Big Ten Power Rankings: Conference title race has three clear contenders

  • 01/22/2024 9:36 am in

With the conference schedule nearing the halfway point, it’s time for an updated version of our Big Ten power rankings.

Michigan State was expected to challenge Purdue for the league crown this season, but the Boilermakers are getting a challenge from two other traditional league powers.

Here are our updated Big Ten power rankings through Sunday’s games:

14. Rutgers (10-8, 2-5, .972 PPP, 1.04 PPP allowed)

Rutgers has one of the nation’s best defenses, but an anemic offense has the Scarlet Knights in the Big Ten basement. Rutgers is 330th nationally in 3-point shooting, 351st in 2-point shooting and 329th in free throw shooting. The program is staring at a second straight NCAA tournament miss, but with one of the nation’s top recruiting classes for next season, there’s still plenty of enthusiasm for the program Steve Pikiell has built.

13. Michigan (7-11, 2-5, 1.059 PPP, 1.09 PPP allowed)

The Wolverines have won one game in the last month, a 73-65 triumph against rival Ohio State on Jan. 15. This program appears to be in disarray and without a clear direction under Juwan Howard’s leadership. The latest setback for Michigan came earlier this month when it was announced that point guard Dug McDaniel could only play home games through the end of February due to academics. Michigan plays at Purdue on Tuesday, which could get extremely ugly.

12. Penn State (9-10, 3-5, 1.043 PPP, 1.142 PPP allowed)

The Nittany Lions have proven to be a tough out at the Bryce Jordan Center in Big Ten play. Penn State upset Ohio State 83-80 back on Dec. 9, and last Tuesday, they knocked off Wisconsin 87-83. It’s not surprising Penn State has struggled this season, given the roster turnover following the departure of Micah Shrewsberry. But first-year coach Mike Rhoades has a promising young guard in Kanye Clary and has a chance to rack up some home wins the rest of the way. Penn State has six home games left and four of them are against Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana and Maryland.

11. Minnesota (12-6, 3-4, 1.023 PPP, 1.075 PPP allowed)

After a promising 3-1 start in Big Ten play, the Golden Gophers have dropped three straight, with a home game against Wisconsin up next. The 12-3 start was smoke and mirrors because of a laughable non-conference schedule, but Ben Johnson has improved this team in year three. Whether it’s enough to keep his job beyond this season is a question that still needs to be answered. Given that most of the roster is eligible to return next season, it won’t be surprising to see Johnson survive if the Gophers can get to seven or eight conference wins.

10. Maryland (11-8, 3-5, .974 PPP, .997 PPP allowed)

Last week marked an opportunity for the Terrapins to get back into the league race after an upset win at Illinois, but instead, it was two more disappointing losses in a season headed nowhere fast. Maryland lost at Northwestern and at home to Michigan State by a combined five points. Maryland now has to go to Iowa on Wednesday, which will be looking to bounce back from a home loss to Purdue. Despite putting a top-20 defense on the floor, Maryland’s inept offense is a major problem. The Terps are 341st in the country in 3-point shooting.

9. Indiana (12-7, 4-4, 1.01 PPP, 1.055 PPP allowed)

The Hoosiers are 2-4 in the new year and were beaten soundly by Purdue and Wisconsin last week. Those results weren’t unexpected, but how they occurred is of concern. The Boilermakers marched into Assembly Hall and hung 87 points on a hapless Indiana defense on Tuesday and the Hoosiers were even worse defensively at Wisconsin. The Badgers scored 91 points on 1.4 points per possession at the Kohl Center. Indiana also added two more flagrant fouls to its ledger last week and leads the country with seven this season.

8. Iowa (11-7, 3-4, 1.096 PPP, 1.131 PPP allowed)

When Iowa is clicking offensively, the Hawkeyes are fun to watch. Payton Sandfort is one of the better shooters in the league, Ben Krikke was an excellent transfer portal addition, Owen Freeman is one of the best young frontcourt players in the Big Ten and Tony Perkins is still underrated by most. But this Iowa team has the same problem most of Fran McCaffery’s teams do: the Hawkeyes aren’t good enough defensively. Iowa is currently 12th in the conference with 1.131 points per possession allowed. Most projections currently slot the Hawkeyes as being on the NCAA tournament bubble.

7. Ohio State (13-5, 3-4, 1.084 PPP, 1.088 PPP allowed)

At 12-2 and 2-1 in Big Ten play, the Buckeyes entered a Saturday night game at Indiana earlier this month riding high. But Ohio State lost its next three games before beating Penn State on Saturday in Columbus. Sophomore guard Bruce Thornton is shooting a dreadful 10-for-41 on 3s in league play and is 4-for-26 from deep over the last four games. The next four games could be season-defining for Chris Holtmann: at Nebraska, at Northwestern, Illinois and at Iowa.

6. Northwestern (13-5, 4-3, 1.11 PPP, 1.151 PPP allowed)

The Wildcats are a perfect 3-0 at home in Big Ten play, with two big opportunities this week as Illinois and Ohio State come to Evanston. Despite ranking last in the league in offensive rebounding percentage, last in opponent free throw rate and last in defense, Northwestern is squarely in the mix for another NCAA tournament berth under Chris Collins. The Wildcats take care of the ball better than any team in the Big Ten and force the most turnovers, too.

5. Nebraska (14-5, 4-4, 1.114 PPP, 1.123 PPP allowed)

Nebraska is a perfect 4-0 in Big Ten home games but winless on the road in conference play. If Fred Hoiberg is going to lead this team to an NCAA tournament appearance, that will have to change. The Huskers have road opportunities at Maryland, Illinois, Northwestern, Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan remaining and will probably need a couple of wins to punch a ticket to March Madness.

4. Michigan State (12-7, 4-4, 1.087 PPP, 1.042 PPP allowed)

Winners of three straight, Michigan State is back to .500 in Big Ten play. After a gritty 61-59 win at Maryland on Sunday, Michigan State has four days to prepare for a road game at Wisconsin. All of the computer rankings still like the Spartans, who are ranked No. 19 in KenPom and No. 21 in the NET. The quantity of losses will prevent Tom Izzo’s team from being a top seed in the NCAA tournament, but this group will be dangerous in March.

3. Illinois (14-4, 5-2, 1.156 PPP, 1.002 PPP allowed)

Terrence Shannon Jr. is back for Illinois and the Fighting Illini are contenders in the Big Ten title race. Illinois has the best efficiency margin in the conference and flexed its muscles on Sunday with an 86-63 blowout win against Rutgers at State Farm Arena. Assuming the Illini can keep pace with Wisconsin and Purdue, the final eight days of the regular season should be intriguing. Illinois plays at Wisconsin on March 2 before hosting Purdue on March 5.

2. Wisconsin (14-4, 6-1, 1.216 PPP, 1.07 PPP allowed)

The Badgers are one of the most experienced teams in the Big Ten and have been elite offensively. Through seven conference games, Wisconsin leads the league in 3-point shooting percentage, 2-point shooting percentage and free throw shooting percentage. AJ Storr has been the league’s most valuable transfer portal addition as his dynamic offensive skill set has allowed the rest of the roster to shift into more complementary roles.

1. Purdue (17-2, 6-2, 1.216 PPP, 1.07 PPP allowed)

Purdue might be a game behind Wisconsin in the standings, but there’s no denying who the best team in the Big Ten is. It’s the Boilermakers. Fletcher Loyer and Braden Smith have grown up as sophomores, Lance Jones gives Matt Painter another guard who can shoot and plays with an edge. And, of course, Zach Edey is on his way to winning national player of the year for a second straight season.

(Graphic via UMHoops.)

Filed to: