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Big Ten men’s basketball power rankings, third edition: conference play heats up

The ‘Cats are on the rise after a crazy week of conference action.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Only 10 days into January, chaos has erupted across the Big Ten. Eleven of 14 teams already have multiple conference victories, showing the conference’s depth this season. Let’s talk about how each team has been playing recently, and where they stand in relation to the rest of the conference:

1. No. 3 Purdue Boilermakers

Record: 15-1 (4-1 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Nebraska

Last Ranking: 1

It looks like Purdue is here to stay at the top of the Big Ten Power Rankings for a long time. The Boilermakers bounced back from their loss to Rutgers with two wins away from home against Ohio State and Penn State. If Purdue can consistently knock down threes and draw defenses away from Zach Edey, this team will be nearly unstoppable.

2. No. 18 Wisconsin Badgers

Record: 11-3 (3-1 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Michigan State

Last Ranking: 2

While Wisconsin could have moved down after its loss to an inconsistent Illinois team, the Buckeyes' successful run in non-conference games is the reason why the Badgers land at No. 2 in these power rankings. Tyler Wahl, Chucky Hepburn and Steven Crowl are all averaging more than 12 points per game, allowing the Badgers to rely on balanced scoring to win their matchups.

3. Ohio State Buckeyes

Record: 10-5 (2-2 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Minnesota

Last Ranking: 4

Ohio State is just three points away from being just behind Purdue in these rankings. Unfortunately, the Buckeyes fell to Purdue 71-69 at home, despite limiting Edey to just 16 points. Freshman Brice Sensabaugh leads the Buckeyes, averaging 16.7 points per game, and upperclassmen Zed Key and Justice Sueing are also averaging more than 12 points per game to lead the Buckeyes to a strong start to their season.

4. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Record: 11-5 (3-2 B1G)

Next Game: at Northwestern

Last Ranking: 6

Rutgers is coming off an odd week and a half, making it hard to rank the Scarlet Knights. After pulling off the upset against Purdue on the road, RU beat Maryland as expected, but suffered a setback with a loss at home to Iowa. Despite that loss, I am keeping Rutgers at the top of the very congested group of teams in the middle of the conference.

5. Northwestern Wildcats

Record: 12-3 (3-1 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Rutgers

Last Ranking: 9

Is this too high? Is this too low? Northwestern is arguably the hardest team to rank throughout the conference. The ‘Cats ran through a relatively weak non-conference schedule with ease, but now that the Wildcats have road wins over Michigan State and Indiana, along with a double-digit victory over Illinois, they have earned the right to be in the top five of the Big Ten.

6. Illinois Fighting Illini

Record: 10-5 (1-3 B1G)

Next Game: at Nebraska

Last Ranking: 5

Illinois has been one of the most inconsistent teams in the conference so far. After falling to 0-3 in conference with a loss to Northwestern, Illinois looked lost. Things appeared worse when Skyy Clark announced that he was leaving the program. But amid all the chaos, Illinois refocused and pulled off an upset over the weekend, beating then-No. 15 Wisconsin. Non-conference wins over No. 7 UCLA and No. 10 Texas keep Illinois in the middle of these rankings and give the Illini hope for the rest of the season.

7. Michigan State Spartans

Record: 11-4 (3-1 B1G)

Next Game: at Wisconsin

Last Ranking: 10

After a 5-4 start that included a loss to Northwestern at home at the beginning of the conference season, Michigan State has rattled off six wins in a row. The Spartans need to beat teams at the top of the conference to prove themselves further, and they will have that opportunity as their next four games are all against teams in the top six of these power rankings.

8. Maryland Terrapins

Record: 11-5 (2-3 B1G)

Next Game: at Iowa

Last Ranking: 7

Maryland’s non-conference success put the Terrapins near the top of the conference, but after their inexplicable blowout loss against Michigan, the Terrapins moved down to the middle of the conference. After their loss to Rutgers, the Terps were able to defeat the Buckeyes to get a much-needed bounce-back win over a ranked opponent.

9. Indiana Hoosiers

Record: 10-5 (1-3 B1G)

Next Game: at Penn State

Last Ranking: 3

Indiana still has the talent to bounce back from its recent slump, but the Hoosiers need to get healthy. Race Thompson was injured during Indiana’s matchup with Iowa, and after holding a ten-point halftime lead in that game, the Hoosiers eventually fell 91-89. Without Thompson and previously injured starting point guard Xavier Johnson available against Northwestern, the Hoosiers suffered their first home loss of the season.

10. Michigan Wolverines

Record: 9-6 (3-1 B1G)

Next Game: at Iowa

Last Ranking: 11

Michigan is an extremely hard team to rank. While the highs of the season include beating Maryland by 35 and defeating Pittsburgh (which is second in the ACC) by 31, the lows include a loss at home to Central Michigan and a 25-point loss to Arizona State. It looked like the Wolverines turned things around after rattling off the aforementioned win against Maryland and a victory over Penn State, but then the Wolverines struggled to score 50 points against Michigan State.

11. Penn State Nittany Lions

Record: 11-5 (2-3 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Indiana

Last Ranking: 8

Penn State had some momentum going in the right direction, as the Nittany Lions held a five-game winning streak, including a road victory over Illinois. However, the Nittany Lions suffered back-to-back defeats against Michigan and Purdue. PSU will look to rebound from this short slump against an injury-riddled Indiana team at home.

12. Iowa Hawkeyes

Record: 10-6 (2-3 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Michigan

Last Ranking: 13

Iowa is starting to show signs of life again. Earlier this season, the Hawkeyes were ranked in the AP Top 25, but after an 0-3 start to conference play, the Hawkeyes looked vulnerable. However, with wins against Indiana and Rutgers, Iowa showed its ability to still compete within the Big Ten.

13. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Record: 9-7 (2-3 B1G)

Next Game: vs. Illinois

Last Ranking: 12

Nebraska still looks improved compared to last year, but will that be enough for the Cornhuskers? It seems like the Big Ten as a whole is deeper this season, and Nebraska still has some work to do to climb out of the basement of the conference. There are plenty of opportunities on the Cornhuskers’ schedule to prove themselves, but going to overtime with Minnesota does not inspire too much confidence.

14. Minnesota Golden Gophers

Record: 6-8 (0-4 B1G)

Next Game: at Ohio State

Last Ranking: 14

Minnesota might be the only team that is easy to rank in the Big Ten. The Golden Gophers are the lone winless team in conference play, and with a sub-.500 overall record, it is clear that Minnesota is the worst team in this conference.