With Christmas on Tuesday, the entire Big Ten is off until Saturday afternoon. However, that doesn’t mean we are limited from taking a look at the league and where things are sitting on the eve of the new year. Last weekend was a big one for the conference. As such, it’s a good time to take a look at this week’s power rankings.
Please also note that this year’s rankings are going to be a tad different. I am only going to look at things each team has accomplished on the court. No projecting or predicting anymore. I will place an emphasis on recent play, but I am only going to be looking strictly at results going forward.
#1 – Michigan Wolverines (–)
The Wolverines only had one game since our last set of power rankings, taking down Air Force at home on Saturday. And while a win over Air Force isn’t impressive by itself, it was refreshing to see Michigan play up to its potential. Michigan had let teams like South Carolina and Western Michigan hang around for too long, but was able to walk away from the Falcons in the second half.
There are still a handful of games for the Big Ten before the restart of conference play, but the Wolverines will enter January as the clear favorite to win the league. Michigan is not only the Big Ten’s highest ranked team in the human polls, but also fourth nationally on KenPom and is projected to finish with the best record in Big Ten play.
Whether Michigan can live up to the hype in 2019 remains to be seen, but the Wolverines absolutely deserve the top spot in these rankings. Michigan has the best resume of any team in the Big Ten right now and has a realistic chance to get to 17-0 in the coming weeks, which would top Michigan’s start in 2012-’13 when the team reached No. 1 in the polls and narrowly lost in the national championship game.
This week, Michigan will get Binghamton at home on Saturday afternoon. The Bearcats are 4-9 overall and one of the worst teams in the nation.
#2 – Michigan State Spartans (--)
The Spartans also only had one game last week, facing off against an in-state foe in Oakland at home on Friday night. Michigan State was able to cruise to a 30-point win over the Grizzlies and improved to 10-2 on the season. Michigan State has also won five straight with four of those wins coming by double-digits.
And Michigan State’s current win streak has also coincided with a rise for the Spartans up in the human polls and the advanced stats. Michigan State is now sixth nationally on KenPom and is projected to finish with an identical record (14-6) in Big Ten play as Michigan. More simply put, Michigan State has closed the margin with Michigan considerably.
Still, the two losses in November will keep Michigan State behind Michigan right now. Two of Michigan State’s top wins are also fading, as Texas and UCLA continue to show mixed results. The Spartans still have a really impressive resume, but the team will need to do a bit more if it wants to move up these rankings further.
This week, Michigan State will face Northern Illinois at home on Saturday. The Spartans will be solid favorites, but don’t underestimate the Huskies. This is a mid-major team capable of pulling off upsets, if the cards fall the right way.
#3 – Indiana Hoosiers (–)
The Hoosiers had two games last week against underwhelming competition and were able to grab two wins. The first came against Central Arkansas on Wednesday and the second game against Jacksonville on Saturday. The wins pushed Indiana to 11-2 overall and concluded non-conference play for the Hoosiers this season.
Although Indiana has finally started to pop up on the national radar, it’s still one of the most underrated teams nationally. The Hoosiers have a really good resume right now. Indiana already has five wins against top 50 KenPom teams and two of those wins came away from home. That win over Marquette is also starting to look really impressive after the Golden Eagles beat Wisconsin and previously undefeated Buffalo earlier this month.
With those wins under its belt, it’s going to take something shocking for the Hoosiers to miss out on the NCAA Tournament this season. Making the Big Dance is now the expectation. After all, if Indiana even just wins its home games and beats Illinois and Rutgers on the road, it would get to to 22 wins. In this year’s Big Ten, that’s more than enough to get an at-large bid.
The question, however, is whether Indiana will be able to contend with teams like Michigan and Michigan State for the Big Ten title. At this point, Indiana looks a step back from those two. The advanced stats reflect this as well. While Michigan and Michigan State are in the top 10 nationally, Indiana sits at 24th.
It also doesn’t help that the Hoosiers will face the Wolverines twice in January, considering that Indiana projects to be a team that improves going forward. More simply put, Hoosier fans would have preferred to see Michigan in March, after the team and its young contributors had more time to grow. It also doesn’t help that Indiana might not be full strength for the first matchup with the Wolverines on January 6th.
Still, even if Indiana doesn’t project to win the Big Ten, it remains in great shape moving forward. The Hoosiers will also be off until January 3rd.
#4 – Wisconsin Badgers (–)
The Badgers only had one game this week and cruised to an easy win over Grambling State at home. As a result, Wisconsin improved to 10-2 overall and 5-1 over the team’s last six games, with the only loss coming on the road against Marquette in overtime.
Wisconsin will get an intriguing game this week on the road against Western Kentucky on Saturday. And even though the Badgers will be favored to win, Western Kentucky is absolutely capable of pulling off the upset. The Hilltoppers have already beaten Arkansas, Saint Mary’s, and Arkansas this season and just one of those games came at home. Expect a really tough environment for Wisconsin on Saturday.
#5 – Ohio State Buckeyes (–)
The Buckeyes had two games last week and were able to take care of business in both. The first came against Youngstown State at home on Tuesday and the second came in Chicago against a reeling UCLA team. As a result, Ohio State now sits at 11-1 overall with just one game remaining in non-conference play.
With 12 games in the books, there’s no denying that Ohio State is a good team. The Buckeyes have four wins against top 100 teams, including wins against Cincinnati and Creighton on the road. The team’s play way from home has been particularly impressive so far this season. In fact, Ohio State has four wins against top 110 opponents away from home. That’s a really encouraging statistic heading into the new year.
Ohio State will get High Point at home on Saturday to close out non-conference play for the season. This should be a pretty easy win for the Buckeyes.
#6 – Nebraska Cornhuskers (–)
The Huskers played one game last week and were able to score a 24-point win over Cal State Fullerton on Saturday afternoon. The win didn’t turn heads nationally, but maybe it should have, considering that the Titans put scares into Arizona State, Hofstra, and Wake Forest earlier this season. The win pushed Nebraska to 10-2 overall.
What’s interesting about this Nebraska team is that it seems simultaneously over and underrated nationally. That sounds bizarre (it is), but hear me out. The Huskers should absolutely be in the top 25 right now. The team simply has too many dominating wins for it to be sitting on the outside in the human polls. But right now, that’s exactly where it is.
However, its No. 14 ranking on KenPom feels a bit fraudulent. Again, Nebraska is a top 25 unit and more than capable of beating anyone in the Big Ten at home. However, 14th feels too high for a team has shown some flaws. My guess is that Nebraska’s ability to run up the score in blowouts this season has inflated its advanced stats profile.
So, yes, Nebraska is probably over and underrated nationally right now.
This week, Nebraska will face SW Minnesota State at home on Saturday afternoon. This should be an easy win for the Huskers.
#7 – Iowa Hawkeyes (–)
The Hawkeyes had two games against dreadful opponents at home this week and came away with two wins. Iowa beat Western Carolina at home on Tuesday and Savannah State at home on Saturday. With the wins, Iowa now sits at 10-2 overall.
Iowa will conclude non-conference play with Bryant at home on Saturday. Expect another easy win for the Hawkeyes.
#8 – Minnesota Golden Gophers (–)
The Gophers had one game last week and were able to grab a win in it on Friday at home against North Carolina A&T. The win pushed Minnesota to 10-2 overall and 4-0 in the team’s last four games. All things considered, it’s been a pretty good start for the team.
Fans won’t learn much more about the Gophers this week as the team only has one game coming on Sunday against Mount St. Mary’s at home. The Mountaineers are 3-9 and are rated as one of the worst teams in college basketball.
#9 – Purdue Boilermakers (+1)
The Boilermakers faced off against Ohio at home last Thursday and were able to score a dominating win against the Bobcats. The win pushed Purdue to 7-5 overall and to 6-0 against teams outside the top 60 on KenPom. More simply put, Purdue continues to take care of business against the weaker teams on its schedule.
By most measures, Purdue projects to be a bubble team this season. The Boilermakers are arguably a fringe top 25 team, but Purdue just hasn’t closed the deal in its biggest games. As such, its resume is relatively weak heading into the end of non-conference play. The pressure is going to be on Matt Painter and his squad as the calendar flips to 2019.
This week, Purdue will get Belmont at home on Saturday. That might not sound like a marquee matchup, but the Bruins are 75th nationally on KenPom and 9-1 overall. Belmont is a quality opponent and a win would help Purdue’s resume. And considering the number of opportunities Purdue has squandered so far, this needs to be a win.
#10 – Northwestern Wildcats (+1)
The Wildcats continue to come up just short so far this season. Northwestern had two games last week and split in those games. The Wildcats started with a win over Chicago State at home on Monday, but narrowly lost to Oklahoma on Friday night in overtime. As a result, Northwestern now sits at 8-4 overall with one game remaining this year.
What’s crazy about Northwestern’s 8-4 record is that the team could easily have won three of those games. The Wildcats couldn’t finish against Indiana on the road, fell to undefeated Michigan at home in the final minute, and lost in overtime to Oklahoma. Those were all one-score games. It’s a major reason why Northwestern is 295th nationally in KenPom’s luck metric so far this season.
In short, it’s been a frustrating start for Wildcat fans.
And while these games show that Northwestern can play with just about anybody, the losses do have consequences. The Wildcats will now enter the restart of Big Ten play without a marquee win. And that’s not good news considering the depth and talent in this year’s league. It’s going to take quite an effort down the stretch now for Northwestern to get back into serious NCAA Tournament consideration.
Northwestern will hope to rebound this week with Columbia at home on Sunday. The Lions did just take Rutgers into overtime last week, so it could be a tricky game for Northwestern.
#11 – Maryland Terrapins (-2)
The Terps only had one game last week and it was a massive one at home against Seton Hall. It was Maryland’s last chance to get a marquee win heading into the restart of Big Ten play after missing on two opportunities earlier and playing a remarkably soft non-conference schedule. Maryland ended up failing to get the job done after getting behind big early in the game. The loss dropped the Terps to 9-3 overall.
With Saturday’s game in the rear-view mirror, it’s hard not to criticize Maryland’s scheduling decisions this year. The Terps largely avoided the absolute bottom of college basketball, but avoided marquee opportunities. What that meant was games against teams like Seton Hall and Virginia were immensely important. Lose those and the Terps would enter the heart of Big Ten play without any significant non-league wins.
And unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened. Maryland may have recorded some nice wins against teams like Loyola (Chicago), Hofstra, and Marshall, but none of those are getting the Terps in as an at-large team. It was a gamble for the Terps that absolutely did not pay off. And the team now has its back against the wall heading into January.
This week, Maryland will face Radford at home on Saturday. Like some of Maryland’s other non-con opponents, Radford is decent. Maryland will have its work cut out, but a win still won’t do much to boost the team’s overall resume.
#12 – Penn State Nittany Lions (–)
The Nittany Lions split the team’s games last week, beating Duquesne on the road on Wednesday, but falling on the road to Alabama on Friday. The split left Penn State at 6-6 overall heading into its final non-conference game at home on Saturday against UMBC.
Penn State remains in the top 50 nationally on KenPom and is 15th in overall strength of schedule, but it’s hard to feel good about how things have started. This is the worst start through 12 games for the Nittany Lions under Patrick Chambers, which is a pretty significant statement considering that Penn State has never made the Tourney with Chambers.
The rough start also creates the realistic possibility that Penn State will finish with a losing record yet again under Chambers. KenPom is now projecting the Nittany Lions to finish at 14-17 overall and things don’t appear to be trending up. Penn State has dropped five spots on KenPom since the start of December and is 2-4 this month so far.
Of course, it’s still early and it’s not even January yet. Penn State still has time to turn things around. Fans will hope it starts on Saturday against UMBC.
#13 – Illinois Fighting Illini (–)
The Illini had won two straight heading into last Saturday’s matchup against Missouri and five straight against the Tigers. Unfortunately, things didn’t go well after a fast start. Illinois ended up falling 79-63 to Missouri to fall to 4-8 overall on the year.
Illinois will return home to face Florida Atlantic on Saturday. Illinois better find a way to win because the Illini will be underdogs in the 10 games afterward per KenPom.
#14 – Rutgers Scarlet Knights (–)
The Scarlet Knights only had one game last week and came out with a win, despite the team’s best efforts. Rutgers beat a bad Columbia team at home on Saturday in overtime to advance to 6-5 on the season. it was the team’s first win since November.
Rutgers will stay at home and face Maine on Saturday. Based upon current projections, it’s the last game that Rutgers will be favored in this season.