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Big Ten Power Rankings 2023-24: Edition 2

Boo Buie, Northwestern

* records updated through the morning of 1/17/2024

 1. Purdue Boilermakers (15-2 overall, 4-2 Big Ten)

Previous Ranking: 1

The Purdue Boilermakers haven't been perfect through the initial stretch of Big Ten league play, but the conference's best roster top-to-bottom means that they remain team to beat until someone proves differently. Zach Edey remains the obvious advantage as he races towards what could be a second consecutive National Player of the Year Award, but the deeper we get into the season, the more importance the play of this backcourt will be on Purdue's eventual success. Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer have shown displayed growth over the course of their sophomore seasons and made this offense much more explosive, but it's the play of Southern Illinois transfer Lance Jones that has been the welcome surprise. The fifth-year vet has been playing key minutes and putting up productive numbers across the board, scoring in double-digits in four straight contests. More importantly, his experience is what this backcourt was lacking a season ago, leading to their eventual demise - Jones could help flip the script this time around.

2. Wisconsin Badgers (13-3 overall, 5-0 Big Ten)

Previous Ranking: 3

Since jumping out to their first 5-0 start in the conference since 2007-08, the Badgers were caught up in the chaos of the week, losing on the road Tuesday night to Penn State. It's certainly no cause for concern, and they have an opportunity to immediately make amends over the weekend against Indiana. Now at 5-1, their record has been buoyed by the fact the Badgers have gotten three of their first five at home and avoided nearly all of the other conference heavyweights, but this isn't a case of a team beating up on inferior opponents - Wisconsin has won each of their five league games by double-digits. Things will pick up with a tough end to the month and difficult early February, but the Badgers haven't shown any signs of slowing down - they could easily rise to the top spot in these rankings in short order.

3. Illinois Fighting Illini (12-4 overall, 3-2 Big Ten)

Previous Ranking: 2

Despite all the controversy that surrounds star Terrance Shannon Jr. off-the-court, the Fighting Illini have been impressive on the hardwood through mid-January. Senior forward Marcus Domask has stepped up and taken on a leading role as a scorer, but it's the frontcourt that appears to be the X-factor for the Illini going forward. Quincy Guerrier and Coleman Hawkins have been productive when healthy, but I'm still waiting to see if big man Dain Dainja can reach another gear after a slow start to the campaign. Dainja averaged nearly 21 minutes per game in 2022-23, but has seen his role diminished to single-digit minutes this winter. As the Illini hit the meat of Big Ten play and consistently square off against the elite bigs the league has to offer, Dainja feels like the type of player who could see his role expand.

4. Northwestern Wildcats (12-4 overall, 3-2 Big Ten)

Previous Ranking: 4

A 30-point blowout loss to begin January seemed like an ominous sign for Northwestern, but the Wildcats have quickly righted the ship with victories in two of their last three (and the only defeat coming at the hands of the flaming hot Wisconsin Badgers). Boo Buie continues to be one of the league's most dominant offensive weapons, but it's the Wildcat supporting cast that doesn't receive the respect it deserves. Performances like Brooks Barnhizer's 23-point outburst to power past Penn State or Ty Berry's 22-point showing against Michigan State were lacking at times last winter, showcasing the depth that Chris Collins has worked hard to build. That should help carry this team deep into league play, with the schedule set to pick up in a major way in late January.

5. Nebraska Cornhuskers (13-4 overall, 3-3 Big Ten)

Previous Rank: 14

Not since 2014 under Tim Miles have the Nebraska Cornhuskers played in an NCAA Tournament, but the 2023-2024 edition looks like they have a legitimate shot to change that in Lincoln. It was difficult to read get a read on this team after a soft non-conference slate, but the 'Huskers have proven their worth in Big Ten play up to this point, with two of the most impressive conference wins of the season over Purdue and Indiana. Both games felt like the culmination of all the hard work Fred Hoiberg has done in turning around this downtrodden program - they took care of the basketball, shot the ball incredibly well, and fed off the energy that a revived Pinnacle Bank Arena has to offer. There certainly is plenty of work to be done, but this is a well-rounded basketball team that has no issues going up against the top dogs of the conference - they're going to be a tough out down the stretch.

6. Indiana Hoosiers (12-6 overall, 4-3 Big Ten)

Previous Rank: 5

Leaning on a young, albeit talented core, it's no surprise that Indiana has looked incredibly streaky over the early portion of league play. They've beat just about everyone they should, with Rutgers being the notable exception, but weren't competitive in a 21-point drubbing at the hands of arch-rival Purdue on Tuesday night. One can somewhat excuse the loss considering it was at Mackey Arena, but it's clear this team is going to need more production from their backcourt if they have any hopes of keeping their NCAA Tournament dreams alive. That likely hinges on veteran Xavier Johnson getting not only back to 100 percent, but getting back into the swing of things in this offense. Johnson has missed seven games with an ankle injury, and then was held out of the starting lineup for the second straight game during the Purdue loss. He's far too important to be coming off the bench, even if Trey Galloway has stepped up and handled the scoring burden in recent contests.

7. Iowa Hawkeyes (11-6 overall, 3-3 Big Ten)

Previous Rank: 9

It looked like Iowa was bound for a rebuilding campaign after an 0-3 start to Big Ten action, but one thing has become increasingly clear now that he's the program's all-time wins leader: never count out Fran McCaffery. His Hawkeyes have responded by winning three straight, including an 18-point victory over Nebraska in Iowa City and an impressive road win over Minnesota. Now all of the sudden, Iowa's postseason hopes are renewed, although they have plenty of work to do to build up a resume that is short on quality wins. That could change over the weekend, as the Hawkeyes welcome Zach Edey and Purdue to town in a game that is sure to keep the scoreboard operators busy.

8. Minnesota Golden Gophers (12-5 overall, 3-3 Big Ten)

Previous Rank: 11

Considering Minnesota managed just two league victories all of 2022-23, three conference wins at this point in the season is a remarkable achievement for Ben Johnson and company. With that being said, two straight ugly losses have erased the notion of a potential "Cinderella" story in the Twin Cities and left the team scrambling for answers as they prep for a road trip to East Lansing. The road defeat to Indiana was certainly understandable considering Minnesota's longtime struggles at Assembly Hall, but the poor showing against Iowa felt deflating. Elijah Hawkins and Mike Mitchell have been significant improvements over what the Gophers had a season ago, but both have struggled to find a consistent rhythm shooting the ball and in Hawkins case, he's been a complete liability on the defensive end of the court. There's plenty of time to figure things out and two consecutive defeats is nothing to panic about in this league, but the schedule shows no signs of slowing down - not since 2015 have the Gophers gone into Spartan territory and come out on top against Michigan State.

9. Maryland Terrapins (11-6 overall, 3-3 Big Ten)

Previous Rank: 8

For as concerning as Maryland's non-conference performance was at times, the Terps have managed to figure things out through the early Big Ten slate and a road win at Illinois over the weekend showcased their full potential. Against the Illini, Maryland finally found their offense over a full 40 minutes but more importantly, put together their most complete stretch of defense on the year, holding Illinois to just 33% from the field and under 28% from three. That bodes well for the Terrapins as they begin a difficult stretch of games against explosive offenses, including Northwestern, Michigan State, Iowa, and Nebraska to wrap up the month.

10. Michigan State Spartans (10-7 overall, 2-4 Big Ten)

Previous Rank: 7

This is not the first time we've seen Michigan State struggle through non-conference and the early Big Ten slate, but time is running out for this team to turn it into high gear. Fortunately, the last few weeks have given for optimism - for one, beating Rutgers soundly was a nice start, but more important was the fact the Spartans gave Illinois all they could handle in Champaign before coming up short, 71-68. Others are finally starting to emerge offensively beyond just Tyson Walker, notably Malik Hall, and the defense has looked reinvigorated their last two times out. Obviously, there's a lot of work to be done, but this is beginning to feel more and more like the makings of another magical late season run from Tom Izzo. 

11. Ohio State Buckeyes (12-5 overall, 2-4 Big Ten)

Previous Rank: 6

Three straight losses, including one to an extremely beatable Michigan team, has Chris Holtmann going back to the drawing board as the Buckeyes prepare for a road-heavy next several weeks. The main problem is painstakingly clear: the offense has completely disappeared, which has included a disastrous three-point shooting slump that few could overcome. Jamison Battle has still been shooting the ball well, even coming off a rough showing against Michigan, but the Buckeyes are lacking any other scorer who can consistently score from deep. That's left them looking to bruise down low, an ineffective method against many of the physical and defensively sound Big Ten teams on their schedule. It's up to Holtmann to come up with something new and different to spark things, or else the season could continue its downward spiral quick considering the upcoming schedule.

12. Penn State Nittany Lions (9-9 overall, 3-4 Big Ten)

Previous Rank: 13

Penn State almost certainly is not going to the postseason in the debut campaign of head coach Mike Rhoades, but this remains a feisty Nittany Lion team that could surprise a few folks down the stretch. After three losses in the previous four games, including a pair of blowouts, Penn State pulled off a major upset by knocking Wisconsin from the ranks of the undefeated. They remain a team that can scratch and claw their way into just about any matchup in the conference, and are the just about the last team you want to see on the road or on a short week of rest. That may not sound like much after the highs of the 2022-23 season in Happy Valley, but building a program in this league is never easy, and Rhoades will hope to bring these positives forward as they look ahead to next season.

13. Michigan Wolverines (7-10 overall, 2-4 Big Ten)

Previous Rank: 12

Was the magic of the Fab Five's return to Ann Arbor all Michigan needed to turn around a season that was heading for disaster? It seems unlikely, but the Wolverines at least gathered some momentum after a 73-65 home win against Ohio State. They're going to need it as they prepare for stretch that includes Illinois and road trips to Purdue and East Lansing, particularly considering star guard Dug McDaniel's suspension. But, even that suspension is a perfect representation of just how strange this winter has been - McDaniel is suspended for road games only, but still expected to dress for games at the Crisler Center. It's simply continuation of a sense of uneasiness that has pervaded the program for some time now, and has Wolverine fans already looking forward to football season.

14. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (9-7 overall, 1-4 Big Ten)

Previous Rank: 10

A season-opening loss to instate foe Princeton set the stage for what has been a frustrating 2023-24 in Piscataway, which has only continued in conference play. The Scarlet Knights are off to a 1-4 start in the conference, and the momentum gained in their lone win over Indiana was quickly erased by an 18-point defeat at the hands of Michigan State. There's still hope things can be turned around, but Rutgers desperately needs their offense to find some type of rhythm - perhaps a fully healthy Mawot Mag could be that spark. Mag, who has played in just eight games this season, has scored in double-digits in each of his last four games, including 24 against Iowa. 

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