Simply put, the Big Ten is deep. There is a clear top tier of Michigan, Michigan State, and Wisconsin, but after that it gets tricky. Expect there to be parity throughout the season but when the dust settles, the league very well could send nine teams to the NCAA tournament. Here’s a look at how the Big Ten shakes out after a week of conference play.
- Michigan Wolverines (9-0, 2-0)
This one is easy. Michigan is currently the hottest team in college basketball with blowout wins against No. 14 North Carolina, Purdue, and No. 21 Villanova. True freshman Ignas Bradzeikis has been the surprise of the year so far. The Lithuanian-born forward is averaging 17 points and 5.1 rebounds per game for the Wolverines. He could play himself into the lottery conversation if he keeps playing at this level. Michigan is still strong outside of him, though. They currently rank second overall in team defense, per NCAA.com. It will be interesting to see how they do going forward given Xavier Simpson’s inability to shoot the three. That is a lot of the reason why Northwestern was nearly able to beat them, so one has to imagine that teams will exploit Simpson throughout the year.
2. Michigan State (7-2, 2-0)
The Spartans, ranked tenth nationally, have bounced back from a bump in the road against Louisville on Nov. 27. They dominated Iowa at home, winning 90-68. The Spartans have shot the ball well from three-point range all year, but it was the big men who stood out against Iowa. They pounded the ball inside the whole game, and the end result was career highs for Nick Ward (26 points), Kenny Goins (19 points), and Xavier Tillman (14 points). Co-captain Matt McQuaid has missed the last three games with a deep thigh bruise. None of McQuaid’s box score stats stand out, but he is a leader for the Spartans. McQuaid’s return will be big for a team that keeps a short rotation.
3. Wisconsin (8-1, 2-0)
The Badgers are back after a down year last year. They jumped ten spots to No. 12 in the AP poll after handing both North Carolina State and Iowa their first losses of the year. Both games were comeback victories for Wisconsin, so it will be interesting to see if they can keep this up. They squeaked by a pesky Rutgers team, winning 69-64. The Badgers are anchored by redshirt senior Ethan Happ, who is currently averaging 17.7 points, and redshirt sophomore guard D’Mitrik Trice, who is shooting a whopping 60 percent from deep to start the year.
4. Ohio State (8-1, 2-0)
The Buckeyes got off to a hot start in Big Ten play by blowing out Minnesota 79-59. They followed that game up with a 77-67 road win at Illinois. Senior point guard Keyshawn Woods was the star of that game for the Buckeyes as he scored a game high 18 points. Ohio State should benefit from the return of freshman guard Luther Muhammad, who returned earlier than expected after missing time with a dislocated shoulder. Muhammad, a former 4-star recruit, is a tough, athletic defender whose presence will be felt immediately by opposing teams.
5. Iowa (7-2, 0-2)
The Hawkeyes got unlucky by drawing Michigan State and Wisconsin in their first two conference games. Regardless, the Hawkeyes are a strong team with quality wins over Connecticut, Oregon, and Pittsburgh. They handled in-state rival Iowa State 98-84 in a game that got chippy at the end. Look for the Hawkeyes to make some noise after a slow start to Big Ten play.
6. Maryland (7-2, 1-1)
The Terrapins will likely drop out of the top 25 after losing to Purdue 62-60 on the road Thursday night. Sophomore Bruno Fernando has been a stud in the paint. The forward is averaging 15.4 points and 10 rebounds while shooting a Dererk Pardon-esque 73.1 percent from the floor. Maryland is a balanced team that has five players averaging double figures. Anthony Cowan Jr. is one of the best point guards in the Big Ten. He does a good job running the show and is the reason they have had such a balanced scoring attack.
7. Purdue (6-3, 1-1)
There was a lot of hype coming into the year about this Purdue team. So far they have been a disappointment. Before their win against No. 23 Maryland, the Boilermakers were 0-3 against ranked opponents. As expected, guard Carsen Edwards has been outstanding for the Boilermakers. Purdue is a solid 3-point shooting team as it ranks No. 6 in the country in 3-pointers made. But after losing four starters this offseason, the Boilermakers are struggling to help Edwards out. Players outside of Edwards will need to start producing if they want to live up to the preseason hype.
8. Indiana (7-2, 2-0)
This team will go as far as freshman Romeo Langford will take them. The projected lottery pick has been excellent thus far, leading the team in scoring with 17.9 points. Part of what makes Langford so appealing to NBA scouts is both his ability to create for himself and shoot it from deep. With that being said, he is only averaging 25.7 percent from three this year. It’s early in the season so there’s time for that average to go up, and if it does the Hoosiers are a dangerous team. They rely on him and Juwan Morgan for the bulk of their offensive load, so it will be interesting to see if a third contributor emerges.
9. Minnesota (7-2, 1-1)
Minnesota bounced back from a blowout loss to Ohio State to beat No. 24 Nebraska 62-60. The team was playing with a heavy heart as one of its players, Dupree McBrayer, recently lost his mother to cancer. Defense and Amir Coffey allowed the team to come from behind and pull out the win. Coffey played great, scoring a career-high 32 points.
10. Nebraska (7-2, 1-1)
The Cornhuskers have looked strong so far on their redemption tour after getting snubbed from last year’s NCAA Tournament. They blew a double digit lead in the second half against Minnesota to lose the game. That’s never good. It doesn’t get any easier for Nebraska as their next games are against Creighton and Oklahoma State. They will need to win these non-conference games in order to gain respect from the Tournament Committee.
11. Northwestern (6-3, 0-2)
The Northwestern faithful might find this ranking too harsh, but I cannot justify two losses, no matter how close they were. Coach Chris Collins said he is not a fan of moral victories, and neither am I. Dererk Pardon and Vic Law have been awesome to start conference play, but they can’t do it all themselves. It’s time to stop making the “still finding a role” excuse for A.J. Turner and Ryan Taylor, because the team will continue to drop close games if they don’t start pulling their weight. The Michigan and Indiana losses showed that this team can play with anyone in the conference, but the team will need to find a way to close out tight games.
12. Rutgers (5-3, 0-2)
Rutgers is no longer the doormat of the conference. They have a solid non-conference win over Miami in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and played Wisconsin to five points. The Scarlet Knights are young as their two best players, Geo Baker and Eugene Omoruyi, are a sophomore and a junior, respectively. They only have one senior on the roster and bring four freshmen off the bench. Defense has been this team’s calling card as they rank 17th in defensive efficiency. Head Coach Steve Pikiell has the program on the upswing, which means there are no easy games in the Big Ten.
13. Penn State (4-4, 0-2)
Penn State is another solid defensive team. The Nittany Lions are led by Lamar Stevens on offense, who averages 21.1 points per game, but they have struggled offensively without Tony Carr and Mike Watkins, who has been battling mental health issues. Penn State is no slouch as they have a non-conference win over then No. 13 Virginia Tech. They rely heavily on two freshmen guards in Rasir Bolton and Myles Dread. The Nittany Lions will be a dangerous team all season especially as Bolton and Dread continue to mature.
14. Illinois (2-7, 0-2)
Brad Underwood is struggling in his second year at the helm in Champaign. The Illini have been competitive despite their losing record. They played No. 1 Gonzaga close, and only lost by two points to Notre Dame. Illinois is led by sophomore guard Trent Frazier and standout freshman Ayo Dosunmu.