Although college basketball tips off in mid-November, it generally doesn’t feel like the season officially begins until the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. By that point, everybody has played a handful of games and faced at least one competent opponent. We can move away from speculating and focus our analysis on what’s actually happened on the court.
And with Michigan’s win over North Carolina on Wednesday night, the 2018 edition of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge is in the books. The conferences split (3-3) and we learned a lot more about many of the league’s top teams. As such, let’s dive in and look at how the league sits after the Challenge.
Please also note that this year’s rankings are going to be a tad different. I am only going to look at things each team has accomplished on the court. No projecting or predicting anymore. I will place an emphasis on recent play, but I am only going to be looking strictly at results going forward.
Big Ten Week Four Power Rankings
#1 - Michigan Wolverines (--)
The Wolverines played two games since our last rankings, beating Chattanooga at home on Black Friday and cruising to a double-digit win over North Carolina on Wednesday. The team now sits at 7-0 and is easily the choice for the top spot in this week’s rankings.
Not only has Michigan beaten each of its opponents, but it’s done so in dominating fashion. Every win has come by 10 points or more and that includes a road win over Villanova, a neutral court win over Providence, and a home win over North Carolina. There are very few teams nationally that have wins anywhere near that.
The question for the Wolverines moving forward will be how long the team can keep this up. Michigan gets Purdue at home on Saturday and then travels to Northwestern on Tuesday. KenPom has the Wolverines as solid favorites in both games, with 66 percent odds or better against the Boilermakers and Wildcats.
But where things really get interesting is after those two games.
If Michigan finds a way to get through its next two games (a major question), it could be looking at an undefeated start heading into 2019. The Wolverines don’t play another top 50 opponent until Indiana on January 6th and are favored (78 percent odds or better in every game) until a road trip to Madison on January 19th.
All things said, this is setting up to be another great year for Michigan. We will get another solid look at the Wolverines on Saturday as the team faces off against Purdue.
#2 - Wisconsin Badgers (+4)
The Badgers have cruised under the radar for most of this season, but the team is starting to put together a pretty impressive resume. Since our last rankings, Wisconsin went 2-1 in its trip to the Bahamas with wins over Stanford and Oklahoma and a loss to Virginia. It also beat a solid North Carolina State team at home on Tuesday night.
With its win on Tuesday, Wisconsin now sits at 6-1 overall, with three wins against top 60 opponents. And considering that its only loss came away from home against an elite Virginia squad, it’s hard to criticize much. Ethan Happ has been a monster down low and Brad Davison is doing work in the backcourt.
Wisconsin will now go on the road to face Iowa on Friday to finish out this week.
#3 - Nebraska Cornhuskers (+1)
The Huskers are another team that is a bit under the radar nationally. However, after beating Western Illinois at home on Saturday and going on the road and beating a ranked Clemson team on Monday night, it’s hard to deny what’s going on in Lincoln. With those wins, Nebraska now sits at 6-1 and has two wins against top 60 teams.
Unlike last season, Nebraska now has a marquee non-conference win to hang its hat on. Beating Clemson on the road is going to look really impressive as the season continues. Add in that Seton Hall win and that’s two solid wins.
But there’s still more work to be done. Nebraska now needs to add more top 100 wins and wins away from home. The Huskers will get an opportunity to do the former at home against Illinois on Sunday. Expect Nebraska to cruise.
#4 - Iowa Hawkeyes (+1)
The Hawkeyes got off relatively easy in this year’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge, as the team faced an underwhelming Pittsburgh team at home on Tuesday night. Things were interesting for some time, but Iowa was able to get the win and improved to 6-0 on the year.
While Iowa’s surprising wins over Oregon and UConn have diminished a bit over the last few weeks, it’s hard to argue with what the Hawkeyes have done so far. The team is undefeated and has beaten some quality competition. Iowa will hope to keep that going on Friday night against Wisconsin at home.
#5 - Ohio State Buckeyes (-3)
The Buckeyes may have fallen to Syracuse on Wednesday night, but the team has looked pretty solid throughout the first month of the season. Ohio State is 6-1 overall and has two really nice wins against Cincinnati and Creighton in true road games. Plus, Syracuse looks to be one of the better teams in the country this year, so a loss to the Orange isn’t exactly terrible.
Ohio State will now get an intriguing game against Minnesota at home on Sunday. If the Buckeyes are going to be a Big Ten contenders this season, this is a game the team needs to find a way to win. It should be fun to watch.
#6 - Michigan State Spartans (-3)
It might seem odd to put a team with two losses this high in the rankings, but Michigan State’s resume is actually better than many might think. The Spartans fell to Louisville on the road on Tuesday, but the team is still 5-2 and has solid wins over UCLA and Texas. And the only losses came away from home in competitive games.
At this point, we’re starting to get a real sense about this Spartan team. Michigan State is a really good team, but probably isn’t great or elite. While it’s good enough to beat the vast majority of opponents, it is going to lose a lot of its toughest games.
Michigan State will hope to get back on track on Friday on the road against Rutgers.
#7 - Purdue Boilermakers (--)
The Boilermakers have been this year’s “missed opportunity” team in the Big Ten. While the team is 5-2 overall, its two losses have come in excruciating fashion. Purdue collapsed against Virginia Tech down the stretch and had an impressive comeback against Florida State this week before falling short.
By most measures, Purdue has looked like a top 25 team. Four of its five wins have come by double-digits and its only losses came away from home and against quality competition. However, this team does look weaker than last year’s group. And with a terrifying slate coming up, that’s not an encouraging thing to hear.
This weekend, Purdue will go on the road to face Michigan on Saturday. It should be a really exciting game that puts one of the nation’s best offensive teams against one of the best defensive teams.
#8 - Indiana Hoosiers (--)
The Hoosiers had an absolutely terrible loss on Tuesday night on the road against Duke. Indiana was utterly dominated for the entire duration of the game and was never in position to beat the Blue Devils. It was the team’s second loss of the season after falling on the road to Arkansas a little over a week ago.
However, Indiana has still shown some encouraging signs. The Hoosiers blew out Marquette in the Gavitt Games and has handled itself well against undermatched opponents. Indiana can really start building its resume on Saturday with a home game against Northwestern.
#9 - Maryland Terrapins (+1)
Although the Terps have yet to beat a quality opponent this season, Maryland looks like it’s going to beat quite a few by season’s end. Since our last rankings, Maryland beat Marshall at home on Black Friday and narrowly fell against Virginia on Wednesday night.
Maryland now gets a key opportunity to prove it has turned the page on last season with a home game against Penn State on Saturday. It’s the team’s second chance to beat a top 100 opponent and falling to Virginia.
#10 - Rutgers Scarlet Knights (+4)
The Scarlet Knights have been a bit of an odd ball so far this season. Rutgers has looked utterly incompetent at times, but now sits at 5-1 after going on the road and beating a Miami (FL) team that is 31st nationally in KenPom.
So, maybe Rutgers is going to be decent this year?
Honestly, it’s hard to tell where this team is heading. It has been playing improved basketball, but the team’s horrific offense is going to lead to a lot of swing games. The question will be whether Rutgers can bump its offense up into the top 200 nationally. If so, Rutgers could be a very dangerous team.
This Friday, Rutgers will host Michigan State as the team goes for its first win over the Spartans in program history.
#11 - Minnesota Golden Gophers (-2)
Meh. That’s really all I could come up with regard to Minnesota this week. The Gophers are 5-1, but haven’t looked particularly impressive in getting there. The team beat Texas A&M, Utah, and Washington, but fell to Boston College and has won most of its games by narrow margins. That’s not an encouraging trend moving forward.
This weekend, Minnesota will face Oklahoma State in US Bank Stadium and Ohio State on the road on Sunday. Even a split here would be huge. But an 0-2 performance could begin a slide with Nebraska coming to town on Wednesday. That would not be good news for head coach Richard Pitino in a pivotal season.
#12 - Northwestern Wildcats (-1)
The Wildcats only had one game since our last set of power rankings and were able to beat Georgia Tech at home on Wednesday in it. The team now sits at 6-1 overall, but has yet to face a top 50 opponent. But that will change shortly as the team will go on the road to face Indiana on Saturday. It should be a very telling matchup for the Wildcats.
#13 - Penn State Nittany Lions (-1)
The Nittany Lions may be coming off a win over Virginia Tech, but the team has been a mess for the first month of the season. Penn State lost to DePaul on the road early on and then followed that up with a loss against Bradley before Thanksgiving. The team now sits at 4-2 and has two bad losses with an elite win.
It’s hard to tell where Penn State will go moving forward. The return of Mike Watkins is certainly an encouraging sign, but can the Nittany Lions perform against quality competition moving forward? We will have to wait and see. Penn State will go on the road to face Maryland on Saturday.
#14 - Illinois Fighting Illini (-1)
If we counted moral victories, Illinois might have one of the most impressive resumes in the country. Illinois has lost five games already, but all came against top 100 opponents by less than 10 points. And only one of those losses (Georgetown) came at home. It’s why Illinois has only dropped five spots on KenPom, despite starting with a 2-5 overall record.
Illinois will now hope to get back on track after losing to Notre Dame with a road trip to Nebraska on Sunday. Perhaps the Illini can finally beat a tough opponent?