When it comes to Big Ten basketball this season, the hierarchy of this conference breaks down into a couple of factions.
First you have the crème de la crème in Wisconsin, as they are the one constant and a legitimate title contender. It has proved to be in a class all by themselves.
After Wisconsin, you have a couple of good squads in Maryland, Ohio State, Michigan State, Indiana, etc. all jumbled together with no team really separating themselves from the pack. Although, to be fair, Maryland has looked the part of a Final Four team at times this season.
Then you have the also-rans at the bottom of the conference in Northwestern, Penn State, Rutgers, etc.
That said, let’s see how they rank in this week’s Big Ten power rankings.
14. Northwestern 10-12, 1-8
This team can’t catch a break and is now the loser of eight straight. Chris Collins has a good, young nucleus, but it’s looking like its shot to move up the conference ladder will come in the 2015-16 season at the earliest.
13. Penn State 14-8, 2-7
The Illini snapped Penn State’s mini two-game winning streak on Saturday, but the Nittany Lions are slowly improving. They still have a ways to go, though, and we’ll see how they do on Wednesday at Maryland and vs. Nebraska at home on Saturday.
12. Rutgers 10-14, 2-9
While things are going poorly for Rutgers, it can say, “at least we’ll always have Wisconsin.” But aside from the surprising win over the Badgers, the Scarlet Knights’ season looks to be spiraling out of control with seven-straight losses since that win.
11. Minnesota 14-9, 3-7
The Golden Gophers are coming off a convincing win over Nebraska on Saturday, but they have yet to string together two-straight wins in conference play. Perhaps they can pull off that feat on Saturday when they host Purdue.
10. Illinois 15-8, 5-5
Home games against Penn State and Rutgers was just what the doctor ordered for the struggling Illini, as Illinois is now riding a two-game winning streak. The competition will pick up with a trip to Michigan State on Saturday. Illinois still has a shot to play its way into postseason consideration, so not all is lost for a team still ravaged by injuries.
9. Nebraska 13-9, 5-5
When you think about it, it’s been an pretty even season for the Cornhuskers this year as they have mostly won the games they should’ve won and lost the games they should have lost. They kept up with that pace with their win over Northwestern on Tuesday and could keep it going with a game at Penn State on Saturday.
8. Michigan 13-9, 6-4
With Caris LeVert lost for the season and now Derrick Walton Jr. out for the “foreseeable future,” the Wolverines are like a wounded duck trying to swim to dry land. Eventually injuries will catch up with Michigan. But in the meantime you have to give it credit for gutting it out against Michigan State on the road before losing in overtime on Sunday. The Wolverines will look to rebound with a game on Thursday at home vs. Iowa.
7. Iowa 13-8, 4-4
If this was a stock watch, the red arrow pointing down would be attached to Iowa. It is just out of synch right now and has lost three straight and four out of its last six. The Hawkeyes’ games this week at Michigan and at home against Maryland will be vital in trying to reverse course.
6. Purdue 14-8, 6-3
Just as the red arrow is pointing down for the Hawkeyes, the proverbial green arrow is pointing up for the Boilermakers as they have now won three straight and are starting to make a case for a possible NCAA Tournament berth. If they can pull off a win at home over Ohio State Wednesday, their resume will be greatly bolstered.
5. Michigan State 15-7, 6-3
The Spartans are starting to play well again with wins over Rutgers and Michigan in the past week. Their next game on Saturday vs. Illinois represents another winnable game. Not much new to report here.
4. Indiana 16-7, 6-4
Indiana has hit a skid of late, losing three out of its last four. However, all three of those losses were on the road to good teams in Ohio State, Purdue and Wisconsin. So, before we jump to conclusions, look at the Hoosiers’ whole body of work and you will still see a good team that should make it back to the Big Dance.
3. Ohio State 17-5, 6-3
There are a few teams in the conference starting to play well, but the hottest team in the conference (well, at least aside from Wisconsin) has to be the Buckeyes. Oho State is riding a three-game winning streak with its last two wins over ranked teams in Indiana and Maryland. The Buckeyes’ game on Wednesday against Purdue should be an intriguing matchup.
2. Maryland 18-4, 6-3
While the Terrapins were no doubt overwhelmed by Ohio State last week, their equal conference record to the Buckeyes and total body of work keeps them in the two spot for now. They could be in line for a successful week with games on tap against Penn State on Wednesday and a road trip to Iowa on Sunday.
1. Wisconsin 20-2, 8-1
Then we get to Wisconsin. The Badgers have stood tall all season and continue to play marvelously. And they are doing it with Traevon Jackson missing the last five games, with the Badgers impressively staying perfect in that stretch. Give it up to Bronson Koenig for playing above and beyond expectations while filling in for Jackson. So, yeah, it’s going pretty well for the fine folks in Madison.