It’s a new year, which means that conference play has resumed in full force. The last few weeks were filled with a lot of underwhelming matchups across the Big Ten, but that won’t be the case moving forward.
Few conferences can match the intensity of the Big Ten’s league play and things should be even more dramatic this year with how poorly the conference performed over the last two months. With only a handful of teams projecting as NCAA Tournament squads, avoiding upsets will be even more important. Let the drama begin.
And with that, let’s take a look at the latest Big Ten power rankings.
Big Ten Week Eight Power Rankings
#1 - Michigan State Spartans (--)
The Spartans had two games last week and cruised to easy wins over Cleveland State and Savannah State at home. While there’s no debating that both opponents were terrible, Michigan State has looked the part of a national championship contender. The team is 14-1 heading into January and has scored 100 points in four straight games.
Michigan State will move on to one of the more interesting slates in the league this week with Maryland at home on Thursday and Ohio State on the road on Sunday. The Spartans are projected to win both games, but both look tricky on paper. Maryland is a top 30 opponent on KenPom and Ohio State has looked improved.
Two wins would also be huge for Michigan State’s league title hopes, as these are projected to be two of the team’s more challenging games until late January.
#2 - Purdue Boilermakers (--)
The Boilermakers only had one game last week and blew out Lipscomb at home on Saturday night. The 32-point loss was easily Lipscomb’s biggest of the season, which is significant, considering that Lipscomb played Alabama, Tennessee, and Texas on the road already this season. The win pushed Purdue to 13-2 overall on the season.
At this point, Purdue’s status is probably the biggest question in the league. Specifically, the question of whether the Boilermakers can actually challenge Michigan State for the Big Ten title. Smart money says that Purdue can this year. The team is up to third nationally on KenPom and is a favorite in its next 11 games.
This week, Purdue will resume Big Ten play with home games against Rutgers and Nebraska on Wednesday and Saturday, respectively. This should be a great opportunity for the team to get two warmup games in the books before a few tough road games.
#3 - Ohio State Buckeyes (+1)
The Buckeyes only had one game last week and scored a win over Miami (OH) at home on Saturday afternoon. The win pushed Ohio State to 11-4 overall and 6-1 over the team’s last seven games. Ohio State has looked the part of an NCAA Tournament contender so far and fans will learn much more in the near future.
This week, Ohio State will get Iowa on the road on Thursday and Michigan State at home on Sunday. Both games have huge potential RPI implications for the Buckeyes. Adding a road win and/or a win over the No. 1 team in the nation would be huge. If Ohio State wins both games, expectations will need to be adjusted. Again.
#4 - Michigan Wolverines (+2)
The Wolverines had two games over the last week and scored two wins. The first was at home against a terrible Jacksonville team and the second came on the road against Iowa on Tuesday night. It was the program’s first win in Iowa City since February of 2011. The two wins pushed Michigan to 13-3 on the season.
Since the team’s road loss to Ohio State on December 4th, Michigan has been playing some of the best basketball in the Big Ten. The Wolverines have won six straight, including three wins away from home and three against top 100 opponents. Michigan certainly appears to be trending on the right side of the bubble, as of now.
This week, Michigan will get Illinois at home on Saturday. In a down Big Ten, these are the type of games where teams like Michigan need to take care of business.
#5 - Maryland Terrapins (-2)
The Terrapins had two games last week. The first was an easy win over UMBC at home, but the second was far more difficult. Maryland had to earn a hard fought win against Penn State at home on Tuesday. It was the first game since the team learned that Ivan Bender and Justin Jackson would miss the rest of the season with injury. As such, there’s not much for fans to complain about after the win.
However, there’s also no denying that Maryland will need to play better than it did on Tuesday if it hopes to contend with the top of the Big Ten. Expectations certainly won’t be the same without Bender and Jackson, but Terp fans are still hoping for some postseason magic. Maryland will need to do better to reach those goals.
And things will remain difficult going forward as Maryland goes on the road to face Michigan State on Thursday and then returns home to face Iowa on Sunday. It’s hard to see Maryland going into East Lansing and getting a win, but the team needs to go at least 1-1 during this upcoming stretch.
#6 - Minnesota Golden Gophers (-1)
The Golden Gophers only had one game this week and scored a double-digit win over Harvard at home on Saturday. While this year’s team isn’t as good as the last few, the Crimson still have talent and can push quality opponents. Grabbing a win there should help boost Minnesota’s resume by season’s end.
Minnesota will get a particularly interesting set of games this week with Illinois at home on Wednesday and Indiana at home on Saturday. Both of these games should be wins. In fact, KenPom gives Minnesota 79 percent (or better) odds in both games. However, the Illini and Hoosiers are tricky opponents. Minnesota needs to find a way to take care of business and extend its four-game winning streak.
#7 - Nebraska Cornhuskers (+1)
The Huskers had two games over the last week and picked up two important wins. The first was a home win to close out non-conference play against Stetson and the second was a convincing road win against Northwestern. The two wins pushed the Huskers to 11-5 overall and 2-1 in Big Ten play.
Over the last month, Nebraska has looked like an improved unit. The Huskers are 7-3 since late November with the only three losses coming against Creighton, Kansas, and Michigan State. And considering that two of those games were on the road, it’s hard to complain much about that performance.
Nebraska will now move on to face Purdue on the road on Saturday. An upset there would completely change Nebraska’s postseason expectations.
#8 - Northwestern Wildcats (-1)
The Wildcats are in panic mode. While the team beat Brown at home last Saturday, Northwestern fell flat against Nebraska at home on Tuesday night and is currently without star guard Bryant McIntosh. At this point, an NCAA Tournament appearance is looking like more than a longshot.
Northwestern will hope to get back on track against Penn State on the road on Friday. It’s hard to imagine the Wildcats making the field without a win there.
#9 - Wisconsin Badgers (+1)
The Badgers had two games last week and scored wins over UMass Lowell and Indiana at home. The two wins pushed Wisconsin to 9-7 overall and 2-1 in Big Ten play. It was Wisconsin’s fifth-straight win overall and its fifth-straight win over Indiana.
This week, Wisconsin will hope to continue its positive momentum with a road game against Rutgers on Friday. If the Badgers have any hope of making some noise in Big Ten play, these are the games that Wisconsin needs to win.
#10 - Penn State Nittany Lions (-1)
The Nittany Lions split the team’s games over the last week. While Penn State beat a terrible Coppin State team at home on Saturday, it fell short on the road against Maryland on Tuesday night. Considering that Penn State was in position to beat the Terps late, it was a frustrating loss for Pat Chambers and the program.
While the advanced numbers still like Penn State, it’s hard to feel too positive about where things are heading for Chambers. The team is 11-5 overall and its best win came against an Iowa squad that is just 9-7 on the season. There’s still plenty of time for Penn State to get back on track, but the pressure is building.
For perspective, think about it this way. KenPom currently projects the Nittany Lions to finish the regular season at 20-11 overall. However, KenPom has Penn State rated 41st in the nation, which seems immensely optimistic at this juncture. Moreover, 20-11 probably won’t even be good enough to make the NCAA Tournament, considering how bad the Big Ten has been this season and Penn State’s home loss to Rider.
Simply put, Penn State needs to get to work. And quickly.
That path will start this Friday at home against a tricky Northwestern squad. If Bryant McIntosh can play for the Wildcats, expect a fierce battle.
#11 - Illinois Fighting Illini (--)
The Illini had one game last week and scored a solid home win against Grand Canyon over the weekend. While the Antelopes aren’t great, Grand Canyon is a good enough team to boost Illinois’ resume moving forward. It was the team’s second straight win and its third in the last four games.
Illinois will try and build on its recent momentum with two road games this week at Minnesota on Wednesday and at Michigan on Saturday. The Illini will be significant underdogs in both games.
#12 - Indiana Hoosiers (--)
The Hoosiers had two games over the last week and saw mixed results. Indiana scored a home win against Youngstown State on Friday, but fell short on the road against Wisconsin on Tuesday. Indiana now sits at 8-7 overall and 1-2 in Big Ten play.
Indiana will hope to get back on track over the weekend with a road game against Minnesota on Saturday. An upset would be huge for Indiana’s season.
#13 - Iowa Hawkeyes (--)
The Hawkeyes were another team that saw mixed results last week. The team scored an easy win over Northern Illinois on Friday, but fell short against Michigan at home on Tuesday night. The split left Iowa at 9-7 overall and 0-3 in Big Ten play.
Let’s be honest about things. While it’s still early, Iowa’s looking at a really steep hill to climb to get back in serious postseason contention. Last season, the Hawkeyes were 18-15 overall heading into Selection Sunday and still missed the NCAA Tournament. And, remember, that was with a better non-conference resume and a much stronger Big Ten. What this means is that Iowa likely needs 19 or 20 wins to even have a shot at making the NCAA Tournament this time around.
For Iowa to get into that win range, the team needs to win somewhere around 10 of its next 15 games. That’s a pretty tall task, especially considering that Iowa still has games against Michigan State and Purdue and road games against Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, and Ohio State. Simply put, don’t bet on it.
More realistically, Iowa will have to focus on building some confidence and momentum within its program. That quest will start this week with Ohio State at home on Thursday and Maryland on the road on Sunday.
#14 - Rutgers Scarlet Knights (--)
The Scarlet Knights had one game last week and fell to a terrible Hartford team at home. It was the team’s second-straight loss. With the loss, all positive momentum from the team’s fast start evaporated. Rutgers now sits at 10-5 overall.
This week, Rutgers will get Purdue on the road on Wednesday and Wisconsin at home on Friday. A win in either game would be huge.