s-BigTenMBBPowerRanks

What a week for the Big Ten. 

After a disappointing Gavitt Games series with the Big East, the Big Ten won the Big Ten/ACC Challenge this week with a 8-6 record. Now, as conference openers approach on Friday, the rankings’ muddy middle has stretched even further. 

There is a clear top and bottom team. The rest feels like a toss up. With the majority of the non-conference schedule in the rearview mirror, here are the Big Ten men’s basketball power rankings ahead of a brief foray into conference play:

1. Purdue Boilermakers (7-0) Previous rank: 1

This one feels pretty obvious. The biggest question surrounding the Boilermakers in the last ranking was what would happen once they faced a major test. Subsequent victories over then-No. 18 North Carolina and then-No. 5 Villanova in the Cheez-It Hall of Fame Tip-Off answered that question. 

Add in a crushing defeat of an unranked but stout Florida State team and there’s a recipe for an impressive early season résumé. Purdue is deep and incredibly potent offensively as seven Boilermakers average more than seven points per game. 

Of course the towering sophomore center Zach Edey and the seemingly limitless range of sophomore guard Jaden Ivey draw a ton of attention, but not to be forgotten are freshman forward Caleb Furst and sophomore guard Brandon Newman. Should Purdue take care of business against Iowa on Friday, it is poised to earn the highest ranking in school history as the new No. 1 team in the country.

2. Ohio State Buckeyes (5-2) Previous rank: 4

In the previous ranking, Ohio State was given a solid metric to determine its contender status: Go above .500 in a trying three-game stretch against Xavier, then-No. 21 Seton Hall and No. 1 Duke. The Buckeyes went 2-1. 

It’s hard to say who the No. 2 team in the Big Ten is. It doesn’t feel like it should be Ohio State based off of the opening two weeks of the season. But pouring over the Buckeye body of work, both losses are to quality opponents in Xavier and now-No. 14 Florida. 

The duo of sophomore forward Zed Key and junior forward EJ Liddell is about as bruising and dynamic as they come. With an impressive comeback win over Duke, it’s impossible to put anyone above Ohio State except Purdue.

3. Michigan State Spartans (6-2) Previous rank: 5

The dark horse rises. Michigan State was the overlooked challenger for many in the Big Ten this season. Solid wins over Connecticut and Louisville have the Spartans upgraded to favorite status, though. 

The only losses for Michigan State are against current top ten opponents in No. 8 Kansas and No. 4 Baylor. Much like their in-state counterpart Michigan, the Spartans don’t face another ranked team until a game against the Wolverines. 

A win over Louisville boosts the Spartan strength of schedule, and that win could quickly turn into a streak with an upcoming slate of seven games where arguably the greatest challenge is Northwestern.

4. Wisconsin Badgers (6-1) Previous rank: 7

Sophomore guard Johnny Davis is magic. What else is there to say? Davis averages 19.3 points per game and with the help of senior guard Brad Davison and junior forward Tyler Wahl, the Badgers climb three spots on this list. 

The early season loss to Providence appears to be the growing pains of an uncharacteristically young Badger squad. This year’s Wisconsin roster features only five upperclassmen. Of those five, only Davison and Wahl average more than 5.0 points per game. 

Things ramp up considerably for Wisconsin in the coming weeks with in-state rival Marquette, Indiana and a soon to be ranked Ohio State.

5. Illinois Fighting Illini (5-2) Previous rank: 3

Somehow the Fighting Illini have managed to keep their head above water. The thought was that the return of junior center Kofi Cockburn would help bring Illinois back to its 2020 heights. Then Cincinnati happened: an embarrassing 71-51 loss to the Bearcats had many leaving Illinois for dead. 

Yet since that loss, Illinois has won three in a row. None of the victories have been pretty, but Illinois has a chance to get on a serious roll starting with Rutgers on Friday. Iowa is due following the Scarlet Knights. 

It is still very early in the season, but there is a must-win feel surrounding these games. The schedule softens up after No. 11 Arizona, but getting these first two conference wins would be huge for bolstering the postseason outlook. 

6. Iowa Hawkeyes (7-0) Previous rank: 6

Iowa can still score. As a team, the Hawkeyes average 94 points per game. The first true test of the season was against Virginia on Monday and Iowa passed with flying colors. A dramatic 75-74 win over the Cavaliers gives Iowa some serious momentum as more major opponents approach. 

Two of the next three opponents are ranked. No. 19 Iowa State will provide a challenge in the Cy-Hawk series and Illinois is no cupcake either. The most immediate challenge, though, is No. 2 Purdue on Friday. 

Mackey Arena will be the most hostile environment yet for the Hawkeyes. The question is will Iowa and sophomore forward Keegan Murray, the Big Ten’s leading scorer at 24.6 points per game, rise to the challenge.

7. Michigan Wolverines (4-3) Previous rank: 2

Oh how the mighty have fallen. Losses to then-unranked Seton Hall and Arizona have nearly dropped the Wolverines out of the AP Top 25, currently sitting at No. 24. Both of those teams are now ranked, but the damage has been done. 

None of this is to say that Michigan can’t climb back up the rankings. After all, the Wolverines don’t meet a ranked opponent until No. 22 Michigan State in early January. 

After Wednesday’s crushing loss against North Carolina, the Wolverines have more questions than answers. The start to this season has been nothing like the red-hot 11 game win streak that began the 2020 season, but there is still time for Michigan to turn it around. 

8. Indiana Hoosiers (6-1) Previous rank: 10

Indiana is a hard team to decipher. The Hoosiers couldn’t outlast Syracuse in double overtime on Tuesday in a 112-110 defeat. After experiencing defeat for the first time this season, Indiana returns home to begin conference play against Nebraska. 

There is certainly a chance to regain the mojo against the Huskers on Saturday before a big conference showdown with No. 23 Wisconsin in Madison next week. Are the Hoosiers contenders? It’s hard to tell. One thing to be confident in is sophomore forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, who has produced phenomenal numbers in the first seven games with 22 points and 8.9 rebounds per game.

9. Northwestern Wildcats (5-2) Previous rank: 11

It’s the second straight year that Northwestern has started the year 5-1, but on Tuesday that sixth win proved elusive. Wake Forest took down the Wildcats in overtime in one of the more underrated games of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge slate. 

There were eight ties in the final eight minutes of regulation but Northwestern couldn’t get any separation and fell 77-73. So far, all of Northwestern’s losses this season have been by five points or less.

A year ago, Northwestern won its first three Big Ten games and two of those were against ranked opponents. Then it lost the next 13. This year, Maryland and DePaul stand out as bounce-back games as the Wildcats hope to improve on last year’s finish.

10. Minnesota Golden Gophers (6-0) Previous rank: 12

It hasn’t been pretty. Not even close. Yet, the Minnesota Golden Gophers are 6-0. The struggles on the offensive end have been apparent. The 55-44 win over the Jacksonville Dolphins from earlier in the season comes to mind. Minnesota should be rewarded for taking care of business, though. 

That’s something not every Big Ten team can say. Add a thrilling victory over Pittsburgh and Minnesota is in the top ten of the conference rankings. Sophomore forward Jamison Battle leads the way for Minnesota with 17.5 points per game. Next up is a trip to Starkville to take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Sunday.

11. Maryland Terrapins (5-3) Previous rank: 8

There is a very good case to be made that Maryland is better than both of the teams ahead of them in rankings. There is one simple question that stands in the way of that argument. 

What is Maryland’s best win? Is it the 86-80 win over Richmond in the Bahamas Championship? Is it the 71-64 win over George Washington? Maybe the 69-67 escape against Hofstra? The answer is simple: Maryland does not have a single quality win. 

A loss to Louisville knocked the Terrapins out of the AP Top 25 a week ago and after Wednesday’s loss to Virginia Tech, the road back inside that ranking just got harder.

12. Nebraska Huskers (5-3) Previous rank: 13

Following a quadruple overtime marathon in Raleigh, North Carolina, Nebraska finds itself two games above .500 and without a signature win. Freshman guard Bryce McGowens has won multiple Big Ten Freshman of the Week awards but he has yet to show a consistent ability to take over games.

That, combined with a serious propensity to veer away from physical rebounding battles, is why the Huskers are 5-3. There have been a myriad of unlucky breaks to be sure, but in each game Nebraska lost this year, it had multiple opportunities to win but could not cash in. The Huskers make a trip to Indiana on Saturday with an extra half-game of action under their belts.

13. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (4-3) Previous rank: 9

Go ahead and put Rutgers in the same difficult-to-decipher category as Indiana. As hyperbolic as it may seem to declare a must-win game seven games into the season, it felt like the win over Clemson was a must-win for Rutgers.

After sneaking past the first three opponents, the Scarlet Knights had dropped three in a row prior to Tuesday’s win. A loss would have been four in a row with games against Illinois, No. 2 Purdue and No. 25 Seton Hall to follow. Three games could have turned to seven very quickly. Instead, the Scarlet Knights stop their skid and head into that trying stretch above .500. 

There are a ton of elements to like on this Scarlet Knights roster. Senior guard Geo Baker averages 11.1 points per game and did not play against Clemson. Senior forward Ron Harper Jr. is among one of the best in the Big Ten, averaging a Big Ten second-best nine rebounds a game. Sophomore center Clifford Omoruyi is a matchup nightmare and is already getting NBA looks. Rutgers just has to put it all together.

14. Penn State Nittany Lions (4-3) Previous rank: 14

Nittany Lion fans can find some solace in a close overtime loss to LSU a week ago but not much else. Wednesday featured a close loss to Miami who won’t be a major player in the ACC this year. The best win of the year is a 60-45 victory over Oregon State, who is currently 1-6. Ohio State and No. 22 Michigan State make up two of the next three games for Penn State. 

sports@dailynebraskan.com