After months of waiting, speculation, and frustration, we finally got to enjoy the return of Big Ten basketball last week. Despite a few cancellations, nearly every team in the league got to play (save Northwestern) and a few teams actually played thrice. It was really nice to enjoy some Big Ten basketball after the long wait.
And while most of the games pitted Big Ten teams against overmatched foes, there were a handful of marquee matchups. In particular, Michigan State, Nebraska, and Purdue all faced some stiff competition. It led to some significant changes in this week’s rankings.
So, without further adieu, here are my Big Ten power rankings:
Big Ten Week One Power Rankings
#1 - Wisconsin Badgers (+1)
The Badgers grabbed the top spot this week more by default than anything else after Illinois fizzled in its opening games (addressed below). However, Wisconsin is a worthy leader. The Badgers faced two opponents in Eastern Illinois and Arkansas Pine Bluff and scored double-digit wins over each. The wins pushed the team to 2-0 overall heading into a far more intriguing slate of games.
It’s hard to take away too much from two games against weak opponents, but a few things do seem clear. First, Wisconsin remains a really solid and consistent team. No player dominates things. Each starter contributes and you’re going to see different guys carry things on different nights. That should make Wisconsin a really hard team to beat.
Additionally, Micah Potter really impressed. Many weren’t sure whether he would be able to replicate last year’s absurd numbers, but things have started well. He had nine points and eight rebounds in the opener and 19 points in limited minutes in the team’s second win. All of that should encourage fans moving forward.
This week, Wisconsin gets Green Bay at home on Tuesday and goes on the road to face a really solid Marquette team on Friday. Given Wisconsin’s limited non-conference opportunities this season, winning that game at Marquette would be huge for the team’s postseason hopes.
#2 - Iowa Hawkeyes (+1)
The Hawkeyes had a really nice debut in week one. Iowa beat up on an underwhelming North Carolina Central team on Wednesday and followed that up with another big win on Friday against a weak Southern team. As a result, Iowa now sits at 2-0.
Like Wisconsin, there really isn’t much to take away from Iowa’s two opening games. Iowa cruised at home against two really weak teams. No expectations are going to change because of that and they shouldn’t. Iowa took care of business. That’s a good sign, if nothing else.
However, if there is one thing to get fans excited, it’s the superb play of Luka Garza. We knew he would be good this season, but he’s been incredible through two games. The big man scored 26 points in the opener and followed that up with 41 points on Friday. As a result, he currently sits atop KenPom’s national player rankings. It looks like it could be another year filled with hardware for Garza.
Iowa will now prepare for another pretty soft week. The Hawkeyes only get one game, which will come at home on Thursday against Western Illinois. KenPom has Iowa favored by more than 30 points in the matchup, so don’t expect a great game.
#3 - Michigan State Spartans (+1)
The Spartans had a great opening week to the season. While the team underwhelmed in its opener against Eastern Michigan, it followed that up with a huge win over Notre Dame at home on Saturday night. The win over the Irish pushed Michigan State to 2-0 and gave the team one of the best wins of the early 2020-’21 season.
Plenty of players have impressed so far for Michigan State, but perhaps no more than Joey Hauser. The transfer big man had 15 points and nine rebounds in the win over Eastern Michigan and followed that up with 10 points and 16 rebounds against the Irish. He’s simply been phenomonal in the paint on both sides of the court, which is a welcome relief after the departure of Xavier Tillman to the NBA.
The biggest question for Michigan State moving forward will be the team’s defense, which hasn’t been fantastic through two games. The perimeter has particularly underwhelmed on that side of the ball. Moreover, many have to wonder how much a win over Notre Dame means these days, given the program’s relatively mediocre last few seasons. It’s a legitimate question to ask, even if Michigan State’s win was more convincing than the final 80-70 margin on Saturday night suggests.
The good news is fans will get answers to those questions pretty quickly. Michigan State is set for a huge slate of games this week with Duke on the road on Tuesday, Detroit at home on Friday, and Western Michigan at home on Sunday. The win over Notre Dame means the Duke game isn’t a “must win” for Michigan State to achieve its goals, but fans are certainly hoping for a good showing against the Blue Devils.
#4 - Illinois Fighting Illini (-3)
What a swing of emotions. After beginning the season with wins over North Carolina A&T and Chicago State on Wednesday and Thursday, fans were expecting more of the same on Friday against an Ohio team ranked outside the top 100 on KenPom. Sure, things should be more competitive given the Bobcats were a significant step up in competition, but nobody seriously expected Ohio to hang with a top ranked in the top 10 nationally.
Unfortunately for Illini fans, that’s exactly what happened.
The game was incredibly competitive throughout and Illinois struggled to slow down Jason Preston and Ben Vander Plas. And with only seconds remaining, Illinois found itself trailing the Bobcats. It ended up taking an incredible drive from Ayo Dosunmu to save what would have been a monstrous upset. The win pushed Illinois to 3-0, though the game against Ohio didn’t feel much like a win to fans.
Opinions about the team’s opening week have been divided, and rightfully so. From the optimistic perspective, Illinois accomplished its goal. The team had three games on the docket and came out on top in each. And in a season where things are as unpredictble as ever, there’s reason to be satisfied with that. This seems more like a “survive and advance” regular season than any other season we’ve ever seen in college basketball. With no home crowds and everything going on, there are no “guarantee” games this year.
And who knows, perhaps Ohio was underrated. Preston looked really solid and the MAC is a better league than many acknowledge. Ohio head coach Jeff Boals is also deeply familiar with the Big Ten after coaching as an assistant with Thad Matta for years. Perhaps this was just a bad matchup for the Illini.
However, from the pessimistic side, this looks like a warning sign. Illinois beat up on two bad teams to start the season, but was a missed bucket away from going down as soon as it had to face a semi-competent opponent. This is a game a top 10 team should have won, even if it was coming off two games the days before. The team’s inability to slow down Preston looks particularly concerning, given the star power awaiting in Big Ten play. These concerns are why Illinois dropped in this week’s power rankings.
The good news is Illinois can silence all the criticism this week with two big games on the slate. The first is against a top five Baylor team in Indianapolis on Wednesday and the second is against an unknown opponent at home on Saturday. Win those two games and the doubters will quiet down.
#5 - Rutgers Scarlet Knights (--)
The Scarlet Knights performed as expected this week, knocking off three overmatched opponents to move to 3-0 on the season. Rutgers beat Sacred Heart on Wednesday, Fairleigh Dickinson on Friday, and Hofstra on Sunday. More importantly, Rutgers won the latter two games without star guard Geo Baker after he went down with an injury. Fans are hoping he can return to the lineup in short order. We’ll have to wait and see.
Perhaps the most encouraging sign for the team so far has been the play of true freshman Cliff Omoruyi. He was highly regarded upon arrival, but he’s started and played well in each of the team’s three games so far. He has a 122.9 offensive rating on the season and had a double-double in the team’s opener. Rutgers is hoping he can continue to deliver on the hype.
Moving forward, Rutgers is actually slated to be off this week. We’ll see if that changes with any late scheduling additions. As of now, Rutgers will resume play on December 8th at home against Syracuse.
#6 - Maryland Terrapins (+3)
The Terps jumped quite a bit this week and rightfully so. Maryland beat a decent Old Dominion team on Wednesday, Navy on Friday, and Mount St. Mary’s on Sunday. The wins were so impressive that Maryland jumped 14 spots on KenPom, which is pretty remarkable for a three-game run against teams outside the top 100 on KenPom.
Maryland will get another intriguing week of play this week with Towson at home on Tuesday and George Mason at home on Friday. The Terps should be heavy favorites in both games.
#7 - Ohio State Buckeyes (+1)
The Buckeyes had a solid week. The team scored wins over Illinois State and UMass Lowell to improve to 2-0 on the season. And while the second game was closer than expected, the team did still come out with a double-digit win. Califnoria transfer Justice Sueing looked particularly impressive in his debut, scoring 19 and 15 in the two games, respectively.
This week, Ohio State gets another set of manageable games with Morehead State at home on Wednesday and Alabama A&M at home on Saturday. Expect two convincing wins.
#8 - Michigan Wolverines (-2)
The Wolverines went 2-0 in the team’s last week, but it wasn’t pretty. While Michigan knocked off a pretty talented Bowling Green squad at home on Wednesday, it underwhelmed significantly against Oakland in the followup. The Grizzlies forced the game into overtime and pushed Michigan to the edge. It took a stellar performance from true freshman Hunter Dickinson to escape with the win.
The story for Michigan so far has been the newcomers. Transfers Mike Smith and Chaundee Brown led things in the opener and Dickinson and Terrance Williams led things against Oakland. For a program as established as Michigan, it’s been bizarre to see new faces carrying so much of the weight for the team. But that seems to be reality in Ann Arbor.
Michigan will now have to prepare for another tricky week with Ball State at home on Wednesday and UCF at home on Sunday. Like Bowling Green and Oakland, these aren’t your typical body bag games. These teams are significantly more dangerous. If Michigan comes out flat like it did on Sunday, it will lose one of its next two games.
#9 - Indiana Hoosiers (+1)
The Hoosiers only had one game last week and performed adequately in it, beating Tennessee Tech at home on Wednesday. Trayce Jackson-Davis led the way, finishing with 26 points and 11 rebounds. It was a star level performance. Notably, freshman Khristian Lander played 14 minutes off the bench, scoring five points in the process.
Indiana will now prepare for a heck of a week with the Maui Invitational on the docket. The event is being played in Asheville, North Carolina this year because of the pandemic, but it still has a huge list of participants. The Hoosiers will get Providence on Monday and then either Davidson or Texas on Tuesday and a third game on Wednesday. Every game should be a battle.
#10 - Purdue Boilermakers (-3)
The Boilermakers didn’t have a pretty opening to the season. Purdue narrowly beat Liberty on Wednesday and followed that up with a double-digit loss to Clemson on Thursday night. Many fans were hoping Purdue would use these games to make a statement about its improvement from last season. Unfortunately, things still look a bit touch and go.
Most of Purdue’s issues so far have come on the defensive end of the floor, but the backcourt has arguably been the team’s biggest concern. The good (?) news is the issue seems correctable when players like Eric Hunter return from injury. Fans will hope the team gets healthy before entering conference play.
Purdue will now prepare for two intriguing games this week. The Boilermakers get a feisty Oakland team at home on Tuesday before facing Valparaiso at home on Friday. Like a few other Big Ten teams on this list, both games should be wins, but aren’t guarantees. Purdue will have to play a bit better than it did last week to come out victorious.
#11 - Minnesota Golden Gophers (--)
The Gophers had two games last week and came out on top in both, beating Green Bay at home on Wednesday and Loyola Marymount on Saturday. Both wins came by double-digits. Marcus Carr led the way in each and looks like he’s going to be in position for a serious push at All-Big Ten first team status.
This week, Minnesota will get Loyola Marymount (yes, again) at home on Monday before North Dakota at home on Friday. The Gophers should be favored in both games.
#12 - Penn State Nittany Lions (--)
The Nittany Lions only had one game after a COVID-19 cancellation and the team came out on top in it, besting VMI at home on Saturday. Jamari Wheeler led the way with 18 points and six rebounds. Penn State will now prepare for quite a week with VCU at home on Wednesday and Seton Hall at home on Sunday. Both project to be pretty challenging games. Interim head coach Jim Ferry will have his hands full.
#13 - Nebraska Cornhuskers (+1)
The Huskers only went 2-1 in the team’s opening week of the season, but it was actually a pretty encouraging start. Nebraska opened up with a 47-point win over McNeese State on Wednesday in one of the better offensive showings of the Fred Hoiberg era in Lincoln. Afterward, Nebraska narrowly lost to a decent Nevada team before bouncing back against North Dakota State on Saturday. The team arguably looked better than it ever did during last season.
Nebraska will hope to keep things going this week with South Dakota at home on Tuesday and Florida A&M on Sunday. The Huskers project to be sizable favorites in both games.
#14 - Northwestern Wildcats (-1)
The Wildcats were off this week due to a COVID-19 cancellation. This week, Northwestern is set to play two games with Arkansas Pine-Bluff at home on Wednesday and Chicago State at home on Saturday.