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Big Ten Power Rankings 2021-22: Edition 1

Kofi Cockburn, Illinois

Updated through: morning of 1/20/2022

1. Purdue Boilermakers

15-2 overall, 4-2 Big Ten 

Although Purdue suffered a heart-wrenching loss to Rutgers on the road and fell short to Wisconsin at home, they're still worthy of the top spot in this set of power rankings, thanks to a lack of a clear favorite at this point. Matt Painter has built the team into the perfect collection of pieces for the modern game; there's the explosive scoring wing with limitless potential (Jaden Ivey), the steady big underneath (Trevion Williams), the sharpshooter (Sasha Stefanovic), and the mammoth seven-footer (Zach Edey). The Boilermakers going on the road and beating Illinois highlighted how good Purdue can be at full strength, and they've already built a strong non-conference resume by beating Villanova and UNC. The upcoming stretch is incredibly favorable, even with a trip to Assembly Hall looming.

2. Illinois Fighting Illini

13-4 overall, 6-1 Big Ten 

The Illini's loss to Purdue over the weekend was their first of the Big Ten slate, but expect them to rebound quickly. The return of a healthy Andre Curbelo is a game-changer for a team that had a rollercoaster of a non-conference, but has put it together as of late. The smooth, slick ball-handing guard is the perfect engineer of Brad Underwood's offense, even with veteran Trent Frazier having a career year. However, the X-factor for the Illini is once again Kofi Cockburn. Cockburn has had a monster season to this point, but the loss to Purdue showcased how much Illinois can struggle when he gets in early foul trouble. Cockburn is the best big in the league, but whether he can regularly dominate every night will determine whether this team is Big Ten Title-good, or simply a step below.

3. Michigan State Spartans 

14-3 overall, 5-1 Big Ten 

Before a shocking 64-62 defeat at the hands of Northwestern, Michigan State had won nine straight games and positioned themselves in the Top 10 nationally. The loss to the Wildcats did showcase some of the weaknesses Tom Izzo's squad will have to figure out in the coming weeks. Despite shooting the ball well, the Spartans were killed by turnovers, and even though this team has plenty of size, they haven't done as well on the boards as you would expect. Even so, this is a team to like a lot down the stretch, especially with Izzo once again on the sidelines. There's experience throughout the roster, depth, and several really fun offensive pieces, including Gabe Brown and freshman phenom Max Christie.

4. Wisconsin Badgers

15-2 overall, 6-1 Big Ten

Following a tumultuous offseason and with numerous key pieces missing, this looked like it could be a rebuilding year in Madison. Instead, the Badgers are one of the hottest teams in college basketball and a serious threat to take home the Big Ten Title. Johnny Davis has been an absolute star, averaging 21.7 PPG and emerging as a National Player of the Year frontrunner. Davis leads Wisconsin in just about every statistical category, but the Badgers would love if the supporting cast could step up even more, especially in the front-court. Tyler Wahl has been tremendous, but guys like Steven Crowl, Chris Vogt, and Ben Carlson have to do even more for this team to make a conference title run.

5. Ohio State Buckeyes

11-4 overall, 5-2 Big Ten

It's been a wild ride for Ohio State basketball this season and there's still a lot of season remaining. The Buckeyes opened up 2021-22 by nearly losing to Akron, then dropped two more winnable games in the non-conference to Xavier and Florida. Since, they've shocked then-No. 1 Duke at home, before building a 5-2 mark in the Big Ten early on. E.J. Liddell and Zed Key have formed an imposing 1-2 punch in the frontcourt, but the injury to Justice Sueing, one of their best shooters and ball-handlers, has been a rough one. Sueing will return at some point but the timetable remains unclear; until then, Ohio State operates more as a good, but not great, team a step behind most of the other conference elites.

6. Indiana Hoosiers

13-4 overall, 4-3 Big Ten

Indiana entered the 2021-22 campaign with lofty expectations and through the first 17 games of the Mike Woodson era, they've most lived up to them. All their league losses have come on the road and all were competitive defeats, with the worst one being a nine-point loss to Iowa. They have a formidable frontline with Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson, but you wonder if they have the guards to rise up the Big Ten standings. The upcoming slate is the perfect chance to prove themselves, as a three-game home stand that includes arch-rival Purdue is manageable.

7. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

11-6 overall, 5-2 Big Ten

The Scarlet Knights were one of the most disappointing teams in the non-conference anywhere in college basketball this season, dropping games to UMass, Lafayette, and DePaul. However, they've seemed to rebound during Big Ten play, and look to be back on track towards a second consecutive NCAA Tournament berth. Ron Harper has been the go-to scorer, but it's Cliff Omoryui's growth in the frontcourt that has propelled their recent success. The sophomore gives them a fighting chance against the elite big men the conference offers, especially with his defensive prowess.

8. Iowa Hawkeyes

13-5 overall, 3-4 Big Ten

Iowa was always going to take a step back without Luka Garza, but an 1-3 start to the conference slate seemed to indicate a rebuilding year for Fran McCaffery's program. Since then, they've managed two rebound victories over Indiana and Minnesota and continue to showcase one of the most explosive offenses in college basketball. Keegan Murray's emergence as a genuine star has been huge for the Hawkeyes, but do they have the three-point shooting to contend with the Big Ten elites? Even if they don't, the roster is skilled and experienced enough for this team to be a Tournament team.

9. Michigan Wolverines

8-7 overall,  2-3 Big Ten

Over the first half of the 2021-22 college basketball season, few teams have been as disappointing as the Michigan Wolverines. They've lost several winnable games in the non-conference, as they've struggled to shoot the ball and their collection of highly touted freshmen have struggled to adjust. However, the Wolverines are hopeful their resounding 19-point win over Maryland was a potential turning point. Hunter Dickinson and Caleb Houstan had two of their best games of the season and the defense showed up as well. Sure, Maryland is one of the worst teams in the conference this year, but this UM is too talented to hover around the bottom of the Big Ten. A road trip to Bloomington over the weekend gives them another opportunity to build momentum.

10. Penn State Nittany Lions

8-7 overall, 3-4 Big Ten

Penn State was another team with a shaky start to the season, losing by 25 to UMass in their second game of the year. But, they've also seemed to figure it out under new head coach Micah Shrewsberry, racking up three Big Ten wins over Indiana, Northwestern, and Rutgers. They've done so with one of the most mediocre offenses in the conference, but they'll need more beyond Seth Lundy if they want to stay near .500 in the league. With their recent contest against Minnesota cancelled due to COVID, a trip to Iowa gives them a nice chance to gain their fourth Big Ten win.

11. Minnesota Golden Gophers

10-5 overall, 1-5 Big Ten

Almost nothing was expected of Ben Johnson and the Minnesota Golden Gophers entering this college basketball season, but they've been a pleasant surprise. They feasted on an incredibly weak non-conference stretch and managed to beat Michigan in Ann Arbor early on. Since then, they've dropped five straight, but the results haven't been completely discouraging. They've demonstrated tremendous fight all season long, despite one of the thinnest rosters anywhere in the country. It's probably not a team that has any legitimate shot to battle for an NCAA Tournament bid, but even a few more Big Ten wins would stand as a successful campaign for Johnson in Year One.

12. Northwestern Wildcats

9-7 overall, 2-5 Big Ten

After beginning their Big Ten slate with a road win over Maryland, Northwestern lost four straight once they hit the bulk of the league schedule. However, their upset victory over Michigan State showed that this can still be a very feisty team near the bottom of the Big Ten standings. Guards Boo Buie and Chase Audige are an underrated 1-2 combo on the perimeter and down low, Pete Nance has made major strides as a senior. This team might not have the depth of some of the teams above them in these rankings, but Chris Collins always has them playing hard and there's some legit All-Big Ten talent in the lineup. Don't be surprised if they rise above this ranking, even with a tough upcoming slate of games.

13. Maryland Terrapins

9-9 overall, 1-6 Big Ten

Maryland's decision to part ways with head coach Mark Turgeon early on in the 2021-22 campaign locked in a frustrating season in College Park. Terrapin fans are probably excited to rid themselves of the oft-maligned Turgeon, but the preseason Top 25 squad has struggled heavily under interim Danny Manning. The lost in the non-conference to George Mason, Virginia Tech, and Louisville, and the Big Ten schedule hasn't been any more favorable. Maryland has at least been competitive during the 1-6 start and there's still a lot to like about the backcourt with Eric Ayala and Fatts Russell, but it's hard to imagine this team rising up these rankings much farther.

14. Nebraska Cornhuskers

6-13 overall, 0-8 Big Ten

Fred Hoiberg's massive rebuilding job continues in Lincoln. The 'Huskers have found a home in the conference's cellar in recent years, but fans are hoping this team will finally begin to show much-needed life. Losing Trey McGowens for a big chunk of the year hasn't helped, but his younger brother, Bryce, has stepped up and handled the scoring load. Even so, this is a bad offensive team without the depth or experience of most of the others in the league. They've looked somewhat improved at times, but the 0-8 Big Ten record speaks for itself. The hope is that they can snag wins in one of their three home games in early February against Northwestern, Minnesota, and Maryland.

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