Note: AP refers to the Associated Press Top 25 rankings. KP refers to KenPom rankings. Records and statistics are as of the morning of 12/15/14.
In the AP's Preseason Top 25, there were five ranked Big Ten teams: Wisconsin (No. 3), Michigan State (18), Ohio State (20), Nebraska (21) and Michigan (24).
Now, a little over a month into the season, just three of those original teams remain in the rankings (Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State) while a new one (Maryland) joined. Michigan and Nebraska have since fallen out due to some stunning home losses to a motley crew of NJIT, Eastern Michigan and Incarnate Word.
Clearly, it has been a topsy-turvy start to the season for the Big Ten, a conference that was not predicted to make a serious national splash this year outside of Wisconsin, which seems to be magnetically attracted to the top five. That makes accurate power rankings very difficult but all the more fun and interesting. Here we go:
1. Wisconsin (10-1) | KP: 4 | AP: 5
Big wins: Oklahoma (KP: 17), Georgetown (KP: 21)
Big loss: Duke (KP: 2)
It is fair to say the Badgers are the best in the conference by far, at least now. Their only blemish on the year was a home loss to a very strong Duke team and they have cruised easily through their somewhat-solid non-conference schedule. Frank Kaminsky is having another great season (16.6 ppg and 8.4 rpg) as a part of Wisconsin's impossible-to-matchup frontcourt-with that should lead Wisconsin late into the tournament again.
2. Ohio State (8-1) | KP: 14 | AP: 12
Big wins: None
Big loss: at Louisville (KP: 5)
The Buckeyes have not beaten a top-50 KenPom team yet this season and lost their only real challenge against Louisville but things are still looking promising in Columbus. Scoring is abundant (14th in the country) and efficient (tied for third in the nation in FG%) and very balanced (six players scoring more than 7 points per game) and true freshman D'Angelo Russell has developed into a star, making next Saturday's meeting with No. 24 North Carolina a huge game.
3. Maryland (10-1) | KP: 28 | AP: 17
Big win: Iowa State (KP: 20)
Big loss: Virginia (KP: 3)
In the Terps' first year in the Big Ten, they rolled through a piece-of-cake early schedule before taking down Arizona State and Iowa State for the CBE Classic Championship. But then star senior forward Dez Wells fractured his wrist, so he missed Maryland's home loss to Virginia that could have escalated them into the Top 10. Evan Smotrycz (foot) has also been out for awhile, limiting the Terps' scoring ability but thankfully for them, freshman Melo Trimble has picked up the scoring load to the tune of 16 points per game.
4. Michigan State (7-3) | KP: 12 | AP: 25
Big wins: None
Big losses: Duke (KP: 2), Kansas (KP: 9), at Notre Dame (KP: 34)
Michigan State has yet to beat a good team (best win was against Marquette, which is not even a top-100 KenPom team) but came awfully close against really good ones in Duke, Kansas and Notre Dame. This team, led by Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine and double-double machine Branden Dawson, is much, much better than its record indicates and as a top-20 KenPom team, has finally made the jump back into the Top 25.
5. Minnesota (8-2) | KP: 25
Big wins: Georgia (KP: 42)
Big losses: Louisville (KP: 5), St. John's (KP: 23)
As is the case with most of the Big Ten, Minnesota has played a few good teams this season but hasn't beaten any of them. Louisville is a national power while St. John's is finally experiencing the success many thought Steve Lavin would have brought the Johnnies a few years ago. Georgia is a decent win but does not have the signature quality Minnesota will need to show the selection committee in March.
6. Illinois (7-3) | KP: 38
Big win: Baylor (KP: 13)
Big losses: Miami (FL) (KP: 22), Villanova (KP: 6), Oregon (KP: 53)
Champaign native Rayvonte Rice is a big-time scorer for the Illini and is one of only two Illinois players (sophomore Malcolm Hill is the other) to average double figures in points so far this season. The win over explosive Baylor was big but Illinois missed a big opportunity to take down Miami (FL) for another KenPom top-25 victory. The Illini's loss to Oregon on Saturday, at home, really hurt their chances to sneak into the rankings this week.
7. Iowa (8-3) | KP: 29
Big win: North Carolina (KP: 16)
Big losses: Texas (KP: 11), Syracuse (KP: 37), Iowa State (KP: 18)
Iowa was a three-pointer away from pushing Syracuse to overtime and took down the Tar Heels on the road, so clearly Fran McCaffery's Hawkeyes mean business. They got crushed by in-state rival Iowa State on Friday night but have a meeting with Northern Iowa upcoming to prove themselves worthy in their state. Also, an interesting note: Senior Aaron White is playing fewer minutes this year than he has in the last two, but is averaging over 15 points a game and more than 7 rebounds.
8. Indiana (8-2) | KP: 50
Big wins: SMU (KP: 45), Pittsburgh (KP: 52)
Big losses: Louisville (KP: 5), Eastern Washington (KP: 94)
Indiana was flying high after a late November win over then-ranked SMU but lost to Eastern Washington a few days after that at Assembly Hall and got crushed at home by Louisville a few weeks later. The Hoosiers are 4th in the nation in scoring, led by freshman James Blackmon Jr.'s 19.2 points and Yogi Ferrell's 15.9 points per contest, but are 283rd in the country in points allowed. Not a good recipe for Tom Crean's squad.
9. Purdue (8-3) | KP: 49
Big wins: BYU (KP: 41), NC State (KP: 48)
Big losses: Kansas State (KP: 76), North Florida (KP: 157), at Vanderbilt (KP: 71)
For the most part, the Boilermakers have taken care of their weak non-conference schedule but they've lost a pair of brutal home games against so-so Kansas State in the Maui Invitational and bad North Florida, of the Atlantic Sun, at home. Purdue does have a meeting with Notre Dame next Saturday which will be its first real test of the year. If the Boilers pass, maybe the North Florida loss was an aberration.
10. Penn State (10-1) | KP: 89
Big wins: None
Big loss: Charlotte (KP: 96)
Good for Penn State for beating almost all of the weak opponents on its schedule. Bad for Penn State for losing to Charlotte in double overtime on a neutral court. The Nittany Lions, led by D.J. Newbill who is 10th in the country in scoring, beat a decent team in George Washington on Sunday but still have not beaten a top-60 opponent this season. That conference opener in Madison on New Year's Eve is not going to be easy for them.
11. Nebraska (6-3) | KP: 84
Big win: Cincinnati (KP: 51)
Big losses: at Rhode Island (KP: 68), Creighton (KP: 56), Incarnate Word (KP: 170)
The Cornhuskers have ruined a preseason No. 21 ranking by struggling mightily against a relatively weak non-conference slate. An early season overtime loss at Rhode Island might be excusable as a fluke but, before beating Cincinnati in double overtime, they lost two games in a row, both at home, against Creighton and Incarnate Word, which became a Division I basketball team last season. A reason for the poor play might be Nebraska's stunning lack of scoring depth as no one other than Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields is scoring more than 7 points per game.
12. Michigan (6-4) | KP: 59
Big win: Syracuse (KP: 37)
Big losses: Villanova (KP: 6), NJIT (KP: 280), Eastern Michigan (KP: 119)
Opening the season as the No. 24 team in the land, Michigan got out of the gate well, beating Oregon and almost taking down highly-ranked Villanova at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Then, after a nice win over Syracuse, things got ugly for the Wolverines. In consecutive games, both at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, they lost to the only Div. I independent, NJIT, and then to fellow state school Eastern Michigan. The fact that NJIT is sub-250 in KenPom and still beat Michigan at Michigan baffles me. This team just might not be good.
13. Northwestern (6-3) | KP: 131
Big wins: None
Big losses: Northern Iowa (KP: 30), Georgia Tech (KP: 93), at Butler (KP: 35)
As I mentioned above, although it was not pretty, NU started the year 5-0 with wins over pretty bad mid-major teams (North Florida included). In the Cancun Challenge final, Northern Iowa dominated the 'Cats, handing them their first loss of the season which spiraled into a poor performance against Georgia Tech in Evanston and then a road defeat at Butler. That loss, by nine points, was not even that bad but in recent weeks, NU's scoring struggles have been exposed, and fixing that issue is not a simple task. The win over MVSU was nice but the Delta Devils did not exactly provide stringent competition.
14. Rutgers (6-4) | KP: 160
Big wins: None
Big losses: George Washington (KP: 64), St. Peter's (KP: 172), Virginia (KP: 3)
Rutgers is not having as easy a transition to the Big Ten as Maryland is and second-year coach Eddie Jordan's team has gotten blown out by the likes of St. Peter's, George Washington and Seton Hall. Wins over Vanderbilt and Clemson are okay but this team is really in trouble when conference play starts. Also, the Scarlet Knights managed just 26 points in a full game against Virginia. The Cavaliers are a top team and all, but 26 points in 40 minutes? That is bad.