But, after just over a week of college basketball in the books, it’s time to rank the Big Ten.
Most of these teams are yet to face a major Division I test, but the top of the conference and the bottom are obvious and the middle is clear as mud. Without further ado, here are the first Big Ten college basketball Power Rankings through Wednesday, Nov. 17.
1. Purdue (3-0, 2020-21 record: 18-10)
Purdue really has it all. The Boilermakers were picked to be a formidable force in both the Big Ten and nationally prior to the season, and they have certainly looked the part in the opening week. It has 3-point shooting threats in junior guard Isaiah Thompson and sophomore guard Brandon Newman, who are each shooting over 45% from beyond the arc so far this season.
Leading the way in this category is senior guard Sasha Stefanovic, who is shooting a blazing 57.9% from 3-point range and averages 13.7 points per game. If that wasn’t enough, the true strength of the Boilermakers can be found in the paint. There was much dispute before the season whether to start sophomore center Zach Edey or senior forward Trevion Williams.
Early on, the decision to start the 7-foot-4 Edey appears to be paying off. Edey leads the team in both points and rebounds per game, averaging 18.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. Williams also seems to be accepting of his new role off the bench as he made clear in his postgame comments earlier this week.
The only argument against the Boilermakers is they have yet to face a true test, which will change this Saturday when facing North Carolina. For now, Purdue is clearly the Big Ten’s best team.
2. Michigan Wolverines (2-1, 2020-21 record: 23-5)
Preseason, it was hard to separate Michigan from Purdue in many circles as the leader of the Big Ten. Key pieces returning from last year's postseason run include sophomore center Hunter Dickinson, who is averaging 18.7 points and 8.3 rebounds through his first three games.
But there does seem to be some initial separation between the Boilermakers and Wolverines, at least for this week.
The Wolverines failed to pass the first test of the season against Seton Hall on Tuesday, falling 67-65. Granted, Purdue is yet to face a major test, but losses have to matter. Michigan will get another chance to redeem itself on Friday night — or Saturday morning for those watching back in Ann Arbor — with an 11:30 p.m. tip off against UNLV.
Purdue and Michigan will more than likely be fighting for the Big Ten crown.
3. Illinois Fighting Illini (2-1, 2020-21 record: 24-7)
Here is where things start to get interesting. Illinois was the consensus No. 3 to start the season and despite the loss to Marquette on Monday, it still belongs in this spot. Illinois had to play its first three games of the year without returning junior center and 7-footer Kofi Cockburn. Cockburn posted nearly a double-double each game last year, scoring 17.7 points per game and grabbing 9.5 rebounds.
Due to a NIL suspension, Cockburn stood on the sidelines for the first three games this season, including the loss to Marquette. The Fighting Illini had an uncharacteristic 26 turnovers in the 67-66 loss and still had a chance to win it down the stretch. Now, the schedule gets much easier.
There is currently not a ranked opponent on the schedule for Illinois until January. Look for the Fighting Illini to go on a bit of a run here with the ease in schedule and return of Cockburn. If they don’t, look for them to drop in the rankings.
4. Ohio State Buckeyes (3-0, 2020-21 record: 21-10)
Ohio State began the year with a scare. A near loss to in-state foe Akron had many questioning the Buckeyes’ contender status within the conference; despite this, they’ve won both of their games since opening night.
The win over Niagara wasn’t as convincing as it probably needed to be, but the 89-58 defeat over Bowling Green certainly was. Now the Buckeyes face a brutal three-game stretch of Xavier, Seton Hall and No. 7 Duke. If Ohio State is a “fake” contender, we will find out in this stretch.
5. Michigan State Spartans (2-1, 2020-21 record: 15-13)
Some may struggle with why Michigan State is so high here. Simply put, the Spartans pushed a good Kansas team on opening night, and they pushed them hard. If not for an outstanding performance from Kansas senior guard Ochai Agbaji, the Spartans very well could have won that game.
After a strong win against Butler, the Spartans are 2-1 with a solid nonconference win under their belt. Now they face Eastern Michigan and Loyola Chicago before the Thanksgiving break.
6. Iowa Hawkeyes (3-0, 2020-21 record: 22-9)
Talk about preseason question marks. After the loss of forward Luka Garza, the 2021 Naismith Player of the Year, Iowa was expected to take a major step back. One week in and we still don’t know a ton about the Hawkeyes, but this team sure can score.
In each of their contests this season so far, Iowa has scored more than 85 points. Sophomore forward Keegan Murray seems to be picking up where Garza left off. He is averaging a double-double through his first three games, scoring 25.3 points and ripping down 10.7 rebounds per game. It’s a small sample size, but Iowa could find a way to be a lot of fun this season.
7. Wisconsin Badgers (2-1, 2020-21 record: 18-13)
Wisconsin is a team that could struggle early but easily get hot later on and finish in the top half of these rankings and the conference. The Badgers suffered a tight 63-58 loss to Providence on Monday but there is plenty of new blood to be optimistic about, including Bellevue West product and freshman guard Chucky Hepburn and sophomore guard Johnny Davis.
There is plenty of experience too; all of it belongs to the seemingly eternal senior guard Brad Davison. Davison is in his fifth season and leads the Badgers in points, steals, and assists per game. An interesting stretch lies ahead for the Badgers with Texas A&M, Georgia Tech and Marquette on the schedule in the next few weeks.
8. Maryland Terrapins (3-1, 2020-21 record: 17-14)
Speaking of question marks, Maryland has plenty of them.
Some things are certain: Maryland is well-coached, as usual. The Terrapins have a strong two-pronged attack in senior guards Fatts Russell and Eric Ayala, who each average 16.3 and 15.3 points per game, respectively. But there are some unknowns.
Mainly, the quality of opponents. After a head-scratching loss to George Mason at home on Wednesday, the Terrapins will likely drop out of the AP Top 25. That 71-66 loss is ugly and there is no way around it, especially in the context of schedule strength. Maryland doesn’t face a major player in the college basketball landscape until December 1 against Virginia Tech, and no currently-ranked opponents until December 12 against No. 24 Florida.
Once Maryland begins to separate from its opponents or other teams fall in front of them, it will move up the ranks. For now, the Terrapins are sunk by an early ugly loss and a weak schedule.
9. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (3-0, 2020-21 record: 16-12)
Rutgers has been all over the place to begin the 2021-22 season. The Scarlet Knights have yet to face a quality opponent ahead of a Thursday night battle with DePaul.
The Blue Demons are forecast to finish last in the Big East, and are the only major challenge on the early part of the Rutgers schedule until an early December conference showdown with Illinois. The Scarlet Knights escaped with a 73-70 overtime win over Lehigh to start the year, and had to come back to win a rock fight against Merrimack in a 48-35 showing.
The wins will have to be a bit more impressive for Rutgers to move up the rankings.
10. Indiana Hoosiers (3-0, 2020-21 record: 12-15)
The Hoosiers are a dark horse favorite for many this season in the Big Ten. After Wednesday's win against St. John’s, the Hoosiers have their first respectable non-conference win. The only red flag is that Indiana almost blew a 14-point lead.
On the flip side, one could argue that the Hoosiers learned more from holding tightly to a lead than winning in a blowout. Once again, junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis will be a force to be reckoned with, but the central question Indiana must answer is how do the pieces around him step up? The result will determine Indiana’s fate in 2021-22.
11. Northwestern Wildcats (3-0, 2020-21 record: 9-15)
Northwestern is also in the same intriguing category as Indiana, but likely has a much lower ceiling.
The Wildcats return with most of their nucleus from last season, led by senior forward Pete Nance, who leads the team in points per game with 17.7 and rebounds per game with 7.7. And who could forget junior guard Boo Buie, who is right behind Nance at 16.3 points and 7.3 assists per game.
However, the problem for Northwestern is its strength of schedule. When a team’s best win is Eastern Illinois, it doesn’t say a ton about the prospects for a full season. That said, a showdown with Providence during Thanksgiving week could give some early indicators on how much this team has improved. For now, the strength of schedule and last season’s finish relegates the Wildcats to the Big Ten’s bottom tier.
12. Minnesota Golden Gophers (3-0, 2020-21 record: 14-15)
Give Minnesota credit. The Golden Gophers have taken care of business in the first week of the season. Yes, other teams in this list have been knocked for strength of schedule but Minnesota lost the most by far of any team in the Big Ten this year.
The firing of former head coach Richard Pitino and the loss of guard Marcus Carr to the transfer portal has put the Golden Gophers squarely behind the eight-ball for this season. Still, Minnesota is 3-0 with some tight wins over low-level opponents. Sophomore forward and George Washington transfer Jamison Battle will lead the attack this season for the Golden Gophers, averaging 20.7 points per game through the first three games of the year.
13. Nebraska Huskers (1-2, 2020-21 record: 7-20)
Well, what can anyone say? The start to the season for Nebraska was not anything like head coach Fred Hoiberg and company would have wanted.
There certainly are some positives, such as freshman guard Bryce McGowens winning Big Ten Freshman of the Week during the first week of the season. But there are the backbreakers too; specifically, the Huskers’ season opener loss to Western Illinois. If Nebraska hadn’t suffered the loss to the Leathernecks on opening night, the national and local perception could be much different surrounding this year’s team.
Instead, Nebraska is 1-2 and struggling to “make the simple play,” to quote a Hoiberg preseason press conference.
14. Penn State Nittany Lions (1-1, 2020-21 record: 11-14)
Not a great start for the Nittany Lions. In fact, they’re the worst in the Big Ten.
Penn State wasn’t highly thought of coming into the season, and opening week reflected those views. The Nittany Lions started the season with a nice win over Youngstown State but suffered a startling blowout road loss to Massachusetts on Monday night, 81-56. Junior forward Seth Lundy will continue to provide solid scoring this year and senior forward John Harrar will be a force on the boards, but that’s about it for Penn State.
Penn State has several mid-major foes on the slate prior to a Black Friday matchup with LSU.