The Big Ten had a relatively quiet slate to close 2023. While there were a few intriguing matchups, most of the league closed out non-conference play against underwhelming mid-major opponents at home. That left much of the list undisturbed, though the top gained significant uncertainty with the Terrence Shannon news.
So, let’s jump into this week’s Power Rankings.
Big Ten Week Eight Power Rankings
#1 - Purdue Boilermakers (—)
The Boilermakers won the team’s only game this week against an overmatched Eastern Kentucky squad at home on Friday. The win came by double-digits and pushed Purdue to 12-1 overall heading into the restart of conference play.
For various reasons, Purdue enters January as the unquestioned favorite to win this year’s Big Ten title. KenPom projects the Boilers to finish a full two games ahead of the rest of the field and TRank sees it as an even bigger four-game margin. TRank also gives Purdue a 77.0 percent chance to win at least a share of the conference crown. And it’s hard to disagree with those evaluations, considering how Purdue has looked so far. This is a fantastic team that could very well enter March as the nation’s top seed.
The tricky part of reaching those goals will be managing the slate. That begins this week with massive games against Maryland on the road on Tuesday and Illinois at home on Friday. Purdue is favored in both games, but both look relatively tricky. The Boilers lost on the road to Maryland last year and Illinois has played well. The question is what Illinois looks like without Terrence Shannon against a top opponent.
#2 - Illinois Fighting Illini (—)
The Illini won the team’s only game of the week at home against Fairleigh Dickinson on Friday to improve to 10-2 overall. However, it got hit with the Shannon news, which will have a substantial impact on the team both on and off the court moving forward. It was arguably the biggest story in college basketball and rightfully so, given how well Shannon has played over the last few months.
Given the complexity of sexual assault cases and the limited information publicly available, we are going to avoid speculating about what might happen in Shannon’s criminal case. These are serious charges and Shannon deserves the presumption of innocence until found guilty, or at least sufficient incriminating evidence publicly surfaces. None of that has happened at this point, so it is in everyone’s best interests to let things play out.
With that said, we do know Shannon’s absence will impact Illinois on the court. He was unquestionably the team’s best player and seemed to be trending up. KenPom rated him as one of the nation’s top 10 players before his exit and that seems about right. Marcus Domask will probably take most of Shannon’s minutes. And while Domask is a solid player, he’s not Shannon. Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn will get more minutes as well.
Illinois won’t get much time to feel things out without Shannon, as the team gets two challenging games this week. It gets rival Northwestern at home on Tuesday and top ranked Purdue on the road on Friday. Illinois fans should be hoping for a split.
#3 - Wisconsin Badgers (—)
The Badgers beat Chicago State in the team’s only game of the week, improving to 9-3 overall. It was Wisconsin’s second straight win. Notably, the team has now won eight of its last nine games, including wins over four top 50 opponents. Wisconsin will return to action this week with home games against Iowa on Tuesday and Nebraska on Saturday. The Badgers are significant favorites in both games.
#4 - Ohio State Buckeyes (—)
The Buckeyes had a huge win this week, beating a decent West Virginia team in Cleveland on Saturday. The win pushed Ohio State to 11-2 overall. The team is red hot, having won 10 of its last 11 games dating back to early November. Outside of the debacle against Penn State in early December, there hasn’t been much to complain about in Columbus, at least on the basketball court.
What’s interesting about Ohio State at this point in the season is the gap between the team’s resume and its statistical profile. The Buckeyes are 11-2 and have beaten some quality competition, including Alabama on Black Friday. Yet, the team is only 30th on KenPom and seems a solid step behind Illinois and Wisconsin for the second tier of the Big Ten. Yet, that doesn't feel completely accurate. We’ll see how it shakes out, but don’t be surprised if Ohio State ends up being closer to Illinois and Wisconsin than currently expected.
Ohio State returns to action this week with Rutgers at home on Wednesday and Indiana on the road on Saturday. It’s a great opportunity to pick up two league wins.
#5 - Nebraska Cornhuskers (—)
The Huskers beat South Carolina State at home on Friday in the team’s only game of the week to improve to 11-2 overall. It was Nebraska’s fourth straight win. The Huskers return to action this week against Indiana at home on Wednesday and Wisconsin on the road on Saturday. If the Huskers can even split the game, it would be a solid step in the right direction.
#6 - Michigan State Spartans (—)
The Spartans added a valuable win this week, besting Indiana State at home on December 30th. The Sycamores entered the game at 11-1 and are rated in the top 60 on KenPom. Michigan State improved to 8-5 overall with the win and have now won four straight, highlighted by the blowout win over Baylor a few weeks ago.
Michigan State is clearly better now than it was at the start of the season. The Spartans are playing better defensively and the team’s three-point shooting has improved significantly, though it’s still not great. The question is simply about how much better the team is than it was a month or so ago. If Michigan State is going to challenge for the Big Ten title as fans expected in the offseason, that jump is going to have to be significant. Our guess is the Spartans have closed the deficit, but probably not enough to get a banner. However, only time will tell on where this team can land.
We’ll get an interesting look at that progress this week with Penn State at home on Thursday and Northwestern on the road on Sunday. Michigan State is favored in both games, but the Nittany Lions and Wildcats have shown they can play well enough to win.
#7 - Northwestern Wildcats (—)
The Wildcats beat Jackson State on Friday in the team’s only game to improve to 10-2 overall. Northwestern has now won three straight and six of its last seven games. Outside of the loss to Chicago State—which still looks terrible—Northwestern has played like a top tier opponent over the last month.
Northwestern will open January with massive games against rival Illinois on the road on Tuesday and Michigan State at home on Sunday. KenPom has the Wildcats as underdogs in both games, but both are probably close to tossups, particularly with Shannon’s suspension.
#8 - Indiana Hoosiers (—)
The Hoosiers beat Kennesaw State at home on Friday to improve to 10-3 on the season. It was the team’s only game of the week and extended Indiana’s win streak to three in a row. Interestingly, Indiana remains undefeated against teams outside the top 15 on KenPom.
Indiana will return to action this week with Nebraska on the road on Wednesday and Ohio State at home on Saturday. KenPom has the Hoosiers as underdogs in both contests. If the team can at least find a way to split, it would be huge for its postseason chances.
#9 - Maryland Terrapins (—)
The Terps scored an easy win over Coppin State on Thursday to improve to 9-4 overall. It was Maryland’s fifth straight win. The team has quietly won eight of its last nine games, including a massive road win over UCLA just before Christmas.
Generally speaking, Maryland has made a lot of progress since its early missteps. The Terps are no longer losing to mid-major opponents and look like a competitive basketball team. Even with a loss at Indiana to open December, things are looking up.
Unfortunately, much of that success has come against underwhelming competition and Maryland still needs to get some marquee wins if it hopes to reach the next tier. And that will start this week with Purdue at home on Tuesday and Minnesota on the road on Sunday. Both games look challenging, but winnable, at least if the Terps play well. Winning at least one game will be massive for the team’s postseason hopes.
#10 - Rutgers Scarlet Knights (+1)
The Scarlet Knights scored a win in the team’s only game last week, besting Stonehill at home on Saturday to improve to 8-4 overall. It was the team’s third win in four games, with the only loss coming against Mississippi State. Rutgers returns to action this week on the road against Ohio State on Wednesday and on the road against Iowa on Saturday.
#11 - Iowa Hawkeyes (+1)
The Hawkeyes beat Northern Illinois at home on Friday to improve to 8-5 overall. It was Iowa’s third straight win and wrapped up non-conference play. Iowa gets Wisconsin on the road on Tuesday and Rutgers at home on Saturday this week. Fans should have a reasonable hope of securing a split.
#12 - Minnesota Golden Gophers (+1)
The Gophers faced Maine in the team’s only game last week and scored a comfortable 80-62 win, improving the team to 10-3 overall. Notably, Minnesota has now won five straight heading into the restart of conference play.
Minnesota gets two intriguing games this week, with Michigan on the road on Thursday and Maryland at home on Sunday. KenPom has the Gophers as underdogs in the first game and modest favorites in the second. However, Michigan feels like it’s in free fall right now, so perhaps Minnesota can steal that one. Two wins would be huge.
#13 - Michigan Wolverines (-3)
The Wolverines had another horrible week, dropping the team’s only game at home to McNeese State on Friday. The loss dropped Michigan to 6-7 overall and featured a thoroughly underwhelming performance. Michigan didn’t just lose, it was completely outplayed by a mediocre mid-major opponent at home. That’s simply inexcusable.
At this point, Michigan’s season is effectively over. There may be two and a half months of the season left, but the team’s at-large hopes are essentially nonexistent. The only real question is whether the Wolverines can do enough to get some momentum going into the Big Ten Tournament and/or do enough to save Juwan Howard’s job. We’ll have to wait and see on both. Michigan will start that effort with Minnesota at home on Thursday and Penn State in Philadelphia on Sunday.
#14 - Penn State Nittany Lions (—)
The Nittany Lions knocked off Rider on Friday to improve to 7-6 overall. The team has also won three of its last four games, which is quite an accomplishment after the rough start to the season. Penn State will hope to keep things moving this week with Michigan State on the road on Thursday and Michigan in Philadelphia on Sunday. The game against the Wolverines presents as one of Penn State’s most winnable games of the coming month.