Breaking news, rankings, predictions and analysis all in one place.

Big Ten Power Rankings 2017-2018: Edition 2

Jaren Jackson, Michigan State
1. Purdue Boilermakers (23-2 overall, 12-0 conference)
Even without a big name superstar on their roster, Purdue is still undefeated in the Big Ten and have asserted themselves as one of the best teams in the country. Guard Carsen Edwards has evolved into one of the conference's best playmakers, and the Boilermakers' have a dominant and deep frontcourt headlined by Isaac Haas. Purdue is also blessed with terrific experience and a ton of balance on the offensive end, which makes them so tough to beat. They are clearly the best team in the conference right now, and amazingly, Purdue has not lost since November 23rd, when they were stunned by Western Kentucky. Ohio State will be a tough meeting on Wednesday but right now, Purdue appears to be cruising towards a conference title and likely No. 1 seed.
2. Michigan State Spartans (22-3 overall, 10-2 conference)
After a relatively poor start to conference play, Michigan State has been on fire as of late, winners of seven straight. None of the victories have been against the elite teams in the conference, but going on the road in the Big Ten is always difficult, no matter the opponent. Preseason Player of the Year candidate Miles Bridges continues to lack consistency, but is still a highlight reel possibility every time he touches the ball, while big men Jaren Jackson and Nick Ward have evolved into one of the best frontcourts in the country. MSU will have a tough road matchup with an Iowa team playing better, before what could be their most important game of the season, against Purdue. That game will be a major indication of whether this MSU team is ready to contend for a National Championship, or still figuring out some of the issues that plagued them early in Big Ten play.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes (20-5 overall, 11-1 conference)
Despite the fact they lost their first conference game in a thriller to Penn State last week, the Buckeyes remain very much in play for a conference title. First-year head coach Chris Holtmann has gotten a resurgent year from veterans Keita Bates-Diop and Jae'Sean Tate, but the real reason for Ohio State's success is a terrific defense. OSU is allowing just 66.2 points per game, which is 39th in the nation, and one of the best marks in the conference. That defense will have to serve them well as they approach the last couple conference games of the season, because this team hasn't have the depth that Purdue or Michigan State has. Even so, Ohio State has proven they are a very good basketball team this season, and one that finds ways to grind out wins.
4. Michigan Wolverines (19-6 overall, 8-4 conference)
They might have needed overtime to do it, but the Wolverines found a way to beat a motivated Minnesota team at home this weekend, keeping them in the conference title conversation, although they are on the outside looking in. Big man Mo Wagner continues to prove himself as one of the best forwards in the Big Ten, but it is UM's experienced backcourt, led by Muhammed-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Kentucky transfer Charles Matthews, that has been the guiding force to their success this season. The Wolverines will get an interesting two game test when they go on the road against Northwestern and Wisconsin before finishing up conference play with a tough stretch in late February. That will test this team, but the Wolverines are a dangerous team, and one that could be very dangerous as the season begins to close.
5. Nebraska Cornhuskers (17-8 overall, 8-4 conference)
While Ohio State has been the big surprise of the Big Ten this year, Nebraska's impressive season should not be overlooked. Headlined by scoring machine James Palmer Jr. and a skilled backcourt, the 'Huskers are 8-4 in the conference, and very much in the NCAA Tournament mix. Even better news for Nebraska is their remaining schedule is extremely easy, and they should be favored in likely every game they play, with the possible exception of a road trip to Minnesota. That obviously bodes well for a team sitting right on the bubble (currently in the Next Four Out on ESPN's bracketology) and could set this team up for a big showing in the conference tournament.
6. Penn State Nittany Lions (16-9 overall, 6-6 conference)
Although it would take a lot of work for Penn State to find their way into the NCAA Tournament, the Nittany Lions have also been quite the surprise. Underrated sophomore guard Tony Carr has grown into one of the best scorers in the conference, averaging 19.5 points per game, while rabid rebounder Mike Watkins (13.1 PPG, 9.9 RPG) gives this team a strong low post presence. The only questions on this team will be depth and experience, which could be exposed as they face a scary late-season stretch that includes Ohio State, Purdue, Michigan and Nebraska all in a row. That is obviously a brutal schedule, but this PSU team has played well all year long and could challenge for their first season over .500 in the conference since 2007-2008.
7. Maryland Terrapins (16-9 overall, 5-7 conference)
Speaking of teams struggling through tough schedules, Maryland has faced a brutal stretch as of late, and unsurprisingly, they've had some issues. Over the past few weeks, the Terrapins have met Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue and Ohio State, and are trending downwards. That, compounded with the loss of stud big man Justin Jackson, who is done for the season, leaves Maryland in a tough spot, but this team could be dangerous towards the end of the season. They face off against a schedule that lightens up significantly, and their sharpshooting backcourt of Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter gives them a chance in every game they play. Much like Nebraska and Penn State, the Terps are a middle-of-the-pack team at this moment, but could cause some chaos in the coming weeks.
8. Northwestern Wildcats (14-10 overall, 5-6 conference)
This particular Northwestern team pales in comparison to last year's NCAA Tournament squad, but the Wildcats are playing better at the right time. They've won three of their last four, including two road games against Minnesota and Wisconsin, who aren't great teams but have very hostile environments. Key to their improved play has been smarter play from star point guard Bryant McIntosh, who has cut down on his turnovers, and better contributions from their frontcourt, which was really struggling early on in Big Ten play. Reaching their second consecutive NCAA Tournament may be unrealistic at this point, but the Wildcats could still certainly find their way into some postseason tournament, particularly if they can win a couple more road games, like meetings with Rutgers and Maryland.
9. Indiana Hoosiers (12-12 overall, 5-7 conference)
After a brutal non-conference stretch, not much was expected of Indiana in the first season of the Archie Miller era. However, the Hoosiers have looked significantly better since conference play began, and the future appears bright for this team. Athletic veterans Juwan Morgan and Robert Johnson have been the stars of the lineup, especially Johnson, who is the team's most dangerous shooter, even though he doesn't have great numbers (33% from deep). Indiana has also gotten better play from some of their big guys, although they have missed center De'Ron Davis, after he suffered an Achilles injury. Indiana isn't going to be playing in any postseason tournament this season, but Miller has proven he can coach these guys up. They are still a team that can go out and give any team in this conference troubles every night.
10. Minnesota Golden Gophers (14-11 overall, 3-9 conference)
Injuries and a lack of depth have combined to make Minnesota the most disappointing team in the conference this season, if not the most disappointing team in the entire country. Center Reggie Lynch, their defensive anchor, is long gone, but injuries to backup center Eric Curry (tore ACL prior to season) and Amir Coffey (shoulder problems) have really hurt this team. Forward Jordan Murphy is still one of the best double-double machines in the conference, and former highly touted recruit Isaiah Washington is playing much better but unless something major changes, the Gophers can't be considered a serious threat in the conference, even in a down year for the Big Ten.
11. Wisconsin Badgers (10-15 overall, 3-9 conference)
Not much was expected of Wisconsin prior to this season with the loss of so much of last year's team, and unsurprisingly they have really struggled. Forward Ethan Happ is one of the best bigs in the conference, and true freshman Brad Davison is clearly the future at point guard but beyond that, the Badgers lack much. They don't have much shooters to space the floor and lack much depth, which has only been hurt by injuries to guards Kobe King and D'Mitrik Trice. It is nearly a guarantee Wisconsin will miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998, but fans can at least take solace in the fact this team is still very young and will only get better.
12. Iowa Hawkeyes (12-13 overall, 3-9 conference)
Despite having one of the best offenses in the Big Ten and averaging 18.4 assists per game (fifth nationally) Iowa is under .500 overall and near the bottom of the conference. The reason for the struggles is an atrocious defense, which is 300th in the country. In order to turn things around, the Hawkeyes need better rotation on that side of the ball and to limit second chance points, which have been a killer for them all season. If they can do that, they could still end the year with some momentum but a very tough schedule, including Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan make that unlikely.
13. Illinois Fighting Illini (12-12 overall, 2-9 conference)
After beginning Big Ten play 0-8, Illinois has been able to gain some traction, winning two games this past week to climb out of the cellar in the conference. Offensively, this isn't a bad team and first-year head coach Brad Underwood is well known for his offensive expertise. It is on the defensive side where the Illini have really struggled, and they will need a ton of work. The good news is that Illinois has many chances to add to their win total, with games against Wisconsin, Indiana and Rutgers. If they can manage to win a couple of those, it could still be a nice way to gain some momentum as they look ahead to 2018-2019.
14. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (12-13 overall, 2-10 conference)
Slowly but surely, Steve Pikiell's massive rebuild at Rutgers continues. The Scarlet Knights have managed two conference wins, and have looked better this year than last season, but still appear to be in the cellar of the conference. The major reason has been an offense that lacks any bite, averaging just 66.8 PPG, which is 316th in the nation. Rutgers will need one of their big men to step up and make some easy buckets, and more contributions from one of the worst benches in the Big Ten.

No comments:

Theme images by LUGO. Powered by Blogger.