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Big Ten men’s basketball power rankings, first edition: Purdue is the team to beat

Has Northwestern proven anything yet?

NCAA Basketball: Davidson at Purdue Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

With the thick of conference play right round the corner, we’re about to find out who’s legit in the Big Ten. For now, there’s a clear frontrunner followed by a weird mix of tournament probables, hopefuls and dreamers as we approach 2023. Here’s our first edition of the Big Ten men’s basketball power rankings.

1. No. 1 Purdue Boilermakers

Record: 12-0 (2-0 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Florida A&M

Ranked as the best team in the country, Purdue is the clear favorite in the Big Ten. The team already has quality non-conference wins against Gonzaga, Duke and Marquette, and is the only team in the Big Ten to rank in the top five in both offense and defense. Plus, with Zach Edey leading the conference in points and rebounds per game with 22.6 and 13.9 respectively, the Boilermakers are the Big Ten’s measuring stick.

2. No. 15 Wisconsin Badgers

Record: 9-2 (2-0 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Western Michigan

With conference wins over Iowa and Maryland, the Badgers have racked up four straight wins after losing close games against Kansas and Wake Forest. Wisconsin has a balanced scoring attack with four players averaging over 10 points per game, and a defense that ranks third in the Big Ten in points allowed. If Tyler Wahl continues his strong start to the season, look for the Badgers to solidify themselves as the second-best team in the conference.

3. No. 16 Indiana Hoosiers

Record: 10-3 (1-1 B1G)

Next Game: @ Iowa

Inconsistency and injuries have been the storyline for the Hoosiers, who have seen the talented Trayce Jackson-Davis and Jalen Hood-Schifino already miss three games each. Indiana has great wins against Xavier and UNC, but already has big losses to Rutgers, Arizona and Kansas. If the Hoosiers can stay healthy, look for them to give the Big Ten a run for their money as their deep lineup, which currently is averaging over 80 points per game, has the ability to put the ball in the basket.

4. Illinois Fighting Illini

Record: 8-4 (0-2 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Bethune-Cookman

Dropping out of the AP’s top 25 this week, the Fighting Illini have really struggled out of the gate. Losing three of their last five to Missouri, Penn State and Maryland has Illinois reeling, but there’s still good news. Terrence Shannon Jr. is one of the best scorers in the Big Ten, and with a squad that was ranked second in the Big Ten’s preseason poll, there’s still room to turn the ship around. However, with teams like Ohio State and Maryland off to better starts, the margin for error is tiny if Illinois wants to stay this high on our list.

5. Maryland Terrapins

Record: 9-3 (1-1 B1G)

Next Game: vs. UMBC

Ohio State and Maryland are neck and neck for the fifth spot, but let’s give it to the Terrapins. They had a great bounce back win against Saint Peter’s after losing three straight to Wisconsin, Tennessee, and UCLA. Maryland also has quality wins over Illinois and Miami, and with the seniors Jahmir Young, Donta Scott, and Hakim Hart leading the way offensively, look for the fifth-best defense in the Big Ten to keep this team competing at a high level.

6. Ohio State Buckeyes

Record: 8-3 (1-0 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Alabama A&M

With solid wins over Rutgers and Texas Tech, this Ohio State team sits just above the middle of the pack in the Big Ten. If it had managed to pull off an upset against Duke or UNC, it could easily have found itself in the top four. Led by one of the most exciting young talents in the conference, Brice Sensabaugh is having a fantastic start to the season, averaging 15.3 points per game while shooting a scorching 48.9 percent from deep on 21 minutes per night. Add in the older Zed Key and Justice Sueing, and you have the conference’s second-best offense. If the Buckeyes start racking up wins in conference play, look for them to soar not just in these rankings but into the AP’s top 25.

7. Michigan State Spartans

Record: 8-4 (1-1 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Buffalo

A lack of consistency has the Spartans ranked at seven. They’ve had great wins against Kentucky, Villanova and Penn State, but have fallen short to Gonzaga, Alabama, Notre Dame and Northwestern. Trying to get back to full health, Jaden Akins had a nice 15-point outing against Oakland, and with Joey Hauser averaging 14.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, the Spartans look to be back on the rise after rallying off three straight wins before the holiday break.

8. Penn State Nittany Lions

Record: 9-3 (1-1 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Delaware State

The Nittany Lions have won three of their last five, including a nice win over Illinois. Jalen Pickett is having a great start to the season leading Penn State in points, rebounds, assists and steals per game. Yet they still haven’t faced their toughest opponents, as their strength of schedule ranks twelfth in the Big Ten according to ESPN. However, that will soon be put to the test, as the Nittany Lions will figure out where their squad stands when they face Purdue, Indiana and Wisconsin in consecutive games in early January.

9. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Record: 8-4 (1-1 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Coppin State

Losses to Seton Hall, Ohio State, Miami and Temple have Rutgers sitting at nine. But with a win over Indiana already under their belt and the Big Ten’s leading defense in points allowed per game, the Scarlet Knights won’t be an easy game for anyone. Led by Clifford Omoruyi’s 14.6 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, Rutgers plays a physical brand of basketball that should serve it well in Big Ten play.

10. Iowa Hawkeyes

Record: 8-4 (0-1 B1G)

Next Game: @ Nebraska

Iowa is such an interesting team. Kris Murray is one of the Big Ten’s best players, averaging 19.4 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. He’s only played in eight games so far, but if he’s able to stay on the court, the Big Ten’s best offense will continue to scare opponents with its high-powered three-point shooting and ability to score the basketball inside. If the Hawkeyes can find some consistency defensively after losing three of their last five to Duke, Wisconsin and Eastern Illinois, don’t be surprised if Iowa makes a move up these rankings.

11. Michigan Wolverines

Record: 7-4 (1-0 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Central Michigan

Originally ranked third in the preseason poll, Michigan has had an awful start to its campaign. It’s already lost to Arizona State, Virginia, Kentucky and UNC, and the only thing keeping them this high in the rankings is a win over Minnesota and the talent on its roster. Hunter Dickinson is still one of the best big men in the nation, averaging 18.2 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, and Jett Howard has had a nice start to the season averaging 15.6 points per game. If Juwan Howard can get his team on a nice run, then the Wolverines could easily be a top four team in the Big Ten by the start of February. It’s simply been too tough a start for a team with very high hopes.

12. Northwestern Wildcats

Record: 9-2 (1-0 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Brown

With only two losses, the ‘Cats have started the season off hot and many would have them higher up this list. However, other than a great win over Michigan State, Northwestern hasn’t done much else, as losing a one-point game against Auburn doesn’t count in the win column. The ‘Cats have been treated to the easiest schedule out of any Big Ten team so far, and they’ve won the games they were supposed to. Although Chris Collins has arguably the best defensive team in the conference, the ‘Cats’ inability to consistently score the basketball is concerning. However, if Boo Buie and company can find some offense and continue to play elite defensively, watch for the ‘Cats to make a rise up these rankings.

13. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Record: 7-6 (0-2 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Iowa

With three losses in its last four games, Nebraska has had a rough December. The Cornhuskers have beaten Creighton, but rank second to last in the Big Ten in offense and are also in the bottom half of the conference in team defense. Derrick Walker has only played in eight games so far this year, but if he’s able to continue to stay on the court look for the Cornhuskers to feed Walker inside, as he’s been Nebraska’s best scoring option so far.

14. Minnesota Golden Gophers

Record: 6-6 (0-2 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Alcorn State

Currently the worst offense and third-worst defense in the Big Ten, Minnesota is the only team in the conference giving up more points per game than it’s scoring. That’s super problematic for a squad that barely scraped by Chicago State, California Baptist and Western Michigan by a combined five points, while losing three straight to Purdue, Michigan, and Mississippi State by a combined 52 points. Look for Dawson Garcia and Jamison Battle to give the Golden Gophers hope, but don’t be surprised if they struggle in conference play.