The first two months of the college basketball season generally goes through waves. Fans get a bunch of great games, followed by a week or two of nothingness, and then get rewarded with another slate full of marquee matchups. For better or worse, that’s just what college basketball has become in the first two months of the season. Dramatic swings back and forth between excitement and underwhelming sets of games.
Well, last week was one of those loaded slates.
Every game wasn’t a classic, but we got a plethora of marquee matchups for the Big Ten. Fans got to enjoy action on just about every night and Saturday was loaded with games featuring Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Purdue among others. It led to some really interesting developments in the league. And with that, let’s take a look at my latest Big Ten Power Rankings.
But before you do jump into the Power Rankings, a reminder about how my rankings are made. Once the season starts, my Power Rankings reflect actual gameplay. Who have you beaten, when did you do it, and how have you played otherwise? Those are the questions I focus on. The same can be said for losses. And given that these are Power Rankings, it’s a rolling scale. More recent results will be weighed more heavily.
Big Ten Week Seven Power Rankings
#1 - Ohio State Buckeyes (--)
The Buckeyes may have looked mortal in last week’s loss to Minnesota, but the team rebounded nicely last week with two wins. The first was over Southeast Missouri State at home on Tuesday and the second came on Saturday in Las Vegas against a supremely talented Kentucky squad. The wins pushed Ohio State to 11-1 overall.
What was so impressive about Saturday’s win, in particular, is that it came with limited contributions from do-it-all big man Kaleb Wesson. He fouled out of the game and only ended up playing 23 minutes against the Wildcats. That would have absolutely killed last year’s team, but the Buckeyes took it in stride. To be able to beat a team like Kentucky with your best player in serious foul trouble says a lot. And it’s a big reason why Ohio State should remain in the discussion for No. 1 in the weeks to come.
And unlike many other teams, Ohio State can still improve its resume before entering the new year. The Buckeyes will get back into action this week on Sunday in Cleveland against a pretty good West Virginia squad. That game will offer the Buckeyes a shot at the team’s fourth win against a top 25 KenPom opponent already this season.
#2 - Michigan State Spartans (+3)
The Spartans may not have scored any marquee wins last week, but this team is being unbelievably ignored right now. And that showed last week, as Michigan State went on the road and beat Northwestern on Wednesday and scored a 53-point win over Eastern Michigan at home on Saturday. The wins pushed the Spartans to 9-3 overall.
Let’s be clear, Michigan State hasn’t been perfect this season. We’re nearly two months into the season and the Spartans really only have one win (at Seton Hall) that stands out. However, Michigan State is also the only Big Ten team to win a conference road game to date and has clearly been trending up since that loss to Duke at the beginning of December. We can’t get carried away in pulling conclusions from wins against overmatched opponents, but it’s easy to see a trend forming with this squad.
Michigan State will now get Christmas off and will resume play on Sunday at home against Western Michigan. That would setup a massive three-game slate to open January with Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota at home consecutively. It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where the Spartans emerge as the Big Ten favorite alongside Ohio State after those three.
#3 - Penn State Nittany Lions (-1)
In last year’s Power Rankings, I wrote about how it felt odd to rank Penn State so highly after the last decade of so. And while I did drop the Nittany Lions a spot this week, its ranking was justified then and remains the case now. Penn State only dropped this week because of how Michigan State has been playing. After all, the Nittany Lions didn't really change any perceptions with a win over Central Connecticut at home last week.
This week, Penn State only has one matchup which will come on Sunday at home against Cornell. The Nittany Lions are 22-point favorites in that game.
#4 - Michigan Wolverines (--)
After an absolute gauntlet in late November and early December, Michigan finally got an easy week with just one game against Presbyterian at home on Saturday. It was the team’s first game against a team outside the top 50 since facing Houston Baptist on November 22nd. That meant seven straight games of quality opponents, including a road game against Louisville and a matchup with Gonzaga. I am guessing Juwan Howard and his staff were relieved to have an easier opponent on Saturday, who Michigan crushed with ease.
As of Monday, Michigan’s overall resume remains really impressive. The Wolverines are 9-3 overall and already have five wins against top 50 opponents. The team will get one more cupcake opponent this week against UMass Lowell at home on Sunday. After that, the gauntlet will resume with Michigan State and Purdue on the slate.
#5 - Maryland Terrapins (-2)
The Terps only had one game last week, but fell short in it on the road against Seton Hall on Thursday night. It was Maryland’s second straight loss and dropped the Terps to 10-2 overall on the season.
Despite the recent setbacks, Maryland’s overall resume remains strong. The Terps still have six wins over top 100 opponents, including a blowout of Marquette on a neutral floor. And considering the team’s only losses came on the road to top 25 level opponents, it’s hard to complain too much.
Maryland will close out non-conference play this week at home against Bryant on Sunday. The Terps are substantial favorites in the game.
#6 - Indiana Hoosiers (--)
The Hoosiers only had one game last week and scored a marquee win in it against Notre Dame in the annual Crossroads Classic. It was a highly competitive game that Indiana was able to win in the final minutes. Notably, the win pushed Indiana to 11-1 overall and gave the team its fourth win over a top 100 opponent this season.
Indiana still doesn’t seem as good as its 11-1 record would indicate, but we’re now almost two months into the season and the Hoosiers just keep winning. I expect that good fortune to start running out when this team has to go on the road (again) next month. However, we can only go off the data we have right now and everything indicates this is a pretty good Hoosier squad. After all, the team has risen to 34th nationally on KenPom.
This week, Indiana has just one game, which will come at home on Sunday against Arkansas. This is one of the better Razorback teams we’ve seen in awhile, so it figures to be a highly competitive game on both sides.
#7 - Iowa Hawkeyes (+1)
The Hawkeyes continue to slide under the radar nationally, but this is a really good team. And Iowa showed it last week, beating a solid Cincinnati squad on a neutral court on Saturday evening. The win pushed Iowa to 9-3 overall and 20th nationally on KenPom. It marked the team’s fourth win in its last five games with all coming against top 60 teams.
Unfortunately for Hawkeye fans, I just couldn’t justify putting the team much higher on these Power Rankings than seventh. And that’s just the reality of this year’s Big Ten. Even if you’re good, you still might end up around the middle of the league. The good news for fans is that the team will have a chance to improve its spot in the weeks to come. That will start this week with one game against Kennesaw State at home on Sunday.
#8 - Purdue Boilermakers (-1)
The Boilermakers had two games last week with mixed results. Purdue was able to go on the road and beat Ohio on Tuesday night, but fell in the annual Crossroads Classic to Butler on a neutral court on Saturday. The split left the team sitting at 7-5 overall.
With last week in the books, I’m not sure there’s anybody in the Big Ten with a more perplexing resume than Purdue right now. I mean, just think about it this way. Purdue is 7-5 overall, but still sits 13th nationally on KenPom and is projected to finish well above .500 at season’s end. That’s just not something you’re going to see very often.
Optimists will point to last year’s 7-5 start as reason to believe in this team. And the skeptics will point to some of the team’s bigger blunders, such as the home loss to Texas and the road loss to an underwhelming Nebraska team. For better or worse, we aren’t going to know who’s right for a few more weeks.
This week, Purdue will close out non-conference play at home against Central Michigan on Saturday. The Boilermakers are 20-point favorites.
#9 - Rutgers Scarlet Knights (+1)
Despite only going 3-2 so far this month, Rutgers has really been playing well. The Scarlet Knights have won three straight and have risen all the way to 53rd nationally on KenPom. Rutgers is playing as well as it has in years and now sits at 9-3 overall. The latest win came last week at home over Lafayette on Sunday.
The natural question is whether this team can keep up the momentum as the schedule gets tougher. For better or worse, we won’t find out this week, as Rutgers is off.
#10 - Minnesota Golden Gophers (+1)
The Gophers are another mystery team so far this season. After a rough start to the year, Minnesota is now playing as good as any Big Ten team out there right now. And the Gophers added to it last week with a 20-point win over Oklahoma State on a neutral court on Saturday. The win pushed Minnesota to 6-5 overall. Again, an odd thing to say about a team with three wins over top 100 opponents in the last three games.
Minnesota will now get a few days off before facing FIU at home on Saturday. The Panthers aren’t great, but are 9-3 overall. It’s an opponent that’s a bit better than most teams face this time of year.
#11 - Illinois Fighting Illini (-2)
The Illini might be more frustrating than any Big Ten team so far this season. The same Illinois team that beat Michigan at home and narrowly lost to Maryland on the road is also the one that blew a winnable game against Miami (FL) to start the month, barely beat Nicholls State to start the year, and lost a neutral game against Missouri on Saturday. It’s hard to balance these types of results with one another.
Either way, Illinois now sits at 8-4 overall and very much appears to have a resume hinging between the NIT and NCAAs at this point in time. As such, it’s going to be an adventurous ride in the months to come. Illinois will close out non-conference play this week at home against North Carolina A&T on Sunday.
#12 - Wisconsin Badgers (--)
For those who read these Power Rankings on a weekly basis, it’s probably become clear that I am skeptical about this year’s Wisconsin team. The Badgers have scored two impressive wins this year, but I am pessimistic about the team’s chances to sustain that in any meaningful way to make a postseason push. And a win over Milwaukee at home last week isn’t exactly going to change any narratives too significantly.
However, there was one development last week that deserves mention. Micah Potter finally became eligible after an extended battle with the NCAA. The former Buckeye big man immediately made an impact on Saturday, scoring 12 points and posting five rebounds in the win over Milwaukee. If the Badgers are going to get things rolling, one has to think Potter’s emergence would play a big role in it.
Wisconsin is one of the few teams this week with a notable non-conference game. The Badgers will play on Saturday on the road against Tennessee. The Volunteers recently had their home winning streak snapped by Memphis. We’ll see if the Badgers can do the same.
#13 - Northwestern Wildcats (+1)
The Wildcats had two games last week and fell short in both. Northwestern lost at home to Michigan State on Wednesday and then on the road against DePaul on Saturday. Neither loss was unexpected, but fans were hoping the team could steal one. The losses dropped the Wildcats to 5-6 overall and to 0-2 in league play. Northwestern will have one game this week on Sunday at home against Hartford. This is one of just three games the team currently projected to be favored in for the rest of the season.
#14 - Nebraska Cornhuskers (-1)
After a monumental upset of Purdue earlier this month, it seemed like Fred Hoiberg and Nebraska had finally figured some things out. But alas, that doesn’t appear to be the case as the Huskers dropped the team’s only game last week against North Dakota at home on Saturday. The loss dropped the Huskers to 5-7 overall. Nebraska will return to action on Sunday against Texas A&M Corpus Christi on Sunday. It is the only remaining game Nebraska is favored in for the rest of the season, per KenPom.