Jon Crispin, BTN men's basketball analyst, January 15, 2018
Earlier this season, I was pretty sure Michigan State was nearly unbeatable. There just didn't seem to be many teams in the country that could match up with the Spartans in any way. I was fairly certain that the 2017-18 season was going to be a 'building' year for Ohio State, and that Iowa and Northwestern were probable NCAA tournament teams. Once again, I'm reminded as to why we love college basketball so much. The predictable is proven to be unpredictable and the certainty of a 'sure thing' is no guarantee for success.
Every week I go through this process of putting a number next to each team and trying to justify their placement with as much logic as possible. The truth is, there are too many variables at play to ever be correct, and for that I'm grateful. Otherwise, why would we watch?
For the moment, this is how my latest Big Ten Power Rankings, presented by ArcelorMittal, look. (Of course, these are subject to change.)
Editor's note: Team records are through Sunday, Jan. 14, action.
1. Purdue (17-2, 6-0). Since the start of the season, I've always seen this as a top-10 team, but now they are beginning to look like the best team in the country. They are experienced, balanced and complete. The Boilers have a chemistry with one another that makes the game look easy and makes them fun to watch. The challenge will be to maintain the edge as expectations and national ranking continues to rise.
Last week: 2
2. Ohio State (15-4, 6-0). Michigan fans may object, but I'm sticking with the head-to-head rationalization here. Chris Holtmann and his staff have done a terrific job of simplifying the process and allowing the team to gain confidence every step of the way. The play of Keita Bates-Diop is gaining national attention, and the improvements this team continues to make on the defensive end lead me to believe that the success they're having is certainly sustainable.
Last week: 3
3. Michigan (15-4, 4-2). John Beilein continues to impress as he has had to replace the production and stability of Derrick Walton Jr. The PG position in this system is significantly important, and the development of Zavier Simpson is a key piece to their success. As Isaiah Livers and Jordan Poole gain confidence and Charles Matthews gets more comfortable in the system, Michigan could be in consideration for another Big Ten tournament championship run.
Last week: 4
4. Michigan State (16-3, 4-2). The Spartans are so good that anytime they are not No. 1 in the rankings or the standings, one would think there are negative things to say. Truthfully, Michigan State is showing their youth and vulnerability. This is not just part of the Tom Izzo process, this is part of the process for any team – particularly one with such lofty expectations. At some point, the ALPHA on this team needs to step forward to give this team the confidence it needs when challenged.
Last week: 1
5. Maryland (14-5, 3-3). This is where the conference steps into another tier, the spot where I see the middle-of-the-pack teams competing for post season hopes and relevance. Maryland has had to deal with the loss of Justin Jackson and Ivan Bender, which significantly changes its dynamic and depth. I still have confidence that they will be playing their best basketball in February, at which point Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter will begin to emerge as future All-Big Ten caliber players.
Last week: 5
6. Penn State (13-6, 3-3). The Nittany Lions are in this spot because I saw their potential in the first half against Nebraska, when Tony Carr was sharing the basketball. His ability to play off the ball screen and pass out of doubles will help them win those close games down the stretch that have eluded them in the past. They will have to make adjustments when defenses change on them, but the talent and potential is there when they play with balance.
Last week: 8
7. Nebraska (12-7, 3-3). If Nebraska can figure out how to play with the small lineup, it will be able to stay in the middle of the pack of conference standings. James Palmer Jr. may be the most important piece of the offense, as his success makes the Huskers competitive and his struggles limit their potential. He is the toughest to match up against, and his ability to shoot and attack from the perimeter creates easy opportunities for teammates.
Last week: 7
8. Indiana (11-7, 4-2). The Hoosiers may not always look pretty, but that is going to be how they win this year. Without De'Ron Davis, the lineup will be small and versatile. Defensively, they will be good, so long as they don't over extend, gamble and give up easy shots and position. Being in position defensively will allow Indiana to rebound better against bigger teams and get out and run. Be patient with the development of Aljami Durham and Justin Smith, because the potential is there.
Last week: 9
9. Northwestern (11-8, 2-4). It is safe to say that the Wildcats are not the same team they were last year. Not having a home, as Welsh Ryan Area is being renovated, is a challenge, but you would expect an experienced team to be able to manage it. They simply don't have the same chemistry that the 2016-17 First Dance team had. It is a testament to how important the pursuit of one common goal is for a team. Regardless, the pieces are there to be competitive.
Last week: 10
10. Wisconsin (9-9, 2-3). The Badgers will be able to keep games close, as the system will allow them to do so, but the challenge will come when Big Ten opponents force them to win with balance. Ethan Happ has been terrific, although the constant double teams and struggles following so many successful seasons may weigh heavily on him as the season progresses. The goal should be to maintain discipline and get back to what made this team successful for so long: stifling but safe defense and methodical execution.
Last week: 11
11. Minnesota (13-6, 2-4). I'm not sure the Gophers will be able to maintain a presence in the middle of the pack without Amir Coffey, on top of Reggie Lynch's suspension and a short bench. It's almost as if the season of high expectations was over when the Lynch news was announced. This group will have to change the way it plays, and guys like Davonte Fitzgerald and Michael Hurt will have to play much bigger than they are.
Last week: 6
12. Rutgers (11-8, 1-5). One of the biggest challenges with a program in building phase is sustaining and maintaining success. The ability to compete is there, as are the pieces that will make this team a challenge for Big Ten opponents. The focus, however, will maintain on the details that allow the Scarlet Knights to continue to make strides toward their goal. Extending the contract of Steve Pikiell was a key piece of maintaining that progress, as he is now able to fully commit to the recruiting efforts and development of all aspects of the program.
13. Iowa (10-9, 1-5). The Hawkeyes have looked much better at times but have struggled to maintain play at a high level. They are also one of the teams that define the Big Ten Conference this season. The record may say they are not good, but anyone who plays them will tell you that they are not far off. Iowa is one good leader away from being a real winner this season.
14. Illinois (10-8, 0-5). To my previous point about Iowa, the Illini may be the most dangerous team that sits 14th in the standings that I've ever seen. The system will challenge Big Ten opponents, and I get the sense that Illinois will begin to win some games as they figure out how to sustain the pressure, intensity and good decision making for 40 minutes. Brad Underwood will not only recruit well, he'll recruit to his system. The Illini will be in the mix soon.