Last week marked the final games in what’s truly been an unprecedented regular season. The Big Ten ended up playing the vast majority of its games this season, but it hasn’t always been pretty. Several teams were forced to pause and there were times where things felt like they might be sliding out of control. But fortunately, we got most of it in.
The Big Ten will now prepare for a similarly unprecedented conference tournament. Nobody quite knows what to expert, but here’s the bracket:
_________ will be cutting down the nets Sunday? pic.twitter.com/umsMb9qEoV— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) March 8, 2021
So, without further adieu, here are my current Big Ten power rankings:
Big Ten Week 15 Power Rankings
#1 - Illinois Fighting Illini (+1)
The Illini had an incredible performance this week, scoring a road win over Michigan on Tuesday and a road win over Ohio State on Saturday. It’s rare to see a team score two top 10 road wins in a season, let alone in a single week. And those two wins came after scoring a huge road win over Wisconsin the week before. It’s an incredible accomplishment. Nobody in the Big Ten (and maybe even the nation) is playing better than Illinois right now.
While the return of Ayo Dosunmu certainly helped the team’s efforts on Saturday, the key difference maker continues to be freshman Andre Curbelo. His play picked up considerably in late February and the results have followed. Curbelo has scored double-digits in Illinois’ last five games and the team has exploded with his additional production. If he can keep this up into the postseason, watch out.
Saturday’s win over Ohio State likely locked up a one seed in the NCAA Tournament for Illinois, so there won’t be a ton on the line in Indianapolis. However, expect the team to come out firing and try to hang a banner after next weekend. It’s hard to believe anybody has a better shot at winning in Indy next week than Illinois.
#2 - Iowa Hawkeyes (+1)
The Hawkeyes had another solid week, blowing out Nebraska at home on Thursday and scoring another marquee win over Wisconsin at home on Sunday. The two wins pushed Iowa to 20-7 overall and 14-6 in Big Ten play. The team has now won three straight and seven of the team’s last eight games. Few are playing better than Iowa right now.
Iowa will now enter the Big Ten Tournament as the three seed, which means the Hawkeyes will face Wisconsin, Penn State, or Nebraska on Thursday. A win there and Iowa will likely face Illinois in the late game on Friday.
#3 - Michigan Wolverines (-2)
The Wolverines had a mixed week of play. Michigan opened the week with a blowout loss to Illinois on Tuesday, rebounded with a win over Michigan State on Thursday, and fell to the Spartans in the rematch on Sunday afternoon. The split left Michigan sitting at 19-3 overall and 14-3 in Big Ten play. Notably, the win over the Spartans clinched the team’s first Big Ten regular season title since the 2013-’14 season.
Michigan’s offense struggled in both losses. The Wolverines only scored 53 points against the Illini on Tuesday and got little from the bench on Sunday. If Michigan is going to make some noise in March, it’s going to need far more consistency on offense. Additionally, Eli Brooks’ early exit with a lower leg injury from Sunday’s game was also cause for concern. We’ll see how the team rebounds in Indianapolis.
Michigan will enter the Big Ten Tournament as the one seed, which means a double-bye from any games until Friday. The Wolverines will then face either Michigan State or Maryland. A win there and Michigan could likely face Purdue or Ohio State. It figures to be a difficult, but manageable route to the finals.
#4 - Purdue Boilermakers (+1)
The Boilermakers were another team that had a great final week of play, beating Wisconsin at home on Tuesday and Indiana at home on Saturday. The two wins pushed Purdue to 18-8 overall and 13-6 in Big Ten play. The team has now quietly won five straight and six of the team’s last seven games, including two on the road.
Purdue still seems a solid step behind the team top teams in the league, based both on the numbers and the eye test. However, there’s little debating Purdue has been trending up over the last month and a half. The team is now 13th on KenPom and playing significantly better than it was when it faced most of the league’s best teams in December and January. As such, there’s reason to think the Boilermakers are more dangerous than the team’s conference record suggests. We’ll have to wait and see how that shakes out this week.
Moving forward, Purdue will enter the Big Ten Tournament as the four seed and will face off against Minnesota, Northwestern, or Ohio State on Friday. The Buckeyes will be heavy favorites to make it there. Should Purdue make it past Ohio State, it would then likely face Michigan on Saturday in the semi-finals.
#5 - Ohio State Buckeyes (-1)
The Buckeyes only had one game this week, but fell short in a heart breaker against Illinois at home on Saturday afternoon. The loss dropped Ohio State to 18-8 overall and 12-8 in Big Ten play. It was the team’s fourth straight loss after going on a monster run in January and early February.
In light of the losses, many have started to question Ohio State and the team’s March potential. And while there’s some cause for concern, it’s hard to get too down, even after the last four games. The Buckeyes still have an amazing resume and three of the four losses came against top five opponents. It seems overly critical to rip a team for slipping against opponents like that. This team still remains poised to do major damage in March, especially if everyone is healthy for the stretch run.
Ohio State will now enter the Big Ten Tournament as the five seed, meaning the team will play on Thursday against the winner of the Minnesota and Northwestern game. Interestingly, Ohio State is actually a combined 1-2 against those teams this season. Should the Buckeyes win, the team will face Purdue on Friday. Michigan likely awaits after that.
#6 - Michigan State Spartans (+3)
The Spartans had about as unusual of a week as you’ll see in college basketball. Michigan State opened things up with a win at home against Indiana on Tuesday and followed it up with a blowout loss to Michigan on Thursday before bouncing back with an upset victory over the same Wolverines on Sunday. The mixed results left Michigan State sitting at 15-11 overall and 9-11 in Big Ten play.
But regardless of how bizarre the performance was, it should be enough to put Michigan State on the right side of the bubble on Selection Sunday. In fact, many bracketologist believe the win over Michigan on Sunday could even elevate the team past the First Four and directly into the Round of 64. That’d be great news for Spartan fans, who have spent the last few weeks worrying about whether the team would make the cut for the Tournament.
This week, Michigan State will enter Indy as the nine seed, meeting Maryland on Thursday afternoon. A win there and the Spartans would face Michigan for the third meeting in nine days, something we’ve never seen in the history of the rivalry.
#7 - Maryland Terrapins (-1)
The Terps had a horrendous week, falling on the road to Northwestern on Wednesday and at home against Penn State on Sunday. The two losses snapped a five-game winning streak and left Maryland sitting at 15-12 overall and 9-11 in Big Ten play. Most projections still consider Maryland a quasi-lock for the NCAAs, but it’s hard to feel great after the performance the team put up last week.
Maryland will now head to Indy as the eight seed in this year’s Big Ten Tournament. The Terps will open up with Michigan State on Thursday and will face Michigan if the team makes it past the Spartans. Maryland beat the Spartans in the only meeting between the two teams this season, but was swept by the Wolverines.
#8 - Rutgers Scarlet Knights (-1)
The Scarlet Knights split the team’s games this week, falling on the road to Nebraska on Monday and rebounding with a win over Minnesota on Saturday. The win against the Gophers pushed Rutgers to 14-10 overall, 10-10 in Big Ten play, and almost assuredly into the field for this year’s NCAA Tournament. It should snap a 30-year NCAA drought for the program, the longest among all Power Five schools.
Before we dive into next week, we need to take a moment to recognize the job Steve Pikiell did here. Pikiell inherited one of the worst situations in college basketball and completely changed the culture of the program in a few short years. Rutgers is now on the verge of what should have been its second straight NCAA Tournament. It’s an incredible accomplishment for Pikiell, his staff, and the group of players who got the job done.
Rutgers will now enter the Big Ten Tournament as the seven seed, meaning the team will open up with Indiana on Thursday night. The Scarlet Knights went 2-0 against the Hoosiers this season and will be clear favorites when the two teams meet this time. A win there and Rutgers would move on to face two seed Illinois. Rutgers upset the Illini at home in December in the only meeting between the two this season.
#9 - Wisconsin Badgers (-1)
The Badgers got two more opportunities to beat quality opponents this week, but fell short in both games, falling to 16-11 overall and 10-10 in Big Ten play. The first loss came against Purdue on the road on Tuesday and the second on the road against Iowa on Sunday. It was a rough end of what started out as a promising regular season.
This is something I’ve written before in these Power Rankings, but let me say it again: Wisconsin isn’t a bad team. The Badgers are a solid group that just happens to be a full step behind the Big Ten’s best. If you don’t believe me, just look at the numbers. Wisconsin went 10-10 in Big Ten play, but eight of those losses came against the top five Big Ten teams who are all ranked 13th or better on KenPom. Even if you believe Wisconsin underwhelmed and let too many games slip away, it’s hard to rip a team too harshly for losing to top five teams.
Wisconsin will get one more chance to prove itself against the Big Ten this week. The Badgers will be the six seed in this year’s Big Ten Tournament and will face either Nebraska or Penn State on Thursday. A win there and Wisconsin will rematch with Iowa on Friday. The Badgers swept Nebraska, split with Penn State, and was swept by Iowa this season.
#10 - Penn State Nittany Lions (+1)
The Nittany Lions had a great week to close the regular season, beating Minnesota at home on Wednesday and Maryland on the road on Sunday. The two wins pushed Penn State to 10-13 overall and 7-12 in Big Ten play. Penn State has now quietly won three of the team’s last four games heading into the postseason.
It seems odd to say about a team that’s three games under .500, but Penn State actually isn’t that far out of NCAA at-large contention. TRank currently has Penn State as the sixth team out of the field and with some big games still sitting out there, there’s still a scenario on the table for Penn State to make the cut. It’s not a likely one, but it’s sitting out there.
Penn State’s week at the Big Ten Tournament will begin with Nebraska on Wednesday. Should the Nittany Lions win there, the team would get Wisconsin on Thursday. A win there and Iowa awaits. It’s likely going to take wins over all three of those opponents for fans to feel any confidence about Selection Sunday, and that still might not be enough to make the cut. It’s going to be quite a challenge.
#11 - Northwestern Wildcats (+2)
The Wildcats had a great finish to the regular season, beating Maryland at home on Wednesday and Nebraska at home on Sunday. The wins pushed Northwestern to 9-14 overall and 6-13 in Big Ten play. The team has now won three in a row for the first time since Christmas. It’s a great rebound for the Wildcats.
Northwestern will now enter Indianapolis as the 12 seed. The Wildcats will open up against Minnesota on Wednesday afternoon. If the team beats the Gophers, it will face Ohio State on Thursday. A win there and Purdue awaits on Friday.
#12 - Indiana Hoosiers (-2)
The Hoosiers had a dreadful week, falling on the road to Michigan State on Tuesday and on the road against Purdue on Saturday. The two losses dropped Indiana to 12-14 overall and 7-12 in Big Ten play. Indiana has now lost five straight games and six of the team’s last seven. For a team that seemed poised to make the NCAAs even a few weeks ago, it’s been one heck of a nosedive to close things out.
Indiana will enter the Big Ten Tournament as the 10 seed and will open up with Rutgers on Thursday night. The Hoosiers went 0-2 against the Scarlet Knights this season and will certainly be underdogs on Thursday. A win there and Indiana would face Illinois, who also swept the Hoosiers this season. Indiana likely needs two wins to feel any confidence heading into Selection Sunday.
The biggest question of the week, though, will be about Indiana’s head coaching position. Archie Miller entered this season with a little heat under his seat and has done nothing to quell that speculation. He’s now been in Bloomington for four years and has yet to finish above .500 in conference play or make the NCAAs, though Indiana would have made it last year if there had been a Tournament. We’ll see what happens in the coming days, but it seems hard to feel good about Miller’s future in Bloomington.
#13 - Nebraska Cornhuskers (-1)
The Huskers had a mixed performance this week, upsetting Rutgers at home on Monday, but falling against Iowa and Northwestern on the road later in the week. The split left Nebraska sitting at 7-19 overall and 3-16 in Big Ten play.
Nebraska will enter Indy as the 14th seed and will open up with Penn State on Wednesday. Should the Huskers win there, the team would get Wisconsin on Thursday. A win there and Iowa awaits. There is no scenario where Nebraska will make the postseason without winning the Big Ten Tournament.
#14 - Minnesota Golden Gophers (--)
The Gophers had another horrendous week of play, falling on the road to Penn State by 19 points on Wednesday and in overtime against Rutgers on Saturday. The two losses dropped Minnesota to 13-14 overall and 6-14 in Big Ten play. Minnesota has now lost seven straight and 10 of the team’s last 12 games, including four losses at home. Other than a win over Purdue on February 11th, Minnesota has basically done nothing since mid-January.
Minnesota will now enter the Big Ten Tournament as the 12th seed, meaning the Gophers will face off against Northwestern on Wednesday. Unfortunately, the team’s seven straight losses have eliminated any shot at an at-large NCAA bid, meaning Minnesota probably needs to win the Big Ten Tournament to make the NCAAs. Anything less and the team’s season is probably over.
It’s a disappointing situation given Minnesota’s fast start to the season, but it’s to be expected when a team scores one noteworthy win in roughly two months of a season. Expect a coaching change if the Gophers don’t do something miraculous next week in Indianapolis.