There are a lot of great moments during the season for college basketball. March is absolutely fantastic and the holiday tournaments in November are great as well. And it’s hard to complain much about all the conference action from January through March. There’s a lot to like about the college basketball season from start to finish.
However, the week or so between Christmas and New Year’s isn’t so great for college hoops. It’s filled with off days and games against inferior competition at home. Motivation is a question mark throughout and we learn little about the league and its teams. It’s simply part of the schedule. Few teams schedule big games and it’s hard to blame them.
And this year was no different for the Big Ten. There were a handful of notable games over the last week, but the league largely played boring games at home against inferior competition. As such, there weren’t many changes in the power rankings this week. But with conference play restarting soon, that will change.
Either way, let’s take a look at the new 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 last week and it came at home on Sunday afternoon against Binghamton. And Michigan was able to pick up a 22-point win against the Bearcats to improve to 13-0 overall on the season. It took quite an effort for the Wolverines to go undefeated in non-conference play for the second time under John Beilein.
All things considered, it’s been an exceptional start for Michigan so far this season. The team has looked fantastic at times and enters 2019 with an unblemished record. Any real criticism at this point is simply nitpicking. Michigan has won every game and has really only been in significant trouble (at Northwestern) once so far this season.
Still, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the team’s underwhelming play over the last few weeks. Michigan hasn’t been in serious jeopardy of losing since the Northwestern game, but the Wolverines let bad teams like Binghamton, South Carolina, and Western Michigan hang around far too long. That’s not something fans like to see as the team prepares to restart Big Ten play.
But with a 13-0 record, Michigan has to remain atop these rankings. And things will get far more interesting in the days ahead, as Michigan faces Penn State at home on Wednesday night and Indiana at home on Sunday.
#2 – Michigan State Spartans (--)
The Spartans also only played in one game last week. Michigan State faced Northern Illinois at home on Saturday and were able to grab a solid win over the Huskies. As a result, Michigan State improved to 11-2 overall this season and has now won six in a row.
Over the last three weeks or so, Michigan State has arguably been the best team in the Big Ten. Virtually every game has been a blowout victory and the team’s only close game in December came on the road against a really solid Florida squad. By any measure, Michigan State has looked the part of a top 10 team as of late.
However, the early losses are still a little too much to bump Michigan State up to one on this list just yet. And I’m hesitant to dock Michigan for playing poorly against sub-200 KenPom teams during exams and the Christmas season. But the Spartans have a real shot to move up next week with continued success.
This week, Michigan State will face Northwestern at home on Wednesday and Ohio State on the road on Saturday. Two wins would be absolutely massive for the Spartans.
#3 – Indiana Hoosiers (–)
The Hoosiers were off last week after playing two games the week prior. Indiana now sits at 11-2 overall and has won six straight. Indiana will now prepare to face Illinois at home on Thursday and Michigan on the road on Sunday.
#4 – Ohio State Buckeyes (+1)
The Buckeyes won the team’s only game this week at home against High Point on Saturday afternoon. Ohio State now sits at 12-1 overall and has won six straight. All told, Ohio State has one of the more impressive resumes in the country at this point in the season.
In many ways, this feels a lot like last year’s Ohio State team. Its stat profile isn’t exceptionally impressive and the team doesn’t wow in the eye test, but it just keeps winning. While Ohio State isn’t the most experienced or talented team in the Big Ten, it’s really hard to argue with results and that’s exactly what Ohio State is getting right now.
This week will be a great check in for Ohio State as it prepares to face Michigan State at home on Saturday. It’s the team’s first game against a top 25 opponent on KenPom so far this season. Most project this to be an exceptionally close game.
#5 – Nebraska Cornhuskers (+1)
The Huskers only had one game last week and scored an easy win at home against SW Minnesota State on Saturday. The win pushed Nebraska to 11-2 overall. Generally speaking, it’s been a really encouraging start for the Huskers.
Nebraska will now prepare for Maryland on the road on Wednesday and Iowa on the road on Sunday. The Huskers haven’t won two road games like this consecutively in quite some time. Even a 1-1 record in these two games would be a great development for Nebraska.
#6 – Wisconsin Badgers (-2)
The Badgers fell in the team’s only game last week on the road against Western Kentucky on Saturday. The loss wasn’t shocking, but it was a frustrating one for fans. It was a winnable road game that Wisconsin really could have used for its resume. After the loss, Wisconsin fell to 10-3 overall this season and just 2-2 over its last four games.
Wisconsin will now look to rebound at home against Minnesota on Thursday and Penn State on the road on Sunday. KenPom favors the Badgers in both games.
#7 – Iowa Hawkeyes (–)
The Hawkeyes won the team’s only game last week at home against Bryant on Saturday. And while the game was closer than fans would have liked, Iowa was able to come out on top and improve to 11-2 overall. Iowa has also won five straight.
This week, Iowa will face Purdue on the road on Thursday and Nebraska at home on Sunday. Hawkeye fans should be hoping for a split.
#8 – Minnesota Golden Gophers (–)
The Gophers faced Mount St. Mary’s at home on Sunday and were able to grab a win to improve to 11-2 overall on the season. Minnesota has also won five straight, including the team’s marquee win against Nebraska a few weeks ago.
Minnesota will now prepare to face Wisconsin on the road on Thursday this week. It’s going to be an uphill battle for the Gophers on the road, but a win would be massive. It would give Minnesota its second win against a top 15 team on KenPom so far this season. We will see if Richard Pitino and his staff can find a way to get it done.
#9 – Purdue Boilermakers (–)
The Boilermakers actually had a pretty intriguing game this week at home against Belmont on Saturday. Purdue was able to grab a hard fought win and improved to 8-5 as a result. The Boilermakers are now 6-0 at home this season and 3-2 in the last five games.
This week, Purdue will get a key opportunity at home against Iowa on Thursday night. After failing to close out in so many games in non-conference play, Thursday will be the exact type of game that Purdue needs to win to get on the right side of the bubble at season’s end. Expect a battle between the two teams.
#10 – Northwestern Wildcats (–)
The Wildcats faced Columbia at home on Sunday and were able to grab a win to improve to 9-4 on the season. And although the team has lost four games, three of the losses came against top 25 teams on KenPom and the other came away from home. As such, it’s hard to get too down on Northwestern this season.
This week will be a big one for the Wildcats as the team faces Michigan State on the road on Wednesday and rival Illinois at home on Sunday. Fans have to be hoping that Northwestern can find a way to at least split these games.
#11 – Maryland Terrapins (–)
The Terps had an intriguing game on Saturday at home against Radford. And the team was able to grab a key win to improve to 10-3 overall. Maryland has also won three of its last four games and is undefeated against teams outside the top 60 on KenPom.
Maryland will now prepare to enter the restart of Big Ten play firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble. If the Tourney was seeded today, Maryland would probably be on the wrong side of things. In short, the pressure is going to be on Mark Turgeon and his staff to figure things out in the coming weeks. Every game is big.
This week, Maryland will get Nebraska at home on Wednesday and Rutgers on the road on Saturday. These need to be two wins for the Terps.
#12 – Penn State Nittany Lions (–)
The Nittany Lions only had one game last week and got a win in it over UMBC at home on Saturday. Penn State now sits at 7-6 overall and will prepare to face Michigan on the road on Thursday and Wisconsin at home on Sunday. Penn State really needs to find a way to win one of these games.
#13 – Rutgers Scarlet Knights (+1)
The Scarlet Knights faced Maine on Saturday for the team’s only game of the week and was able to improve to 7-5 overall. Rutgers will now prepare for Maryland at home on Saturday. This should be a nice opportunity for Steve Pikiell to grab a quality win.
#14 – Illinois Fighting Illini (-1)
The Illini have been frustratingly bad so far this season. Illinois started the season at 2-7 overall. However, many of those losses came by close margins against good teams. As such, there was hope that Illinois would figure things out moving forward.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened. Illinois recovered briefly, but fell to Missouri earlier this month and fell to Florida Atlantic at home on Saturday in overtime. It was easily the team’s worst loss of the season and one of the worst of the Brad Underwood era. There’s simply no justifying losing to a team outside the top 200 on KenPom at home.
While I have always been high on Underwood in Champaign, it’s getting tougher by the game to feel good about where things are heading. Illinois can’t keep turning over coaches, but it’s hard to feel satisfied with a 4-9 start to the season. And things don’t look like they’re going to get better in the weeks ahead, either.
To be clear, I am in no way advocating for Underwood to be on the “hot seat” at this point. However, Underwood is going to have to start showing progress in the months ahead to avoid pressure heading into the 2019-’20 season. The good news is that there’s still plenty of time to get things turned around.
This week, Illinois gets Indiana on the road on Thursday and Northwestern on the road on Sunday. Even a split would be great news for Illini fans.