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Big Ten Power Rankings 2023-24: Edition 3

Chucky Hepburn, Wisconsin

 * Records updated through 2/6/2024

1. Purdue Boilermakers (21-2 overall, 10-2 Big Ten)

Previous Ranking: 1

For the third straight time, Purdue remains perched atop these rankings, solidifying their hold on the league with a 75-69 victory over Wisconsin over the weekend. It was the type of road win that displayed just how many ways this team can win - neither team shot the ball particularly well in a low-scoring, physical affair but Purdue's edge on the glass and in the paint helped them prevail. It also kicked off a month of February that looks very favorable for the Boilermakers, a month they could realistically go undefeated in if they continue their impressive play. They get Indiana and Minnesota at home, go on the road to Ohio State, and then Rutgers and Michigan to close out the month. It wouldn't be a surprise at all to see the Boilermakers enter the month of March with the league title and No. 1 seed just about locked up.

2. Wisconsin Badgers (16-6 overall, 8-3 Big Ten)

Previous Ranking: 2

A pair of losses over the last week has Wisconsin going back to the drawing board, but neither defeat should be cause for serious concern in Madison. They dropped a close contest on the road to Nebraska in a classic look-ahead spot and then gave Purdue all they could handle over 40 minutes at the Kohl Center before coming up just short. It will be back on the road over their next two games, but the Badgers still remain in strong position to battle their way into a 2-3 seed come Selection Sunday, assuming they can get back on track. That will require them to find their shooting stroke again from downtown after going a horrific 3-19 from downtown in the Purdue loss. Others will need to emerge beyond Max Klesmit, particularly A.J. Storr, who fell back to Earth with a rough showing over the weekend.

3. Illinois Fighting Illini (17-5 overall, 8-3 Big Ten)

Previous Ranking: 3

You could certainly make the case that Illinois deserves the second spot as they've ripped off three straight victories, but we'll need to wait until early March to get a definitive answer on whether the Illini or Badgers are the greatest threat to Purdue inside the league. The Illini certainly seem to be playing better offensively, hitting 80 points or above in five of their last six games, but they'll need to find some semblance of defense if they wish to continue their recent hot streak. That means others stepping up on that end of the court beyond big man Coleman Hawkins, who currently leads the team in both blocks and steals.

4. Nebraska Cornhuskers (16-7 overall, 6-6 Big Ten)

Previous Ranking: 5

One thing is becoming increasingly clear the deeper we get into the Big Ten season - Fred Hoiberg's Cornhuskers are legit. Despite several ugly results mixed into their record, notably road defeats to Rutgers and Maryland, the 'Huskers own one of the stronger resumes in the conference, with victories over Purdue and Wisconsin to their credit. The key now will be developing more consistency, and the schedule shapes up nicely to do just that. After traveling to Evanston to face off with Northwestern, the Cornhuskers get Michigan and Penn State back in Lincoln, two opportunities to improve their record and ensure they are on the right side of the bubble the closer we get to Selection Sunday.

5. Northwestern Wildcats (15-7 overall, 6-5 Big Ten)

Previous Ranking: 4

It was a frustrating past week for Northwestern, dropping a pair of hard-fought games that could have easily gone the other way. Losing to Purdue on the road in an overtime thriller is nothing to be ashamed of, but the Wildcats have to feel like they let one get away during this Saturday's defeat at the hands of Minnesota, leading by nine points deep into the second half. At this point, we know who Northwestern is - Boo Buie and their tremendous guard play gives them a chance in every game, but the lack of proven contributors on the interior leave them susceptible against the elite bigs they see on a regular basis in the Big Ten. Things go get easier with a stretch of games that includes Nebraska, Penn State, and Rutgers, but there's plenty of work to be done over the next month-and-half as the Wildcats hope to bolster their NCAA Tournament resume.

6. Minnesota Golden Gophers (15-7 overall, 6-5 Big Ten)

Previous Ranking: 8

After a surprising 3-1 start to Big Ten play, things seemed to be going south in a hurry for Ben Johnson's club, with four straight losses sinking them to the bottom half of the league standings. But, the Gophers have responded in a way that we just didn't see over the first two seasons of Johnson's tenure, beating Penn State, Northwestern, and Michigan State to get back over .500 in the conference. They remain frustratingly inconsistent, but there's plenty of reason for optimism as Minnesota prepares for the back half of the conference schedule. Dawson Garcia has evolved into a bonafide superstar, Elijah Hawkins is one of the most exciting players in the conference, and the Gophers have their deepest roster they've had in some time. They remain on the outside looking in when it comes to the NCAA Tournament but the Michigan State was a major resume-booster for a team that needed it, and the fact this team has anything to play for into February is a welcome change.

7. Michigan State Spartans (14-9 overall, 6-6 Big Ten)

Previous Ranking: 10

Another year in East Lansing, and the same old script seems to be repeating itself. The Spartans had a rough go of things in the non-conference and early portion of Big Ten play, but have been one of the league's best teams over the past month. They entered Tuesdays night winners of five of their last six games, with their lone loss coming to Wisconsin, but were unable to come out victorious in a hard-fought loss in the Twin Cities to Minnesota. Despite that defeat, Tom Izzo's team is clearly finding their rhythm at the right time as they've gotten healthier, and this is arguably the Big Ten's best roster top-to-bottom. They have two capable, experienced lead guards in Tyson Walker and A.J. Hoggard, a healthy Malik Hall as the glue guy, and a flaming hot Jaden Akins to pour it on from the outside. This is a team that nobody wants to play right now, but we'll learn a lot more over the next couple weeks, with the Spartans playing three of their next four on the road and getting a Top 10 Illinois in East Lansing.

8. Indiana Hoosiers (14-9 overall, 6-6 Big Ten)

Previous Ranking: 6

Indiana's Big Ten record was buoyed by winning three of their first four games in the conference, but they've faltered over the last several weeks and now find themselves desperately needing a momentum shift in early February. To be fair to the Hoosiers, the schedule has been absolutely brutal, with three ranked opponents over their last six, and it hasn't helped that star big man Kel'el Ware has been banged up. Yet, the problem remains clear in Bloomington - they star power and a trio of impressive frontcourt pieces, but they need more from the backcourt if they have any hopes of getting back on track. The continued poor health of guard Xavier Johnson has put a real strain on the entire roster - the veteran seemed to be working his way back, but has missed the last two games, including Tuesday night's win over Ohio State. If the Hoosiers have any hopes of a potential NCAA Tournament run, they need him back in action. 

9. Iowa Hawkeyes (13-9 overall, 5-6 Big Ten)

Previous Ranking: 7

Fran McCaffery's Hawkeyes remain a very difficult team to get a read on this winter. They appeared to be turning a corner with three straight wins through mid-January, but then have followed it up with three losses in their last four, including winnable games against Indiana and Maryland. As usual, Iowa hasn't had any issues putting the ball in the net, once again featuring one of the league's most explosive offenses, but defensive woes and turnover problems have made them awfully streaky. There's plenty of time for the Hawkeyes to flip the script before a treacherous late February and March slate, but time is quickly running out for this team to have any shot at another postseason berth.

10. Maryland Terrapins (13-10 overall, 5-7 Big Ten)

Previous Ranking: 9

Speaking of teams that are difficult to get a read on, Maryland comes in at ten in these rankings, despite the fact they could be much higher. They've had a frustrating go of it trying to close out games - their last three losses, prior to their Tuesday night defeat at the hands of Rutgers came by a combined 14 points. Kevin Willard needs to figure out some way to get this team to finish off strong, because the roster has plenty of weapons and College Park remains an exceptionally difficult place to play. That likely means somebody beyond Jahmir Young showing they can handle the offensive load, a consistent issue for a team whose average of 69.5 PPG ranks them 325th nationally.

11. Penn State Nittany Lions (11-11 overall, 5-6 Big Ten)

Previous Ranking: 12

Penn State almost certainly isn't going to be going to the postseason in Mike Rhoades' first season, but this team deserves a lot of credit for the season they've put together after an offseason of turnover. They've been a .500 team in one of the most balanced leagues in America and have proven they can go out and beat just about anybody on any given night, with a victory over Wisconsin to their credit. The Nittany Lions could easily be a spoiler down the stretch, as they face off with three straight opponents over the next several weeks aiming to bolster their NCAA Tournament resumes in Michigan State, Northwestern, and Nebraska. 

12. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (12-10 overall, 4-7 Big Ten)

Previous Ranking: 13

It's been a down season in Piscataway but one thing about Steve Pikiell-coached teams is that they never give up fighting. The Scarlet Knights have ripped off two straight road victories, bumping them up to 4-7 in the conference and giving them much-needed momentum as they prepare for the final stretch of the campaign. The offense continues to be an issue, although a healthy Mawot Mag has made a huge difference, but Pikiell seems just fine playing his typical grind it out style. With Wisconsin and Northwestern set to travel to Jersey Mike's Arena next, the Scarlet Knights could be a feisty foe to watch through the month of February.

13. Ohio State Buckeyes (13-10 overall, 3-9 Big Ten)

Previous Ranking: 11

It's becoming increasingly clear that Ohio State's shocking downfall in 2022-23 was not simply an aberration - the program has real problems they need to solve. Five straight losses have placed them near the bottom of the Big Ten standings, and the path forward isn't clear. The lone glimmer of hope is that they've played things tight over their last two, losing by two to Iowa and three to Indiana. Unfortunately, their reward? A back-to-back with Wisconsin and Purdue next week. They do play Maryland before then, an opportunity to get things right against another team not playing their best basketball, but the season appears lost at this point. It's not crazy to think head coach Chris Holtmann could be heading to the hot seat after an impressive run of consistency over his first five seasons at the helm. 

14. Michigan Wolverines (7-15 overall, 2-9 Big Ten)

Previous Ranking: 14

Did Michigan athletics sell their soul to win a National Title? As the Wolverine faithful watches Jim Harbaugh return to the NFL and take a host of assistants with him, the results on the hardwood have given them little reason for optimism. Juwan Howard's team has lost five straight games, including a 10-point defeat at home to Rutgers that felt like one of their final chances to steal away a conference win. The roster simply lacks any offensive explosiveness beyond Dug McDaniel, and with a tough stretch ahead of them, it's hard to imagine any significant turnaround coming in Ann Arbor.

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