Last week was an absolute whopper for the Big Ten. Not only did fans see a number of marquee matchups involving the league’s best teams, but they also got to see plenty of others battle for Big Ten and NCAA Tournament positioning.
What we’re left with is a complex picture of the league that should set up a dynamite finish over the next two weeks. There’s going to be plenty of drama for fans in the coming days and it should stop at the top, as the league’s best teams try to get a share of this year’s Big Ten regular season title.
With that, let’s take a look at the latest Big Ten power rankings.
Big Ten Week 14 Power Rankings
#1 - Ohio State Buckeyes (+2)
The Buckeyes entered last week with many expecting the team to fall back to reality with a challenging slate. There’s a notion that Ohio State has overachieved this season and a road trip to face Purdue figured to be the time when the Buckeyes had to take some medicine.
However, that’s not what happened. In fact, the inverse occurred. Ohio State not only beat Purdue on the road last week, but the team scored a win over Iowa on Saturday to take sole position of first place in the Big Ten standings. The Buckeyes are now 22-5 overall and 13-1 in Big Ten play. It’s been an incredible run.
Based upon preseason expectations, there’s no denying that this season will go down as a success for Ohio State. But the next two weeks could be really special for the Buckeyes. The team has a challenging closing slate, but has a great chance to grab the Big Ten title and the top seed in this year’s Big Ten Tournament.
After all, with tiebreaker over Michigan State and Purdue this season, Ohio State only needs to win three of its final four games to clinch the top seed in Madison Square Garden. That’s an incredible position for the Buckeyes to be in with games against Indiana, Penn State, and Rutgers remaining.
This week should be another big one for Ohio State as the team goes on the road to face Penn State on Thursday and on the road again on Sunday to face Michigan. Both opponents are in the top 100 on RPI and two wins could really help Ohio State’s final resume heading into Selection Sunday.
#2 - Michigan State Spartans (+1)
The Spartans had two games and scored two dramatic victories. The first came on the road against Iowa on Tuesday and the second came at home against a loaded Purdue team. The two wins pushed Michigan State to 24-3 overall, 12-2 in Big Ten play, and in the discussion for a one seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
Michigan State now faces what looks like a pretty manageable closing slate. The Spartans are favored in all four remaining games and don’t face a single team projected to make the NCAA Tournament the rest of the way. The tricky part, of course, will be avoiding upsets against this lower-tier competition.
Perhaps the most intriguing storyline will be about where Michigan State can land in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Many are opining that the Spartans should be a one seed, but a deeper dive into Michigan State’s profile raises some questions as to that conclusion.
As of Monday morning, Michigan State has only beaten two teams (North Carolina and Purdue) that are currently projected to make the NCAA Tournament. Regardless of your thoughts on strength of schedule, that’s a hard sell for a one seed. And, as mentioned above, Michigan State won’t have anymore opportunities in the regular season. It will likely take a Big Ten Tournament crown for the Spartans to even have a shot.
This week, Michigan State will hope to keep its run going with Minnesota on the road on Tuesday and Northwestern on the road on Saturday.
#3 - Purdue Boilermakers (-2)
The Boilermakers entered last week with a 19 game winning streak and a firm grasp on first place in the Big Ten standings. However, both of those things changed when Purdue lost at home to Ohio State on Wednesday and then fell on the road against Michigan State on Saturday. The losses left Purdue at 23-4 overall and 12-2 in Big Ten play.
Let’s be honest, neither loss last week was anything terrible for Purdue. Both opponents look like top 10 units and the games were decided by a total of four points. Without exaggerating, a bucket here or there legitimately could have changed the result of both of Purdue’s games last week. Things were seriously that tight.
However, it’s also important to note how damaging those losses were for Purdue as well. The Boilermakers went from having a firm grasp on the Big Ten to back a game in the standings and without tiebreaker over Michigan State or Ohio State. Barring an upset or two, Purdue could very well end up as the three seed in the Big Ten Tournament now.
The good news is that the closing slate is manageable for Purdue. The team can get back on track and hope that somebody surprises the Buckeyes and/or Spartans. This week, things start with Wisconsin on the road on Thursday and Penn State at home on Sunday.
#4 - Nebraska Cornhuskers (+1)
The Huskers played two games last week and scored wins in both matchups. The first came on the road against Minnesota on Tuesday and the second came at home against Rutgers on Saturday. The two wins pushed Nebraska to 19-8 overall and 10-4 in Big Ten play. The Huskers have now won five straight and seven of eight.
Nebraska’s run was cute for awhile, but things are starting to get serious for the Huskers. The team is closing in on an NCAA Tournament at-large bid and it could very well be decided in the next few days. TRank puts Nebraska as the 12th team out of the field right now, but some major opportunities lie on the schedule going forward.
This week, Nebraska will get Maryland at home on Tuesday and Illinois on the road on Sunday. Neither of these would be marquee wins, but adding a win over another bubble team (Maryland) and on the road would certainly help. It would also push Nebraska past the 20-win mark with three guaranteed games remaining.
#5 - Michigan Wolverines (-1)
The Wolverines come in at fifth in our rankings this week, but easily could have dropped further. Michigan split its games last week with a loss against Northwestern on Tuesday and a win over Wisconsin on Sunday. The mixed results left Michigan at 20-7 overall and 9-5 in Big Ten play.
Generally speaking, there are two ways to evaluate Michigan’s play over the last few weeks. The first is to say that Michigan has played down to its competition over the last few weeks and finally got bit on Tuesday against a weak Northwestern team on the road. However, the second evaluation would be to conclude that Michigan played five underwhelming opponents in its last six games and managed to go 4-1 in those contests.
From my perspective, the truth lies somewhere in between those two evaluations. Yes, Michigan has played down to its competition. The tight game against Rutgers, the overtime against Minnesota, and the mediocre play against Northwestern stand out as an examples there. Things haven’t been pretty since Michigan went on the road and beat Michigan State on January 13th.
However, there is something to be said about the grind of Big Ten play and the ability to win games against underwhelming competition. Michigan is currently 7-1 against the bottom half of the Big Ten this season. With games on the road, that’s not exactly a terrible mark for a borderline top 25 squad.
My point here should be obvious, but it’s that Michigan could be doing much worse than its current performance. While the Wolverines still have issues, let’s not overreact to gutting a few games out and that loss to Northwestern. After all, Michigan is still in pretty good position heading into the final two weeks of the regular season.
Michigan will now return to Ann Arbor for the team’s final home games with Iowa at home on Wednesday and Ohio State at home on Sunday. Both games are huge for the team’s postseason hopes and RPI implications.
#6 - Penn State Nittany Lions (--)
The Nittany Lions are on a roll right now. Since losing on the road to Northwestern on January 20th, Penn State has won five of its last six and beaten three top 100 opponents, including a really good Ohio State team on the road. Just last week, Penn State added a home win over Maryland and a road win over Illinois.
As is par for the course, many have started discussing Penn State as a potential at-large NCAA team with its recent streak of success. To some extent, there is merit to these discussions. Penn State is 18-9 overall and listed as the seventh team out of the field by TRank’s latest update. That’s enough to get some discussion going.
However, I would caution people from jumping onto this bandwagon too early. Although Penn State has played well lately, there’s still a long way to go before making the field. The Nittany Lions need to split the team’s final four games to even get to 20 wins and that probably won’t even be good enough in a down year for the Big Ten.
The reality here is that Penn State likely needs to score one more marquee win to have a real shot at making the NCAA Tournament field. That’s a tall task for a team that has one win against a top 30 opponent on KenPom all season.
People may question that logic, but look at the remaining schedule. Penn State gets the following up next:
- 2/15 - Ohio State
- 2/18 - at Purdue
- 2/21 - Michigan
- 2-25 - at Nebraska
There’s no debating that a clean sweep would get Penn State into the field. However, the odds of such a run are miniscle. This is especially true given that Penn State is an underdog in three of those four games and a narrow favorite in the remaining matchup. As such, predicting a 4-0 finish isn’t all that reasonable.
The tricky part, though, is that two more wins only gets Penn State to 20-11 heading into the Big Ten Tournament. A win there would likely be against a bottom half team, meaning it wouldn’t boost the team’s RPI much. Thus, Penn State probably needs to beat Ohio State or Purdue in the regular season or win two games in the Big Ten Tournament.
Penn State will hope to do just that with Ohio State at home and Purdue on the road this week. Both games should be fun.
#7 - Maryland Terrapins (--)
The Terrapins split the team’s games this week. Maryland started with a loss on the road against Penn State, but got back on track with a win over Northwestern at home on Saturday. The split left Maryland at 17-10 overall and 6-8 in Big Ten play.
Maryland now enters this week firmly in the bubble discussion. TRank has Maryland as the fourth team outside the field on its latest update and, as such, every game has massive importance for the rest of the season. Maryland has to find a way to steal a game or two and avoid upsets down the stretch.
This week, Maryland gets Nebraska on the road on Tuesday and Rutgers at home on Saturday. Two wins would be huge for the team’s postseason hopes.
#8 - Northwestern Wildcats (--)
The Wildcats went 1-1 this week with a home win over Michigan on Tuesday and a road loss to Maryland on Saturday. The mixed results left Northwestern at 15-11 overall and 6-7 in Big Ten play entering the final two weeks of Big Ten play.
Northwestern will get two games this week with Rutgers on the road on Tuesday and Michigan State at home on Saturday. Can the Wildcats prove spoiler for the Spartans?
#9 - Indiana Hoosiers (--)
The Hoosiers have been quietly trending up over the last few weeks and scored two wins last week. The first came on the road against Rutgers on Monday and the second game at home against Minnesota on Friday. Both games ended in blowout fashion.
While Indiana doesn’t resemble anything close to a good team, Indiana is up to 76th on KenPom and has a defense approaching the top 50. The Hoosiers are also 6-1 against teams outside the top 15 on KenPom since January 2nd. Simply put, Indiana is starting to look like it could separate itself from the bottom of the league.
This week, Indiana will get Illinois at home on Wednesday and Iowa on the road on Saturday. Both will be great opportunities for wins. Two wins would also guarantee Indiana a winning record this season.
#10 - Iowa Hawkeyes (--)
The Hawkeyes had two games last week and dropped both. The first came at home to Michigan State on Tuesday and the second came on the road to Ohio State on Saturday. Considering the level of competition, neither loss was all that surprising.
Iowa will now move on to face Michigan on the road on Wednesday and Indiana at home on Saturday. The Hawkeyes are hoping to at least split these two matchups.
#11 - Wisconsin Badgers (+3)
The Badgers got back on track last week with a win over Illinois on the road on Thursday, but fell short on Sunday at home against Michigan. The split left Wisconsin at 11-16 overall and 4-10 in Big Ten play.
Wisconsin certainly doesn’t have a shot at keeping its top four Big Ten streak going, but the team could end the season with some positive momentum. This week, Wisconsin will get Purdue at home on Thursday. A win there would be massive.
#12 - Minnesota Golden Gophers (-1)
The Golden Gophers had two games last week and dropped both, losing at home to Nebraska and then on the road against Indiana on Friday. Minnesota has now lost seven straight and 10 of the team’s last 11 games. The Gophers are just 14-13 overall.
Unfortunately, things won’t get easier this week as Minnesota will host Michigan State at home on Tuesday night. This will be the team’s lone matchup this week.
#13 - Illinois Fighting Illini (-1)
The Illini had two games last week and lost both. The first loss came at home to Wisconsin on Thursday and the second came at home against Penn State on Sunday. The losses dropped Illinois to 12-14 overall and 2-11 in league play.
With the roster issues, Illini fans knew this season would be rough, but the lack of progress has been a significant concern. Illinois began the season at 104th on KenPom, got all the way up to 85th, and now finds itself at 112th. The team appears to be getting worse and there’s no telling if the trend can be reversed.
Illinois will try to get back on track this week with Indiana on the road on Wednesday and Nebraska at home on Sunday. Both games are winnable.
#14 - Rutgers Scarlet Knights (-1)
The Scarlet Knights are another team in trouble. Rutgers lost two more games last week with double-digit losses to Indiana at home on Monday and Nebraska on the road on Saturday. The two losses left Rutgers at 12-15 overall and 2-12 in Big Ten play.
At this point, it’s hard to write many positive things about this Rutgers team. The Scarlet Knights are now at the point where the team will need to win at least one Big Ten Tournament game to even have a shot at a winning record. That’s not exactly what fans were hoping to see entering this season.
This week, Rutgers will get Northwestern at home on Tuesday and Maryland on the road on Saturday. The team is an underdog in both matchups.