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Big Ten Power Rankings 2021-22: Edition 2

Gabe Brown & Marcus Bingham, Michigan State
* Records updated through morning of 2/15/2022

1. Illinois Fighting Illini 

18-6 overall, 11-3 Big Ten (Previous Rank: 2)

Illinois appears to be a team trending up at the right time as they look ahead towards the final stretch of Big Ten play. They're the healthiest they've been all year, with Andre Curbelo finally back and Kofi Cockburn 100 percent, putting together a dominant month of February. Even though a recent road loss to Purdue means that they were swept in the season series against one of the other league favorites, the Illini have been the consistently better team in Big Ten action. In addition, the Illini resume has been bolstered by the success of their non-conference losses. Of their three non-conference losses, Arizona appears to be in serious discussion for a No. 1 seed and Pac-12 Title, Marquette has been flaming hot and is a serious Big East contender, and while the Cincinnati loss isn't a great look, it can at least be defended by the fact it was on the road. The schedule the rest of the way looks favorable, even with road meetings with Rutgers and Michigan State looming.

2. Purdue Boilermakers

22-4 overall, 11-4 Big Ten (Previous Rank: 1)

On paper, Purdue has just about everything you would want from the Big Ten's frontrunner. They have size, shooting, experience, and a fearless offensive weapon in Jaden Ivey. Yet, their last two contests have not been very encouraging; they were shocked by 24 in Ann Arbor to a .500 Michigan team then got all they could handle from Maryland, who is currently 3-11 in the league. To be fair, you can forgive an off night or two in this conference, but you would like to see a little bit more consistency from Purdue if they are to fulfill their vast potential. The last five games in the conference should tell us a lot about whether this team is "Final Four good" or merely "second weekend good," as they face upset-minded Rutgers, and then go on the road to Michigan State and Wisconsin.

3. Michigan State Spartans

18-6 overall, 9-4 Big Ten (Previous Rank: 3)

Even though they sit just a step behind other Big Ten elites, Michigan State is still in decent spot for a run at the regular season title. While the rest of the schedule isn't a breeze by any stretch of the imagination, it's very helpful that the Spartans get both Purdue and Illinois at home to finish up their league slate. In order to have a shot at the league title, Michigan State desperately needs more beyond Malik Hall. Hall has had a breakout year as one of the team's top offensive weapons, but the supporting cast has been a rollercoaster ride. Guys like Gabe Brown, Max Christie, and Tyson Walker have shown they can handle the offensive load, but have been awfully streaky in recent weeks. With March fast approaching, you get the feeling Tom Izzo's team is going to put it together, but that cast needs to rid themselves of shooting and turnover woes that have plagued MSU all season.

4. Wisconsin Badgers 

19-5 overall, 10-4 Big Ten (Previous Rank: 4)

The Badgers haven't been playing the prettiest basketball in recent weeks, but they've managed to stay alive in the Big Ten Title hunt, with a 10-4 league record. With that being said, recent losses to Illinois and Rutgers have made clear the Wisconsin deficiencies. This is not a good three-point shooting team and they struggle to defend the post; they simply don't have the size of some of the other conference elites. The Badgers have managed to survive because of the exceptional play of Johnny Davis and Tyler Wahl, but others have to emerge if this team wants to stay firm near the top of the Big Ten standings. The good news is that the remaining conference stretch is manageable; Purdue is the only current ranked team they'll play and while road trips to Indiana, Rutgers, and Minnesota will be tricky, all are at least winnable.

5. Ohio State Buckeyes

15-6 overall, 8-4 Big Ten (Previous Rank: 5)

Chris Holtmann's team remains one of the most perplexing teams in the Big Ten. They've racked up several major wins on the season, but also have a tendency to play down against certain teams. Their loss to Rutgers last week wasn't terrible considering it was in Piscataway, but the Buckeyes led most of the way and looked like the better team for the vast majority of the game. Consistency isn't easy in this deep and balanced league, but the Buckeyes are hopeful they can end the year strong, and their win against Duke in the non-conference should help their seed. They also have one of the Big Ten Player of the Year frontrunners in E.J. Liddell, who has turned his game up a notch over the last month-and-a-half. He'll have a tough road in front of him with Johnny Davis, Kofi, Keegan Murray, and Jaden Ivey all vying for the award, but he remains right in the thick of things.

6. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

15-9 overall, 9-5 Big Ten (Previous Rank: 7)

Speaking of perplexing teams, is there any Big Ten team more confusing than the Rutgers Scarlet Knights? They underwhelmed in the non-conference stretch and have taken their lumps in Big Ten action, but their last three wins have all been over ranked foes, including a win in Madison. It's always been a talented roster, but it's interesting to see how things have evolved over the course of the season. While Ron Harper Jr. remains a focal point, the emergence of Paul Mulcahy has really spearheaded their recent renaissance. The junior is not only shooting the ball extremely well, he's become one of the best passers anywhere in college basketball, averaging over five a game at this rate. If he can keep things up, this is a scary team down the stretch who sits firmly on the bubble right now, but has plenty of opportunities to cement an NCAA Tournament bid.

7. Iowa Hawkeyes 

17-7 overall, 7-6 Big Ten (Previous Rank: 8)

After their early February meeting with Ohio State was postponed due to inclement weather and issues with their plane, Iowa went on a three-game winning streak over the last week-and-a-half to improve to over .500 in league play. Granted, they weren't exactly beating up on the big boys of the Big Ten, beating Minnesota, Nebraska, and Maryland but it was still a nice little run to improve their NCAA Tournament chances. What's been particularly encouraging about Iowa's recent play has been an improved defensive performance; it's still a team that will always rely on their offense, but the Hawkeyes have been playing with more energy on the other side of the floor as of late. If they can keep that up into March, this is a talented enough team to make some noise in the Big Ten Tournament and win a game or two in the Big Dance.

8. Indiana Hoosiers

16-8 overall, 7-7 Big Ten (Previous Rank: 6)

While both Rutgers and Iowa took advantage of three-game winning streaks to move up these rankings, Indiana's three-game losing streak sent them tumbling a few spots. It wasn't an easy three-game stretch, as the Hoosiers faced Illinois and both Northwestern and Michigan State on the road, but proved Mike Woodson's team still has work to do if they want to end their NCAA Tournament drought. Trayce Jackson-Davis remains one of the best front-court players in a league loaded with them, but it's any guess what you're getting from Indiana's guards each game. When they're on, this is a dangerous team with legitimate NCAA Tournament potential; when they're not, it really is just an average Big Ten team. The last six games won't be a breeze, so they'll need more from this backcourt to get the job done.

9. Michigan Wolverines

13-10 overall, 7-6 Big Ten (Previous Rank: 9)

We have been waiting all season for the preseason Top 10 Michigan Wolverines to put it all together. While it hasn't all come together just yet, there's no denying this Michigan team is a scary one down the stretch, even fresh off a loss to Ohio State. Hunter Dickinson has been their leader all season, but the supporting cast is finally beginning to emerge. Youngsters Caleb Houstan and Moussa Diabate seem to be playing with more confidence, and Eli Brooks is finally starting to regain his stroke from three. The Wolverines are still on the outside looking in, but this is a talented basketball team with plenty to play for; they could rise up these rankings before it's all said and done.

10. Northwestern Wildcats

12-11 overall, 5-9 Big Ten (Previous Rank: 12)

Give Northwestern a lot of credit; after their Big Ten-opening win over Maryland, they lost eight of their next nine league games and could have mailed it in. Instead, they've rebounded in recent weeks, winning three of their last four games, with Illinois being the lone defeat. This is not the most talented team in the conference, but guards Boo Buie and Chase Audige give opposing defenses problems, and the Wildcats play unselfish, team basketball. Northwestern isn't going to the NCAA Tournament, but could they sneak into the NIT field? It would be an awfully nice consolation prize for Chris Collins' program.

11. Penn State Nittany Lions

9-12 overall, 4-9 Big Ten (Previous Rank: 10)

It's been a rough few weeks for a Penn State team that started off conference action playing surprisingly strong basketball; with the lone exception of a four-point home victory over Iowa, PSU has lost six straight games. Seth Lundy remains one of the most underrated players in the Big Ten, but the rest of the offense has completely disappeared. The Nittany Lions have only hit the 60-point threshold twice in their last seven contests and are currently 351st in the nation in total offense. Head coach Micah Shrewsberry seems to have this team playing hard, but there's not much you can do with that type of ineptitude.

12. Minnesota Golden Gophers

12-10 overall, 3-10 Big Ten (Previous Rank: 11)

As expected, Ben Johnson's first team in Minneapolis has suffered through serious growing pains. They were riding a five-game losing streak, punctuated by their worst showing of the year in a loss to Nebraska, before snapping it this weekend against Penn State. The Gophers are hoping that win gives them the momentum they need to take on a nice late-season stretch. Beyond a road tilt against Ohio State, the other five games are at least winnable, even though welcoming Wisconsin and Indiana to "The Barn" won't be easy.

13. Maryland Terrapins

11-14 overall, 3-11 Big Ten (Previous Rank: 13)

It's clearly a lost season for Maryland basketball, who is now in the midst of a five-game skid. With that being said, the Terrapins are still playing hard out there for interim coach Danny Manning. Over the last five, they've went toe-to-toe with Purdue and Michigan State and are still a tough out for most teams in this league, even as they sit 13th in the conference standings. The backcourts of Fatts Russell and Eric Ayala is enough to keep Maryland at least interesting over the next few weeks, even though there isn't much to play for at this point.

14. Nebraska Cornhuskers

7-18 overall, 1-13 Big Ten (Previous Rank: 14)

Fresh off a 24-point defeat at the hands of Northwestern and 0-12 in the Big Ten at that point, Nebraska desperately needed a win at home against Minnesota. They did just that, playing their best basketball of the year en route to a 13-point win over the Gophers, giving them at least some measure of momentum as we hit the home stretch. A blowout loss to Iowa over the weekend seemed to kill off most of the good vibes, but there are still winnable games left on the schedule. Fred Hoiberg's seat is unbelievably hot, but with his buyout being so high, there's a good chance he's back for '22-'23. He can use these next few weeks as a springboard towards a brighter future next winter.

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