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Big Ten men’s basketball power rankings, fourth edition: A new king has been crowned

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With conference play underway, we’re beginning to get a clearer picture.

Syndication: Lansing State Journal Matthew Dae Smith/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

Conference play has officially arrived, and with it, we’re beginning to get a clear picture of how the Big Ten will play out this season. While the top dogs are beginning to separate themselves from the rest of the pack, the bottom seven teams of the conference are very close in terms of quality of play. Here’s a look at our fourth edition of our Big Ten men’s basketball power rankings.

1. No. 10 Michigan State Spartans

Previous ranking: 2

Record: 13-2 (4-0 B1G)

Next game: @ Michigan (Jan. 8, 1:30 p.m. CT)

Who else would it be? The Spartans are the hottest team in the Big Ten right now, with Gabe Brown and Co. picking up an impressive comeback win at Northwestern and taking care of business against Nebraska just three days later. Michigan State is currently undefeated in conference play and it has a good chance at starting 6-0 against the Big Ten with games against Michigan and Minnesota coming up. With one of the best coaches in the country at the helm and their point guard troubles figured out, the Spartans are the team to beat moving forward.

2. No. 23 Wisconsin Badgers

Previous ranking: 2

Record: 12-2 (3-1 B1G)

Next game: @ Maryland (Jan. 9, 6:30 p.m. CT)

Man oh man, these Badgers are legit. They’ve got an absolute stud in Johnny Davis and have the overall talent to beat anyone in the Big Ten — and maybe the country. Wisconsin walked into Mackey Arena on Jan. 3 and knocked off the No. 3 team in the nation, as Davis led the way with a 37-point, 14-rebound performance. UW followed up that win with a victory over Iowa, during which Davis had a casual 27 points and nine rebounds. Watch out for the Badgers come March, they’re a scary bunch.

3. No. 3 Purdue Boilermakers

Previous ranking: 1

Record: 12-2 (1-2 B1G)

Next game: @ Penn State (Jan. 8, 11:00 a.m. CT)

Purdue, what’s going on? First you drop a weird game at the RAC via a crazy Rutgers buzzer-beater, then you handle the remainder of your non-conference games, just to fall at home to Wisconsin a couple weeks later? Look, everyone knows that Johnny Davis is borderline unstoppable, but Mackey Arena is one of the toughest places to play in the country. While students weren’t there, it’s not a good look for the Boilermakers to drop that home game. If you’re going to be one of the top teams, those are the games that you have to win. Matt Painter’s squad will have a chance to bounce back with Penn State, Michigan and Nebraska all on tap in the Boilers’ next three games.

4. Illinois Fighting Illini

Previous ranking: 5

Record: 11-3 (4-0 B1G)

Next game: @ Michigan (Jan. 8, 1:30 CT)

Welcome back, Illinois. The Fighting Illini definitively handled Maryland last night behind an absurd 23 points and 18 rebounds from Kofi Cockburn. Cockburn is a double-double machine, and as long as he’s on the floor, the Illini have a shot at beating any team in the Big Ten. They currently sit as one of two Big Ten teams that are still undefeated in conference play, and with Nebraska and Michigan coming up, there’s a good chance Illinois will start 6-0 against Big Ten opponents. Expect the Fighting Illini to crack the AP Top 25 again very, very soon.

5. Indiana Hoosiers

Previous ranking: 10

Record: 11-3 (2-2 B1G)

Next game: vs. Minnesota (Jan. 9, 11:00 a.m. CT)

What a strange team the Hoosiers are. When they lost by three at Penn State just a few days ago, there were plenty of troubling signs. How did Indiana respond? The team returned to Bloomington, welcomed No. 13 Ohio State to Assembly Hall, and proceeded to smack the everliving daylights out of the Buckeyes. The first half was close; the second half was not. Trayce Jackson-Davis continued to live up to the hype and dropped 27 points and 12 rebounds on E.J. Liddell and Co. Sure, the loss to Penn State was not great, but the Nittany Lions are proving to be no pushover, and this win over Ohio State is enough to vault the Hoosiers up these power rankings.

6. No. 13 Ohio State Buckeyes

Previous ranking: 3

Record: 9-3 (3-1 B1G)

Next game: vs. Northwestern (Jan. 9, 4:30 p.m. CT)

Ohio State got off to a very strong start to this season. Sure, the Buckeyes fell to Xavier, but they then beat both Seton Hall and Duke in the span of eight days. To begin Big Ten play, they landed a 12-point victory at Penn State then defeated Wisconsin by 18 points just six days later. Since then, however, something has gone wrong. It took Ohio State overtime to defeat Nebraska on Jan. 2, and just last night, they were drubbed at Indiana. The sixth spot may be a little bit too low for OSU, but based on current play, it’s where the Buckeyes find themselves. They have the potential to climb back into the top three, though.

7. Iowa Hawkeyes

Previous ranking: 8

Record: 11-4 (1-3 B1G)

Next game: @ Nebraska (Jan. 11, 7:30 p.m. CT)

After a good start to the year, Iowa has sulked into Big Ten play. The Hawkeyes’ only conference win was a five-point home victory over Maryland. In their loss to Wisconsin, Iowa led twice in the entire game, and that was when the score was 2-0 and 4-2. Overall, the Hawkeyes have immense talent, especially in forward Keegan Murray, but they don’t have a ton to show for it thus far. Its next few games should be very telling, but for now, Iowa will hover in the middle of the pack.

8. Penn State Nittany Lions

Previous ranking: 13

Record: 7-5 (2-2 B1G)

Next game: vs. No. 3 Purdue (Jan. 8, 11:00 a.m. CT)

Is this too high for the Nittany Lions? Possibly. Recency bias in these power rankings does loom large, but that doesn’t change the fact that PSU has landed some decent wins in conference play over both Indiana and Northwestern. On top of that, Penn State’s two conference losses came at the hands of Michigan State and Ohio State. The Nittany Lions aren’t a team that’s going to compete for the Big Ten title, but for the time being, they’re sitting pretty in the middle of the conference.

9. Minnesota Golden Gophers

Previous ranking: 7

Record: 10-2 (1-2 B1G)

Next game: @ Indiana (Jan. 9, 11:00 a.m. CT)

The Golden Gophers are a very, very confusing team. They currently sit at 1-2 in conference play with losses to Michigan State and Illinois. Minnesota has beaten Michigan, but nobody’s really sure how impressive that is anymore. The Gophers surprised a lot of people in non-conference play, but for now, they’re going to remain closer to the bottom. Their next few games against the likes of Indiana, Michigan State and Iowa should tell us a lot.

10. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Previous ranking: 12

Record: 8-5 (2-1 B1G)

Next game: vs. Nebraska (Jan. 8, 1:00 p.m. CT)

Rutgers gets a boost in these rankings purely because they sit above .500 in Big Ten play thus far. The Scarlet Knights’ miracle heave to beat Purdue was awesome, and they’ve got a win against Michigan under their belt, but those non-conference losses to Massachusetts and Lafayette still loom large. Its conference record is impressive, but we need to see a little bit more from Rutgers before the Knights keep climbing up the power rankings.

11. Michigan Wolverines

Previous ranking: 9

Record: 7-6 (1-2 B1G)

Next game: vs. No. 10 Michigan State (Jan. 8, 1:30 p.m. CT)

What happened to the Wolverines? They were a top 10 team to begin the 2021 season, but now have losses to Minnesota and Rutgers and capped off their non-conference schedule with a 14-point loss to UCF. It’s been a quick downfall for Juwan Howard’s squad, and their schedule doesn’t get any easier from here, with Michigan facing Michigan State and Purdue at home and then traveling to Urbana-Champaign to take on Illinois. There’s a legitimate chance that UM could begin Big Ten play at 1-5, and if that happens, the Wolverines can kiss their tournament chances goodbye.

12. Northwestern Wildcats

Previous ranking: 6

Record: 8-4 (1-2 B1G)

Next game: @ No. 13 Ohio State (Jan. 9, 4:30 p.m. CT)

Oh Northwestern, you had us fooled for a moment. Your win over Maryland was enticing, and you got through conference play largely unscathed. Then came Michigan State and Penn State! The Spartans and Nittany Lions both came back from second half deficits against the Wildcats, further providing evidence that Chris Collins and Co. can’t close out games. We’ll see where the ‘Cats go from here, but that Penn State game felt like a must-win, and with how difficult NU’s schedule through January is, its postseason hopes are dwindling fast.

13. Maryland Terrapins

Previous ranking: 11

Record: 8-6 (0-3 B1G)

Next game: vs. No. 23 Wisconsin (Jan. 9, 6:30 p.m. CT)

It’s almost sad to put Maryland this far down the list, but it’s entirely justified. The Terrapins simply aren’t a good basketball team. They have tons of talent in guys like Eric Ayala, Marcus Dockery, Fatts Russell and Qudus Wahab, but they just can’t gel together. It’s been a disappointing season out in College Park thus far, and all signs point to that trend continuing going forward.

14. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Previous ranking: 14

Record: 6-9 (0-4 B1G)

Next game: @ Rutgers (Jan. 8, 1:00 p.m. CT)

Nothing new here. Nebrasketball is struggling mightily in conference play thus far, and things won’t get easier for the Huskers. What a strange collapse it’s been of Fred Hoiberg’s coaching career.