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Big Ten Power Rankings: A Mess In The Middle

It’s Purdue at the top, Rutgers right behind them, and everyone else fighting for positioning.

Michigan State Spartans center Carson Cooper defends Purdue Boilermakers forward Trey Kaufman-Renn during the second half Monday, Jan. 16, 2023 at Breslin Center in East Lansing. Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

Rankings reflect games played through Monday, January 16.

As we approach the midway point in Big Ten season, two things are certain:

  1. Purdue is in a class of its own. Against Michigan State, the Boilers escaped with a win on a herculean effort by Zach Edey. This was one of the toughest games remaining on their schedule.
  2. Nobody is safe, yet again. Ohio State lost to Minnesota last week, a team that didn’t show any signs of life in all of Big Ten play (with the exception of Wisconsin). And Minnesota won that game on the road.

As a result, you have Purdue with a game lead on the second place team in the conference, and a two game lead on everyone else. Yet, 3rd through 13th place is all decided by a single game.

1: Purdue Boilermakers

The Boilers keep rolling along, with the last second loss to Rutgers being their only bump on the road to a Big Ten title. Funny how life works, what most thought was the best Purdue team in recent memory last season ended up not winning the Big Ten, and not making it past the Sweet Sixteen. Now, you have a group that was supposed to be in a rebuilding year, ready to lock up at least a share of a conference title, and have no worse than a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.

2: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

The Scarlet Knights are doing that thing where they get off to a hot start to get everyone’s attention. At 5-2 in conference play, they’re behind only Purdue in the standings and hold a half game lead over the next team.

In years past, this hot start is followed by a lull in the middle of the conference schedule which forces the Knights to win a bunch at the end of conference play. Let’s see if this year’s version can avoid a losing streak in the middle of conference play and actually contend for a title.

3: Illinois Fighting Illini

Illinois has nicely recovered from their 0-3 conference start, and is looking exactly like we expected at the beginning of the season. They have won four in a row, beating Wisconsin and Michigan State along the way, and seem to be clicking on all cylinders. Can the Illini give Purdue and Rutgers a run at a title? Only time will tell!

4: Michigan State Spartans

The Spartans nearly took down Purdue, but Zach Edey was too much to overcome, as he went for 32 points in the contest. Now healthy, Michigan State is starting to resemble the team we saw go toe to toe with Gonzaga and take down Kentucky earlier in the season.

5: Northwestern Wildcats

Northwestern looks like it’s ready to avoid the basement this season, as they’re sitting pretty at 3-3 in conference play. Covid plus injury has paused their season, with the Iowa game already being postponed. If their weekend tilt against Wisconsin gets postponed, they might find themselves in a Nebraska-like situation near the end of the season. Ouch.

6: Iowa Hawkeyes

Iowa is another team that has rebounded nicely from their 0-3 conference start. The Hawkeyes, like Illinois, have won four straight and the offense is starting to click. Their game against Northwestern is postponed, so they get some time to rest while they wait for a rescheduled date.

7: Michigan Wolverines

Michigan is an enigma. They’re 4-2, have beaten Northwestern, Penn State, and Maryland, but all of those were at home. Their only road win to date is against Minnesota, and their two losses, to Iowa and Michigan, came on the road as well.

What that means for the Wolverines, of course, is they get more road games to finish the season, since their first half is heavy with home games. Michigan will need to start winning some of those if it hopes to stay at the top of the conference standings.

8: Wisconsin Badgers

Without Tyler Wahl, Wisconsin lost three straight and could not do anything on offense. The Badgers bottomed out at Indiana, a team that had started 1-4 in conference play. They couldn’t tell left from right, and Indiana wiped the floor with the hapless Badgers.

9: Penn State Nittany Lions

Penn State is sitting here, hovering around .500 in conference play. A note for the second half of the schedule: of the Nittany Lions’ seven double plays, five of them start on the road. The silver lining there is the second games for five of those series, when teams have a better feel for each other, will come at home.

10: Indiana Hoosiers

Indiana showed signs of life against Wisconsin, proving that they can play without Xavier Johnson and Race Thompson. And, with a timetable for their return being nebulous at best, they’re going to need to keep learning how to live without them if they hope to achieve what they set out at the beginning of the season. Otherwise, it’s day one in the Big Ten Tournament for them.

11: Maryland Terrapins

Maryland salvaged a four-game losing skid by beating Ohio State in between, but the Terrapins need some answers, as the three losses that wrap that one win were all in blowout fashion. The silver lining for Maryland is that they find themselves with the opposite problem of Michigan, where they’ve already played four road games in their first six contests, so the second half of the schedule should be a lot more forgiving for them.

12: Ohio State Buckeyes

Not for a mile did any of us think we’d be seeing Ohio State’s name this low in the rankings. But, at 2-5, effectively out of contention for the conference title, and in grave danger of being out of contention for a postseason bid altogether, the Buckeyes need to find answers and they need them now. The way their schedule sets up, they could have 10 losses by the time we hit February, a possibility no team wants to be presented with.

13: Nebraska Cornhuskers

Nebraska goes from looking listless to putting up a herculean effort from game to game. Someone, of course, will find themselves on the losing end of a few of those herculean efforts. Will there be enough of them to get themselves out of the basement?

14: Minnesota Golden Gophers

Well, at least they know they’re not going winless in conference play...

Week over week rankings of all 14 Big Ten teams. Purdue is ranked first, Minnesota is ranked last. The rest are within a game of each other.