Holiday Greetings, Big Ten Basketball fans. My Big Ten Power Rankings, presented by ArcelorMittal, get tougher and tougher every week, and this week is no exception.
It is impossible to ignore the play of Nebraska and Rutgers anymore. A buddy of mine on Twitter asked a great, albeit likely condescending, question that I feel needs to be addressed. The answer is a simple yes. Every team in the Big Ten this year is capable of beating a Top-15 team, and that is going to lead to an interesting conference season and tournament.
That being said, I still have to put a number next to every team. This is by far the biggest shakeup I’ve ever had doing this for BTN, but you can’t ignore inspiring play anymore. Nor can you ignore the obvious struggles of others.
Editor’s note: Team records are through Sunday, Dec., 17, action.
1. Michigan State (10-1, 2-0). Get used to seeing this team in the top 5 all season. Even with a future hiccup, the Spartans have the size, depth and coach to be considered a Final Four hopeful. I may run out of positive things to say about this team at some point this year. Actually, probably not…..they’re loaded.
Last week: 1
2. Purdue (11-2, 2-0). The problem the Boilermakers had in the Bahamas seemed to be part of the process of finding their new identity as a true 4-out, 1-in team with dominant post play and numerous weapons around the perimeter. Matt Haarms and Dakota Mathias make this team even better than expected on the defensive end.
Last week: 2
3. Minnesota (9-3, 1-1). They have not looked great recently, but I cannot see anyone jumping ahead of the Gophers at the moment. They’ll develop better balance as the season persists. It’ll get tougher and tougher for Jordan Murphy to dominate games, which I see as a positive thing in the search for balance. This is still a legitimate top-20 team.
Last week: 3
4. Northwestern (8-4, 1-1). Criticize me all you want on this one. The team that was ranked to start the season and an NCAA tournament team last year appears to be back — when they want to, at least. The intensity is there again and so is the potential for a Sweet 16 finish. The guard play is key in that regard. I’m really interested to see them against Oklahoma on Friday.
Last week: 5
5. Michigan (10-3, 1-1). There will still be some inconsistency as the point guard position will continue to improve and evolve, but this team has come a long way already. Getting Moe Wagner back to 100 percent will be key for the second start of conference play on Jan. 2 vs. Iowa.
Last week: 8
6. Maryland (10-3, 1-1). While the Terps are still young and evolving, the pieces make them one of the most intriguing teams in the conference. The ability to play Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter at point guard will cause matchup problems for opponents in conference play. The ceiling is high, but they’ll have to grind out wins quite often this year.
Last week: 4
7. Ohio State (9-3, 2-0). The Buckeyes may be the best story so far this season. They play hard, they are disciplined and they are still not as good as they could be. Chris Holtmann and his staff have done a fantastic job with some really good pieces that were left over from the Thad Matta era. At this point, Holtmann is my pick for early season coach of the year.
Last week: 6
8. Penn State (9-3, 1-1). I feel like this team will be as good as they believe they are — not as individuals, but as a team. There is certainly a belief in the talent of the individuals, however the key will be in finding the chemistry and confidence in the whole. This is a NCAA Tournament team if that can be achieved.
Last week: 7
9. Indiana (6-5, 1-1). I’m not going to let an incredibly tough schedule take away from the improvements this team has made. The play of Juwan Morgan has been terrific, but they’ll have to be more balanced to win consistently in Big Ten play. The Hoosiers need to play every game as if they’re playing the likes of Duke, Louisville or Notre Dame.
Last week: 10
10. Nebraska (7-5, 1-1). Isaac Copeland, Glynn Watson Jr. and James Palmer Jr. make the Huskers a formidable opponent. They play hard, they attack and they have numerous contributors who do not demand much other than to contribute in any way possible. The key will be in their ability to win on the road, as the environment in Lincoln is one of the Big Ten’s best home-court advantages. FWIW: It’s also a great place to visit as a broadcaster.
Last week: 13
11. Rutgers (10-3, 0-2). With respectable road losses at Florida State and Minnesota, a home defeat vs. Michigan State and a home win vs. a good Seton Hall team, the Scarlet Knights need to be taken seriously. Geo Baker is a real game-changer and is the future of this program under Steve Pikiell. Baker allows Corey Sanders to play off the ball, which puts him in a position to shine.
Last week: 14
12. Illinois (8-5, 0-2). One of the biggest challenges that Brad Underwood will have this year will be to win consistently with a group that does not particularly fit the system with which he runs. As he gets longer guards and wing players, this program will be a legitimate contender with their pressure and pace. A healthy Kipper Nichols and Leron Black would help them move back up in the standings too.
Last week: 9
13. Wisconsin (5-7, 1-1). As crazy as the finish to the Western Kentucky game was, you have to credit Greg Gard in doing whatever he can to give his team a chance to win. That may be the case all season with an incredibly limited Badgers team. The loss of Kobe King for the season and D’Mitrik Trice for a indeterminate time certainly hurts, but the emergence of Brad Davison has been a positive.
Last week: 12
14. Iowa (6-6, 0-2). I have been a huge supporter of Iowa and still think it has the potential to get hot in conference play, but the swagger, mojo, confidence and chemistry on the floor just isn’t there yet. The Hawkeyes need an alpha, both on the floor and in the locker room. On paper, this is a top-half Big Ten team; the product on the floor says otherwise, and that’s all that matters.
Last week: 11