What a weekend in college basketball. While fans who follow the sport know how unpredictable it can be on a weekly basis, one won’t see many stretches as crazy as the last weekend. Not only did Michigan State get upset on the road, but other quality teams like Duke, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and TCU also went down.
This leaves the nation, and the Big Ten, in an intriguing place. Every team is vulnerable on any given night. And that should make the next few months even more exciting for Big Ten fans. There’s no telling how things will shape up going forward.
And with that, let’s take a look at the latest Big Ten power rankings.
Big Ten Week Nine Power Rankings
#1 - Purdue Boilermakers (+1)
The Boilermakers have returned to the top of this week’s rankings after adding two home wins over Rutgers and Nebraska last week. Both wins came by double-digits and pushed Purdue to 15-2 overall and 4-0 in Big Ten play.
Since Thanksgiving, Purdue has now won 11 games in a row, including six wins against top 100 teams on KenPom and eight wins by 10 points or more. Purdue hasn’t even really been challenged since a game against Northwestern on December 3rd. It’s been one of the most impressive runs in the country.
While some might scoff at the idea of Purdue moving above Michigan State, their disdain is entirely misguided. The Boilermakers are red hot and a legitimate challenge to the Spartans in this year’s Big Ten. In fact, Purdue is now projected to go 15-3 in Big Ten play, which is the same mark KenPom projects for Michigan State.
This week, Purdue will face arguably its toughest week or the season with Michigan on the road on Tuesday and Minnesota on the road on Saturday. The Boilermakers are favored in both games, but going 2-0 will be a major challenge. However, this is a huge opportunity for Purdue to get in great position for a Big Ten title run.
#2 - Michigan State Spartans (-1)
The Spartans entered last week as arguably the hottest team in the nation. Michigan State had won 13 games in a row and had scored at least 100 points in four straight games. It was the definition of absolute domination. In fact, Michigan State hadn’t even been seriously challenged for over a month.
And that success continued into the early part of last week. On Thursday, Michigan State leveled what looked like a good Maryland team at home. The Terps ended up losing by 30, but it probably wasn’t even that competitive. Even if Maryland isn’t a serious national title contender, it does project as an NCAA Tournament team. And leveling a team like that, even at home, was incredibly impressive.
However, Michigan State’s luck ran out on Sunday. The Spartans went on the road to face Ohio State and got kicked in the face. Michigan State looked underwhelming all day and fell by a final score of 80-64. It was the team’s second loss of the season.
There are two ways to evaluate Saturday’s loss. The first is to simply write it off as bad luck against a quality team on the road. These things happen in college basketball. Look no further than teams like Duke, North Carolina, and Villanova.
However, one could also argue that this game exposed some of Michigan State’s issues. This was only the team’s second road game of the season and only its second real challenge since November. The team struggled with turnovers, foul trouble, and poor shooting. Moreover, Nick Ward and the backcourt underwhelmed.
My guess is that Sunday’s game fell somewhere in between those two categories. Michigan State isn’t the perfect team that Spartan fans have opined about, but it’s not nearly as bad as it looked on Sunday.
We will see if Michigan State can get back on track this week with Rutgers at home on Wednesday and arch-rival Michigan at home on Saturday afternoon.
#3 - Ohio State Buckeyes (--)
The Buckeyes entered last week in a really interesting place. While Ohio State had looked solid for most of the early portions of its schedule, it was still projecting somewhere around the bubble for the NCAA Tournament. If the team hoped to change its position, it needed to score some quality wins, and soon.
And Ohio State did just that.
Last week, Ohio State went on the road and beat Iowa on Thursday and then pulled off a massive upset of top-ranked Michigan State on Sunday. The two wins pushed Ohio State to 13-4 overall, 4-0 in Big Ten play, and solidly on the right side of the bubble. There’s still work to be done, but it was easily the team’s best week of the season.
The biggest difference so far this season has been the play of Keita Bates-Diop. He’s averaging 20.0 points and 8.8 rebounds this season and looks like an easy pick for the All-Big Ten team so far. In Sunday’s win against Michigan State, he had 32 points and seven rebounds. Notably, Bates-Diop has been the KenPom MVP in Ohio State’s last nine games, including matchups against Michigan, Michigan State, and North Carolina.
Ohio State will hope it can keep things rolling this week with Maryland at home on Thursday and Rutgers on the road on Sunday. If the Buckeyes win those two games, we probably need to start considering Ohio State a solid NCAA bet.
#4 - Michigan Wolverines (--)
The Wolverines are another team that appears to be trending up in Big Ten play. Michigan improved to 14-3 overall and 3-1 in Big Ten play with a road win over Iowa on Tuesday and a home win against Illinois on Saturday. Michigan has now won seven games in a row. Its last loss came against Ohio State on December 4th.
Michigan will get, undeniably, its toughest week of the season so far this week with Purdue at home on Tuesday and Michigan State on the road on Saturday. The Wolverines are underdogs in both games. However, if Michigan can find a way to steal at least one of the games, it would go a long way toward the team’s postseason hopes.
#5 - Maryland Terrapins (--)
The Terrapins entered last week in an uncomfortable place. After learning that Ivan Bender and Justin Jackson would miss the remainder of the season with injuries, few knew what to expect out of Maryland. The roster still had plenty of talent, but surviving two huge injuries in the same position group is tough to survive.
All things considered, Maryland did a decent job of moving on from the injuries last week. While the Terps got blown out on the road on Thursday, the team rebounded with a win over Iowa at home on Sunday night. As such, Maryland now sits at 14-4 overall and 3-2 in Big Ten play this season.
This week, Maryland will get Ohio State on the road on Thursday. Fans will be hoping this matchup goes better than the team’s last road game against Michigan State.
#6 - Nebraska Cornhuskers (+1)
The Huskers had a mixed week, as the team went on the road and beat Northwestern on Tuesday and then fell in West Lafayette to Purdue on Saturday. The split pushed Nebraska to 11-6 overall and 2-2 in Big Ten play.
Nebraska still doesn’t look like an elite team, but the Huskers are a team that could take advantage of a down Big Ten. If Nebraska can take care of home court and steal road games like Tuesday’s win over Northwestern, watch out.
This week, Nebraska will face Wisconsin at home on Tuesday and Penn State on the road on Friday. These are the games where the Huskers can separate from the bottom half of the league. Nebraska could easily go 2-0 in these two games.
#7 - Minnesota Golden Gophers (-1)
The Golden Gophers easily had the Big Ten’s most dramatic and unexpected stretch of any Big Ten team over the last few days. While Minnesota started off last week well with a win over Illinois at home on Wednesday, things quickly spun out of control as star center Reggie Lynch was suspended as a result of sexual assault allegations, Amir Coffey went out with injury, and the team blew a home game against a struggling Indiana team on Saturday.
Let’s begin with the elephant in the room. I don’t want to speculate on a case where we know so few details, but this Lynch situation doesn’t look good for Richard Pitino and the Minnesota Athletic Department. There are a lot of important questions to ask in the coming weeks, but perhaps the biggest is why a player accused of such a heinous act was allowed to play in the first place.
As of now, I’m not sure anybody has a clear answer to that question. A press conference was held by Minnesota last week, but few questions were actually answered. Either way, this issue doesn’t seem (and shouldn’t) be one that goes away quickly. It could easily derail what appeared to be a promising season.
But, even putting aside any ethical and legal concerns, Lynch’s suspension is also going to have a huge impact for the Gophers on the court. He was the team’s best defensive player and dominated the team’s minutes upfront. In fact, in Minnesota’s win over Illinois on Wednesday, he played 30 minutes and was KenPom’s MVP of the game. Simply put, Minnesota has no clear replacement on its roster.
Unfortunately, Minnesota won’t get much time to regroup. The Gophers travel to Northwestern on Wednesday and host Purdue on Saturday. Minnesota needs to find a way to split those two games.
#8 - Penn State Nittany Lions (+2)
The Nittany Lions had a mixed performance last week, dropping a road game against Maryland on Tuesday and beating Northwestern at home on Friday. Penn State now sits at 12-5 overall and 2-2 in Big Ten play.
Penn State is now entering its most important stretch of the season. While many fans seem to think the Nittany Lions are in decent shape for an NCAA at-large bid, that isn’t the case. In fact, Penn State has some substantial work to do, to even have a chance.
To put things in perspective, just consider some of Penn State’s statistical measures right now. CBS currently has the Nittany Lions at 114th in RPI and T-Rank projects Penn State as the 10th team out of the field. To date, Penn State’s best wins are against struggling Iowa and Northwestern teams. Penn State also lost at home to Rider.
There is still time to get back on track, but the Nittany Lions don’t have a huge margin for error. The team will get Indiana on the road on Tuesday and Nebraska at home on Friday. Those both need to be wins.
#9 - Northwestern Wildcats (-1)
The Wildcats entered last week in a “do or die” situation. Northwestern was 10-5 and desperately needed to start scoring wins to get back into the postseason conversation. Of course, that didn’t happen. Northwestern lost at home to Nebraska on Tuesday night and on the road to Penn State on Friday. The Wildcats dropped to 10-7 overall.
Realistically, Northwestern’s at-large hopes are overall. However, the Wildcats can still end up with a winning record in Big Ten play, with some improvement. Northwestern will hope to start that ride with Minnesota at home on Wednesday and Indiana on the road on Sunday. These are two very winnable games.
#10 - Wisconsin Badgers (-1)
The Badgers split the team’s games this week, beating Indiana at home on Tuesday and dropping a road game against Rutgers on Friday. The split left Wisconsin at 9-8 overall and 2-2 in Big Ten play. These are tough times in Madison.
Wisconsin will now move on to face Nebraska on the road on Tuesday this week. Like a few other teams on this list, Wisconsin’s at-large hopes are dead at this point. However, the team can still make some noise in Big Ten play. This is an opportunity.
#11 - Indiana Hoosiers (+1)
The Hoosiers split the team’s games this week, losing on the road to Wisconsin on Tuesday and beating Minnesota on the road on Saturday. The split pushed Indiana to 9-7 overall and 2-2 in Big Ten play.
Indiana will now face Penn State at home on Tuesday and Northwestern at home on Sunday. This is Indiana’s easiest week (on paper) remaining this season. As such, Indiana needs to find a way to capitalize.
#12 - Rutgers Scarlet Knights (+2)
The Scarlet Knights split the team’s games this week, losing on the road against Purdue on Wednesday and beating Wisconsin at home on Friday. Rutgers now sits at 11-6 overall and 1-3 in Big Ten play. It’s been a roller coaster so far for the team.
Rutgers will now get Michigan State on the road on Wednesday and Ohio State at home on Sunday. Both games figure to be difficult ones for the Scarlet Knights. Fans will need to hope for a split.
#13 - Illinois Fighting Illini (-2)
The Illini had two games this week and lost on the road against Minnesota on Wednesday and on the road against Michigan on Saturday. The two losses dropped Illinois to 10-7 overall and 0-4 in Big Ten play.
This week, Illinois will get Iowa at home on Thursday. Undoubtedly, this is the team’s most winnable Big Ten game so far this season.
#14 - Iowa Hawkeyes (-1)
The Hawkeyes had a full week with Michigan at home on Tuesday, Ohio State at home on Thursday, and Maryland on the road on Sunday. Unfortunately, Iowa dropped all three games and fell to 9-9 overall and 0-5 in Big Ten play.
Iowa will hope to get back on track with Illinois on the road on Thursday. Iowa’s postseason hopes are dead, but getting a win could at least add some confidence.