Big Ten Power Rankings: Purdue in the driver’s seat for Big Ten title

  • 02/14/2024 9:29 am in

The Big Ten tournament begins four weeks from today in Minneapolis and we’re well past the halfway point of the conference schedule.

Purdue is the clear leader for the regular season crown with a two-game lead in the standings. The rest of the conference standings, however, are a jumbled mess.

We’ll try to make sense of the rest of the conference race as teams battle for seeding position at the Target Center:

14. Michigan (8-17, 3-11, 1.022 PPP, 1.159 PPP allowed)

Michigan basketball is easily the biggest disaster in the Big Ten. The Wolverines have lost seven of eight games with the lone victory in that stretch coming on Feb. 7 at home against Wisconsin.

Point guard Dug McDaniel is still suspended for road games, which is a massive problem for Juwan Howard. Michigan isn’t even competitive away from the Crisler Center, as its average margin of defeat in road games without McDaniel is 21.4 points. After missing the NCAA tournament last season and having little reason for optimism moving forward, there’s a strong argument Michigan should move on from Howard.

13. Ohio State (14-11, 4-10, 1.068 PPP, 1.135 PPP allowed)

The Buckeyes are a strong candidate for the most disappointing team in the Big Ten. After starting 12-2 overall and 2-1 in league play, Ohio State is 2-9 in its last 11 games.

After blowing an 18-point second-half lead to Indiana at home on Feb. 6, the Buckeyes snapped a six-game losing streak with a double-overtime win against Maryland on Feb. 10. That prosperity, however, was short-lived as Wisconsin handed the Buckeyes a 10th conference loss last night in Madison. Chris Holtmann has a huge buyout on his contract and athletic director Gene Smith is retiring this summer, but a second straight NCAA tournament miss will not sit well with the Buckeye faithful.

12. Indiana (14-10, 6-7, 1.015 PPP, 1.080 PPP allowed)

There’s talent on the Indiana roster, but poor roster construction and injuries have the Hoosiers in poor position with seven league games remaining.

The coaching staff bet on Xavier Johnson, which has been costly. Johnson has been injured for most of the season, and he’s rarely been effective when he has been available. Indiana’s talent in the backcourt needs a significant overhaul, as the Hoosiers have neglected to recruit shooting and playmaking for far too long. To close the season, the Hoosiers have four of their last seven at Assembly Hall.

11. Maryland (13-11, 5-8, .97 PPP, .975 PPP allowed)

If Ohio State isn’t the most disappointing team in the conference, it’s because Maryland has taken that crown. Kevin Willard gave the fanbase optimism last season by making the NCAA tournament in year one, but it appears last season was Fool’s Gold.

Maryland has lost three straight, including an embarrassing 56-53 loss to Rutgers on Feb. 6 at the Xfinity Center. The Terrapin offense is inept, ranking 14th in the conference in 3-point shooting and 13th in 2-point shooting. At best, Maryland is an NIT team.

10. Iowa (14-10, 6-7, 1.121 PPP, 1.142 PPP allowed)

The next team on the long list of mediocre Big Ten teams this season is Iowa, which again has an excellent offense and a very mediocre defense. If you’ve been following the program under Fran McCaffery for the last 14 seasons, it’s a theme.

Owen Freeman has been a major bright spot for the Hawkeyes and is the likely Big Ten freshman of the year. And Payton Sandfort is getting NBA buzz because of his ability to space the floor and shoot on the move. But as strong as Iowa’s offense is, the defense continues to limit the program’s ceiling.

9. Penn State (12-12, 6-7, 1.066 PPP, 1.101 PPP allowed)

The Nittany Lions won back-to-back road games at Rutgers and Indiana and then beat Iowa at the Bryce Jordan Center to move to .500 in Big Ten play before falling to Northwestern on Sunday night in Evanston.

Penn State should be able to win a few more conference games and could even avoid a Wednesday game at the Big Ten tournament if things break their way. For a first-year coach in Mike Rhoades, who built the roster via the transfer portal last spring, that’s about as good as you can ask for.

8. Rutgers (13-10, 5-7, .922 PPP, .976 PPP allowed)

After three straight losses made the Scarlet Knights look dead in the water, Rutgers has won three straight with a winnable home game Thursday against Northwestern on deck.

So what’s changed? The addition of Jeremiah Williams. A court order in New Jersey granted Williams eligibilty on Feb. 2 and he’s been a welcome addition for Steve Pikiell. In three games with Williams starting in the backcourt, Rutgers is 3-0 with wins at Michigan and Maryland and a home win against Wisconsin. The win against the Badgers is notable because it was a 22-point drubbing. Williams was named Big Ten player of the week on Monday.

7. Minnesota (15-8, 6-6, 1.051 PPP, 1.064 PPP allowed)

If not for a pathetic non-conference schedule, Minnesota might be on the bubble for the NCAA tournament. But Ben Johnson chose to schedule the worst (yes, 362nd out of 362nd schools) non-conference slate in the country, which will not go unnoticed by the tournament’s selection committee.

It’s a shame, too, because the Gophers are a solid basketball team in Johnson’s third season. Minnesota beat Michigan State at home last week and should be favored in all their remaining home games (Rutgers, Ohio State, Penn State and Indiana).

6. Nebraska (17-8, 7-7, 1.092 PPP, 1.092 PPP allowed)

The Huskers are 7-0 at home in league play and 0-7 on the road. Pinnacle Bank Arena is one of the better home-court advantages in the Big Ten, but winning only one road game all season is working against Nebraska’s NCAA tournament chances.

In his latest Bracketology, Andy Bottoms has the Huskers as one of the last four teams in. Nebraska’s final three Big Ten road games are against Indiana, Ohio State and Rutgers, a favorable slate for finally winning a conference game away from Lincoln.

5. Wisconsin (17-8, 9-5, 1.119 PPP, 1.062 PPP allowed)

The Badgers started 8-1 in Big Ten play but lost four straight before beating Ohio State in Madison Tuesday night. The four-game losing streak ended Wisconsin’s chances at a Big Ten title.

Wisconsin is still firmly in the NCAA tournament, and its experienced nucleus should serve it well as the season nears the finish line.

4. Northwestern (17-7, 8-5, 1.133 PPP, 1.122 PPP allowed)

Northwestern has also struggled to win away from home in league play but has two massive opportunities this week. The Wildcats play at Rutgers on Thursday before a Sunday matinee at Indiana.

Boo Buie is in the midst of an excellent fifth season for Chris Collins. The 6-foot-2 point guard is third in the Big Ten in assist rate (33.1) and fourth in 3-point shooting percentage (46.5)

3. Michigan State (15-9, 7-6, 1.102 PPP, 1.052 PPP allowed)

Tom Izzo’s team has quietly won three of four and is above .500 in league play. The Spartans currently have the fourth-best efficiency margin in the conference.

All of the computer numbers love Michigan State. KenPom ranks the Spartans 15th and the NET ranking (22) is favorable, too. Tyson Walker is firmly in the mix for All-Big Ten first-team honors.

2. Illinois (18-6, 9-4, 1.175 PPP, 1.05 PPP allowed)

The Fighting Illini are the only team with a realistic chance of challenging Purdue for the Big Ten title, but they will need help to get there. Illinois is two games behind Purdue in the standings, with a home game against the Boilermakers remaining on the schedule on March 5.

Brad Underwood has done as good of a coaching job as anyone in the Big Ten this season. His smaller lineup with Coleman Hawkins at the five has made the Illini a tough cover. With Terrence Shannon Jr. back in the fold, Illinois now has a star capable of leading the program on a deep NCAA tournament run.

1. Purdue (22-2, 11-2, 1.206 PPP, 1.045 PPP allowed)

Zach Edey is the frontrunner for national player of the year and has been unstoppable all season. Matt Painter has assembled a roster that complements the Canadian big man well.

Ultimately, Purdue will be judged on what it does in the NCAA tournament, but what the Boilermakers are doing to the Big Ten is impressive. Purdue has won eight straight and is favored in each of its remaining regular season games, per KenPom.

(Graphic below courtesy of Dylan Burkhardt at UMHoops.)

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