The Big Ten enters this Monday after an interesting slate of games taking place last week. The league wrapped up its early season conference play and got a few more marquee non-conference matchups in the record books. Unfortunately, the results weren’t all that encouraging for this year’s Big Ten.
Nonetheless, let’s take a look at how things sorted out.
Big Ten Week Five Power Rankings
#1 - Michigan State Spartans (--)
The Spartans had two manageable games on the slate last week and cruised to comfortable wins in both matchups. The first was a 10-point win on the road against Rutgers and the second was a 15-point win at home against Southern Utah. The two wins pushed Michigan State to 9-1 overall and 2-0 in Big Ten play.
While Michigan State has shown some flaws this season, there isn’t too much to take away from last week’s slate of games. Jaren Jackson continues to be excellent and the Spartans continue to look like the class of the league. The team also appears to be in position to move atop the national rankings on Monday afternoon.
This week, Michigan State only gets one game and it comes on a neutral court against a feisty Oakland squad. Barring something unusual, this should be the team’s most interesting game for the rest of the month.
#2 - Purdue Boilermakers (+1)
The Boilermakers have been red hot over the last few weeks and added two more wins in the last few days. Those wins came at home against Valparaiso and IUPUI. As a result, Purdue pushed its win streak to six games and its record to 10-2 overall.
Perhaps the most impressive part of Purdue’s recent run has been the balance on both sides of the court. The Boilermakers are ranked in the top 15 in both offensive and defensive efficiency and feature a multitude of options offensively. Dakota Mathias is also showing himself to be a major senior contributor.
However, Purdue will get a major test this weekend with Butler on a neutral court on Saturday in the Crossroads Classic. This is a great opportunity for the Boilermakers to add another quality win before conference play. With the losses to Tennessee and Western Kentucky in the Bahamas, adding one more solid win gains added importance.
#3 - Maryland Terrapins (+2)
The Terrapins had two games this week and cruised to easy wins over both Ohio and Gardner Webb at home. Neither opponent was great, but the Bobcats had shown some fight in some earlier matchups this season. All told, Maryland improved to 9-3 overall.
Maryland will now get two ‘buy’ games on the schedule with Catholic on Tuesday and Fairleigh Dickinson at home on Thursday. These should both be easy wins. However, it does give Maryland some more time to continue developing its young roster.
#4 - Minnesota Golden Gophers (-2)
The Golden Gophers had one of the Big Ten’s roughest performances last week, losing on the road to Nebraska on Tuesday and on the road to Arkansas on Saturday. While road losses are never that surprising, Minnesota’s loss to Nebraska was particularly troubling, as Nebraska has looked relatively underwhelming all season.
There are two things to seem to be limiting Minnesota’s play so far this season. These are a lackluster bench and the inconsistency without Reggie Lynch on the floor. Minnesota can’t seem to find any productive bench options outside of Isaiah Washington and the defense struggles when Lynch gets in foul trouble.
Unfortunately, Minnesota’s issues aren’t ones that will likely be resolved overnight. Lynch is well past the point of entirely revolutionizing his game and expecting freshmen to turn into major contributors is always a questionable tactic. Richard Pitino and his staff simply need to find some ways to minimize these issues.
Minnesota only gets one game this week with Drake at home on Monday. Assuming the Gophers win that one comfortably, the team will get a chance to regroup before more challenging games appear in late December and January.
#5 - Ohio State Buckeyes (+1)
The Buckeyes continue to be one of the more surprising teams in the league and improved to 8-3 overall last week with wins over Michigan and William & Mary. The win over the Wolverines was particularly impressive, as Ohio State managed to get down 20 points and come back for a comfortable win at the final buzzer. Of course, it also must have been a nice boost to Chris Holtmann to get a rivalry win so early in his tenure.
Ohio State will only have one game this week and it comes at home against Appalachian State on Saturday. The Buckeyes should be able to cruise.
#6 - Penn State Nittany Lions (-2)
The Nittany Lions had a mixed week with a loss to Wisconsin at home on Monday night and an easy win over George Washington on Saturday. The split pushed the team to 8-3 overall, despite not really having a marquee win to date.
However, Penn State will get a chance to improve its record yet again this week with George Mason on the road. This is a sneaky important game for Penn State’s resume, as it figures to be a quality RPI win by season’s end, since it’s on the road. Penn State needs to come out on top.
#7 - Michigan Wolverines (--)
The Wolverines were another team with a mixed week of play, but nobody in the Big Ten did it with more drama. Michigan opened up by jumping out to a 20-point lead on the road against Ohio State, only to end up losing comfortably. It then followed that by getting down big at home against UCLA, only to come back and win in overtime.
Michigan currently projects as one of the Big Ten’s biggest question marks as the calendar rolls through December. The team has looked like a comfortable NCAA Tournament squad at times and an NIT team (at best) during other stretches. Perhaps fans will have a better feel on the Wolverines this week with Texas on the road on Tuesday and Detroit on a neutral court on Saturday. Two wins would be massive.
#8 - Northwestern Wildcats (--)
The Wildcats had a bye this week after dropping on the road to Purdue on December 3rd. The team sits at 5-4 and is looking to get back on track after a rough start. This week, Northwestern gets Chicago State and Valparaiso at home on Monday and Thursday, respectively, and DePaul on the road on Saturday. Three wins would go a long way toward getting the Wildcats back in serious NCAA Tournament consideration.
#9 - Indiana Hoosiers (+3)
The Hoosiers were another team with mixed results last week. Indiana opened up with a solid win over Iowa at home on Monday, but fell on the road against a talented Louisville squad on Saturday. The split left Indiana at 5-5 overall and 1-1 in Big Ten play.
This week, Indiana gets one last chance to score a marquee non-conference win with Notre Dame in the Crossroads Classic on Saturday. The Fighting Irish are 8-2 overall and will be significant favorites when the two teams tipoff. However, Indiana could drastically reshape its season narrative with an upset win.
#10 - Wisconsin Badgers (-1)
The Badgers are officially in trouble. Although the team opened up with a rough November, most figured that things would get back on track as the season unfolded. Unfortunately, through more than a week of December, that has not been the case.
In fact, last week was a particularly rough one for the Badgers. Although the team scored a road win against Penn State on Monday, it followed that up by losing to Temple on Wednesday and by suffering a (blowout) loss to Marquette at home on Saturday. With the latter loss, Wisconsin has now already lost three home games.
Wisconsin will get one chance to rebound this week with Western Kentucky at home on Wednesday. The Hilltoppers are a relatively dangerous opponent and the Badgers will need to watch out or risk falling to 4-8 overall. Although it doesn’t really require saying, a loss in that game would be devastating for the team’s postseason chances.
#11 - Nebraska Cornhuskers (+2)
The Huskers had two games last week and showed some encouraging signs, despite only splitting those two matchups. The first was a road win over a talented Minnesota team on Tuesday and the second was a loss to a really solid Creighton team on Saturday. Nebraska now sits at 7-4 overall and 1-1 in Big Ten play.
Nebraska will get another opportunity to score a marquee win this week with Kansas at home on Saturday. The Jayhawks figure to be in the national championship picture, but are reeling after some rough recent play. A win could reshape Nebraska’s season.
#12 - Illinois Fighting Illini (-2)
The Illini had a disappointing week. Although the team scored a home win against Austin Peay on Wednesday, it fell in a competitive road game against UNLV on Saturday. The split dropped the team to 7-4 overall. Unfortunately, none of those seven wins game against a top 100 team on KenPom.
This week, Illinois will get Longwood at home on Wednesday and New Mexico State on a neutral court on Saturday. Illinois really needs to find a way to win both games.
#13 - Rutgers Scarlet Knights (+1)
The Scarlet Knights had three home games last week and those games largely went according to plan. Rutgers lost the first game against Michigan State and then scored wins over underwhelming NJIT and Fairleigh Dickinson teams on Thursday and Saturday. That performance pushed Rutgers to 8-3 overall on the season.
To date, there really isn’t much to evaluate about this Rutgers team. It has lost against every competent opponent its faced, but has scored eight wins otherwise. This week will be another interesting mixing of games with Fordham at home on Tuesday and Seton Hall at home on Saturday. Rutgers will likely end up 1-1 in those games.
#14 - Iowa Hawkeyes (-3)
The Hawkeyes entered last week with a lot riding on the line. Although I hate setting the goalposts for a team this early, I viewed that set of games as a sort of last resort for Iowa. It needed to find a way to pull off a win or two, or risk entering Big Ten play with a pretty rough resume.
Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes, that didn’t happen. The team lost by 13 points to Indiana on Monday and in a competitive game against Iowa State on Thursday before getting back on track against a terrible Southern team on Sunday. The performance left Iowa at 5-6 overall and in terrible shape for the postseason.
By any account, Iowa just isn’t a good team this season. The Hawkeyes have already slid to 80th on KenPom and there’s little to indicate that trend will be reversing anytime soon. Nonetheless, Iowa will get Drake on a neutral court this Saturday to try and build momentum before the close of non-conference play.