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2017-’18 Week 15 Big Ten Power Rankings: The Spartans Are Back

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Check out BTP's power rankings for the Big Ten.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Northwestern Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

While this last week didn’t have the massive matchups like the one before it, there were plenty of great games for fans to enjoy. The Big Ten title race took some drastic turns and several potential NCAA Tournament teams got put in tough spots.

However, even though there were some great games, fans aren’t left with a very clear picture of the league right now. Generally speaking, it’s a mess across the league with few answers. Anybody can beat anybody on just about any night. And that fact has led to some difficult selections in this week’s power rankings.

With that, let’s take a look at the latest Big Ten power rankings.

Big Ten Week 15 Power Rankings

#1 - Michigan State Spartans (+1)

The Spartans have shown plenty of flaws over the last few weeks, but return to the top of our power rankings anyway. Michigan State had two games last week and came out with two wins. The first came on the road against Minnesota and the second came on the road against Northwestern. At one point, Michigan State trailed 43-16 to the Wildcats.

It seems overly critical to rip on a team that is 26-3 overall and has won 10 straight, but it seems necessary at this juncture. While the Spartans haven’t lost a game since January 13th, one can’t help but feel like the team is living in the danger zone. Six of those wins have come by 10 points or less and the win over Northwestern was preposterous.

For more context, let’s jump into that win over Northwestern last weekend for a second. The Wildcats were up by 27 points against the Spartans in that one. Michigan State was down to 6.7 percent odds to win in the second half and somehow found a way to win. More simply put, Michigan State was incredibly fortunate to win that game.

The good news, of course, is that Michigan State keeps winning. And the team only needs one more win to clinch a share of the Big Ten title. However, it’s just important to remember that Michigan State is probably due to come out on the wrong side of one of these close games. You can only live on the edge for so long.

This week, Michigan State will get Illinois at home on Tuesday and Wisconsin on the road on Sunday. The Spartans are heavy favorites in both games.

#2 - Michigan Wolverines (+3)

The Wolverines move up to second in these power rankings after reeling off two wins last week. Michigan beat Iowa on Wednesday and then followed that up with a win over arch-rival Ohio State on Sunday afternoon. The two wins pushed Michigan to 22-7 overall and 11-5 in Big Ten play this season. Michigan has won five of its last six games.

Before diving deeper into the Wolverines, it’s important to note why Michigan moved up so high in this week’s rankings. A good hunk of that has been improved play from Michigan, but a bigger part was simply due to the poor play of others. Ohio State and Purdue’s struggles opened up the door for a brief rise for Michigan.

While Michigan will most likely end up as the Big Ten’s fourth-highest seeded team in the NCAA Tournament, it’s a team that is quietly building a really nice resume. It’s also one poised to make a run, should it address its glaring free throw issues.

I also can’t help but wonder if Michigan will be the Big Ten team that could benefit the most from the week off between the Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Tournament. The team’s clear weakness is at the charity stripe and a week to fine tune there could reap massive benefits for the team.

Michigan will now get Penn State on the road on Wednesday and Maryland on the road on Saturday to end the regular season. The Wolverines are underdogs in both games.

#3 - Purdue Boilermakers (--)

The Boilermakers split the team’s games last week, losing on the road to Wisconsin on Thursday, but beating Penn State on Sunday. The split pushed Purdue to 24-5 overall and 13-3 in Big Ten play this season.

Perhaps the biggest story for Purdue last week was getting back on track after a three-game skid. The Boilermakers were in a serious funk and found a way to gut out a win on Sunday night over Penn State, despite being without Vincent Edwards. That’s quite a win under those circumstances for the team. It also kept Purdue’s Big Ten title hopes alive.

This week, Purdue will get Illinois on the road on Thursday and Minnesota at home on Sunday. The Boilermakers are substantial favorites in both games. This will be a great opportunity to build some momentum going into the postseason.

#4 - Penn State Nittany Lions (+2)

The Nittany Lions had two games last week and saw mixed results therein. Penn State opened with a dominating win over Ohio State on Thursday, but fell on the road against Purdue on Sunday night. The split left Penn State at 19-10 overall and 9-7 in Big Ten play.

While Sunday’s night was a missed opportunity for Penn State, it’s hard to criticize how the team has performed over the last month. The Nittany Lions are 6-2 over the team’s last eight games with the only losses coming on the road against Michigan State and Purdue. That run has vaulted Penn State to 25th in KenPom and in the NCAA Tournament hunt.

The question is now whether Penn State can find a way into the field on Selection Sunday. TRank currently has the Nittany Lions as the fifth team outside of the field and with 23.8 percent odds to make the cut. That’s undeniably in bubble range with just one week remaining in the regular season.

My estimation is that Penn State will need at least two more wins to feel comfortable about making the Big Dance. The team gets Michigan at home on Wednesday and Nebraska on the road on Sunday before the Big Ten Tournament. I think the team can survive a split there, but it will need at least one win in Madison Square Garden. Of course, how other bubble teams perform going forward will also tell a lot.

Penn State has arguably played better than any Big Ten team over the last eight games. Can the Nittany Lions keep it up? We’ll see this week.

#5 - Ohio State Buckeyes (-4)

The Buckeyes take a massive hit this week in the power rankings after getting blowout by Penn State on Thursday and losing against Michigan on Sunday. The skid drops Ohio State to 22-7 overall and 13-3 in Big Ten play.

On its face, dropping four spots for two losses seems severe (it is), but this was the result of some unusual circumstances. The teams Ohio State lose to last week were surging and the sheer impact of a blowout loss could not be ignored.

The good news for Ohio State is that the final week of the season looks pretty manageable on paper. The team gets Rutgers at home on Tuesday and Indiana on the road on Friday. Two wins and a Michigan State loss would clinch the Buckeyes a share of the Big Ten title. An incredible statement given the team’s preseason expectations.

#6 - Nebraska Cornhuskers (-2)

The Huskers were another team that saw mixed results last week. Nebraska opened with a great win at home against Maryland on Tuesday, but followed that up with a brutal loss on the road against Illinois on Sunday night. The split left Nebraska at 20-9 overall and 11-5 in Big Ten play coming into the final two games of the regular season.

While 20 wins for a Power Five team used to be good enough to make the field, that raw measure is no longer the case in today’s game. It really comes down to a team’s strength of schedule and the number of quality wins it has assembled. These are the most important factors for a team and will determine whether Nebraska can make the cut.

Unfortunately, Nebraska’s resume still falls short in both factors above. The Huskers have 20 wins, but have still only beaten one top 50 opponent. Here are Nebraska’s top five wins according to the RPI:

-Nebraska’s Top Five RPI Wins:

  • vs Michigan (No. 28)
  • vs Maryland (No. 67)
  • vs Boston College (No. 94)
  • at Northwestern (No. 116)
  • at Wisconsin (No. 134)

Many Husker fans have ranted about perceived media biases and the team’s improved play, but that list above tells all you need to know about this Nebraska team. The reason the Huskers aren’t in the field right now is because they don’t have many quality wins.

Moreover, it’s also important to note how poorly Nebraska has played away from home this season. Despite that 20-9 overall record and 11-5 mark in Big Ten play, Nebraska is just 6-8 away from home this season. That’s a really rough mark for an NCAA Tournament team, especially considering some of those losses came to teams like Illinois and UCF.

The reality of the situation is that Nebraska enters its final two regular season games with some significant ground to make up. TRank has the Huskers as the 13th team outside of the field right now and with the two final games coming at home, any loss would be absolutely crippling. In fact, a loss in either of these two upcoming games would mean that Nebraska needs to win the Big Ten Tournament to make the NCAA Tournament.

Given these circumstances, this week will be fascinating for the Huskers. The team returns to action on Tuesday at home against a hot Indiana team and will follow that up with another home game against Penn State on Sunday. Both games are massive.

#7 - Indiana Hoosiers (+2)

The Hoosiers have been off the national radar for a few weeks, but are quietly starting to get in position to make some noise. Last week, Indiana scored a home win over Illinois on Wednesday and a road win over Iowa. The two wins pushed the Hoosiers to 16-12 overall and 9-7 in Big Ten play.

Maybe it seems like I’m exaggerating about Indiana’s recent performance, but the progress is there when you dive into the numbers. The Hoosiers have won four straight and are 7-1 in the team’s last eight games against opponents outside the top 20 on KenPom. More simply put, Indiana is beating the teams it should beat.

Indiana will have a great opportunity to prove whether it has truly turned the page this week with Nebraska on the road on Tuesday and Ohio State at home on Friday. Two wins would also help tremendously for the team’s Big Ten Tournament seeding.

#8 - Maryland Terrapins (-1)

The Terrapins entered last week as the league’s best chance to earn the Big Ten a fifth bid to the NCAA Tournament. However, Maryland followed that up with a road loss to Nebraska that left the team in rough shape. The Terps did rebound with a win over Rutgers, but remain with minimal hopes of earning an at-large bid this season.

While Maryland has played well at home and does have a few nice wins, it’s another team that has struggled mightily away from home. The Terps are 3-9 away from home this season and several of those losses have come against underwhelming competition.

The injuries have certainly played a factor, but reality is reality. Maryland is now the 11th team outside the field in TRank’s latest projections and has two tough games remaining. It’s difficult to imagine Maryland having a real shot at the NCAA Tournament without winning these both. The first will come on the road against Northwestern on Monday and the second will come at home against Michigan on Saturday.

#9 - Wisconsin Badgers (+2)

The Badgers only had one game last week, but scored a huge win at home over Purdue on Thursday night. It was the team’s biggest win of the season and pushed the team’s record to 12-16 overall and 5-10 in Big Ten play.

Wisconsin will now move on to face Minnesota at home on Monday, Northwestern on the road on Thursday, and Michigan State at home on Sunday. We will see if the Badgers can prove spoiler for another Big Ten title contender.

#10 - Northwestern Wildcats (-2)

The Wildcats were in position to get two wins last week, but choked both away by losing on the road to Rutgers on Tuesday night and following that up by blowing a 27-point lead against Michigan State on Saturday. The two losses dropped Northwestern to 15-13 overall and 6-9 in Big Ten play this season.

Northwestern will enter the final week of the regular season fighting for Big Ten Tournament seeding. The Wildcats will get Maryland at home on Monday, Wisconsin at home on Thursday, and Iowa on the road on Sunday.

#11 - Illinois Fighting Illini (+2)

The Illini had two games last week and split those matchups. The first game was a loss on the road against Indiana and the second was a home win against Nebraska. As a result, Illinois now sits at 13-15 overall and 3-12 in Big Ten play.

Illinois will now get three games this week with Michigan State on the road on Tuesday, Purdue at home on Thursday, and Rutgers on the road on Sunday. Illini fans should hope to score one win in those three matchups.

#12 - Rutgers Scarlet Knights (+2)

The Scarlet Knights split the team’s game last week with a win over Northwestern in overtime on Tuesday and a loss to Maryland on Saturday. Rutgers now sits at 13-16 overall and 3-13 in Big Ten play.

Rutgers will now close with Ohio State on the road on Tuesday and Illinois at home on Sunday. Fans should hope to split those games.

#13 - Iowa Hawkeyes (-3)

The Hawkeyes entered last week amid a three-game skid. Unfortunately, things didn’t get better as Iowa lost on the road to Michigan on Wednesday and at home against Indiana on Saturday. Iowa now sits at 12-17 overall and 3-13 in Big Ten play.

Iowa will close with Minnesota on the road on Wednesday and Northwestern at home on Sunday. The Hawkeyes actually have solid odds in both games.

#14 - Minnesota Golden Gophers (-2)

The Golden Gophers only had one game last week, but came up flat in it at home against Michigan State on Tuesday night. The Spartans ended up winning by 30 points and the Gophers were never remotely competitive.

Minnesota will get three games to close the regular season with Wisconsin on the road on Monday, Iowa at home on Wednesday, and Purdue on the road on Sunday. All three look like tough matchups for a team regressing by the week.