There have been 10 Big Ten games played over the last week of college basketball. The home team has won all 10.
It’s just another odd trend in an odd year of college basketball. This is a season in which no team wants to be ranked No. 1, as Texas Tech’s defeat of No. 1 Louisville on Dec. 10 marked the fourth time a No. 1 team has lost this season. When a new AP Top-25 Poll comes out on Dec. 16, there will be a new No. 1 for the fifth time in seven weeks, which is a record.
All of this early season chaos leads to a conclusion that college basketball analysts and pundits have been harking on all year: the 2019-20 season may be one of the most wide-open college basketball seasons of all time.
Following that line of thinking, the Big Ten is again looking like one of the deepest and most competitive conferences in the country. Last week saw two top-five Big Ten teams fall while others picked up signature wins.
With several teams still trying to make an early-season statement, let’s take a look at the fifth installment of the Big Ten men’s basketball power rankings. All records are accurate as of Dec. 11.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes (9-0)
Don’t look now, but Chris Holtmann’s squad could find itself as the No. 1 team in the country when the next AP Poll is released.
The Buckeyes battered Penn State 106-74 on Dec. 7, sparked by a 60-point second-half outburst. Ohio State shot 57.4% from the field and 53.8% on 3-pointers, led by a 28-point, 10-rebound effort from junior forward Kaleb Wesson. Senior forward Andre Wesson chipped in with 15 points off of the bench.
Sophomore guards Luther Muhammad and Duane Washington Jr. each had 14 points to round out Ohio State’s offensive dominance.
Despite the 106-point outburst, the Buckeyes make their money on their defensive end. Ohio State’s opponents average 54.7 points per game, the fifth-best mark in Division I. While all of Ohio State’s players defend well, Muhammad may be one of, if not the, best perimeter defender in the country.
The Buckeyes are the third team in the last three weeks that I’ve ranked as the No. 1 team in the Big Ten, and they will look to avoid a loss in a tough road matchup against Minnesota on Dec. 15. Ohio State then hosts Southeast Missouri State on Dec. 17.
2. Maryland Terrapins (10-1)
Truthfully, Maryland should’ve lost both its games this week.
The Terrapins erased a 15-point second half deficit on Dec. 7 in their Big Ten home opener against Illinois, with late game heroics by senior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. sealing a 59-58 victory over the Illini. Sophomore forward Jalen Smith played a major factor in the Terrapins’ victory with 14 points and 13 rebounds, as Smith continues to average a double-double through the season’s first 11 games.
Maryland wasn’t so fortunate when it traveled to Penn State on Dec. 10, falling 76-69 to the Nittany Lions. Cowan Jr. led the Terrapins with 16 points, but shot 5-17 from the field. Fellow sophomore guard Aaron Wiggins also had a poor shooting night, with 13 points on 3-12 shooting.
The Terrapins turned the ball over 20 times and shot 19-57 from the field in Happy Valley, Pennsylvania — two figures that won’t result in many wins no matter how talented the team.
Maryland is off this week.
3. Michigan Wolverines (8-2)
Like Ohio State, Michigan began Big Ten play with an offensive explosion in a 103-91 victory over Iowa. And while the Wolverines couldn’t guard Iowa center Luka Garza, Michigan’s starting five more than made up for it.
Michigan starters combined for 77 points and six players scored in double-figures. Freshman guard Franz Wagner led the offensive charge with a career-high 18 points.
However, the Wolverines visited an Illinois team hungry for a signature victory on Dec. 11, falling 71-62. Michigan struggled offensively, shooting 17% from 3-point range. Additionally, Michigan managed 26 points in the paint while allowing the Illini to score 44. Senior center Jon Teske led the Wolverines with 16 points and seven rebounds.
Michigan has a fantastic opportunity to rebound on Dec. 14 when it hosts No. 10 Oregon in one of the marquee games of the weekend.
4. Purdue Boilermakers (6-3)
Purdue took care of business this week, downing Northwestern 58-44 on Dec. 8. Sophomore guard Sasha Stefanovic led the Boilermakers in scoring for the second consecutive week with 14 points while junior center Matt Haarms added 12 points and seven rebounds.
The Boilermakers aren’t worldbeaters on offense by any stretch of the imagination, as their 68.9 points per game ranks No. 248 in Division I. What head coach Matt Painter’s squad does do well is defend, a trait that will keep Purdue in the Big Ten title conversation all year.
Painter’s group allows 54.8 points per game, the fifth-best mark in Division I. The Boilermakers have limited their last two opponents to an average of 42 points per game, and they will look to continue that trend when they travel to face Nebraska on Dec. 15.
An interesting road game at Ohio follows on Dec. 17.
5. Michigan State Spartans (6-3)
Michigan State is in a funk.
The Spartans again turned in a lackluster offensive performance in their Big Ten opener against Rutgers, pulling away to win 77-65. Senior guard Cassius Winston led the way with 23 points and seven assists.
One area of concern for Michigan State (besides consistent 3-point shooting) is the bench production. The week-long absence of freshman guard Rocket Watts will require Michigan State’s bench play to elevate, and the Spartans failed to do so with 12 bench points against the Scarlet Knights.
Michigan State will be okay, but my hunch is that this is a team that will be playing much better basketball in January and February. Tom Izzo will figure it out. He always does.
The Spartans hit the road for an in-state showdown with Oakland on Dec. 14 before traveling to face Northwestern on Dec. 18.
6. Penn State Nittany Lions (8-2)
After receiving a 106-74 beating at the hands of Ohio State, head coach Pat Chambers picked up a statement victory on Dec. 10, downing Maryland 76-69.
I discussed Maryland’s offensive woes earlier, but Penn State’s offensive attack was as strong as Maryland’s was poor. The Nittany Lions’ senior forwards Mike Watkins and Lamar Stevens make up the most talented frontcourt in the Big Ten, and they proved it by each going for a double-double against the Terrapins.
This is a talented Penn State squad, and I’ll be the first to admit that I undervalued them as a team entering the season. Penn State has an easy stretch of games coming up, the first of which is a home game against Alabama on Dec. 14.
If it handles business, Penn State could find itself starting the new year ranked in the top 25.
7. Illinois Fighting Illini (7-3)
I’ll give head coach Brad Underwood credit here. After blowing a golden opportunity to beat a top-five team in Maryland on the road, it’s hard to get your team to refocus and rally for a game a few days later.
Fortunately, Illinois had another opportunity to earn a victory over a top-five team on Dec. 11 against No. 5 Michigan, and it did so in a 71-62 victory. Freshman forward Kofi Cockburn continues to dominate opponents (and referees) with a 19-point, 10-rebound performance. Sophomore forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili added 12 points and eight rebounds.
Sophomore guard Ayo Dosunmu poured in 14 points while senior guard Andres Feliz had 13 points off the bench. The most amazing part of Wednesday night’s victory was the fact that a Division I team won a basketball game while shooting 9.1% from 3-point range.
Illinois made one 3-pointer against Michigan. One. Unbelievable.
The Illini have the talent to be an inside-dominated team, but they will need some outside shooting to emerge soon. Look for that to change when Illinois hosts Old Dominion on Dec. 14.
8. Indiana Hoosiers (9-1)
While losing at the Kohl Center to Wisconsin is a time-honored tradition of Indiana basketball, a troubling trend emerged as the Hoosiers went 1-1 last week.
An offense that entered the Dec. 7 game against Wisconsin as the No. 7 scoring offense in the country was held to 64 points against the Badgers. Indiana complemented a below-average offensive performance with a below-average defensive performance, allowing Wisconsin to shoot 53.6% from the field.
Indiana scored 57 points in Madison Square Garden in a 57-54 victory over UConn in a night that saw no Hoosiers enter double-figures. Additionally, Indiana shot 15.4% on 3-pointers, making two during the game.
It’s an interesting decline in offense, especially considering the games against Wisconsin and UConn were the Hoosiers first two games of the season away from home. Indiana will look to continue its trend of dominating offensively at home when it hosts Nebraska on Dec. 13.
9. Iowa Hawkeyes (7-3)
Luka Garza is very good at basketball.
The senior forward attempted to take on No. 5 Michigan by himself, but his 44 points and eight rebounds weren’t enough as Iowa fell 103-91 to the Wolverines. Garza had a big game in a winning performance against Minnesota on Dec. 9, as his 21 points and 10 rebounds paced the Hawkeyes to a 72-52 victory.
Iowa plays Iowa State Thursday night, which is notable not only because it’s a rivalry, but also because it may be the last time that senior guard Jordan Bohannon plays this season. Bohannon still isn’t 100% after having hip surgery in May, and tonight’s game against Iowa State would mark the 10th game he’s played this year — the maximum amount of games a player can play before applying for a redshirt.
There’s a suspicion among Iowa media that Bohannon may shut it down after tonight’s game in Ames and return fully healthy in 2020, but no official word has come from Bohannon or the team as of the release of these power rankings.
After tonight, the Hawkeyes don’t play again until Dec. 21, giving Bohannon plenty of time to make a decision that’s best for his future.
10. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (7-3)
Welcome to the top 10, Rutgers.
Wisconsin is unable to generate any positive momentum, and the Scarlet Knights’ victory over the Badgers on Dec. 11 cemented the fact that they’re playing better basketball than the Badgers and are deserving of a top-10 ranking.
After a four-point effort in a loss at Michigan State, junior guard Geo Baker rebounded with 22 points to lead the Scarlet Knight offense. The Scarlet Knights out-rebounded Wisconsin 40-26. Rutgers needed this victory badly after dropping back-to-back games to Pittsburgh and Michigan State, and it played like a more motivated team against Wisconsin.
Wisconsin may improve when junior forward Micah Potter makes his season debut on Dec. 21, but for now let’s celebrate Rutgers’ rebirth in the Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights have an opportunity to score a big upset when they host No. 22 Seton Hall on Dec. 14.
Rest of the Big Ten
11. Wisconsin Badgers (5-5)
12. Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-5)
13. Northwestern Wildcats (4-4)
14. Nebraska Cornhuskers (4-5)