Making these on a weekly basis is a frustrating exercise.
With 12 teams having realistic shots at NCAA Tournament bids, trying to make sense of what happens on a week-to-week basis in the Big Ten is challenging, especially towards the bottom of the conference.
The Big Ten still has 12 teams among the top 50 of basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, and ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi has 12 teams from the conference in his most recent projected tournament field.
As the calendar turns to February, teams on the bubble will begin desperately searching for quality wins to boost their NCAA Tournament resume. The first week of the month could finally separate the contenders from the pretenders in the Big Ten.
Or we’ll see more chaos. Honestly, it’ll probably be more chaos.
Let’s look at how to make sense of the Big Ten’s best in the power rankings for week 12 of Big Ten play. All records are accurate as of Jan. 29.
1. Michigan State Spartans (16-5, 8-2 Big Ten)
Michigan State was in a battle against Indiana on Jan. 23.
The Spartans trailed the Hoosiers on the road by two points with seconds remaining, and head coach Tom Izzo let senior guard Cassius Winston take the ball to make a play for his team. Winston drove to the hoop and found junior forward Xavier Tillman for a wide-open layup that would’ve tied the game at 65.
He missed, and Indiana picked up a massive 67-63 victory.
How did Izzo’s group respond? By reminding everyone why they’re the best team in the Big Ten with two convincing victories. Winston was the star of MSU’s 70-52 victory on the road against Minnesota and its 79-50 victory over Northwestern with 18 points in each contest. Tillman also impressed with 29 points and 18 rebounds in both games combined.
Michigan State has arguably the most difficult month of February with five games against teams currently ranked in the AP Top 25. The Spartans visit Wisconsin on Feb. 1 and play the first of those five games on Feb. 4 when they host No. 24 Penn State.
2. Illinois Fighting Illini (15-5, 7-2 Big Ten)
It’s Ayo Dosunmu’s world, and we’re just living in it.
Michigan fell victim to a phenomenal performance by the sophomore guard on Jan. 25. Dosunmu finished with 27 points against Michigan including the game-winning shot from the free-throw line to clinch a 64-62 victory.
The Wolverines were able to limit freshman center Kofi Cockburn to five points, but senior guard Andres Feliz picked up the slack with a massive 15 points off the bench. Junior guard Trent Frazier followed with 10 points.
The Illini are the hottest team in the Big Ten, winners of six-straight games with an opportunity to extend the streak to seven as they host Minnesota on Jan. 30. February is a gauntlet for the Illini too, as Illinois’ next five games are against ranked opponents, the first of which comes on Feb. 2 when Illinois visits No. 18 Iowa.
3. Iowa Hawkeyes (15-5, 6-3 Big Ten)
Speaking of teams on a win streak, Iowa’s won five games in a row after beating Wisconsin 68-62 at home. The Hawkeyes haven’t lost since their Jan. 7 defeat in Lincoln to Nebraska.
The Luka Garza domination tour continued on Jan. 27 against the Badgers, as the junior center had 21 points and 18 rebounds. Garza is now the nation’s fifth-leading scorer, averaging 23.1 points per game and is the lone center among the top five scorers in Division I. Garza’s 10.7 rebounds per game rank him at No. 12 in Division I.
Sophomore guard Joe Wieskamp had 12 points and 10 rebounds in an off night shooting the ball against the Badgers, and freshman guard CJ Fredrick was the Hawkeyes’ second-leading scorer on the night with 17 points. Weiskamp, Fredrick and Garza are a formidable trio to slow down, and they’ve been wreaking havoc on Big Ten defenses during Iowa’s win streak.
Those three anchor one of the top scoring offenses in the country, as the Hawkeyes’ 79.6 points per game are No. 22 in Division I.
Iowa has a rough stretch of games this week, a common theme among the Big Ten’s elite. The Hawkeyes visit No. 15 Maryland on Jan. 30, host No. 19 Illinois on Feb. 2 and travel to Purdue on Jan. 5. Woof.
4. Maryland Terrapins (16-4, 6-3 Big Ten)
Unlike Michigan State, Maryland escaped Assembly Hall with a 77-76 victory over Indiana.
Maryland trailed the Hoosiers 76-70 with 1:25 to play, but sophomore forward Jalen Smith capped the best game of his Terrapin career with a layup with 14.5 seconds left to give Maryland the victory.
Smith had 29 points and 11 rebounds against Indiana, and the thing that makes the 6-foot-10 Baltimore native so difficult to defend is his propensity to stretch the floor and knock down outside shots. He hit four of six shots from 3-point range against Indiana, bringing his 3-point field goal percentage to 43% on the season.
Senior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. had 18 points and four assists in tandem with Smith’s big performance.
Mark Turgeon’s squad has an opportunity to pick up two quality victories this week, and both are at home. The Terrapins host No. 18 Iowa on Jan. 30 and No. 25 Rutgers on Feb. 4. With two victories, Maryland could not only shoot up these power rankings but also surge into the top 10 of the AP poll.
5. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (16-5, 7-3 Big Ten)
Rutgers was so close to having a week of celebration turn into its worst nightmare.
Last week, the Scarlet Knights entered the AP Top 25 at No. 24, the program’s first ranking since 1979. Rutgers also lost on the road to Iowa by three points last week, which wasn’t ideal but certainly not the end of the world.
What would’ve been the end of the world is losing to Nebraska at home, and Rutgers escaped by the skin of its teeth in a 75-72 victory on Jan. 25. The Huskers erased a 14-point second-half deficit and held a six-point advantage with just over three minutes to play. Rutgers responded, and junior guard Geo Baker sank the Huskers’ upset bid with a step-back 3-pointer with 1.1 seconds left.
The Scarlet Knights nearly blew a 17-point lead against Purdue on Jan. 28, but Rutgers held on and beat the Boilermakers 70-63. Sophomore guard Caleb McConnell led the Rutgers offense with an incredible stat line, scoring 16 points on two made field goals. McConnell went 12-13 from the free-throw line for his remaining points.
Rutgers remains ranked at No. 25 and plays Michigan at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 1 before traveling to face No. 15 Maryland on Feb. 4.
6. Penn State Nittany Lions (15-5, 5-4 Big Ten)
I’ll accept some blame here.
I left Penn State for dead in the middle of this month after the Nittany Lions dropped out of the AP Top 25 and endured a three-game losing streak. Pat Chambers’ group proved me wrong, and Penn State has quietly won three games in a row and snuck back into the top 25 at No. 24.
The Nittany Lions dominated Indiana in the second half on Jan. 29 en route to a 64-49 victory. Senior forward Lamar Stevens led the way with 17 points and nine rebounds while Penn State’s defense limited Indiana to a dismal 18% from 3-point range.
Oklahoma State graduate transfer Curtis Jones led a strong effort from the Nittany Lion bench with 12 points. Against the Hoosiers, Penn State got 31 points from its bench while the starters outside of Stevens scored just 16 points.
Penn State is on a roll, and it will look to continue that roll against a reeling Nebraska squad on Feb. 1 before traveling to No. 14 Michigan State on Feb. 4
7. Indiana Hoosiers (15-6, 5-5 Big Ten)
A week that looked like it could hold so much promise for Indiana ended in disappointment.
I’ve gone into detail about Indiana’s 1-2 week in the paragraphs above, but one of the more positive aspects of the week is the play of Hoosier freshman forward Trayce Jackson-Davis. I had been critical of Jackson-Davis’ play against quality Big Ten opposition, but he had a solid week against some of the Big Ten’s best.
Jackson-Davis had 12 points in the Hoosiers’ upset victory over Michigan State, scored 13 points against Maryland and finished his week with 14 points against Penn State.
The Hoosiers have a chance to pick up a big road win on Feb. 1 as they travel to Columbus, Ohio to face an Ohio State squad in desperate need of a victory.
8. Wisconsin Badgers (12-9, 5-5 Big Ten)
The events of the last few days have left Wisconsin at a crossroads.
Junior guard Brad Davison continued to do his best Grayson Allen impression with another notch in an abhorrent stretch of dirty play against Iowa on Jan. 27. Davison’s low blow on Iowa sophomore guard Connor McCaffery resulted in a one-game suspension for the Badgers’ Feb. 1 home tilt against No. 14 Michigan State.
To make a bad week worse, sophomore guard Kobe King unexpectedly announced his decision to leave the program Wednesday afternoon. King was a starter for Greg Gard’s squad and averaged 10 points per game.
Things aren’t going great for the Badgers, and they’ll either come together as adversity hits their squad or implode. Personally I’m leaning more towards implode, but a home victory over the Spartans would prove me wrong.
Wisconsin then faces Minnesota on the road on Feb. 5.
9. Michigan Wolverines (12-8, 3-6 Big Ten)
Speaking of adversity, Michigan responded to losing two of its starters quite well in a 79-68 victory over Nebraska on Jan. 28.
Putting Michigan at No. 9 came after a lot of thought, but in my opinion the Wolverines get the nod here over Ohio State, Minnesota and Purdue because of the circumstances surrounding the Nebraska victory and the near-upset of Big Ten title contender Illinois on Jan. 25.
Michigan played well considering it didn’t have senior guard Zavier Simpson or junior forward Isaiah Livers against the Huskers. In their absence, junior guard Eli Brooks had 20 points, freshman guard Franz Wagner had 18 points and eight rebounds and sophomore forward Brandon Johns Jr. scored 16 points and collected seven rebounds.
A 21-4 second half run helped Michigan snap a four-game losing streak and pick up its first road victory of the year. I’m thinking that the Wolverines could have an Iowa-type turnaround to their season, and maybe the victory over Nebraska will help Juwan Howard’s team right the ship for the homestretch of the season.
The Wolverines have a great chance for an upset when they play No. 25 Rutgers in Madison Square Garden on Feb. 1. Michigan then hosts Ohio State on Feb. 4.
10. Minnesota Golden Gophers (11-9, 5-5 Big Ten)
Minnesota won a road game. I repeat, Minnesota won a road game.
The Golden Gophers picked up their first true road victory of the season in impressive fashion on Jan. 23, a 62-59 victory over Ohio State capped by a game-winning 3-pointer from sophomore guard Marcus Carr with 3.3 seconds left. Carr had a game-high 21 points against the Buckeyes.
The Golden Gophers couldn’t translate that momentum into a home matchup with Michigan State, as Minnesota fell 70-52. The Golden Gophers shot an abysmal 28.1% from the field and 17.9% from 3-point range while getting three points from their bench.
Sophomore center Daniel Oturu (19.7 points per game, 11.3 rebounds per game) is one of the best big men in the country, and he and Carr will keep the Golden Gophers competitive with any Big Ten opponent. Minnesota really needs one or two more quality wins to boost its resume, and it will have the opportunity to do so over the next month.
Minnesota faces No. 19 Illinois on the road on Jan. 30 and hosts Wisconsin on Feb. 5.
Rest of the Big Ten
11. Ohio State Buckeyes (13-7, 3-6 Big Ten)
12. Purdue Boilermakers (11-10, 4-6 Big Ten)
13. Nebraska Huskers (7-14, 2-6 Big Ten)
14. Northwestern Wildcats (6-14, 1-9 Big Ten)