This article is exactly what the headline tells you it will be.
1. Michigan State (8-1, 2-0 B1G)
The Spartans played Rutger closer than they would have liked, but they are a top 3 team who have won every game except for their matchup with first-ranked Duke by double-digits. They have the most talent in the conference by a considerable margin, and they are translating it to both sides of the ball right now. If Michigan State looks this good come March, the Spartans will be a popular pick as the Big Ten’s first NCAA Champions since 2000 (also the Spartans).
2. Purdue (9-2, 2-0 B1G)
After Northwestern gave them a tough game in their second Big Ten matchup, the Boilermakers took care of a solid Valparaiso team with ease for their fifth consecutive win against a top 100 opponent (per KenPom). With a-friendly twin towers Isaac Haas and Matt Haarms leading the way alongside Carsen and Vincent Edwards (no relation), Purdue looks like they could be even better than last year’s squad despite the loss of Caleb Swanigan. That’s a scary thought. Thankfully, there are no Big Ten games played in the Bahamas.
3. Minnesota (8-2, 1-1 B1G)
The Golden Gophers appeared to be a true contender after an 8-1 start, with their only loss against undefeated Miami (FL), but a bad loss at lowly Nebraska was a setback. There’s still plenty of time, though, and the Nate Mason-led Gophers have shown more upside than any Minnesota team since their 1997 squad, which made the Final Four.
4. Maryland (8-3, 1-1 B1G)
After close losses to St. Bonaventure, Syracuse and Purdue, the Terrapins bounced back with an overtime win over Illinois (sound familiar?) before disposing Ohio. Maryland looked legit after a big win early in the season over Butler, but have been shaky ever since. They won’t be tested again until Big Ten play restarts, but a difficult January featuring road matchups with Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan, and Purdue and home tilts with Penn State, Minnesota and the aforementioned Spartans will tell us a lot about this young team.
5. Ohio State (7-3, 2-0 B1G)
The Buckeyes have certainly been the most surprising Big Ten team over the first third of this season. An underwhelming 2017 season followed by the resignation of Thad Matta left Ohio State scrambling to get to 11 scholarship players, which includes former walk-ons like Andrew Dakich. But the Buckeyes overcame a short rotation to open the Big Ten slate with impressive wins over Wisconsin and Michigan, and suddenly an NCAA Tournament berth isn't out of the question. Chris Holtmann was a darn good hire, that’s for sure.
6. Northwestern (5-4, 1-1 B1G)
In an overwhelmingly and bafflingly mediocre Big Ten, the Wildcats have bee the epitome of the conference to begin the season. An improved performance against Purdue notwithstanding, Northwestern has struggled through the beginning of their season and the remaining opportunities for resumé wins are few and far between. The preseason media darlings are sitting at 5-4, and have certainly looked the part.
7. Michigan (7-3, 1-1 B1G)
Like Northwestern, the Wolverines have not won a game against a team in the top 80 by KenPom and have a loss outside of that top 80 (to LSU). Their next two matchups, against a UCLA team that has looked average thus far and a more dangerous Texas squad, will be crucial, especially coming off a disappointing loss to Ohio State. John Beilein, Moritz Wagner and Co. have a tough road ahead of them in trying to get back to the NCAA Tournament after the departure of star point guard Derrick Walton.
8. Penn State (7-3, 1-1 B1G)
At the outset, it seemed like 2018 could finally be the year for Pat Chambers and the perennially-young Nittany Lions. However, disappointing losses (I’m sensing a theme) to North Carolina State and Wisconsin over the past 10 days will force Penn State to navigate the minefield of conference play to earn signature wins. Tony Carr, Shep Garner, Lamar Stevens, and Mike Watkins combine to create one of the most watchable teams in the Big Ten, but the Nittany Lions might still be a year away.
9. Wisconsin (4-6, 1-1 B1G)
One of two teams in the Big Ten with a losing record, the Badgers are an enigma. They’ve played the most difficult schedule in the conference, but have lost to everybody on it. With Greg Gard seemingly determined to slow the sport down as much as possible (Wisconsin ranks 339 out of 351 Division 1 teams in adjusted tempo in KenPom), Ethan Happ and a no-name supporting cast are primed for a rare tournament miss, especially after recent losses to Ohio State and Temple.
10. Nebraska (7-3, 1-1 B1G)
Nebraska still isn’t a good basketball team, but recent home victories over Minnesota and Boston College are impressive enough to vault them to 10th. Tim Miles and his squad remain at the wrong end of a clear talent gap even in a down year for the Big Ten. Still, the determined Cornhuskers could grind out enough wins for an NIT berth with a couple good breaks.
11. Indiana (5-4, 1-1 B1G)
Like Wisconsin, Indiana confounds me. On the one hand, they played Duke tough, looked good against Iowa, and have a ton of talent. On the other, Archie Miller’s squad was demolished by Indiana State and beat Howard, the 12th-worst team in the country, by just 9. The Hoosiers are in the midst of an exceedingly difficult stretch, traveling to Louisville and then a neutral site to play Notre Dame over the next week. This team has the talent to win those games and the rest of the matchups on their schedule, but thanks to continued streaky shooting and iffy defense they should keep struggling.
12. Illinois (7-3, 0-2 B1G)
After two heartbreakers to open Big Ten play, a young and demoralized Illini team squeaked out a win over Austin Peay. It appears that Northwestern’s in-state rivals are on an upwards trajectory in terms of both recruiting and on-court product, but the 2018 iteration will not win many games. Look out for Ayo Dosunmu and Mark Smith next year, though, with just one contributor graduating.
13. Rutgers (7-3, 0-2 B1G)
The Scarlet Knights play teams tough. Unfortunately, their non-conference schedule is comprised entirely of complete cupcakes and legitimate top 25 squads. They haven’t played a game with a margin of less than 9 yet, but 7-3 Rutger has a lot of tough games to come. The Scarlet Knights still have virtually no offense: their 42.5% effective field goal rate, per KenPom, is good for 346th in the country despite being compiled against terrible teams. Watching Rutgers basketball is not fun, but their sneaky-good defense makes it likely that they’ll steal a couple of upsets in games where the teams combine for around 100. Big Ten basketball!
14. Iowa (4-6, 0-2 B1G)
Iowa relied heavily on Peter Jok last year. Now that he is gone, they are quite bad. The Hawkeyes have lost 6 out of 7, including back-to-back neutral site defeats against Louisiana Lafayette and South Dakota State. It doesn’t like the Hawkeyes are going to be doing much winning any time soon. The Big Ten is bad enough that they, like Rutgers and Illinois, should steal some games, but Iowa will not sniff the postseason.