Michigan has solidified itself as the top dog in the Big Ten conference, but with March fast approaching, there’s still plenty at stake. Just as pressing, Ayo Dosunmu and Luka Garza continue to battle for conference player of the year.
1. No. 3 Michigan (17-1, 12-1 B1G)
Last week’s ranking: 2
After back-to-back wins at Ohio State and versus Iowa, Michigan is the undisputed best team in the Big Ten conference. The Wolverines rank in the top 50 nationally in every major offensive and defensive statistical category. Franz Wagner continues to shoot the ball at an extremely efficient rate, and Mike Smith has evolved into Zavier Simpson 2.0. Juwan Howard’s team is primed for their third Big Ten championship in four years.
2. No. 4 Ohio State (18-6, 12-6 B1G)
Last week’s ranking: 1
After shooting up the conference standings, Ohio State has lost back-to-back heartbreakers to Michigan and Michigan State. The absence of Kyle Young, who exited the Michigan game with a concussion, loomed large Thursday night against a physical MSU team. OSU needs to find a way to lock back in defensively before they fall apart.
3. No. 5 Illinois (17-6, 13-4 B1G)
Last week’s ranking: 3
The indefinite loss of star guard Ayo Dosunmu could hurt the Fighting Illini down the stretch but wasn’t much of an issue versus lowly Nebraska. Illinois continues to shoot the ball extremely well, posting the 12th best field goal percentage in the country and the 28th best three-point percentage. With an upcoming stretch of Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State, we’ll see just how good this team can be without their star and leader.
4. No. 9 Iowa (17-7, 11-6 B1G)
Last week’s ranking: 4
After beginning the season 12-2, the Hawkeyes are a disappointing 5-5 since that stretch. Defense has been the deciding factor for Fran McCaffery’s team during this time, which has given up over 79 points per game in the five losses and just over 66 points per game in the five wins. Teams are learning how to beat the Hawkeyes by limiting Garza’s surrounding talent. The biggest remaining question for one of the country’s most talented teams is — can they kick it into another gear for March?
5. Purdue (15-8, 10-6 B1G)
Last week’s ranking: 5
Purdue has flown under the radar for most of the season, which isn’t hard to do in a conference loaded with talent. While originally thought to be in a rebuilding year, the mix of talented freshmen and upperclassmen leadership has paid early dividends in West Lafayette. The Boilermakers have the on-court ability and coaching to make a run deeper than any expected.
6. No. 23 Wisconsin (16-8, 10-7 B1G)
Last week’s ranking: 6
The Badgers haven't reached 70 points in almost a month and continue to look poor on the offensive end. Although they looked solid defensively in a dominating performance against Northwestern, Greg Gard can’t seem to kick his team into another gear. Micah Potter needs to provide more inside to give this team a chance against high-profile opponents.
7. Michigan State (13-9, 7-9 B1G)
Last week’s ranking: 10
Izzo’s team has finally come out to play. Thre consecutive wins, including dominant performances versus potential one-seeds Illinois and Ohio State, has sparked new life into the Spartans’ March Madness hopes. MSU has the schedule left to do it, with upcoming games against Maryland, Indiana and a back-to-back series with Michigan.
8. Rutgers (13-9, 9-9 B1G)
Last week’s ranking: 7
After losing four straight, Rutgers has played itself back into contention on the shoulders of strong play from Geo Baker and Myles Johnson. If Steve Pikiell can find a way to get Ron Harper Jr. back in his early-season form, this team could be scary come tournament time. What continues to be an issue for this team is late-game shooting, a problem unlikely to be fixed in the coming weeks.
9. Maryland (14-10, 8-9 B1G)
Last week’s ranking: 11
The Terps are somewhat of an anomaly, playing extremely efficient basketball, not turning the ball over and shooting rather well, yet they still find ways to lose. Eric Ayala continues to lead this group, but they need to improve their defense if they have any hopes of reaching the tournament. An upcoming tilt with Michigan State will ultimately help decide the Terps’ season.
10. Indiana (12-11, 7-9 B1G)
Last week’s ranking: 9
Archie Miller’s squad may be the most inconsistent team in the country, which only makes them harder to evaluate come tournament time. With two giant wins over Iowa, the Hoosiers look like a great candidate but are held back by the sheer amount of games they have lost in conference play. Saturday’s matchup with Michigan provides one more opportunity for a statement win before the Hoosier’s fate is most likely sealed.
11. Minnesota (13-11, 6-11 B1G)
Last week’s ranking: 8
After starting very strong, Minnesota has fallen to five games below five-hundred in conference play. Marcus Carr has cooled off immensely and the lack of secondary shooting has really hurt the Gophers. Minnesota ranks 331st in the county in three-point shooting at 29%. That’s just not going to get it done in the best shooting conference in the nation.
12. Penn State (8-12, 5-11 B1G)
Last week’s ranking: 12
Penn State’s lack of inside presence has hurt them all season long and is evident in their conference worst two-point field goal percentage. After making a push toward the tournament, the Nittany Lions lost four straight, including a heartbreaker at home to Nebraska. Penn State never fails to play every game at 100%, but they need a renewed focus on their offensive identity if they plan to be competitive any time soon.
13. Northwestern (7-14, 4-13 B1G)
Last week’s ranking: 13
Northwestern’s 13-game losing streak finally came to an end in Thursday night’s matchup against Minnesota, but this team still has a lot of work to do. The Wildcats have looked more competitive in recent games, including losses of seven or fewer to Purdue, Indiana and Illinois. Chris Collins needs to find a way to reestablish the identity and consistency that led the ‘Cats to a 6-1 start to the year to build some momentum for next season.
14. Nebraska (5-17, 1-14 B1G)
Last week’s ranking: 14
The Huskers have dropped four straight, including three to bottom-half Big Ten teams. Fred Hoiberg has played a rotation consisting of only a single freshman. That’s not what you want to see when you have one win in the conference. If things don't get better next year with five-star recruit Bryce McGowens, Hoiberg could be on his way out fast.