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Big Ten men’s basketball power rankings, third edition

As conference play quickly approaches, here’s how all 14 Big Ten teams stack up just over a month into the season.

Syndication: Journal-Courier Nikos Frazier / Journal & Courier / USA TODAY NETWORK

With no more undefeated teams remaining in the Big Ten and conference play set to hit full swing in early 2022, we’re slowly but surely discovering the legitimate and not so legitimate teams in the Big Ten. Of note, with some teams playing today, their “next game” status does not show the opponent they play today, but rather, the opponent after. Without further ado, here is the third edition of the Big Ten men’s basketball power rankings.

1. No. 3 Purdue Boilermakers

Previous Ranking: 1

Record: 9-1 (1-1 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Incarnate Word

In what was a welcoming sight for the other 13 teams in the conference, the Purdue Boilermakers lost their first game of the year on Dec. 9 against Rutgers. The bad news for every other Big Ten team is that it took a Ron Harper half-court buzzer-beater in The RAC to defeat the Boilers, who are still a top three team in the country and the clearcut favorite to win the conference. Painter’s team’s lack of production outside of the trio of Zack Edey, Jaden Ivey and Trevion Williams has closed the gap between Purdue and the other teams in the Big Ten, however, their wins against UNC, Villanova and Iowa keep the Boilermakers atop the Big Ten.

2. No. 12 Michigan State Spartans

Previous Ranking: 2

Record: 9-2 (2-0 Big Ten)

Next Game: @ Oakland

The emergence of both Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham Jr. have the Spartans undefeated in December, and they look far better than the team they were a season ago. A team that squeaked into the tournament last year in large part due to their subpar point guard play now has two capable point guards in Northeastern Transfer Tyson Walker and A.J. Hoggard. Because of them, they’re on the verge of being in the Top 10 after being unranked to start the season. Their two losses have come against current AP Top 10 teams in Kansas and Baylor, and the Spartans have already collected wins against Loyola Chicago, Louisville and at Minnesota, to put them at second in the rankings.

3. No. 15 Ohio State Buckeyes

Previous Ranking: 6

Record: 8-2 (2-0 Big Ten)

Next Game: vs. UT Martin

Yes, the same Ohio State team that needed a Zed Key buzzer-beater to beat Akron just over a month ago is now the third best team in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes took down the No. 1 ranked team in the country, the Duke Blue Devils, despite being down 13 at the half, and handled the then No. 22 Wisconsin Badgers with ease 73-55. Chris Holtmann’s team, led by E.J. Liddell, has the eighth best offense in the country according KenPom and looks more like the ranked team they were expected to be when the year began. Ohio State’s losses are much worse than the Spartans, coming against Florida and Xavier, which is why they come in at No. 3, although with the way E.J. Liddell has been playing that could change real soon.

4. Wisconsin Badgers

Previous Ranking: 3

Record: 9-2 (1-1 Big Ten)

Next Game: vs. Morgan State

Johnny Davis has been spectacular thus far and is a large reason why the Badgers have surprised so many, including us, this year. The sophomore is averaging over 20 points per game this season, and the duo of him and Brad Davison has allowed the Badgers to win seven games over top-100 Ken Pom teams, including a win over the now No. 14 Houston Cougars. Their recent 18-point loss to the Buckeyes moved the Badgers out of the AP Top 25 and their sub-30 three-point percentage is a cause for concern, so only time will tell whether the Badgers can keep rolling when Big Ten play comes along.

5. Illinois Fighting Illini

Previous Ranking: 8

Record: 7-3 (2-0 Big Ten)

Next Game: vs. St Francis PA

Although it is not clear yet whether or not Kofi Cockburn is the best player in the Big Ten, there are few players in the country that are more fascinating to watch than the seven-footer. This is largely due to the fact that he is incredibly dominant as a rebounder and scorer, and has improved to nearly 70 percent from the charity stripe, yet he can’t pass the ball. This isn’t a selfishness issue either, Cockburn simply is not a good passer and his 0.4 assist to turnover ratio highlights this problem. Turnovers are not only the fault of Cockburn, with the Illini averaging a Big Ten-leading 15.9 per game, holding Illinois back being the top 10 team they were ranked as to begin the year. Still, with the talent and size Cockburn accompanied with the contribution of Utah transfer Alfonso Plummer, the Illini should be able to comfortably handle undersized Big Ten opponents and have a chance to avenge their early March Madness exit from last year.

6. Northwestern Wildcats

Previous Ranking: 9

Record: 7-2 (1-0 Big Ten)

Next Game: vs. IL-Springfield

No, this is not a typo. As of right now we believe that the Northwestern Wildcats are an above average team in the Big Ten. Pete Nance and Boo Buie have put the Cats’ on their back, with both averaging over 15 PPG, and with the return of Chase Audige things are looking up in Evanston. Northwestern is in the top-50 offensively and defensively according to KenPom, and the Cats’ have the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the conference at 2.11. Northwestern has defeated its inferior opponents in definitive fashion and came home from College Park with a win. Due to their game vs. DePaul being canceled because of COVID, we will have to wait until the new year for Northwestern’s next big test against Michigan State.

7. Minnesota Golden Gophers

Previous Ranking: 11

Record: 9-1 (1-1 Big Ten)

Next Game: vs. Green Bay

Will the Minnesota Golden Gophers finish as an above average team in the conference? It’s unlikely. However, looking at their 9-1 record that includes a win at Michigan this past Saturday, Ben Johnson’s team’s record speaks for itself. A large reason for their success has been the play of their transfers, seeing as their top five scorers all had a different uniform on last season, headlined by Jameison Battle who’s averaging 18.5 points and 6.6 rebounds a game. Their double overtime game against Princeton and mere four point win against Western Kentucky is why the ‘Cats have a slight edge over Minnesota, however it is evident that this is not the Gopher team we envisioned to finish close to the bottom of the conference.

8. Iowa Hawkeyes

Previous Ranking: 4

Record: 7-3 (0-2 Big Ten)

Next Game: vs. Utah State

In the landscape of college basketball it is extremely difficult to predict where a team will end up after only ten games, and the Iowa Hawkeyes are a prime example of why. The Hawkeyes dominated early on this year, cruising to 6-0 before squeaking out a victory at Virginia. Since then they’ve lost three straight and are now 1-3 against Power Five teams. What we do know is that the Hawkeyes have found their primary scorer in Keegan Murray, who currently leads the Big Ten in points, and that they average only 8.3 turnovers a game, which is the best in the conference. However, the Hawkeyes don’t really defend, as they allow the highest field goal percentage in the conference and are ranked 116th in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. With no Luka Garza and the Hawkeyes continued defensive lapses, it’s hard to imagine Iowa competing for a conference title when March rolls around.

9. Michigan Wolverines

Previous Ranking: 5

Record: 6-4 (1-1 Big Ten)

Next Game: vs. Southern Utah

We’re over a month into Juwan Howard’s third year and the team that brought in the best recruiting class in the conference and was the sixth ranked team in the country coming into the year now has four losses. This includes their most recent blowout loss at home by the Golden Gophers. The Wolverines’ biggest issues lie in their point guard play and outside shooting, as a team that started four shooters for the majority of last season, now has only two and the spacing has suffered tremendously as a result (despite Hunter Dickinson showing glimpses as an outside threat). The only reason that the Wolverines are this high on the list is the fashion in which they beat teams like UNLV, San Diego State and Nebraska, in addition to us giving a slight benefit of the doubt due to the sheer talent on Howard’s roster.

10. Indiana Hoosiers

Previous Ranking: 7

Record: 8-2 (1-1 Big Ten)

Next Game: @ Notre Dame

Although the Hoosiers 8-2 record may look good on paper, they’ve simply not beaten inferior opponents in definitive enough fashion to elevate them over teams like Northwestern and Michigan. Trayce Jackson-Davis has been as good as advertised, averaging nearly 20 points and 10 boards on 61.2 percent shooting from the field, but their conference-leading 15.9 turnovers a game has led to their two losses coming in games where they outshot their opponents from the field and from beyond the arc. If Mike Woodson can get the Hoosiers to cut down on their turnovers, they could become a scary team come March, but until then Indiana will remain closer to the bottom in the Big Ten.

11. Maryland Terrapins

Previous Ranking: 10

Record: 6-4 (0-1 Big Ten)

Next Game: vs. Loyola (MD)

The Terrapins are coming off a big win against Florida, who beat the Ohio State Buckeyes earlier this year. Thankfully, the transitive property holds about as much power in college basketball today as Urban Meyer currently does in Jacksonville, meaning Maryland is still a subpar Big Ten team. In their game against the Gators, the Terps shot an absurd 61 percent from behind the arc, despite shooting only 31 percent on the year, making it clear that this game was much more of an anomaly than an indication of what’s to come. Maryland should improve as interim head coach Danny Manning becomes more comfortable in his new role, but their Big Ten worst 0.96 assist-to-turnover ratio will continue to plague the Terrapins.

12. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Previous Ranking: 14

Record: 5-5 (1-1 Big Ten)

Next Game: vs. Rider

On Dec. 3, Rutgers was destroyed by the unranked, Curbelo-less Illini, by a score of 86-51. Six days later, this same Scarlet Knights team took down the No. 1 team in the nation. And people ask what makes college basketball so great. Still, Steve Pikiell’s unit came back to earth by losing by 14 to Seton Hall last Sunday, making it even harder to rank this bizarre team. The play of Ron Harper elevates the Scarlet Knights from the bottom two teams in the conference, yet their Big Ten worst 65.8 PPG, which includes a 48-point showing against Merrimack and a 53-51 loss to Lafayette is why the Scarlet Knights can’t be any higher on the list.

13. Penn State Nittany Lions

Previous Ranking: 12

Record: 5-5 (0-2 Big Ten)

Next Game: vs. Quinnipiac

With an offense that is less than two PPG better than the Scarlet Knights, it has become clear that the Nittany Lions will have difficulty putting enough points on the board to keep it close against more talented Big Ten opponents. With Penn State’s entire eight-man rotation being of the legal drinking age, they are easily one of the more experienced teams in the conference. However, the adjustment to first year coach Micah Shrewsberry has the team looking as inexperienced as any, with the team having a turnover margin that’s only superior than the Illini. They should make strides as Shrewsberry becomes more comfortable, but their lack of star power offensively is why it’ll be difficult for this team to finish anywhere but the bottom two in the Big Ten.

14. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Previous Ranking: 13

Record: 5-6 (0-2 Big Ten)

Next Game: vs. Kansas State

As the only sub-500 in the conference, it should come at no surprise that Fred Hoiberg’s team is at the bottom of the Big Ten. They’ve lost four straight and are still winless in December, giving up an average of 93 points a game during this stretch. UNL and Penn State’s differential in this ranking is slim, but their Big Ten worst defense accompanied with their 25.9 three-point percentage is what makes the Huskers the worst team in the conference.