What a two-week stretch it has been in the Big Ten.
The bulk of conference play is finally underway, and it has brought with it its share of fantastic games and upsets. All but one Big Ten game in 2022 has been decided by single digits.
In the end, the most significant result of these early games is a new No. 1 in these power rankings. Hopefully, this parity is a harbinger for the wild Big Ten season ahead.
Without further ado, here are the first Big Ten men’s basketball power rankings of 2022:
1. Michigan State Spartans (12-2, 3-0 Big Ten) Previous rank: 3
The new kings have arrived.
After No. 3 Purdue’s shocking home loss to No. 23 Wisconsin on Monday, the Boilermakers have been dethroned for the first time in these rankings. Their replacement is No. 10 Michigan State, who survived an upset bit of its own on Sunday at the hands of Northwestern.
Michigan State has won its last seven games since losing to No. 1 Baylor 75-58 in late November. It hasn’t always been pretty. Just last Sunday, the Spartans were down by as many as 13 points in the first half against Northwestern before storming back to claim a 73-67 victory. Michigan State got 20 points out of senior forward Gabe Brown in the victory.
One could argue that the Spartans are only atop the throne by default, and in some ways that’s true. Yet, they have a bonafide star in Brown, who leads the team in scoring with 14.6 points per game. Most importantly, Michigan State keeps winning. The Spartans have 12 wins, and their two losses are against teams ranked No. 6 or higher in the AP Top 25.
Winning night in and night out in the Big Ten is hard — just ask Purdue.
2. Wisconsin Badgers (11-2, 2-1 Big Ten) Previous rank: 5
The No. 23 Wisconsin Badgers pulled off one of the most impressive wins of the college basketball season, defeating No. 3 Purdue at Mackey Arena on Monday.
The 74-69 win for the Badgers is their first win at Purdue in almost eight years. It is the first win at the arena for fifth-year senior guard Brad Davison, who scored 15 points in the victory. Overall, it was a much-improved showing from the Wisconsin squad that nearly lost to Nicholls State and needed a 20-point comeback to defeat Indiana in early December.
The Badgers followed the game with Indiana up with an 18-point defeat at the hands of No. 13 Ohio State. That is the only thing that is holding Wisconsin out of the No. 1 spot. It’s hard to remove from memory a loss that brought serious questions about the Badgers at the time, no matter how much they have silenced them as of late.
In the last rankings, Wisconsin received criticism for how dependent they were on sophomore guard Johnny Davis. What will happen to Wisconsin when defenses inevitably find a way to stop him? Against Purdue, Davis turned in perhaps the individual performance of the season, scoring 37 points and bringing his average to 22.3 points per game.
It’s very possible that nobody figures him out.
3. Purdue Boilermakers (12-2, 1-2 Big Ten) Previous rank: 1
It is often said that how a team responds to adversity defines its season. That is the position the No. 3 Purdue Boilermakers find themselves in currently.
The Rutgers loss could be chalked up to simple dumb luck. A half-court shot is a difficult way to lose, but it doesn’t feel the same way as a true defeat. No. 23 Wisconsin delivered that feeling in a decisive loss on Monday. Now, it’s time for the Boilermakers to respond.
The next three contests for Purdue are against Michigan, Penn State and Nebraska. All three of those teams are in the bottom half of these power rankings. The Boilermakers are No. 9 in the conference with a 1-2 record and could certainly use the wins against those three teams. However, the game against Rutgers earlier this season was supposed to be an easy victory, too.
The goal for Purdue is simple. Rise to the occasion, take care of these three teams and defeat Illinois in its next major test of the season on Jan. 17.
4. Ohio State Buckeyes (9-2, 3-0 Big Ten) Previous rank: 2
The Ohio State Buckeyes have fallen through absence.
Three weeks off is a long time, and while the memory of stoutly defeating then-No. 22 Wisconsin is a good one to enter the break with, the scare at Nebraska is not the best to return with. In the defense of Ohio State, the Buckeyes were down a starter and had only three days of practice due to COVID-19. The response to their adversity has been one of quality, but they can not hold on to the No. 2 spot in these rankings.
The biggest bright spot for Ohio State in the win over the Huskers was freshman guard Malaki Branham, who scored 35 points in 43 minutes of action on Sunday. If he can keep up even 50% of that production, he will be a great exterior piece alongside junior forward EJ Liddell and sophomore forward Zed Key.
After escaping Lincoln with the 87-79 overtime win over Nebraska, the Buckeyes are set to face Indiana on Thursday. The schedule provides a nice build-in competition with Northwestern following the Hoosiers.
That all leads up to a titanic rematch with No. 23 Wisconsin next Thursday, but this time the game is in Madison.
5. Illinois Fighting Illini (10-3, 3-0 Big Ten) Previous rank: 4
What a difference the return of junior center Kofi Cockburn makes.
Since the return of Cockburn, the Fighting Illini are 8-2. Cockburn is averaging 22.5 points per game, 11.9 rebounds per game and had five straight double-doubles entering Tuesday’s game against Minnesota.
Illinois completely dismantled the Golden Gophers 76-53 with Cockburn’s help. Cockburn posted a sixth straight double-double with 29 points and 10 rebounds. It was complete domination of a quality Minnesota team on the road.
Much like No. 3 Purdue, the lead-up to the Jan. 17 clash between the two squads is relatively light. Illinois faces common opponents Nebraska and Michigan but does have a slight step up compared to the Boilermaker schedule with Maryland. Once again, the Fighting Illini must take care of business before their first real test since facing off against then-No. 11 Arizona on Dec. 11.
6. Iowa Hawkeyes (11-3, 1-2 Big Ten) Previous rank: 10
Iowa has moved more in these rankings than any other team. A three-game losing streak dropped the Hawkeyes to No. 10 two weeks ago, but Iowa has since won four games in a row, including an 80-75 victory over Maryland on Monday.
Wisconsin’s Davis has a real challenger for best individual performer in the conference in Iowa sophomore guard Keegan Murray. Murray averages 24.5 points per game and 8.2 rebounds per game. His 35-point outing on Monday lifted the Hawkeyes to a win against Maryland.
Murray leads the country in points per game, and Davis is just behind him at No. 13. Suffice to say, Murray will keep Iowa in a ton of conference games this season by sheer willpower alone.
Thursday’s game against No. 23 Wisconsin will be one to watch as Davis and Murray go head to head.
7. Northwestern Wildcats (8-3, 1-1 Big Ten) Previous rank: 9
The Northwestern Wildcats are a team that feels like it is on the edge. Of what, remains to be seen.
Northwestern is experienced. Five of the first six highest scoring Wildcats receiving minutes are upperclassmen. The only underclassman is sophomore guard Ty Berry, who turns in 8.3 points per game.
It is a balanced and deep team, too. Four Northwestern players score 10 or more points per game, and an additional three players score five points or more per game. The Wildcats have the makings of a serious contender not only within the conference but also for an NCAA Tournament berth.
On Sunday, they went toe to toe with the top team in these rankings and No. 10 team in the country in Michigan State. The Wildcats led at the half and by as many as 13 points but let the game slip away as the clock wound down.
The schedule ahead features No. 13 Ohio State and a rematch with Michigan State. Both games are on the road. It’s a key stretch for a team that feels right on the edge of breaking through.
8. Minnesota Golden Gophers (10-2, 1-2 Big Ten) Previous rank: 7
The Minnesota Golden Gophers had won three games in a row and were fifth in the Big Ten prior to Tuesday’s rout against Illinois.
That sentence would have seemed wild at the beginning of the season, but it’s true. Then, the Fighting Illini came to town and things changed. Wire to wire, Minnesota was blown off the floor. They couldn’t compete with the size of Illinois.
But, it wasn’t the best night offensively for the Golden Gophers. Minnesota shot 35% from the field, 20% from the 3-point range and 46% from the free-throw line. All were more than 10 points below the season averages of 46%, 36% and 72%, respectively.
Three Golden Gopher scorers average double figures, and six score seven or more points per contest. It will be important for this group to get wins against Rutgers, Penn State, Iowa and perhaps an upset of Michigan State before a brutal late January to early February stretch that features current No. 13 Ohio State, No. 23 Wisconsin and No. 3 Purdue.
That is where the mettle of the Golden Gophers will truly be tested.
9. Maryland Terrapins (8-5, 0-2 Big Ten) Previous rank: 11
Maryland has been through a lot.
It was written about extensively in the previous installment of these rankings, but it bears repeating. Somehow, this team has found a way to rally through most of that. If the Terrapins had held on to the lead on the road against Iowa on Monday, it would have been even more impressive.
The fact that senior guards Eric Ayala and Fatts Russell continue to produce at the level they do is striking. Ayala provides 15.2 points per game, which leads the team, while Russell isn’t too far behind with 12.6.
The loss to Iowa broke a three-game winning streak for the Terrapins. Thursday’s game against Illinois will go a long way in determining if it is indeed time to apply standards to this Maryland squad once again.
10. Indiana Hoosiers (10-3, 1-2 Big Ten) Previous rank: 6
There are some serious questions to answer for the Indiana Hoosiers after the 61-58 loss to Penn State on Sunday.
At the beginning of the season, Penn State was regarded by many to be in a two-horse race with Nebraska to the cellar of the Big Ten conference.
The Nittany Lions went on an 18-5 run in the second half against the Hoosiers and overcame 14 second-half points from Indiana sophomore forward Trayce Jackson Davis. The Hoosier Achille’s heel, turnovers, was kept in check with six turnovers to the Nittany Lion 13.
The good thing is, No. 13 Ohio State is coming to town on Thursday. There is a chance for redemption in that game. If they can take advantage of an Ohio State team that is still finding its sea legs after three weeks off, Indiana could get itself back on track.
11. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (8-5, 2-1 Big Ten) Previous rank: 12
If one had told a college basketball fan that the Rutgers Scarlet Knights would have defeated both No. 3 Purdue and Michigan by the first week in January, they would have been shocked.
Tuesday’s game against Michigan felt like a “must win” or turning point for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. It was for Michigan, too. Despite the even stakes, Rutgers prevailed 75-67.
The Knights countered a 25-point showing from Michigan sophomore center Hunter Dickinson with a 27-point performance from senior guard Geo Baker. Senior forward Ron Harper Jr. added 20 points of his own as the Scarlet Knights shot 48% from the floor and picked up their second conference win.
The goals are still in play for Rutgers, especially considering the softer upcoming schedule. The Knights face Nebraska and Maryland twice along with Penn State, Iowa and Minnesota before the month of January ends.
The February to come adds a ton of weight onto those games in January. There are five ranked opponents for Rutgers in the final month of the regular season.
12. Michigan Wolverines (7-6, 1-2 Big Ten) Previous rank: 8
If there’s a new low, the Michigan Wolverines seem to find it.
An 85-71 loss to UCF last week was the fifth loss of the year for Michigan. The Knights made eight consecutive 3-pointers and turned what was a 12-point deficit into their first win ever over the Wolverines.
This team just isn’t right.
It feels like Michigan has sleepwalked through the first half of the season. On Tuesday the loss against Rutgers was just another confusing step in this season’s journey. Four Wolverines were in double figures, but only seven saw the floor. The loss was another of the dwindling chances for Michigan to figure it out.
The road doesn’t get any easier. Michigan prepares to host No. 10 Michigan State and No. 3 Purdue at the Crisler Center before heading on the road to Illinois on Jan. 14.
13. Penn State Nittany Lions (6-5, 1-2 Big Ten) Previous rank: 13
The Penn State Nittany Lions finally got a big win. Relatively speaking.
Picking up that Indiana win was huge for the Nittany Lions’ confidence. Losing out on three straight opponents due to COVID-19 cancellation is unfortunate for the record, and it adds importance to the Indiana victory.
A solid win like that is something to build on with Purdue coming to town Saturday.
14. Nebraska Huskers (6-8, 0-3 Big Ten) Previous rank: 14
Another one slips away.
Nebraska had all the pieces come into place for a ranked win under head coach Fred Hoiberg. Yet, a defensive missed assignment, two missed free throws and a poor final 10 seconds of regulation and overtime later, the victory evaporated into thin air.
The Huskers need every game they can get.
But, there is at least one positive. Junior forward Derrick Walker and the rest of the Nebraska defenders did a great job of limiting Ohio State’s Liddell to just 10 points and 2-of-14 shooting. The Huskers are going to need to continue to key in against the rest of the Big Ten post players on the schedule.