The Wolverines and Hawkeyes look to be a dominant duo as both are rolling in conference play. Rutgers, Northwestern and Michigan State continue to implode after strong starts.
1. No. 7 Michigan (11-0, 6-0 B1G)
Last week’s ranking: 2
Michigan’s historic start to conference play has been led by a balanced offensive attack and a dominant 1.14 points per possession so far this season. Wisconsin was the first team to effectively guard Hunter Dickinson, limiting him to 12 points, but the two-headed wing monster of Franz Wagner and Isaiah Livers was too much for the Badgers to handle. Mike Smith continues to impress as the near-perfect replacement for Zavier Simpson, and Chaundee Brown can guard almost anyone in the Big Ten. A team that was once projected to be average in the Big Ten after losing out on Isaiah Todd and Josh Christopher looks to be on a Final Four collision course. The Wolverines domination of Wisconsin has officially put the rest of the conference on notice.
Guess who got their Big Ten Freshman of the Week?— Michigan Men's Basketball (@umichbball) January 11, 2021
➡️ Scored a career-best 28 points against No. 16 Minnesota -- 3rd 20+ point game, second in three games
➡️ shot a career-best 12-for-15 FG, while adding eight rebounds in 31 minutes#GoBlue 〽️ pic.twitter.com/CptXR8Tf38
2. No. 5 Iowa (11-2, 5-1 B1G)
Last week’s ranking: 1
Iowa’s drop is more a product of Michigan’s strong play than their own demise. In fact, after their lone conference loss to Minnesota, the Hawkeyes have tallied off four straight wins, including a revenge game against the Golden Gophers. Luka Garza is a machine inside, and the Hawkeyes have deep range sharpshooting from the likes of CJ Frederick, Jordan Bohannon and Joe Weiskamp, who are all shooting at least 39% from beyond the arc. While we’ll have to wait until March 4 for a Michigan matchup, the Hawkeyes' next game up is a Michigan State team desperate for a win.
3. No. 14 Illinois (9-4, 5-2 B1G)
Last week’s ranking: 4
Illinois showed all of its strengths in a Northwestern matchup where it outscored the Wildcats 53-13 in the second half. They then found a way to suffer a pretty embarrassing home loss to Maryland. The Fighting Illini have proven what they can do, but it feels like they're not 100% motivated to play every game, which is not really an option in a conference this deep. The next two weeks provide somewhat of a breather for Illinois, as they face both Nebraska and Penn State during that stretch.
4. No. 9 Wisconsin (10-3, 4-2 B1G)
Last week’s ranking: 5
The Badgers were outplayed in all facets of their tilt with Michigan Tuesday night. Beyond the consistent play of D’Mitrik Trice, Wisconsin’s seniors continue to underwhelm. A team with an average starter age older than the Chicago Bulls should be expected to give a little more effort in big games. UW, a team that usually shoots exceptionally well from deep, shot only 32% in that game, which just isn’t going to get it done against elite offensive teams. Wisconsin plays Rutgers and Northwestern this week, two teams that will be itching for a win.
5. No. 23 Minnesota (10-4, 3-4 B1G)
Last week’s ranking: 6
The Golden Gophers get a reprieve in a possible rankings drop after playing the conference’s two toughest opponents over the past week. Minnesota has shot just 29.9% on three-point shots in Big Ten play, which is second-worst in the conference. The Golden Gophers need to get their offensive groove back if they want to remain competitive, which will start as soon as Marcus Carr can get on track.
6. No. 21 Ohio State (10-3, 4-3 B1G)
Last week’s ranking: 8
Ohio State looked very solid in their revenge win over Northwestern Wednesday night. The Buckeyes showed they are more than just the E.J. Liddell show as the Wildacts held him to just six points on 0-of-6 shooting from the field. The Bucks have moved to 16th in the KenPom rankings following a season sweep of Rutgers and impressive non-conference wins over UCLA and a better-than-their record Notre Dame.
7. Michigan State (8-4, 2-4 B1G)
Last week’s ranking: 12
After a particularly strong outing against Rutgers, the Spartans seemed to be back on track until completely collapsing in the second half at home against Purdue. Outside of Rocket Watts, the predominant issue has been finding who will take the big shots in late-game situations. This is a question that will surely be asked again in the near future, as the Spartans have the brunt of their schedule in the upcoming weeks. After traveling to Iowa Thursday, Sparty returns home to host Indiana and Illinois.
8. Rutgers (7-4, 3-4 B1G)
Last week’s ranking: 3
Rutgers has fallen apart as of late, dropping four of their last five in conference play. Fans should be worried about the lack of offensive production the Scarlet Knights are seeing beyond Ron Harper Jr. Geo Baker has not played with consistency and Cliff Omoruyi’s worse than anticipated injury has put a real damper on Rutgers’ early-season success. Steve Pikiell’s team needs to re-explore their identity as they get into the lightest part of their conference schedule.
9. Indiana (8-5, 3-3 B1G)
Last week’s ranking: 10
Trayce Jackson-Davis continues to impress, averaging 20 points and nine rebounds per game, but the Hoosiers have been just average in conference play thus far. Indiana has lacked physicality so far, exemplified by their near conference-low 35.3 rebounds per game. Armaan Franklin’s absence was noticeable over the past week, but the team should receive a needed boost if he can find a way to return sometime this week. Next on the docket for IU is Purdue, which the Hoosiers have not beaten since 2016.
10. Purdue (8-5, 3-3 B1G)
Last week’s ranking: 9
After a surprisingly slow start to the season, Trevion Williams has carried the Boilermakers through conference play with the highest usage rate in the Big Ten. He’s currently making over 58% of his two-point shots, including one that gave Purdue the win over Michigan State Friday night. Purdue’s biggest challenge will be finding a secondary scorer to supplement Williams, as the team averages just over 70 points, a mark that ranks them 223rd in the country.
11. Northwestern (6-5, 3-4 B1G)
Last week’s ranking: 7
Northwestern cannot seem to find a rhythm after starting conference play as the Big Ten’s hottest team. The ‘Cats have lost four straight with none of the final scores seeming particularly close. Although, three of the four losses have come to KenPom top-10 teams. Northwestern’s inability to remain competitive in the second half has been the biggest pitfall of the Chris Collins era and will be something NU desperately needs to fix if they have any aspirations of their second March Madness birth in school history.
12. Maryland (7-6, 2-5 B1G)
Last week’s ranking: 11
Maryland had a bizarre week, to say the least. After falling to Indiana and getting throttled by Iowa, the Terps went to Illinois and beat the Fighting Illini without arguably their most talented player, Eric Ayala. They now hold two road wins over top ten KenPom teams in Illinois and Wisconsin.
13. Penn State (3-4, 0-3 B1G)
Last week’s ranking: 13
Not much can be said about the Nittany Lions at the moment. They haven’t played a game in 2021, which would be fine if the program was able to practice and improve, but it is completely shutdown. PSU should return to the court Sunday against Purdue, but things won’t be easy against a Boilermakers team that just upset Michigan State in East Lansing.
BREAKING: Big Ten Conference releases schedule changes for Penn State Basketball’s upcoming games. The Illinois game moves up to Tuesday, Jan. 19 at 8:30 p.m. The home game against Rutgers will be played Thursday, Jan. 21, and the Michigan game will be Wednesday, Jan. 27.— CommRadio Sports (@CommRadioSports) January 13, 2021
14. Nebraska (4-8, 0-5 B1G)
Last week’s ranking: 14
The ‘Huskers may have a lot to look forward to as Fred Hoiberg seems to be putting up a strong fight on the recruiting trail so far in his short tenure, but that’s not going to help them close out games this season. Nebraska has played teams close but seems to lose focus defensively down the stretch. Tennessee transfer Derrick Walker added a boost in his first contest Sunday, but it still wasn’t enough to give UNL their first conference win of the season. It’s becoming a real possibility Nebraska goes winless in conference play.