Now that college football season is officially over and the NFL season is winding down, it is now the time that a majority of the country starts to turn its collective eye toward college basketball as the season begins to ramp up in intensity during conference play.
It has been well-documented how bizarre this college basketball season has been, but no conference in the country is more interesting than the Big Ten.
In the Big Ten there is nothing but chaos. Chaos everywhere.
The main reason for this chaos is the league’s fantastic depth. Part of this is due to the astonishing rate at which teams are defending home court in Big Ten play. So far, Big Ten home teams have won 85% of games (35-6 overall).
That statistic is crazy, but what’s crazier is the fact that 12 Big Ten teams have a realistic shot at making the NCAA Tournament. With teams not dropping games at home, nearly everyone in the conference has a signature win.
All of these factors make the Big Ten almost impossible to predict, with inconsistent play making the middle of the conference standings crowded. I haven’t put out these power rankings in over a month with this being the first installment of 2020, and the turnover from those rankings to these is ridiculous (No seriously, look at these).
With that out of the way, let’s get into ranking the Big Ten in its 10th week of action. Before we start, I’d like to note that I won’t be recapping the past month for each team in the interest of time. All records are accurate of Jan. 15.
1. Michigan State Spartans (13-4, 5-1 Big Ten)
Yes, I know the Spartans were just thrashed on the road against Purdue on Jan. 12. That contest was ugly, a reminder that no team in this conference is invincible.
Tom Izzo’s club put together an abysmal performance in that 71-42 loss, shooting 12.5% on 3-pointers and turning the ball over 18 times, nine of which were by senior guard Cassius Winston.
That being said, Michigan State is still the best team in this conference. The Spartans are the No. 15 team in the country, have dominant victories over quality opponents in Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota and boast two great players in Winston (18.8 points per game, 6.2 assists per game) and junior forward Xavier Tillman (13.9 points per game, 10.1 rebounds per game).
As they go, the Spartans go, and with senior guard Josh Langford unable to return to the court this season after suffering from the same foot injury that ended his junior season, MSU will need Winston and Tillman to lead the team forward into the heart of conference play.
Michigan State hosts Wisconsin on Jan. 17 in its only action this week.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes (12-5, 2-4 Big Ten)
Here’s where this gets pretty difficult. I considered five different teams for this slot, but I ultimately went with the group that has the most potential to right the ship after a horrific stretch of play.
The Buckeyes picked up an impressive victory against then-No. 6 Kentucky at the CBS Sports Classic on Dec. 21 and then went into free fall. Ohio State lost four consecutive games, scoring under 60 points in each of them. It looked as if Ohio State was in real trouble.
Chris Holtmann’s group got to right the ship on Tuesday night against Nebraska in a 80-68 victory. The win came on the heels of an announcement that the program had suspended sophomore guards Luther Muhammad and Duane Washington Jr. for the game for “failure to meet program standards and expectations.”
Just like last year, it feels like Ohio State has the potential to turn around its season after a victory over the Huskers. Let’s see if the Buckeyes’ momentum is legit, or if they make me look stupid for trusting them this much after recently dropping four in a row.
This week, Ohio State hits the road to face Penn State on Jan. 18.
3. Michigan Wolverines (11-5, 2-3 Big Ten)
Like Ohio State, I believe that Michigan has the potential to revert to its late November and early December form to close out conference play, but one major thing needs to change.
In addition to picking up a signature road victory, which would be an incredible way for somebody (anybody?) in the Big Ten to separate itself from the pack, the Wolverines need to improve their play in the paint.
In Michigan’s last two outings, it allowed Purdue forward Trevion Williams to go for 36 points and 20 rebounds in an 84-78 Wolverine victory and allowed Minnesota center Daniel Oturu to go for 30 points and seven rebounds in a 75-67 loss.
Michigan has a problem defending quality big men, and it faces another good one on Jan. 17 when the Wolverines hit the road to face Luka Garza and Iowa. Garza had 44 points and eight rebounds in the December meeting between these two squads, but Michigan’s 103 points were enough to overwhelm Iowa. That may not be the case this time around, and Michigan needs a concerted defensive effort on Garza in order to pick up an impressive road victory.
After the Iowa game, Michigan hosts Penn State on Dec. 22.
4. Illinois Fighting Illini (12-5, 4-2 Big Ten)
Brad Underwood’s group is legit.
The Illini have a road win over Wisconsin, an impressive feat this season, and have an impressive victory over a hot Rutgers squad. Illinois doesn’t play the most aesthetically pleasing basketball in the world, but the Illini do have two incredible players who can carry this team deep in the Big Ten Tournament.
Sophomore guard Ayo Dosunmu, a potential first-round NBA Draft pick this summer, leads the Illini in scoring with 15.5 points per game. Freshman forward Kofi Cockburn struggled a bit to get acclimated to Big Ten play, but seems to be rounding into form with an 11-point, 17-rebound effort on Jan. 11 against Rutgers. The Jamaican 7-footer averages 14.8 points per game and 9.5 rebounds per game.
The Illini are ranked too, holding the No. 24 spot in the country. Illinois will look to hold that ranking as it hosts Northwestern on Jan. 18 before traveling to one of the most difficult places to play in the country, Purdue’s Mackey Arena, on Jan. 21.
5. Maryland Terrapins (13-4, 3-3 Big Ten)
Maryland had a golden opportunity to pick up a big road victory over Wisconsin on Tuesday night.
With the Terrapins up 54-53 with less than a minute to go, Maryland turned the ball over and Wisconsin had an opportunity to take the lead. The Badgers turned the ball over, and Maryland got the ball back with 12 seconds left. All Maryland had to do was inbound the ball and make some free throws.
Then, this happened. Wisconsin junior guard Brad Davison followed that heady play with the game-winning 3-pointer, and the Terrapins dropped their second-straight Big Ten game. Maryland’s offense has been a bit off too, as Mark Turgeon’s squad hasn’t scored more than 55 points during the two-game skid.
Senior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. leads the team in scoring with 16.2 points per game and sophomore forward Jalen Smith continues to provide a dominant presence inside with 13.6 points per game and 9.4 rebounds per game.
The Terrapins need more consistency from sophomore guards Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins if the team wants to snap its losing streak, and more offensive consistency could come in Maryland’s next two contests. Maryland hosts Purdue on Jan. 18 before traveling to Northwestern on Jan. 21.
6. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (13-4, 4-2 Big Ten)
It’s time to accept two truths. The first is that the Rutgers Scarlet Knights are a good college basketball team that is legitimate Big Ten contenders. The second is that Rutgers is well on its way to an NCAA Tournament appearance, something that seemed impossible at the beginning of this year.
Here’s what Rutgers is: a physical, long, defensive-oriented team that plays old-school basketball. The Scarlet Knights give up 59.4 points per game, the No. 13 mark in the country while grabbing 41.6 rebounds per game, good for No. 9 in the country.
The Scarlet Knights were picked to finish 12th in the Big Ten preseason poll and haven’t had a winning season since 2005-06, but that looks destined to change this year. Junior guard Geo Baker (11.1 points per game) and sophomore guard Ron Harper Jr. (11.8 points per game, 6 rebounds per game) lead the offense in scoring but the Scarlet Knights’ story is told inside the paint.
Sophomore forward Myles Johnson (9.3 points per game, 8.1 rebounds per game) is a force to deal with inside and senior forward Akwasi Yeboah chips in with 9.4 points per game and 4.6 rebounds per game. Yeboah can knock down the outside shot too, shooting 38.5% on 3-pointers.
I haven’t even mentioned the fact that Rutgers is 12-0 at home this season, with the RAC proving to be a house of horrors for Big Ten opponents this season. This Rutgers group is a fun and easy team to get behind. The Scarlet Knights host Minnesota on Jan. 19 before traveling to Iowa on Jan. 22.
7. Wisconsin Badgers (11-6, 4-2 Big Ten)
After a slow start to the season, the Badgers seem to have regained their footing in the Big Ten, and the play of recently eligible junior forward Micah Potter is a big reason why.
Potter was stellar in the Badgers’ massive road victory over then-No. 20 Penn State on Jan. 11, scoring 18 first half points en route to a game-high 24 points while also securing 13 rebounds. He followed that performance up with 14 points in Wisconsin’s aforementioned wild victory over Maryland.
I’m cautious to put this team back in the top five of the power rankings after how quickly they went into free fall earlier this year, but Greg Gard’s group is a legitimate NCAA Tournament contender with plenty of talent.
Wisconsin is looking for its third-consecutive victory over a ranked opponent on Jan 17, when the Badgers travel to Michigan State. The Badgers then host Nebraska on Jan. 21.
8. Iowa Hawkeyes (12-5, 3-3 Big Ten)
Like Wisconsin’s No. 7 ranking, Iowa being at No. 8 is a testament to how deep and talented the Big Ten is this year.
Junior center Luka Garza is almost impossible to stop. At this point, it’s better to sit back, let him get his double-double and move along with your day. There’s almost no stopping him when he’s on his A-game.
Garza has 10 double-doubles this season, which ties him for the No. 7 mark in the country. He also averages 22.3 points per game, ranking him among the best scorers in the country at No. 6. He’s a handful to guard, but keying a defense to slow down Garza doesn’t exactly work either.
That’s because sophomore guard Joe Weiskamp (14.5 points per game, 6.2 rebounds per game) and freshman guard CJ Frederick (10.4 points per game) can score the ball too. Iowa rebounded nicely from a loss to Nebraska last week with victories over then-No. 12 Maryland at home and a road triumph over Northwestern.
Iowa hosts Michigan on Jan. 17 and Rutgers on Jan. 22.
9. Indiana Hoosiers (13-4, 3-3 Big Ten)
The Hoosiers changed the course of their season on Jan. 11, picking up a huge home victory over then-No. 11 Ohio State. Indiana quietly has impressive home victories over Florida State and Ohio State on its resume, and the Hoosiers are the next in a slew of Big Ten teams in the middle of the pack with legitimate NCAA Tournament aspirations.
Senior guard Devonte Green led the way against the Buckeyes with 19 points and sophomore guard Rob Phinisee chipped in with 13 points. The Hoosiers lost all the momentum gained over the Ohio State victory as Indiana’s offense went cold at the RAC on Wednesday night.
Indiana shot an abysmal 19-60 (31.7%) from the field and 2-19 on 3-pointers. Those numbers won’t win many basketball games, and as a result Indiana fell to the Scarlet Knights.
Freshman forward Trayce Jackson-Davis has struggled in his last three games against quality Big Ten opposition, combining for 17 points in outings against Ohio State, Maryland and Rutgers. Jackson-Davis averages 14 points per game, but his best performances in Big Ten play has been against Northwestern and Nebraska. I’m interested to see whether or not the Indiana native can turn it on against a big-time opponent.
This week, Indiana travels to Lincoln to face Nebraska on Jan. 18.
10. Purdue Boilermakers (10-7, 3-3 Big Ten)
The last spot in the rankings was a toss-up between Purdue, Minnesota and Penn State, but I decided to go with the team with the most recent statement conference victory.
Nevermind the fact that the Boilermakers only managed to score 37 points against Illinois, or the fact that they lost in Lincoln earlier this year, the dominant performance Matt Painter’s team put on against then-No. 8 Michigan State deserves to be celebrated.
I think that Purdue will be able to keep itself afloat in the Big Ten simply because the Boilermakers play sound defense and can beat anyone in the conference at home. Purdue sits just behind Rutgers as the second-best defense in the Big Ten and No. 12 defense in the country allowing 59.6 points per game.
My concern with Purdue is the guard play. The Boilermakers clearly have no replacement for Carsen Edwards, and despite the impressive run that sophomore forward Trevion Williams is on, Purdue needs more production from senior guard Jahaad Proctor and sophomore guards Eric Hunter Jr. and Sasha Stefanovic.
Purdue travels to face Maryland on Jan. 18 and hosts Illinois on Jan. 21.
Rest of the Big Ten
11. Minnesota Golden Gophers (10-7, 4-3 Big Ten)
12. Penn State Nittany Lions (12-5, 2-4 Big Ten)
13. Nebraska Cornhuskers (7-10, 2-4 Big Ten)
14. Northwestern Wildcats (6-10, 1-5 Big Ten)