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Big Ten men’s basketball power rankings, second edition: Let the parity begin

As conference play begins, the Big Ten is easy to figure out at the very top. Then it gets murky.

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Big Ten conference play officially returned Tuesday night with a triple header of bouts featuring ranked teams. No. 1 Purdue took down Maryland 67-53, No. 21 Wisconsin handled Iowa in an 83-72 contest and Illinois made Northwestern look like a broken team in a 96-66 massacre in Champaign. We still don’t know a ton about the landscape of the conference; Tuesday was, after all, the first night of conference play, with the exception of a few matchups sprinkled in during November and December. But based on what we can gather so far, here’s a look at where the power rankings currently stand:

1. No. 1 Purdue Boilermakers

Record: 13-1 (2-1 B1G)

Next Game: vs No. 9 Illinois

The Boilermakers have rebounded just fine after losing to Northwestern a month ago, their most impressive victory coming against No. 1 (at the time) Arizona. Purdue has vaulted itself back into the top spot in the country, and looks like the team to beat again in the Big Ten. Its game against Illinois will be telling; the Illini might be the only roster capable of challenging the Boilermakers for the one seed in the Big Ten tourney. I’m lower on Zach Edey than most because I think he’s too one-dimensional to win in March, but it doesn’t even matter here. He’s an incredibly dominant force in Big Ten play, and Purdue’s roster around him is more formidable than last year. It could maybe have made a run at a perfect record this season if it didn’t have to play in a certain gym in a certain Chicago suburb.

2. No. 9 Illinois Fighting Illini

Record: 11-2 (2-0 B1G)

Next Game: at No. 1 Purdue

The Illini were better all around than Northwestern on Tuesday, and showed that they’re closer to Purdue than they are to the next tier down of Big Ten competition. Star player Terrence Shannon Jr. has been suspended as authorities investigate charges of rape against him, but the rest of the Illini made a statement without him. They can still compete in this league, and with the best in the country. Coleman Hawkins is a nightmare to guard, especially for bigs used to packing it in and banging around down low with most other Big Ten centers. Hawkins’ length and ability to pop to the three-point line makes him unique, and a supremely difficult assignment. Just ask Matthew Nicholson.

3. No. 21 Wisconsin Badgers

Record: 10-3 (2-0 B1G)

Next Game: vs Nebraska

Wisconsin’s win over Iowa on Tuesday feels like a wash and doesn’t tell us much, since Iowa isn’t a very good barometer this year. The Murrays are gone, and things look bleak in Hawkeye land. But the Badgers got the job done at home, and maintain their top 25 ranking as somewhat of a surprise team this year. They’ve certainly made themselves impossible to ignore with wins against Virginia, Marquette and Michigan State so far this season. Sophomore guard A.J. Storr is leading the way, averaging 15.1 points per game, while Steven Crowl and Tyler Wahl also both average double figures. With Chucky Hepburn dishing out the ball to these scorers, the Badgers have overperformed and look legit.

4. Ohio State Buckeyes

Record: 11-2 (1-1 B1G)

Next Game: vs Rutgers

In an era of college hoops where lots of Power Five teams accumulate some ugly non-conference losses, Ohio State had none of those this season. Its only losses to date came against a No. 15 Texas A&M squad, and a three-point loss at the hands of Penn State. The Nittany Lions aren’t very good this year, but a conference foe is a conference foe. The Buckeyes look to be on the right track after a down season in 2022-23, but the real test starts now. Do Bruce Thornton and Roddy Gayle Jr. have what it takes in their second season of Big Ten play to keep OSU up this high? We’ll know a lot more about the answer to that question in the coming weeks.

5. Michigan State Spartans

Record: 8-5 (0-2 B1G)

Next Game: vs Penn State

The Spartans sputtered out of the gates this year after starting the season as the No. 4 team in the country. They immediately lost to JMU, but then were defeated in two tough ones against Duke and Arizona. Conference losses to both Wisconsin and Nebraska were a little more concerning, but this roster is too talented not to rebound in conference play. Tyson Walker is a complete monster, averaging 20 points per game this season, and guys like A.J. Hoggard and Jaden Akins aren’t too shabby themselves. After a win against No. 6 Baylor, Michigan State has looked more confident and rattled off four straight wins. Look for that to continue as Big Ten play gets going.

6. Indiana Hoosiers

Record: 10-3 (2-0 B1G)

Next Game: at Nebraska

The Hoosiers have losses to UConn, Auburn and Kansas. The Auburn one was a 104-76 boatrace, but that is easily the most concerning L on their ledger. This Indiana team may not be quite as good as last year’s Indiana squad, but I have to say, IU is still quite good. Malik Reneau is having a fantastic start to his campaign, averaging 16.2 points and 5.7 boards on 60% shooting. The roster looks different, but the results so far have been similar. Look for Indiana to slip a little bit in conference play, but not far. This team is good enough to compete in every game it plays.

7. Northwestern Wildcats

Record: 10-3 (1-1 B1G)

Next Game: vs Michigan State

It’s not that I want to discount Northwestern’s win over Purdue. That happened. We all saw it. The ‘Cats are capable of so much more than they showed on Tuesday against Illinois. But we also cannot ignore the fact that Northwestern lost to Chicago State, has looked somewhat shaky ever since, and just got obliterated to start 2024.

Brooks Barnhizer, Ty Berry and Ryan Langborg do give Boo Buie support, but none of them are consistent enough as second options. Meanwhile, Nicholson appears to have suffered a pretty serious regression, and neither Luke Hunger nor Blake Preston are suitable replacements. If none of those kinks work themselves out, the ‘Cats are still good enough with Buie to be a grind-it-out, take-care-of-the-basketball-and-win-games type of team. But even that won’t work if they play abysmal defense like they did on Tuesday.

The ‘Cats need to rebound (literally and figuratively) against Michigan State and at least look competitive. They need to badly. Nobody’s freaking out quite yet, but we’ll call this stage “panic button adjacent.”

8. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Record: 11-2 (1-1 B1G)

Next Game: vs Indiana

The Cornhuskers have had a very good start to their season, a season in which they were hoping to prove that they were off the mat in the Big Ten. They look to be. A loss to No. 15 Creighton isn’t what’s keeping them down at the eight spot. A loaded conference and a curious defeat at the hands of prospective bottom-feeder Minnesota does, however. Keisei Tominaga and Nebraska still have a lot to prove this year, and it all starts against Indiana on Thursday. Are they going to win enough games to play meaningful basketball late in the calendar, or will they slip down into the small tier of uncompetitive Big Ten squads? We shall see.

9. Maryland Terrapins

Record: 9-5 (1-2 B1G)

Next Game: at Minnesota

The Terps have had a strange start. Losses to Davidson and UAB in November were decidedly concerning, but they were more stable in December, and still have a really talented roster. A loss to Purdue is, obviously, not much of an issue, and Maryland has a fairly easy January (theoretically), excluding a bout with Illinois at the State Farm Center that will be a tough one. Otherwise, it’s all winnable games for the Terps in the foreseeable future. Look for them to take advantage and climb in the rankings.

10. Minnesota Golden Gophers

Record: 10-3 (1-1 B1G)

Next Game: at Michigan

The Gophers were horrendous last year. The good news for Minnesota fans is that UMN is definitely not that bad this year. The Gophers are still probably not ready to compete for real in the conference, but they’re showing they’re a little more feisty. Dawson Garcia is really good, and having his best year to date. Minnesota has three other scorers in double figures. It’s not all doom and gloom in Minneapolis.

11. Penn State Nittany Lions

Record: 7-6 (1-1 B1G)

Next Game: at Michigan State

Penn State just isn’t the team that competed for a Big Ten championship last March. Kanye Clary leads the way with 18.2 points per game, and Ace Baldwin Jr. is having a nice season, but there isn’t much going on outside of those two. The Nittany Lions lack depth, and it shows on the court. Mike Rhoades is fighting an uphill battle in his first season as head coach.

12. Michigan Wolverines

Record: 6-7 (1-1 B1G)

Next Game: vs Minnesota

Michigan is coming off a horrible loss at home to McNeese. Before that, UM lost in double OT at home to Florida. Things haven’t gone well to start the season in Ann Arbor, but good competition hasn’t blown the Wolverines away. Michigan looks like a team that isn’t as bad as its record says it is. It’s not a strong Michigan team, though. The maize and blue belong on the lower half of this list for sure, and will likely stay down here throughout the campaign.

13. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Record: 8-4 (0-1 B1G)

Next Game: at Ohio State

The big fella Clifford Omoruyi is back this season, and he’s still his best self. The bad news is, outside of him, Rutgers really doesn’t have a lot to rely on. Aundre Hyatt is the leading scorer at 12.3 points per game, but Omoruyi is the only other guy in double figures. Rutgers plays a good defensive game, but it really just cannot score the basketball which will be a pretty glaring Achilles’ heel.

14. Iowa Hawkeyes

Record: 8-6 (0-3 B1G)

Next Game: vs Rutgers

The Hawkeyes aren’t very good this year. They are the opposite of Rutgers; scoring comes easy, but the defense is the worst in the conference. If Iowa doesn’t learn to guard, scoring prowess isn’t going to be enough to compete in this conference. In a league as physical and as in the trenches as the Big Ten is, a flighty offense-only team doesn’t have much hope.