Editor’s Note: These rankings were written with statistics and information as of 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday, March 2. Games occurring on or after March 2 are not included.
March is finally here.
Soon, one of the greatest spectacles in sports will begin. The Big Ten would earn nine bids to the NCAA Tournament if the season ended today according to Joe Lunardi’s bracketology. But, a lot can change in a week’s time. Rutgers, for example, is hanging by a thread as Lunardi’s “Last Team In,” while Michigan also needs to solidify its resume.
For everyone else, all that could be changed prior to the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis next week is seeding. Iowa is the lowest remaining projected seed at No. 7 in the South region. The fight for the regular season crown was all but determined this week too. No. 10 Wisconsin dethroned No. 8 Purdue on Tuesday night and is in position to claim a full regular-season title.
Still, the magic isn’t just limited to March. After the final week of February, here are the Big Ten men's basketball rankings:
1. Wisconsin Badgers (22-5, 13-4 Big Ten) Previous rank: 3
Winning at the Rutgers Athletic Center (or Jersey Mike’s Arena) is about as hard as it gets.
The Badgers cleared that hurdle with a 66-61 win on Saturday. That marked the fourth win in a row for Wisconsin as sophomore guard Johnny Davis was elite once again, scoring 19 points to go along with eight rebounds. Then, the Badgers turned their attention to an even taller test: beating Purdue twice in the same season.
And they did it.
The game was a dog fight from start to finish. Shockingly, it wasn’t Davis that took center stage. He scored 16, but the true stars were junior forward Tyler Wahl and freshman guard Chucky Hepburn. Wahl led the team in scoring with 19 points and five steals. Hepburn scored 17 points and sealed the deal by banking in the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1.3 seconds left.
Tuesday’s 70-67 win clinched a share of the Big Ten title for Wisconsin and will likely place them in the top 10 of the AP Top 25 next week.
2. Purdue Boilermakers (24-5, 13-5 Big Ten) Previous rank: 1
Purdue didn’t escape the carnage of Saturday’s upsets. The top six teams in the AP Top 25 all lost, and the Boilermakers were no exception. Sophomore center Zach Edey had a season-high 25 points, but it wasn’t enough. Michigan State built a double-digit lead in the second half, and, although Purdue tied it several times in the waning moments, the Spartans prevailed 68-65.
Somehow, the Boilermakers had to rally the troops before setting out on the road once more to face Wisconsin. Now, five of the six losses for Purdue this year have come away from Mackey Arena. Sophomore guard Jaden Ivey was once again spectacular, tying the game with a 3-pointer under 10 seconds left to play and finishing with 22 points.
After the loss, the Boilermakers are in uncharted waters. They have not lost back-to-back games all season long. On Sunday, an Indiana squad on the NCAA Tournament bubble comes to town. It’s an opportunity to avenge an earlier loss for the Boilermakers.
3. Illinois Fighting Illini (20-8, 13-5 Big Ten) Previous rank: 2
Ohio State ended the Fighting Illini’s hopes of a Big Ten regular season title with an 86-83 win last week. It was a valiant effort from Illinois, as it went on a 10-0 run in the final minutes of the game. The Fighting Illini had their chances, but they couldn’t quite get it done and are now a full game back from the Big Ten lead.
Yet, the bounce back from Illinois was a strong one. The Fighting Illini neared triple digits once more with a 93-85 win over a Michigan team that is just barely on the right side of the bubble. Senior guard Alfonso Plummer had his second consecutive game with 26 points. He’s been a positive as of late, scoring 14 or more points in four of the last six games.
Next up is Penn State, which is reeling from a loss to Nebraska. The Nittany Lions have been horrendous away from home, where they have a 1-8 record. After that, the Fighting Illini hope to lock up the No. 3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament with a win over No. 24 Iowa.
4. Iowa Hawkeyes (21-8, 11-7 Big Ten) Previous rank: 5
Peaking in March is every team's goal.
Perhaps no team in the Big Ten is hotter right now than the Iowa Hawkeyes. Iowa has won its last four games and finished the month of February with a 7-1 record. No other team has a longer winning streak in the conference. All of this is because everyone is contributing.
Sophomore forward Keegan Murray has been fantastic. There are no doubts there; he averages 23.3 points per game. The key is that there have been at least three scorers in double figures in the last six games for the Hawkeyes. In the second game with Nebraska, Iowa had six players in the double digits.
The road trip to play Michigan and No. 20 Illinois to close out the season isn’t easy. But, considering how the Hawkeyes are playing, it’s hard to believe that they will lose both games. If they get one of the two, the Hawkeyes will be dangerous come Big Ten Tournament time.
5. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (16-12, 10-8 Big Ten) Previous rank: 4
It seems that some of the Scarlet Knights’ magic has run out.
Rutgers has lost its last three games, all by 12 points or less. The home loss to Wisconsin was particularly devastating. Senior guard Geo Baker did about everything he could, scoring 19 points and getting 15 points from his partner in crime, senior guard Ron Harper Jr. However, Rutgers failed to overcome four Badger starters scoring in double figures.
That was too much to overcome.
There went one last chance to boost the resume. Next up is a crucial match with Indiana. With both teams on the edge of the NCAA Tournament, this feels like an elimination game. Rutgers has to treat it that way. Penn State is the final game of the year and the Scarlet Knights would love to avoid hanging their postseason hopes on the Big Ten Tournament.
6. Ohio State Buckeyes (17-8, 10-6 Big Ten) Previous rank: 6
Last week was a roller coaster for the Buckeyes.
First, they experienced the thrilling emotions of stealing a road win from Illinois. Head coach Chris Holtman’s likely Big Ten Freshman of the Year vote, guard Malaki Branham, scored 31 points. Ohio State was riding high. Then, it tripped on its own shoelaces and fell face-first into the pie that was the 75-60 loss to Maryland.
If Maryland wasn’t enough, Nebraska was an especially embarrassing defeat. The Huskers came to Columbus and handed the Buckeyes another upset. Although Ohio State was down sophomore forward Zed Key, a loss like this is inexcusable. Junior forward E.J. Liddell did his best with 27 points, and Branham had 16. Nobody else scored more than eight points.
Up next is an extremely desperate Michigan State and an equally hungry Michigan.
7. Michigan Wolverines (16-12, 10-8 Big Ten) Previous rank: 9
Michigan shouldn’t feel safe. Not even remotely so.
The Wolverines played with a sense of urgency on Tuesday that would imply they don’t feel safe. Sophomore center Hunter Dickinson ate Michigan State alive in the paint, scoring 33 points. He was simply unstoppable. The Spartans didn’t play explicitly bad either. Michigan was just that much better.
A 17-point win over a quality opponent this late in the season may actually secure Michigan's NCAA Tournament spot. The Wolverines shot 58% both from the field and 3-point range in the win. Beating Rutgers last week is a bump up for the resume, and sticking with Illinois should help too. Two more opportunities for a ranked win remain with No. 24 Iowa and No. 22 Ohio State.
8. Michigan State Spartans (18-10, 9-8 Big Ten) Previous rank: 7
There wasn’t a team in the Big Ten that needed a win over Purdue quite like the Spartans. The 68-65 victory on Saturday was about as gritty as it gets. Head coach Tom Izzo tied Bob Knight for the most wins by a men’s basketball coach at a Big Ten school. In the aftermath of junior guard Tyson Walker’s game winning 3-pointer, Izzo’s achievement was an afterthought.
The Spartan performance against Michigan on Tuesday was the definition of an emotional letdown. Only two scorers for Michigan State finished in double figures led by senior forward Gabe Brown with 12 points.
With the Buckeyes’ loss to Nebraska, the Spartans’ upcoming visit to Ohio State has some major drama attached and could have major seeding implications for the conference tournament. So too could the home finale with a Maryland team that could deliver some Sunday drama. The Spartans need to finish the season strong to secure their place in the NCAA Tournament.
9. Indiana Hoosiers (18-10, 9-9 Big Ten) Previous rank: 8
The Hoosiers checked the boxes last week. They survived a game with Minnesota 84-79 and took down Maryland prior to that 74-64. The Terrapins proved this week that they aren’t a pushover.
Although Indiana’s situation may seem similar to Rutgers, it isn’t. The Hoosiers need this game way more than Rutgers. It’s on their home floor, they’re a projected No. 11 seed according to Lunardi and No. 8 Purdue is up next. Indiana and the Scarlet Knights are the last two teams to make the tournament, according to Lunardi.
It’s a must win in every understanding of the word. Winning could also include being bumped up to the top half of the Big Ten standings. The drama will be high in Assembly Hall on Wednesday night.
10. Maryland Terrapins (14-15, 6-12 Big Ten) Previous rank: 12
In an earlier installment of these rankings, the article described Maryland as feisty. That word still applies today. There may not be a team in the conference as Jekyll and Hyde as the Terrapins. Having an interim head coach but with two senior guards to counterbalance the experience, it makes sense.
One of those senior guards is Fatts Russell, who scored 27 points in the upset victory over Ohio State on Sunday. The other was senior guard Eric Ayala who was just behind with 23 points. Two Russell 3-pointers in the final 90 seconds put the game well out of reach for the Buckeyes.
With the added confidence from the 75-60 win over Ohio State, look for Maryland to play the spoiler not only against Michigan State on Sunday this week but in the Big Ten Tournament as well.
11. Northwestern Wildcats (13-15, 6-13 Big Ten) Previous rank: 11
Northwestern has wilted like a leaf down the stretch.
After three straight wins, including ones against Rutgers and Indiana, things were looking up. Since then, the Wildcats have lost five of their last six games. Northwestern’s February record finished a measly 4-5.
This team has the firepower to make some noise in Indianapolis, much like Maryland. But after Monday’s 82-61 drubbing at the hands of No. 24 Iowa, it’s hard not to question the team’s confidence. The Wildcats close the regular season with Minnesota on Sunday. The Golden Gophers doomed Northwestern’s postseason with a 17-point win just over a week ago.
12. Minnesota Golden Gophers (13-14, 4-14 Big Ten) Previous rank: 13
Minnesota has practically nothing to play for. Most of the teams in this part of the rankings don’t. Yet, the Golden Gophers have fought incredibly hard in the last two games. They suffered a 68-67 loss to rival Wisconsin at home last week and then gave Indiana a challenge with an 84-79 defeat.
Northwestern and Maryland make for great opportunities in the final two games of the year to get above .500. That is about all Minnesota has left.
13. Nebraska Huskers (9-21, 3-16 Big Ten) Previous rank: 14
The whole college basketball world took a step into the Twilight Zone on Sunday night.
Nebraska played by far its best game of the season. It was the offensive outburst that many thought would be typical of this team before the season began. 65% from 3-point range and 58% from the field are eye-popping numbers. It was basketball nirvana for a program that had spent much of the year in Hades.
Then things went up a notch on Tuesday. The Huskers went deeper into the madness of March and took down No. 23 Ohio State. The ranked win is the first of the season for Nebraska and the program’s first since 2019. For the first time this season, the Huskers kept focus for a full forty minutes. Not just once, but in two full games.
All of a sudden, a 10-win season isn’t so hard to imagine.
14. Penn State Nittany Lions (12-14, 7-11 Big Ten) Previous rank: 10
Losing to Nebraska by 23 points is about as ugly as it gets. It’s not the memory that senior forward John Harrar wanted to leave. The Nittany Lions can’t do anything about that now.
A loss like that could prove to be a big motivator. Illinois and Rutgers each remain on the road. Falling in that fashion to Nebraska has Penn State on “spoiler watch” for the rest of the season. The only problems are Penn State’s 1-8 road record and the combined 24-6 home record of its upcoming opponents.