From top to bottom, the Big Ten is the country’s best basketball conference. Five teams rest in the Associated Press’ top 25, and on any given night, there’s a chance any team could fall.
Realistically, the top 10 teams in the Big Ten could all beat each other (sorry, Northwestern and Nebraska). It’s complete and utter chaos, and yes, it’s still January.
Before getting into the rankings, I’d like to point out that yes, I used Kenpom analytics for a good chunk of this. All of those can be found here. While I don’t believe it to be the end-all for statistics, I think the Kenpom rankings and adjusted stats are useful.
No. 14 — Nebraska (7-12, 2-6 in the Big Ten)
Nebraska is not good at basketball.
According to Kenpom, the Huskers rank 159th in adjusted defense and 128th in adjusted offense. No other Big Ten team has both its adjusted offense and defense ranking below 100.
No. 13 — Northwestern (6-12, 1-7 in the Big Ten)
Oh, how Northwestern has fallen since making the NCAA Tournament in March 2017.
Five is the magic number here. Northwestern has five losses by five points or fewer this season: Illinois, Indiana, Hartford, DePaul, and Michigan State.
No. 12 — Ohio State (12-6, 2-5 in the Big Ten)
The Buckeyes are better than their record. Ohio State is the ONLY team in the Big Ten to have a Kenpom adjusted offense AND defense rank in the top 25. Kaleb Wesson, Duane Washington Jr., and D.J. Carton are a talented group.
But the Buckeyes are 1-5 since beating Kentucky. So, hello, No. 12 spot.
No. 11 — Penn State (14-5, 4-4 in the Big Ten)
A three-game slide in the beginning of the month took a toll on Penn State in the conference standings.
However, wins over Ohio State and Michigan have the Nittany Lions rising in the rankings.
No. 10 — Purdue (10-9, 3-5 in the Big Ten)
This Purdue team just can’t string together any sort of consistency.
The Boilermakers have lost four of their last fives games, but the one win was over Michigan State, and it wasn’t even close. The Purdue team that beat Michigan State is one of the best in the conference. But the Purdue team that put up just 37 points against Illinois? Not so much.
No. 9 — Indiana (14-4, 4-3 in the Big Ten)
The Hoosiers’ conference losses have come against Wisconsin, Maryland, and Rutgers. None of those are bad losses. This team even beat Florida State earlier this season.
I’m just not sold on Indiana being one of the Big Ten’s better teams. The next two games against Michigan State and Maryland will be telling.
No. 8 — Minnesota (10-8, 4-4 in the Big Ten)
Minnesota is yet another team which is better than its record. The Gophers are just two games above .500, but that’s thanks in part to a tough schedule.
Minnesota’s opponents are top-six nationally in adjusted offense and defense, according to Kenpom. The Gophers also have conference win over Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State.
No. 7 — Wisconsin (12-7, 5-3 in the Big Ten)
After a rough start, Wisconsin has turned things around. The Badgers three wins over top-25 opponents (at the time) in Big Ten play. Those victories over Penn State and Maryland sure look nice.
This is another grind-it-out Wisconsin team. It’s not pretty, but it works.
No. 6 — Rutgers (14-5, 5-3 in the Big Ten)
Listen, I really, really wanted to put Rutgers ahead of Michigan. I really did. But I just don’t believe the Scarlet Knights are a better basketball team than the Wolverines.
It’s defense, defense, defense for Steve Pikiell’s group in Piscataway, New Jersey. Prior to facing Iowa, Rutgers led the Big Ten in scoring defense (58.7 per game, the only team in the conference to allow less than 60).
No. 5 — Michigan (11-7, 2-5 in the Big Ten)
It’s been a tough past three games for the Wolverines, to say the least.
Michigan enters the rankings on a three-game skid, dropping contests to Minnesota, Iowa, and Penn State.
To date, the Wolverines have played on of the country’s toughest schedules — essentially the opposite of Rutgers. Let’s not forget Michigan is the only team to beat Gonzaga so far this season.
Isaiah Livers’ injury hurts Michigan tremendously. He hasn’t played since Dec. 21. In his absence, the Wolverines are 2-4. He’s not the answer to their problems, but his return — whenever that may be — will be huge.
No. 4 — Illinois (14-5, 6-2 in the Big Ten)
I’ll be honest, teams four, three, and two in the power rankings are almost a toss-up.
Has Illinois finally put it together? The Illini have won their last five games, including a 79-62 throttling of Purdue on Tuesday.
Illinois doesn’t shoot the 3-ball very well (31.2 percent, 279th in the country), but for the most part, the Illini are more than solid offensively (76 points per game) and defensively (64.6 points allowed per game).
Illinois is about to face a gauntlet of a schedule: at Michigan, home vs. Minnesota, at Iowa, home vs. Maryland, home vs. Michigan State, and at Rutgers. We’re about to find out if the Illini are legit.
No. 3 — Maryland (15-4, 5-3 in the Big Ten)
Back-to-back losses to Iowa and Wisconsin earlier this season are the only thing keeping Maryland out of the No. 2 spot in the power rankings.
The Terrapins have a great defense, ranking fourth in the Big Ten by holding opponents to 61 points per game. Kenpom gives Maryland the No. 6 adjusted defense in the country. In the meantime, it’s faced some of the toughest defenses in the country (No. 9 adjusted opposing defense, according to Kenpom).
Aside from Rutgers, Maryland is the only other Big Ten team undefeated at home this season. But on the flip side, the Terrapins are 1-4 in true road contests.
No. 2 — Iowa (14-5, 5-3 in the Big Ten)
The Hawkeyes have beaten three top-25 opponents in four games. There’s a case to be made for Iowa being one of the hottest team in the Big Ten at the moment.
Iowa’s offense is one of the best in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes average 80.2 points per game. Iowa boasts the the third-best adjusted offense in the country, according to Kenpom.
The loss to Nebraska was downright disgusting, but at this point, essentially every Big Ten team has some sort of head-scratching loss. That’s life in the country’s best conference.
But Iowa has six wins against Quad 1 teams — the second-most in the country behind No. 3 Kansas.
Iowa is also the only Big Ten team with a winning record in true road games, not including neutral sites. That’s something to keep an eye on.
No. 1 — Michigan State (14-4, 6-1 in the Big Ten)
Michigan State has won nine of its last 10 games. That’s pretty hard to beat. Yes, the 71-42 loss to Purdue was bad. But the Spartans have conference wins over Rutgers, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.
Michigan State sits at eighth in the NET rankings. The Spartans’ only losses have come at the hands of quadrant one teams.
Michigan State boasts the No. 8 adjusted offense (114.1) and No. 26 adjusted defense (90.8) in the country, according to Kenpom.
The Spartans are the Big Ten’s best team until further notice. Tom Izzo has a squad poised to make yet another deep run into the post season. There is a realistic chance Michigan State does not lose another game in the regular season, despite the Big Ten’s depth.