Power Rankings: Purdue, Ohio State remain atop list
While there have been weeks where I’ve dreaded the day I had to submit my Big Ten Power Rankings, presented by ArcelorMittal, I feel as if the play on the floor and the standings are starting to clarify some things as we head into the second half of the conference season.
In the past, the conference has always thrived when there were three clear-cut tiers: the elite teams in tier 1, the middle of the pack in tier 2, and the teams under construction (or reconstruction) in tier 3.
Earlier this season it seemed as if there were two tiers, with the conference’s top teams in a league of their own. Recently, there seems to be a few who stand out as being capable of maintaining position in the middle of the pack, which usually makes you a relevant when it comes to the postseason conversation.
Here’s how I see it at the moment.
Editor’s note: Team records are through Sunday, Jan. 21 action.
1. Purdue (19-2, 8-0). There’s not much more I can say about the Boilers that I haven’t already said. The best compliment I can give is that they are truly enjoyable to watch. There’s not a part of their game that can easily be exploited as experience and chemistry fills a lot of holes. If they’re going to be beaten, it will be by a team that’s able to match their energy, ball movement, intensity and chemistry. Gimmicks won’t stop the Boilers. They’re complete.
Last week: 1
2. Ohio State (17-4, 8-0). Similar to Purdue, the Buckeyes seem to have a hold on who they are and they don’t “out-punt their coverage,” so to speak. Chris Holtmann and staff seems to have this team grounded and it does what it does very well. There are still areas to improve upon and options within certain offensive actions that will create more opportunities, but their defense has been stifling and impressive.
Last week: 2
3. Michigan State (17-3, 5-2). The Spartans are beginning to look like the Spartans again. The struggles were a reminder that they are still very young and proof (for Tom Izzo to his team) that winning at a high level doesn’t ever come easy in the Big Ten and beyond. Izzo wants more from Miles Bridges, and the Spartans will certainly need that if they want to reach their Final Four potential.
Last week: 4
4. Michigan (17-5, 6-3). The Wolverines showed some vulnerabilities against a smaller Nebraska lineup. Moe Wagner struggled in pick-and-pop situations when the Huskers switched everything around the perimeter. Not every team will do this against Michigan, but it’s something it will have to clean up to be a contender. The emergence of Isaiah Livers and Jordan Poole has been fun to watch. They play hard, enjoy themselves and contribute in a huge way.
Last week: 3
5. Maryland (15-6, 4-4). This is where the second tier begins, and Maryland is the team that sits comfortably at the top of that tier at the moment. The way it has handled the loss of Ivan Bender and Justin Jackson has been remarkable for a young team. Credit Mark Turgeon for not only the rotation changes he’s made in-game, but also the mid-season teaching that goes into moving key pieces around when practices are limited. I still see this team continuing to improve.
Last week: 5
6. Nebraska (14-7, 5-3). The Huskers have had something special in the environment at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Now, the terrific students and the PBA have something special in the team that plays there. There are numerous weapons that can attack from anywhere on the floor. Isaiah Roby my be the ultimate X-Factor for them, as long as he’s able to defend without fouling and rebound. Nebraska has become of the tougher teams to match up with in conference play.
Last week: 7
7. Indiana (11-8, 4-3). It hasn’t been all cupcakes and roses since the season-opening loss, but the response to adversity and the collective buy-in to playing hard, being tough and competing for 40 minutes seems to be there. Juwan Morgan may end up being a first-team All-Big Ten player, as his versatility fills many voids and helps young guys in their incremental development. Like Nebraska, they are a tough matchup when they play small with Morgan at the 5.
Last week: 8
8. Northwestern (12-9, 3-5). On Tuesday, BTN will air “Big Ten Elite” episode dedicated to Northwestern’s historic run to the 2017 NCAA tourney. It’s entitled “First Dance.” I hope the entire team watches it together, as they’ll see how connected and selfless that team was. There’s a reason why they were good: They were all together pursuing something that was much bigger than any of the individuals on the team. The pieces are there to catch fire and be as good, if not better, as the First Dance team. They’ll need to do it together and for one another if they want to get back there.
Last week: 9
9. Penn State (13-8, 3-5). Every week we talk about how talented the Nittany Lions are, and there’s no escaping the fact that it is certainly so. A lack of talent is not the problem. To win in the Big Ten, you’ve got to be balanced, and the ball has to move as defenses are just too good if it doesn’t. Tony Carr may be the best playing off-ball screens in the conference, but only when the pass is part of the equation. If he figures that out, he is an NBA level player and the Nittany Lions are a NCAA tournament caliber team.
Last week: 6
10. Minnesota (14-8, 3-6). The Gophers looked much better against Ohio State with Amir Coffey back in the lineup, but they’re still figuring out how to play without Reggie Lynch. At times, their best lineup is when they go small, with Jordan Murphy at the 5. It just puts a lot on Murphy in that position as it often negates the physical advantage he usually has against an opponent’s forwards. I think there’s great pressure on Nate Mason to bring this team together for one final push as the Big Ten tournament is just over a month away.
Last week: 11
11. Wisconsin (10-10, 3-4). The Badgers will struggle this season, and there’s no way around it. There will be games where they’re able to keep it close and have a chance down the stretch, and they’ll have to capitalize on those opportunities. Brad Davison has been good, but he’s going to have to develop into a guard who can create more opportunities for others, as the offense gets stagnant, from time to time, when the ball gets to Davison and Ethan Happ. Regardless, you have to appreciate how hard he plays and how tough he is. Those are the guys you can build with.
Last week: 10
12. Rutgers (12-9, 2-6). The Scarlet Knights continue to impress me with how they are improving. Individuals are developing their skills and gaining confidence on the floor and the team as a whole is developing a chemistry, discipline and intensity that is making it a formidable foe. I think this program is a year or two from being a consistent middle-of-the-pack competitor, but once they get there I see Steve Pikiell only improving from there. There’s something special brewing in Piscataway.
Last week: 12
13. Iowa (10-11, 1-7). I am sure it is tough as a coach, who is one of the most intense competitors in the conference, to see your team lack that edge. There are so many talented individuals that have complimentary skill sets, but it appears as if they are looking for someone to lead the way on the floor. If that’s how it is on the floor, that’s how it is in the locker room. The Hawkeyes players need to establish that leadership structure or internal pecking order for them to reach their potential next year. The issue is, that starts now and it is not something a coach can force. It’s got to be organic.
Last week: 13
14. Illinois (10-10, 0-7). I keep saying that this is the best power conference team with no conference wins at this point in the season that I’ve probably ever seen. It is hard to understand why the Illini are not winning because they have been so close. I continue to see the beginnings of something special and urge Illini fans to stick around for the ride. Brad Underwood is bringing an exciting brand of basketball to Illinois that will also make them a winner for years to come. The key for them now is to not lose interest in the process. It’s much easier said than done.
Last week: 14