The Big Ten had plenty of action this week, highlighted by an epic matchup between Illinois and Northwestern and some fun bubble battles. It all led to movement on this list.
So, let’s jump into this week’s Power Rankings.
Big Ten Week 12 Power Rankings
#1 - Purdue Boilermakers (—)
The Boilermakers had another great week, beating Michigan at home on Tuesday and Rutgers on the road on Sunday. The two wins pushed Purdue to 19-2 overall and 8-2 in Big Ten play. The Boilermakers have now won five straight and 12 of the team’s last 13 games. It’s been an incredible run dating back to early December.
The question is now whether Purdue can deliver on that success with a massive slate of games upcoming. The Boilers get Northwestern at home on Wednesday and travel north to face Wisconsin on the road on Sunday. Two wins would put Purdue atop the conference standings and in firm control of the Big Ten race. However, two losses or a even one misstep could derail the team’s hopes of a conference crown. Wisconsin is already a half game ahead in the standings and Purdue can’t afford to fall further behind.
This is “do or die” time for the Boilermakers. The team has the pieces to get the job done. In fact, KenPom favors Purdue in both games and substantially on Wednesday against the Wildcats. Grab these two wins and Purdue will be in shouting distance of a Big Ten title.
#2 - Wisconsin Badgers (+1)
The Badgers had a great week of action, beating arch-rival Minnesota on the road on Tuesday and following it up with a double-digit win over Michigan State on Friday. The wins pushed Wisconsin to 16-4 overall and 8-1 in Big Ten play.
Through just shy of half of the conference slate, Wisconsin remains atop the league standings. And while they don’t give out the hardware for leading the standings in January, that’s a notable accomplishment for a squad that entered the year with underwhelming expectations. This is a great team that’s a serious threat in March. If the Badgers can keep up the momentum, there’s a lot still on the table.
The question now is whether Wisconsin can keep up its success against a significantly tougher upcoming slate. The Badgers have played one of the easier conference schedules to date and things are set to get more difficult over the coming days with Nebraska on the road on Thursday and Purdue at home on Sunday. If the Badgers are going to earn a share of this year’s Big Ten title, the team needs to at least split the games.
#3 - Illinois Fighting Illini (-1)
The Illini had a mixed week of play, falling on the road to rival Northwestern on Wednesday, but rebounding with a win over Indiana at home on Saturday. Both games were hard fought down to the final minutes. The split left Illinois sitting at 15-5 overall and 6-3 in Big Ten play.
Illinois enters this week in an interesting spot. The team’s overall resume is impressive and the squad is certainly a safe bet to get a quality bid to the NCAA Tournament. However, it’s the Big Ten title race fans are more focused on right now. And the team remains on the fringe of that battle, particularly after Wednesday’s loss. TRank only gives Illinois a 5.4 percent chance of sharing part of the title. That feels a bit low, but not unreasonable. If Illinois is going to become a serious factor in the race, it needs to get moving.
The team gets two winnable games this week, with Ohio State on the road on Tuesday and Nebraska at home on Sunday. KenPom gives Illinois at least 60 percent odds to win both games.
#4 - Northwestern Wildcats (+3)
The Wildcats had a fantastic week, knocking off arch-rival Illinois at home on Wednesday and Ohio State at home on Saturday. The wins pushed Northwestern to 15-5 overall and 6-3 in Big Ten play. The team has now quietly won three of its last four games and five of its last seven dating back to a rough outing against Illinois to open the new year.
It’s hard to understate the importance of the two wins for the Wildcats last week. The team went from having an uphill climb to the NCAA Tournament to being a favorite to make the cut. TRank now has the squad as a nine seed and it feels like that might even be underselling things. Take care of business moving forward and an NCAA bid awaits.
Northwestern will get two challenging games this week, with Purdue on the road on Wednesday and Minnesota on the road on Saturday. The Wildcats will be significant underdogs in the first game and modest underdogs in the second. Even a split would be a productive week.
#5 - Michigan State Spartans (-1)
The Spartans lost the team’s only game this week on the road against Wisconsin on Friday, dropping the squad to 12-8 overall and 4-5 in Big Ten play. It’s been a bit of a rough go for Michigan State the last few weeks, as the team is just 3-3 over its last six games.
Through 20 games, it’s pretty clear Michigan State is a solid team that should be a safe bet to make the NCAA Tournament. However, it’s unclear if it’s more than that. The team has struggled significantly in its toughest games. In fact, here are a few stats for the Spartans so far this season:
- 0-2 vs top 10 KenPom opponents.
- 1-5 vs top 25 KenPom opponents.
- 2-6 vs top 50 KenPom opponents.
- 4-8 vs top 76 KenPom opponents.
The takeaway from that list should be clear — Michigan State has struggled against its toughest competition. And while that isn’t surprising from a general standpoint (it makes sense to lose against better teams), it’s a concerning trend if the team is going to make a run in March. After all, these are the teams Michigan State is going to be facing in the NCAA Tournament. The Spartans are going to have to beat some of them eventually if they’re going to make noise.
Spartan fans will hope the team can bounce back this week with arch-rival Michigan at home on Tuesday and Maryland at home on Saturday. Michigan State is a significant favorite in both games.
#6 - Maryland Terrapins (+3)
The Terps had a great week, beating Iowa on the road on Wednesday and Nebraska at home on Saturday. The win over the Huskers was particularly impressive, coming by a 22-point final margin. Maryland improved to 13-8 overall and 5-5 in Big Ten play after the wins.
It’s hard to explain Maryland at this point. The team is an enigma, wildly swinging between a top 25 squad and one destined to miss the NIT on any given night. Much of it has to do with the team’s inconsistent units. The Terps boast a nationally elite defense (seventh on KenPom), but an underwhelming offense (160th nationally) with putrid three-point shooting (29.7 percent from deep). The team needs to find stability if it’s going to capitalize on this defense. Even modest offensive improvement could mean an NCAA bid.
Maryland only has one game this week, which comes on the road against Michigan State on Saturday. The Terps will be underdogs, but are more than capable of surprising. An upset would be huge for Maryland’s postseason hopes.
#7 - Nebraska Cornhuskers (-2)
The Huskers were another team with mixed results this week, beating Ohio State at home on Tuesday but falling at Maryland on Saturday. The effort against the Terps was particularly discouraging, as Nebraska fell by a 22-point final margin. The loss dropped the Huskers to 15-6 overall and 5-5 in Big Ten play.
Nebraska remains a pretty safe bet for the NCAA Tournament. However, these road letdowns are making it closer than it needs to be. After the latest loss, Nebraska is now just barely above 50 percent odds on TRank to make the cut and that feels about right. At some point, Nebraska is going to need to win some road wins to close the deal.
The team will hope to score a major upset or two this week, with Wisconsin at home on Thursday and Illinois on the road on Sunday. The Huskers are underdogs in both games.
#8 - Iowa Hawkeyes (—)
The Hawkeyes went 1-1 against a tricky slate this week. Iowa opened things with a loss at home against Maryland, but bounced back on the road against Michigan on Saturday. The mixed results left Iowa sitting at 12-8 overall and 4-5 in Big Ten play.
Even after the win over the weekend, Iowa has an uphill battle to make the NCAA Tournament. KenPom currently projects the Hawkeyes to finish 18-13 overall, which probably won’t be enough to get an at-large bid given the team’s poor non-conference scheduling and a down Big Ten. That means the team needs to play better than it has been if it hopes to make the cut. Fortunately, it has a manageable slate awaiting, with KenPom odds noted alongside each game:
- 1/30 - at Indiana (57%)
- 2/2 - Ohio State (68%)
- 2/8 - at Penn State (65%)
- 2/11 - Minnesota (74%)
- 2/14 - at Maryland (42%)
If Iowa can find a way to go 4-1 or better against that slate, it’s probably a viable threat for the NCAA Tournament. However, 3-2 or worse likely won’t cut it. We’re about to get a real look at whether these Hawkeyes are for real.
#9 - Ohio State Buckeyes (-3)
The Buckeyes are in complete free fall right now, having lost two more games this week. Ohio State fell on the road to Nebraska on Tuesday and followed it up with a loss at Northwestern on Saturday. The latter dropped the team to 13-7 overall and 3-6 in Big Ten play.
Perhaps it’s too early for this, but it’s hard to look at Ohio State’s resume and not see similarities with last season. Last time around, Ohio State opened the season at 10-3 overall and 2-0 in Big Ten play, but went on a 1-14 stretch in January and February, which destroyed the team’s season. This year’s Buckeyes aren’t there yet, but are 1-5 over the team’s last six games after starting the season at 12-2 overall. The team’s once solid NCAA hopes are dwindling quickly.
If Ohio State is going to reverse the trend, this is a good week to start. The Buckeyes get Illinois at home on Tuesday and Iowa on the road on Friday. Both would count as quality wins for the team’s resume.
#10 - Rutgers Scarlet Knights (—)
The Scarlet Knights lost the team’s only game last week, falling at home to Purdue on Sunday. It was a tough one as Rutgers played relatively well, but couldn’t overcome a slow start. The loss dropped the team to 10-9 overall and 2-6 in Big Ten play.
In many ways, Sunday’s game against the Boilermakers felt like a “last stand” for the team. If Rutgers had pulled off the upset, perhaps it could have started a turnaround. Instead, Rutgers’ at-large hopes are basically over and the team suddenly finds itself on a skid, having lost three of the last four games and six of its last nine.
Rutgers will hope to get back on track this week with Penn State at home on Wednesday and Michigan on the road on Saturday. Both games look relatively winnable.
#11 - Indiana Hoosiers (—)
The Hoosiers lost the team’s only game last week, falling on the road against Illinois on Saturday. Though it was a competitive outing, it dropped Indiana to 12-8 overall and 4-5 in Big Ten play. It marked the third straight loss for the Hoosiers. The team is just 2-5 over its last seven games.
At this point, Indiana isn’t just looking at an uphill climb to the NCAA Tournament, it’ll need a miraculous run to even get in serious bubble contention. The team just hasn’t been able to close the deal against quality opponents and its upcoming schedule is brutal. Unless the Hoosiers can figure out how to beat top-tier opponents, this is probably a lost season.
Indiana will try and reverse that trend with Iowa at home on Tuesday and Penn State at home on Saturday. Both of those have to be wins if Mike Woodson and company hope to make things interesting.
#12 - Minnesota Golden Gophers (+2)
The Gophers had mixed results last week, falling to arch-rival Wisconsin at home on Tuesday and bouncing back with a win over Penn State on the road on Saturday. The split left Minnesota sitting at 13-7 overall and 4-5 in Big Ten play.
Like a few other teams on this list, Minnesota is dangling on the edge of the NCAA bubble conversation. The team’s overall record is solid and it doesn’t have any egregious losses. However, Minnesota played a lackluster non-conference slate and hasn’t closed out a game against a top-tier opponent yet. Until the Gophers can get a big win or two, it’s hard to see Minnesota doing enough to have an interesting Selection Sunday.
The good news is Minnesota gets a huge opportunity this week with Northwestern at home on Saturday. The game is certainly winnable (KenPom has it as a tossup) and the Wildcats are good enough to where a win would be a real boost to Minnesota’s resume. We’ll have to wait and see if the Gophers can get the job done.
#13 - Penn State Nittany Lions (-1)
The Nittany Lions lost the team’s only game last week against Minnesota at home on Saturday. The loss dropped Penn State to 9-11 overall and 3-6 in Big Ten play. Penn State will hope to get back on track on Wednesday on the road against Rutgers. After that, the team will face Indiana on the road on Saturday.
#14 - Michigan Wolverines (-1)
The Wolverines had another disappointing week, falling on the road to Purdue in blowout fashion and at home against Iowa on Saturday. The losses dropped Michigan to 7-13 overall and 2-7 in Big Ten play.
By any objective measure, Michigan’s season is done. In fact, it was realistically over weeks ago. The Wolverines were never a great team, but seem to be getting worse by the week. For perspective, Michigan has dropped an astounding 27 spots on KenPom since January began and 14 spots over the last two games. Those struggles coincide with three straight losses and a horrific 1-8 performance over the last nine games, including losses to four teams outside the top 50 on KenPom. It’s destroyed any hope for this season.
The rest of Michigan’s season should be dedicated to two things: (1) putting together enough wins to avoid the Wednesday slate in the Big Ten Tournament; and (2) working back channels to find the program’s next coach. The Juwan Howard era in Ann Arbor started with a bang, but it’s run its course. It’s hard to see how Howard and his staff can turn this mess around. Warde Manuel should be focusing on new options.
Michigan will return to action this week with Michigan State on the road on Tuesday and Rutgers at home on Saturday. KenPom expects the Wolverines to split.