We’re about three weeks deep in to the college basketball season and half of the Big Ten conference has kind of stunk. I essentially put together the rankings by placing the three undefeated teams at the top and ranked the others by their least amount of losses to shitty teams. We’ve got the ACC-Big Ten Challenge coming up this week, so we should get a better feel for where everyone’s at.
Now to the rankings…I put them in tiers, that’s not to say they won’t change as the season progresses. Also included: my preseason ranking for each team and their KenPom ranking for the country to provide a little statistical data. It’s important to point out that this isn’t a projection, just based on how they’ve played so far. For instance, I don’t think Wisconsin will end up in ninth place, but it’s hard to put them any higher with some of their losses.
Tier 1: Contenders
1. Michigan State (previous: 4; KenPom: 6, 1st in Big Ten)
The Spartans have been on fire to start the year and it’s largely been due to Denzel Valentine putting up absurd numbers. He’s averaging a 19.9-8.9-8.6 and he’s got two of the three triple-doubles in all of college basketball this year. They’ve got wins over Kansas and Providence already on neutral courts and a chance to get another nice win this week at home against Louisville. All signs point to them being undefeated headed in to conference play. The scary part is Eron Harris hasn’t even really got going and he averaged 17 ppg at West Virginia a couple of years ago. I picked them fourth to start the season, mainly due to the fact that they were losing Travis Trice and Branden Dawson and they tied with Purdue and Iowa for third in the conference. While Maryland and Purdue are both undefeated, MSU gets top billing for their impressive come from behind victory over the Jayhawks.
2. Purdue (previous: 2; KenPom: 8, 2nd in Big Ten)
I was higher on Purdue than most going in to the season. Some may chalk it up to bias, but they weren’t even getting ranked by a lot of the national media. They returned all but one key player and added McDonald’s All-American Caleb Swanigan to their front court that already featured two 7-footers that are likely going to be pros.
The national media is starting to come around.
They’re 6-0 and their best win is Florida, but they’ve won every game by at least 15 and five of six by 22+. They’ve still got games at Pitt, home against Vandy, and a neutral site game against Butler remaining before conference. Those three games should give a better look at how seriously Purdue will contend for a conference championship.
3. Maryland (previous: 1; KenPom: 21, 4th in Big Ten)
The Terps are still unbeaten, but they’ve had to fight out victories over Illinois State, Rider, and Georgetown (who lost to Radford in their first game). They were billed as a national title contender heading into the season and maybe that will come to fruition, but they’ll need to be much better than they were in November. Tuesday’s game at North Carolina will be a great test.
Tier 2: Likely Tournament Teams
4. Iowa (previous: 7; KenPom: 20, 3rd in Big Ten)
The Hawkeyes dropped their first two games in the Advocare Invitational to Dayton and Notre Dame, but not by much. Jarrod Uthoff has shown he can be one of the best players in the conference this year, leading the team with 18.2 on 51.9% shooting, including an impressive 46.4 percentage from deep. Iowa is an experienced group, starting four seniors and a junior, and just may belong in the first tier.
5. Michigan (previous: 6; KenPom: 35, 6th in Big Ten)
I still don’t feel great about Michigan, maybe even worse than I did before the year, but their ranking is really a reflection of how underwhelming the rest of this list has looked so far. The Wolverines have lost by double digits to Xavier at home and UConn down in the Bahamas. Both will be in the rankings most of the year, but it’s still a slow start for a team with high expectations. Their best win is Texas, who already has three losses in five games. A win at NC State Tuesday will be a much needed boost to get this team on the right track.
Tier 3: Bubble Teams
6. Nebraska (previous: 11; KenPom: 100, 12th in Big Ten)
Expectations were down this year for Nebrasketball after failing to come close to what they were capable of last year and losing Terran Petteway. They got blitzed at Villanova during the Gavitt Games, but they battled for 40 minutes against a really good Cincinnati team, ultimately losing by four. They took care of business against Tennessee and rolled in all the games that they should. Obviously, the KenPom rankings don’t share quite the same respect as I do for the Huskers. Do I think they’ll be this high in March? No, but Kansas transfer Andrew White and senior Shavon Shields have the ability to take this team back to the tournament.
7. Indiana (previous: 3; KenPom: 25, 5th in Big Ten)
IU started the year as a media darling and after three weeks, they’re out of the top-25 in both major polls. Why? The Maui Invitational was a disaster for the Hoosiers. Losses to Wake Forest and UNLV were games this team should be winning by 15 points. Indiana can really score, but they’ll have to improve defensively to live up to their preseason accolades. They particularly struggle defending big men, which can be a real problem against the best teams in the B1G. On Wednesday, they’ll play the defending national champion Duke Blue Devils in Durham.
8. Northwestern (previous: 10; KenPom: 67, 8th in Big Ten)
The Wildcats don’t have any resume building wins yet, but they’re only loss was an 11-point one against North Carolina. Bryant McIntosh, Tre Demps, and Alex Olah will have to carry this team if they’re going to make their first trip to the dance. The season ending injury to Vic Law was a huge blow and with him the Cats chances at making the tourney would have been much more legitimate. It’s not crazy to think they could go into conference play with a 12-1 record. They’ll have no marquee wins at the time, but there will be plenty of opportunities for such things in 2016. You never know.
Tier 4: Deep Bubble Teams
9. Wisconsin (previous: 5; KenPom: 37, 7th in Big Ten)
Next to Indiana, the Badgers are the biggest disappointment of the early season. They lost at home to Western Illinois and have followed with losses to Georgetown and at Oklahoma. There’s no shame in losing to the Sooners, but it was the fact that they didn’t really compete that was the problem. Bo Ryan has never had a team finish outside the top-4 in the Big Ten in his first 14 years in the league. That streak looks likely to end, but I would still be surprised if the Badgers didn’t work their way back to the dance this year.
10. Minnesota (previous: 12; KenPom: 94, 11th in Big Ten)
The Gophers haven’t done anything overly impressive, but they’re still adjusting to post-Hollins life and they’ve got a few guys who can really score. Joey King has made a big jump and will be the focal point of the offense all year. It’ll be interesting to see how they match up with Oklahoma State in a couple of weeks.
Tier 5: Rebuild Mode
11. Ohio State (previous: 9; KenPom: 73, 9th in Big Ten)
Thad Matta has a young group that just hasn’t figured out how to win games yet. They dropped back-to-back home games to UT-Artlington and Louisiana Tech. They followed that up with a loss to Memphis in overtime. They’ve still got games with Virginia, UConn, and Kentucky before conference season. Yikes.
12. Illinois (previous: 8; KenPom: 82, 10th in Big Ten)
Illinois was 3-4 already and then this came out today.
He was leading the team in rebounding and was third in scoring in only 22.1 mpg. Could be a long year for the Illini.
Tier 6: Relegate Them
13. Penn State (previous: 13; KenPom: 180, 13th in Big Ten)
They lost back-to-back home games to Duquesne and Radford by a combined 38 points.
14. Rutgers (previous: 14; KenPom: 222, 14th in Big Ten)
Rutgers is probably actually better than Penn State, but they were so bad last year I’m keeping them here out of principle.