I finally decided to actually rank the teams myself now that we’re about halfway through and we’re starting to develop a hierarchy. KenPom ranking and current Bracket Matrix projections in parentheses.
1. Illinois (KP: 22 / BM: 6 seed)
It’s obviously somewhat controversial to put the Illini in pole position over Michigan State given that the Spartans beat Illinois by 20 in East Lansing. But since that game, Brad Underwood’s group have rattled off six straight wins and included in that stretch is road wins at Wisconsin, Purdue, and Michigan. The Illini will get their chance at retribution over the Spartans in a couple of weeks when MSU visits Champaign.
The Illini picked up two of those road wins this week and they did it with Alan Griffin playing all of three minutes. Griffin is one of the best players in the league that comes off the bench and on more than one occasion has been the catalyst for wins.
Once thought to be a lottery pick last year, Ayo Dosunmu had fallen off so much that it was a question of whether he would even be drafted were he to leave after this year. The consistency concerns are fair enough and the outside shooting hasn’t been ideal. But when Ayo is good, he’s one of the best. His last five games: 19.2 PPG, 54% FG, 40% 3FG, 95% FT, 5.0 RPG, and 5.4 APG.
This week: home for Minnesota, at Iowa
2. Michigan State (KP: 7 / BM: 3 seed)
Long thought to be the favorite in the conference, the questions were starting to mount on whether the Spartans were just like everybody else with their road struggles. They were beaten on the glass in Bloomington and were fortunate that the game was winnable late due to IU’s struggles from the free throw line.
But the Spartans showed a champion’s mindset by bouncing back with one of their best performances of the season on Sunday at Minnesota.
Tom Izzo sent a message to his team by giving freshmen Rocket Watts and Malik Hall the start in Minneapolis. Watts played his third straight game without a turnover and added 10 points. Hall went 3-3 from the field, 1-1 from the free throw line, and added six rebounds, three of them offensive. Aaron Henry didn’t get the start for the first time in 35 games and Marcus Bingham didn’t get his start for the first time in 15 games and only played five minutes.
We’ll see how all four guys respond going forward because you would think the lineup stays the same after the way they played Sunday.
This week: home for Northwestern, at Wisconsin
3. Maryland (KP: 10 / BM: 4 seed)
A potentially disastrous week turned in to a great one for the Terps. Maryland was down 15 at one point to Northwestern and down six with less than a minute-and-a-half to Indiana. They won both. On the road.
This is obviously a big coup for the Terps, but fantastic finishes are often necessary because of deficiencies elsewhere. For starters, you should probably never be down 15 to Northwestern if you want to be a real contender for the Big Ten title and you also don’t want to squander a 14-point lead at Indiana – one of the toughest venues to win in the league – and nearly blow the best road game Maryland has played this year.
But all the credit goes to Maryland for making the plays they had to and they scored two road wins and are now just one game outside of the conference lead about halfway through.
Jalen Smith kind of finished ugly with the postgame antics at IU, but it seemed out of character for him and it doesn’t take away that he was PHENOMENAL this week. He averaged 27 and 11 on 63/55/88 shooting and added three blocks and three steals.
This week: home for Iowa
4. Iowa (KP: 14 / BM: 5 seed)
Iowa held home court this week and – no surprise – it was on the back of Luka Garza, who had 49 points, 31 rebounds, and seven blocks in the two games this week.
That last figure – the blocks – is probably the biggest difference in Garza this year. In 22 Big Ten games played last year, Garza registered a block in only seven (7) of them. He’s now recorded a block in his last eight Big Ten games and averaged 2.0 in that stretch. He also hasn’t been charged for more than three fouls in the same stretch.
It was two home wins this week for the Hawkeyes and it wasn’t the prettiest, but they also came against two of the more defensive-minded teams in the league.
This week: at Maryland and home for Illinois
5. Rutgers (KP: 26 / BM: 7 seed)
Even though they lost at Iowa, the competitiveness of the Scarlet Knights once again showed that they’re not just a good team at the RAC. The middle of the second half was less than ideal at home against Nebraska, but Rutgers pulled it out late.
I guess in hindsight, the lull at home was fairly predictable on Saturday. Rutgers was ranked for the first time in forever, they played well Wednesday at Iowa and lost, and they were coming home – where they’ve dominated – and they were expected to roll, a position this program hasn’t been in very often. They got out to a sizable lead and relaxed a bit.
But even in the struggle to put Nebraska away, I came away impressed with Rutgers. Ron Harper scored 29 at Iowa and then could only muster two on Saturday. But Akwasi Yeboah – the Stony Brook transfer – stepped up with a season-high 20 points. Also, Geo Baker, who’s still trying to get right after his injury, hit the game-winner.
I’ve said it but I’ll say it again, Rutgers…RUTGERS…is one of the deepest teams in the league.
This week: home for Purdue, Michigan in NYC
6. Penn State (KP: 24 / BM: 6 seed)
Well, the only game of the week was a road win at Michigan in which they pretty much owned the game, so consider it a big success for the Nittany Lions.
Curtis Jones is far from a consistent player, but when he’s on, he wins games for Penn State and he did that up in Ann Arbor.
I don’t know how to evaluate Penn State offensively. Lamar Stevens and Myreon Jones are the consistent players in the rotation. Outside of that you just have a collection of guys that might score zero, might score 18, and not a lot of guys who give you a consistent 10.
They’re a hard read. Dangerous enough to beat anybody in the league and vulnerable enough to lose to anybody in the league, no matter the location.
This week: home for Indiana, at Nebraska
7. Indiana (KP: 38 / BM: 8 seed)
I’ll be honest, I couldn’t tell you what really happened at the end of that Maryland game that caused IU to let the lead slip away. News was just breaking that Kobe died and focus drifted away from the game. I’m sure whatever transpired was less than ideal.
What I do know is that the first 18.5 minutes of the second half were stellar for the Hoosiers after a lackluster first half. They also played a great game on Thursday at home against MSU.
It has to continue on the road, but you’ve started to see a bit of a transformation in the IU offense. After six straight games of not scoring a point per possession, they’ve now done it for three straight games. Obviously, freshman Jerome Hunter had his most productive game of the season against the Terps and it was a big boost. Armaan Franklin has also started to assert himself a bit after barely getting any minutes against OSU and Rutgers.
This week: at Penn State and Ohio State
8. Minnesota (KP: 39 / BM: 11 seed)
High peaks and low valleys for the Gophers this past week. On Thursday they scored a huge road win at Ohio State, who somehow still maintains high status in the NET rankings.
Unfortunately, Minnesota followed that up with a fairly non-competitive loss at home to Michigan State. It’s not a bad loss, but it’s certainly a missed opportunity for a team firmly on the bubble to pick up a Quad 1 win while in the friendly confines of Williams Arena.
The good thing for Minnesota is that they have two great players in Daniel Oturu and Marcus Carr. The bad thing for Minnesota is that those two are now responsible for nearly 60% of the team’s scoring in league play. Obviously, they’ve shown they can win some games like that, but you also saw Sunday what can happen when one of those guys doesn’t play well. Carr went 3-14 and only scored 11 points. Gabe Kalscheur stepped up with 15, but outside of Carr, Kalscheur, and Oturu the Gophers only got seven points from the rest of the roster.
This week: at Illinois
9. Purdue (KP: 23 / BM: 11 seed)
Purdue does this cool thing where they only play in 2OT games or participate in a blowout, where they’ve been on each end of the blowout on multiple occasions recently.
True to form, they were blown out early this week (again by Illinois) and then blew out Wisconsin at home Friday. It’s hard to know what to expect with them.
This week dealt two surprises. The negative: apparently simply playing in Mackey Arena no longer means Purdue is going to win the game, as was thoroughly proven by Illinois, who bullied the Boilers in their own building.
Friday’s positive surprise: maybe Evan Boudreaux is back? The Dartmouth transfer started his Purdue career off with double-figure scoring efforts in six of his first eight games. That quickly faded and Boudreaux registered 11 DNPs last year, most of them healthy scratches.
This year hasn’t gone much better for him until he was a spark against MSU, knocking down three three-pointers. And after the blowout to Illinois, Matt Painter rewarded Boudreaux for his practice effort with a start against Wisconsin. Boudreaux responded with his first double-double as a Boilermaker.
This week: at Rutgers and Northwestern
10. Wisconsin (KP: 32 / BM: 8 seed)
Hard to imagine a worse week for the Badgers. Here’s a recap:
- Lost by 19 at Purdue, a game in which they trailed by as many as 28
- Kobe King surprisingly didn’t make the trip to Iowa because of “personal reasons”
- Those “personal reasons” sound like his personal issues with the team
- Micah Potter may have a serious injury
- Brad Davison may be addicted to nut punches and will probably be reviewed for a possible suspension
- The latest Davison cup check came at the worst possible time in the game
- The Badgers blew a 12-point lead with 7 minutes left and lost at Iowa
Not an ideal time to play the conference leader.
This week: home for Michigan State
11. Ohio State (KP: 13 / BM: 8 seed)
I’m still dumbfounded by the steep decline in the Buckeyes’ season, but at least they were able to pull things out at Northwestern thanks to Justin Ahrens and DJ Carton making some big plays off the bench, while some of the more experienced guys continue to struggle with inconsistency.
I’m still not convinced the ship is turned back around just yet. In their last eight games, the only victories are against the two bottom teams in these rankings.
This week: home for Indiana
12. Michigan (KP: 30 / BM: 9 seed)
Michigan might’ve had a worse week than Wisconsin. To recap:
- They kind of got blown out at home by Penn State
- They got Isaiah Livers back for the Illinois game!
- Livers re-aggravated his groin injury against Illinois
- Ayo Dosunmu hit a contested game-winner for Illinois
- The Wolverines have lost four straight
- Team captain and point guard Zavier Simpson is now suspended indefinitely
- UM is 0-5 in true road games and now have to try to win their most winnable road game left without Simpson and probably Livers
This week: at Nebraska, Rutgers in NYC
13. Nebraska (KP: 131 / BM: N/A)
After four of their last five were on the road, the Huskers head back home to play potential spoiler.
This week: home for Michigan and Penn State
14. Northwestern (KP: 113 / BM: N/A)
I don’t have much to say on the Cats. They’re not terrible, but pretty young and inexperienced. If you’re a Northwestern fan, you’re hoping this group of freshmen and sophomores grow together like the McIntosh/Law/Lindsay/Skelly/Pardon group did.
This week: at Michigan State, home for Purdue