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Big Ten men’s basketball power rankings, seventh edition: The Scarlet Knights are officially back

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On top of that, the Cornhuskers finally won a conference game!

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Rutgers Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

We’re a mere fortnight away from the greatest month in sports, and Purdue has taken back the drivers seat in the Big Ten. Selection Sunday is quickly approaching and Big Ten teams are both playing their way in-and-out of the Big Dance, in addition to the trio of teams within a half game of each other atop the Big Ten standings. Here’s the seventh edition of our Big Ten basketball power rankings:

1. No. 5 Purdue Boilermakers

Previous Ranking: 2

Record: 23-4 (12-4 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Rutgers

Although the Purdue Boilermakers dropped a game in Ann Arbor in blowout fashion, they have retaken the lead in the Big Ten and are still far and away the team with the highest ceiling in the conference. The Boilermakers defense not being in the top 100 according to KenPom is a cause for concern, as it shows that they are beatable, but PU’s outside shooting accompanied with its dominant big men gives them a chance in any game come March. Purdue’s remaining schedule is quite difficult, as they have to play the hottest team in the country in the Scarlet Knights before traveling to No. 19 Michigan State and No. 15 Wisconsin.

2. No. 15 Wisconsin Badgers

Previous Ranking: 4

Record: 20-5 (11-4 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Michigan

On paper, the Wisconsin Badgers have no business being only a half game back of a Big Ten title, yet with only a handful of games left, Greg Gard’s team has a real chance to hang a banner at the Kohl Center. The team doesn’t rank in the top 35 offensively or defensively on KenPom, and they shoot less than 43% from the field, the worst in the Big Ten. Fortunately for them, they do have is a bonafide star in Johnny Davis, who had 25 points at MSU and 30 points at Indiana. In addition to Davis, the Badgers have been flat out lucky, as evident by the fact that their opponents have shot the lowest free throw percentage in the conference against them, and their margin of victory average sits in the bottom half of the Big Ten.

3. No. 12 Illinois Fighting Illini

Previous Ranking: 1

Record: 20-5 (11-4 B1G)

Next Game: @ No.19 Michigan State

Illinois lost their lead in the Big Ten via a 70–59 loss at Rutgers. However, considering the fact that Rutgers has now beaten every team in the upper half of the conference, this loss doesn’t bring Illinois too far down the rankings. The Illini finally healthy, and the pieces are there for them to steal the Big Ten from Purdue, despite the Boilers sweeping them on the year. If they are to do so they will need contributions from senior Trent Frazier, who has cooled off a bit from his hot January stretch. Illinois has a tough three game stretch consisting of two road games in East Lansing and Ann Arbor, as well as a home test against No. 15 Wisconsin, meaning the Illini could very well slide outside of the top five in the Big Ten or solidify themselves as a true national contender.

4. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Previous Ranking: 8

Record: 16-9 (10-5 B1G)

Next Game: @ No. 5 Purdue

It’s official, Rutgers Basketball is back. The Scarlet Knights followed their loss against Northwestern by beating an absurd four straight ranked opponents, including their most recent 70-59 dismantling of Illinois. Paul Mulcahy has been the best guard in the Big Ten the past two weeks, averaging 19 points and 7.5 assists during Rutgers’ four game win streak, and Caleb McConnell may be the best wing defender in the nation. Their win against Illinois will surely put them as a projected tournament team, and if the Scarlet Knights are somehow able to complete a season sweep of the Boilermakers on Sunday, they have a legitimate shot at winning the Big Ten. They’re No. 75 overall on KenPom, with both their offensive and defensive ratings sitting outside of the top 50, but don’t tell them that, as there’s not a team in the country that wants to play Steve Pikiell’s unit right now.

5. No. 18 Ohio State Buckeyes

Previous Ranking: 5

Record: 16-6 (9-4 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Iowa

If it wasn’t for the Buckeyes’ collapse at Rutgers, they would only be a half game back in the Big Ten. Unfortunately, this is not the case, although their three wins in the past two weeks has them still in striking distance in the conference. E.J. Liddell hasn’t shot less than 40% in a game since early January, and he came up huge in the Buckeyes win at Michigan in which he dropped 28 while going a perfect 11-of-11 from the line. Ohio State still has seven games remaining on its schedule, including a game at Illinois, meaning that if the role players can step up the Buckeyes they still have a chance at bringing Ohio State their first Big Ten championship in a decade.

6. No. 19 Michigan State Spartans

Previous Ranking: 3

Record: 18-7 (9-5 B1G)

Next Game: vs. No. 12 Illinois

The Spartans are trending in the wrong direction late in the year, the opposite of what we’ve been accustomed to seeing from Tom Izzo’s teams. They’ve lost three of their past four, including their most recent 62-58 loss at Penn State, where the Spartans blew a double-digit second-half lead. Following the game, Izzo didn’t allow any of his players to speak to the media, so it’s safe to say the locker room probably wasn’t pleasant in State College. It is not yet March, and with Izzo at the helm we shouldn’t be quick to count the Spartans out of turning it around, but Michigan State is clearly not in the position that many thought it would be in month ago.

7. Iowa Hawkeyes

Previous Ranking: 7

Record: 17-7 (7-6 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Michigan

Iowa currently sits as a projected seven seed according to Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology and have averaged 104 points per game over their past two games. No, that is not a typo, nor did either of those games go into overtime. The Hawkeyes leads the Big Ten in scoring and are No. 18 overall according to KenPom, yet they haven’t gotten significant national attention, which is in large part due to their 0-4 record against AP top 25 opponents. Despite this record, the Hawkeyes will likely be playing meaningful basketball in March and with Keegan Murray and the rest of the weapons in Fran McCaffery’s arsenal offensively, watch out for Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament and in the Big Dance.

8. Michigan Wolverines

Previous Ranking: 8

Record: 13-10 (7-6 B1G)

Next Game: @ Iowa

Due in large part to their colossal win against No.4 Purdue by a score of 82-58, Michigan is back on the bubble. Their loss this past Sunday against Ohio State, in which they shot a mere 23% from behind the arc, has them still on the outside looking in according to Bracketology, which has them as a current “First Four Out” team. However, with multiple COVID makeup games yet to come and a schedule filled entirely of teams with legitimate tournament chances, Michigan most certainly has an opportunity to go dancing this March. If this is to happen, Wolverine senior Eli Brooks and sophomore Hunter Dickinson will have to step up in a big way.

9. Indiana Hoosiers

Previous Ranking: 6

Record: 16-9 (7-8 B1G)

Next Game: @ No. 18 Ohio State

The Indiana Hoosiers are getting close to playing themselves out of the tournament, and it starts with their lack of production outside of their big men. Other than Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson, who combine for nearly 30 points and 16 boards on average per game, they haven’t gotten significant consistent production from any of their guards. Players such as Xavier Johnson and Parker Stewart have shown flashes, but more often than not they are outplayed by the opposing guards, which has been detrimental to Mike Woodson’s unit as of late. To be comfortably in the tournament, Indiana will likely have to win three out of their last five to put them at an even,10-10 in conference play. However, with Rutgers and a game in West Lafayette still on their schedule along with the Buckeyes, it’ll be much easier said than done.

10. Northwestern Wildcats

Previous Ranking: 12

Record: 12-12 (5-10 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Minnesota

Northwestern came off a three game conference win streak by losing two tough games against Purdue and Illinois. A win in one or both of these games could’ve given Northwestern slight tournament hopes, considering their remaining five games are all against unranked opponents. However, this did not happen and Northwestern’s early season blown leads hurt their chances more now than ever. On the bright side for for the ‘Cats, their most recent loss to Purdue all but guarantees that Jon Rothstein will have to host a happy hour in Wrigleyville this spring, and the Wildcats still have a solid chance at making the NIT if they can handle business in the final stretch of their season.

11. Minnesota Golden Gophers

Previous Ranking: 10

Record: 12-11 (3-11 B1G)

Next Game: @ Penn State

The Minnesota Golden Gophers have a winning record overall nearly three weeks into February. Yes, they just lost to Nebraska and have won only two of their last 12, but with their 76-70 win against Penn State the Gophers have proven once again that they are far from the worst team in the conference. Jamison Battle is merely a sophomore, and it’s clear a culture is being built by Ben Johnson in Minneapolis, something fans couldn’t confidently say while Richard Pitino was at the helm.

12. Penn State Nittany Lions

Previous Ranking: 11

Record: 10-12 (5-9 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Minnesota

The Penn State Nittany Lions continue to play hard for their first year coach Micah Shrewsberry and have five Big Ten wins to show for it. In their most recent win, the Nittany Lions beat No. 19 Michigan State 62-58 despite shooting sub-40% from the field. They scratch and claw throughout games, enabling them to keep it close against teams they have no business playing with. Because of that, Penn State hasn’t lost by more than six points since January. PSU has arguably the easiest final stretch in the Big Ten outside of Northwestern, giving the team a chance to string together some wins that’ll help for the future.

13. Maryland Terrapins

Previous Ranking: 13

Record: 11-14 (3-11 B1G)

Next Game: @ Nebraska

The Maryland Terrapins haven’t won a game since January and things are looking bleak in College Park. Maryland came into the year ranked in the top 25, but have been a disappointment following the departure of their former head coach Mark Turgeon. Their remaining schedule does have winnable games left on it in Penn State, Minnesota and Nebraska. Those are must-win games if the program wants to have anything to build on after the season concludes.

14. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Previous Ranking: 14

Record: 7-18 (1-13 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Maryland

It only took 13 games, but finally the Huskers won a game in the Big Ten after defeating the Golden Gophers 78-65. Nebraska’s backcourt of Alonzo Verge Jr. and Bryce McGowens combined for 38 in the win and the fans in Lincoln finally had something to cheer for. Of course, as you might expect, the win was sandwiched between two 20-point losses to unranked Northwestern and Iowa. However, Nebraska fans shouldn’t worry about those too much and should celebrate accordingly. They have more than earned it considering the year the football and men’s basketball program have had.