1. Ohio State (15-4, 9-4)
The Buckeyes may not be the best team in the conference (a title that the COVID-paused Wolverines will continue to hold until someone claims it from them), but there are few teams in the country hotter at this moment. Ohio State has won four straight games and six of its last seven, including victories against Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Rutgers. Its hard to believe this is the same team that lost to Northwestern back in December.
2. Michigan (13-1, 8-1)
The Wolverines haven’t played a game in several weeks but will theoretically take the floor again Sunday against Wisconsin in a bid to reclaim their mantle as the league’s top team.
3. Illinois (13-5, 9-3)
The Illini showed out last week, earning a gutsy road win against Indiana before notching a statement victory at home against #19 Wisconsin. This team has two of the five best players in the conference in Kofi Cockburn and Ayo Dosunmu, the latter of whom posted an impressive triple double against the Badgers. Illinois is finally playing like the Final Four contender many pundits believed they would become, and their fortunes in March will likely be determined by how far their two stars can carry them.
4. Wisconsin (14-6, 8-5)
Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but the Badgers didn’t have long to let their loss to the Nittany Lions linger, earning a home win against Penn State only three days after losing to them on the road. Wisconsin’s 75-60 loss to Illinois might sting for a while, though, as the Badgers won’t get another crack at the Illini until the final days of February. Wisconsin’s next two home games against Michigan and Iowa should have a major say in where Greg Gard’s team ultimately finishes in the conference hierarchy.
5. Iowa (13-6, 7-5)
The Hawkeyes have lost four of their last five games, but more importantly seem to have completely lost their identity over the past few weeks. The offense can get red hot at a moment’s notice but has been far too inconsistent of late, while the defense remains a major area of concern for the team. The Hawkeyes have yet to win a real statement game this season (no, victories over Rutgers, Purdue, and North Carolina don’t count), and will need to elevate their play considerably if they hope to return to the conference’s upper tier. C.J. Fredrick can’t get healthy fast enough.
6. Purdue (13-7, 8-5)
The Boilermakers have won six of their last eight games, so naturally a team as hot as them would drop an ugly loss to a Maryland squad that seems determined to play Debbie Downer for every team of consequence in the Big Ten this year. Purdue got things back on track in their 75-70 win over Northwestern and will have a chance to continue their winning ways on the road against Minnesota this Thursday.
7. Rutgers (11-6, 7-6)
After a nightmarish skid that saw them lose five straight games in January, Rutgers seems to have found their legs again and is on a four-game winning streak. However, one should not overlook who these victories have come against; Indiana, Michigan State, Northwestern, and Minnesota are all in the bottom half of the conference’s power rankings this week. However, a six-game winning streak would be hard to ignore and seems achievable for the Scarlet Knights as they prepare to take on a spiraling Iowa team and lowly Northwestern over the coming days.
8. Indiana (10-8, 5-6)
The Hoosiers missed their chance to upset Illinois last Tuesday but did manage to bolster their NCAA Tournament resume by completing their season sweep of Iowa. Even when Trayce Jackson-Davis shoots poorly (as he did in his 6-18 performance against Illinois), he has developed into a well-rounded player who can positively impact the game in a major way, from his defense to his rebounding to his ability to get to the line. His continued ascension is a major positive for an Indiana team that still has plenty of work to do before they can secure their NCAA bid.
9. Penn State (7-8, 4-7)
Don’t look now, but the Nittany Lions might have finally found their footing! Offseason turmoil and a lengthy COVID scare have made this a rollercoaster season for a Penn State team that had tournament ambitions, but the squad from Happy Valley look like a completely different team after splitting with Wisconsin, beating Maryland, and playing an extremely competitive game against Ohio State. The Nittany Lions have little margin for error if they hope to sneak into the NCAA Tournament, but even if that goal proves too lofty, they still have plenty of time to ruin things for other tournament hopefuls before season’s end.
10. Minnesota (11-7, 4-7)
The Gophers are in a free-fall. Richard Pitinio’s team has lost three straight and five of its last six games, and the Gophers’ one win during this stretch (a 75-57 win over the otherwise undefeated Michigan Wolverines) looks more baffling by the day. With winnable games against Nebraska, Purdue, and Maryland on tap for this weekend, it’s officially time for the Gophers to play their way out of their current slump if they hope to turn this season around.
11. Maryland (10-9, 4-8)
The Terps have been playing lockdown defense of late and have not allowed any opponents to score over 61 points in their last four games. Yet the team continues to be impossible to predict, beating a surging Purdue squad before losing to Penn State right when it seemed they might have some positive momentum. It’s been nearly a month since the Terrapins won two consecutive games, and they have yet to do so against a conference opponent. With matchups against Ohio State and Minnesota this week, I fully expect Maryland to knock off the Buckeyes only to find a way to lose to the Gophers.
12. Michigan State (9-7, 3-7)
In any other season, Iowa’s win over the Spartans last Tuesday should have been cause a cause for celebration and the type of signature win that can make a tournament resume. Now it hardly raises an eyebrow. If the Spartans hope to play their way back into NCAA Tournament contention, victories against Penn State and Iowa this week should be considered nearly essential.
13. Northwestern (6-10, 3-9)
R.I.P Northwestern Basketball: December 20, 2020-December 29, 2020
14. Nebraska (4-9, 0-6)
Is there a better team in major college basketball to help a struggling Minnesota team break out of its slump than the Cornhuskers? This team could honestly finish conference play winless.