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Big Ten Men’s Basketball Power Rankings, eleventh edition: A frontrunner emerges

The middle of the pack, on the other hand, is still a bit fuzzy.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Even with just a few weeks remaining in the season, the Big Ten is still providing competitive matchups across the board. However, one team has separated itself from the others. Let’s begin by talking about...

  1. Maryland (22-4, 12-3)

Last week’s ranking: 1

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Terps rolled again this week, picking up big wins against Michigan State and Northwestern. Until a team can figure out the dynamic duo of Anthony Cowen Jr. and Jalen Smith, Maryland will continue to control the pace and come away with victories. They’ve even proved that they can close out games consistently, as they ended their matchup with the Spartans on a 14-0 run, closing out a wild comeback.

Maryland is on a nine game win streak and they remain undefeated at home. They’ll hope to keep their two game conference lead strong when they travel to Columbus and Minneapolis.

2. Penn State (20-6, 10-5)

Last week’s ranking: 2

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Penn State Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Aside from a close loss at Illinois on Tuesday due to shooting woes, Penn State is still finding a way to win games. On the back of star Lamar Stevens, who has scored in double digits every game this season, the Nittany Lions have a solid chance at catching Maryland for the top spot in the conference.

Upcoming matchups with Indiana and Rutgers give Penn State two great opportunities to prove they’re a legitimate tournament threat.

3. Michigan (17-9, 8-7)

Last week’s ranking: 10

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan pulled off two impressive wins this week, dominating Indiana from start to finish and handing Rutgers their first home loss of the season. The Wolverines, who’ve now won six of their past seven, seem to have recovered from their mid-season lull and are again playing like the team that beat the breaks off Gonzaga earlier in November.

The incredibly hot Wolverines will look to keep the magic going when they face off with Purdue on Saturday.

4. Illinois (17-9, 9-6)

Last week’s ranking: 6

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Penn State Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

The Fighting Illini were struggling without Ayo Dosunmu, and it showed in a bad loss to Rutgers early in the week. But when their star guard returned in a quality win against Penn State, it was clear we were watching a different team. As long as they can stay healthy, Illinois will be a difficult matchup for every Big Ten team.

The Fighting Illini should be able to keep its momentum going in uncommonly easy matchups with Nebraska and Northwestern.

5. Iowa (18-8, 9-6)

Last week’s ranking: 5

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Minnesota David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa defeated Minnesota on Sunday in a grinding, physical battle. The Hawkeyes held the Gophers scoreless over the last 5:25, proving that they could overcome their defensive struggles. What more can be said about Luka Garza, who is as pure a scorer as they come? With a superstar like Garza playing at his best, the Hawkeyes can surely make a deep tournament run.

Unfortunately, the road to the Big Dance doesn't get easier, as Iowa will have to face Ohio State, Michigan State, and Penn State all within the next ten days.

6. Rutgers (18-9, 9-7)

Last week’s ranking: 4

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers came away with a nice win over Illinois thanks to an explosive 27 point performance from Ron Harper Jr., but suffered its first home loss of the season to Michigan on Wednesday. The Scarlett Knights have the perimeter weapons to do some serious damage, but they’ll need to play a near perfect two weeks to have a chance at the Big Ten title.

With road games against Wisconsin and Penn State upcoming, Rutgers will be seriously challenged. For all their success at home, the Scarlet Knights are just 1-6 on the road.

7. Wisconsin (16-10, 9-6)

Last week’s ranking: 8

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

The Badgers are playing their best basketball at the best time. Although wins this week came against lowly Nebraska and Purdue, Wisconsin is showing its talent through strong defensive efforts and stellar shooting, such as the eight 3-pointers Brad Davison dropped against the Cornhuskers.

Strangely enough, Wisconsin is only three games out of first place in the conference. Without any ranked teams left on the schedule, the Badgers are a dark horse challenger to Maryland’s top spot.

8. Michigan State (17-9, 9-6)

Last week’s ranking: 3

NCAA Basketball: Maryland at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Once the frontrunner of the Big Ten, Michigan State has quickly fallen in recent weeks. They’ve lost four of their last five, including a heartbreaker against Maryland this past Saturday, in which the Spartans blew a seven point lead with just over three minutes left. However, with tournament veterans like Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman leading the way, Michigan State is sure to claw its way back into the race.

The Spartans will face Nebraska in a must-win game before reentering the gauntlet to play Iowa, Maryland, and Penn State.

9. Ohio State (17-8, 7-7)

Last week’s ranking: 9

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Ohio State Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State easily defeated Purdue on Saturday, and they’ve won five of their last six. The Buckeyes are back on track thanks to the improved play of brother Kaleb and Andre Wesson, but they’re lost the consistent offensive firepower from earlier in the season.

The Buckeyes are still in position to earn a fairly high NCAA tournament seeding, but their hopes of a conference title look bleak. It’ll be crucial for Ohio State to come out of their matchups with Iowa and Maryland with at least one win.

10. Indiana (16-9, 6-8)

Last week’s ranking: 11

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

After a shellacking at the hands of Michigan on Sunday, Indiana bounced back with a decent road win over Minnesota. After only scoring five points on three attempts against the Wolverines, freshman star Trayce Jackson-Davis had a monster game with 27 points and 16 rebounds against the Golden Gophers. If the Hoosiers increasingly utilize Jackson-Davis, they’ll be recover from their slump and finish the season strong.

Indiana hosts Penn State and visits Purdue this week. Right now, they’re likely a fringe tournament team, so every game counts.

11. Minnesota (12-12, 6-8)

Last week’s ranking: 12

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Minnesota David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota struggled through this week with close losses to Iowa and Indiana. Although the Gophers are always dominant in the paint due to the presence of Daniel Oturu, their inability to convert from deep is preventing them from keeping up with most teams.

With the Big Ten title out of sight, Minnesota needs to string together a few quality wins and make a run in the Big Ten tournament to have a chance at the Big Dance. They’ll need to play their best in matchups with Northwestern and Maryland upcoming.

12.Purdue (14-13, 7-9)

Last week’s ranking: 7

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

A close loss in Madison on Tuesday, in which the Boilermakers missed many shots late, marked Purdue’s third straight defeat. They’ve yet to find a go-to player who can close out tight games, like they had in Carsen Edwards last year. Maybe it’ll be Trevion Williams, Purdue’s leading scorer, who steps up in these last few weeks.

Considering their recent struggles, it’s surprising that the Boilermakers are still projected to make the NCAA tournament. A win against Michigan on Sunday is essential to maintaining this position.

13. Northwestern (6-19, 1-14)

Last week’s ranking: 13

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern’s season is all but over. Games against Penn State and Maryland this past week were closer than expected but ended in defeat nonetheless. The ‘Cats have dropped their last ten games as well as 15 of the last 16. Their penchant for staying competitive for a large part of each game only to collapse late in the second half is frustrating, and at this point, ending the season on a positive note should be Chris Collins’ only goal.

With a game this Sunday against floundering Minnesota, the ‘Cats could secure their first victory in recent memory. Although it’s best not to get your hopes up too high.

14. Nebraska (7-18, 2-12)

Last week’s ranking: 14

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Nebraska Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

The only team that can rival Northwestern’s struggles is Nebraska, which has also lost its past ten games. The Cornhuskers went back and forth with Wisconsin on Saturday before eventually succumbing to a 17 point loss.

Nebraska’s matchup with Northwestern on March 1st will officially determine the worst team in the Big Ten this season. Before then, the Cornhuskers will have to face Michigan State and Illinois.