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Big Ten Power Rankings 2023-24: Edition 4

Tyson Walker, Michigan State

* Records updated through morning of 2/25/2024

1. Purdue Boilermakers (24-3 overall, 13-3 Big Ten)

Previous Ranking: 1

As the rest of the conference has beat up on each other, the Purdue Boilermakers have stayed above the fray and are in position to land their second consecutive No. 1 seed. A shocking loss on the road to Ohio State aside, the Boilermakers have been a model of consistency, despite getting the best from every Big Ten foe on a given night. As they prepare for their final set of league games and the upcoming Big Ten Tournament, it will be interesting to see how Matt Painter chooses to play it. Does he cut back minutes for Zach Edey and their other stars to keep them fresh down the stretch? Or, do the Boilermakers keep the foot on the gas pedal? The final three games of the regular season are arguably the toughest stretch of the season, with Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Illinois, providing plenty of tune-up opportunities ahead of the postseason.

2. Illinois Fighting Illini (19-7 overall, 10-5 Big Ten)

Previous Ranking: 3

For as frustrating as last week's heartbreaking loss on the road to Penn State was, Illinois remains a serious threat to win the conference tournament and do damage come March. They are led by one of the most explosive offenses in the Big Ten, particularly with Terrance Shannon Jr. back in action, but finding a semblance of defense will be the key for Brad Underwood's club down the stretch. Coleman Hawkins is the type of defensive anchor they need, but the perimeter defense needs to be better, especially as they look to a final set of four games that includes strong three-point shooting teams Iowa, Purdue, and Wisconsin.

3. Northwestern Wildcats (19-8 overall, 10-6 Big Ten)

Previous Ranking: 5

Since a frustrating pair of road losses to Purdue and Minnesota, Northwestern has kicked it into another gear, with four victories in their last five. Even their lone defeat could be considered a quality one, coming on the road to a suddenly flaming hot Rutgers team. The Wildcats now find themselves firmly in the NCAA Tournament field, poised to make their first back-to-back trips in program history, and are looking to secure the double bye ahead of the Big Ten Tournament. It's a great spot to be for Chris Collins and company, and even better news? Their final four regular season games are all winnable, even if road trips to Maryland and Michigan State appear perilous, meaning the Wildcats could continue to climb in the seed line as Selection Sunday nears.

4. Wisconsin Badgers (18-9 overall, 10-6 Big Ten)

Previous Ranking: 2

Through the Big Ten season's first month, Wisconsin appeared ready to go neck-to-neck with Purdue for the conference crown. Unfortunately, February has not been kind to the Badgers, with losses in their last six and sending them reeling heading into the most important part of the season. It's not just one thing causing Wisconsin's back-slide, but offensive woes have been at the heart of it, as they've managed to surpass the 70-point threshold just twice in their last seven. Can Max Klesmit get back on track after a January to remember has been followed up by an underwhelming February? Is there another level veterans like Tyler Wahl and Chucky Hepburn can reach? The Badgers still have a roster that can go deep in March, but they are running out of time to get things back on track, and Purdue and Illinois await on their remaining regular season schedule.

5. Nebraska Cornhuskers (19-8 overall, 9-7 Big Ten)

Previous Ranking: 4

Fred Hoiberg's Cornhuskers continue to take care of business, winning their last three games after a tiny two-game road skid in early February. None of the three wins will likely move the needle in a major way when it comes to Nebraska's NCAA Tournament hopes, but have been important in showcasing improved consistency from a team that had an unfortunate habit of playing down to their opponents earlier in the season. Not a single ranked team remains on the regular season schedule - while that may hurt the 'Husker's Big Dance hopes, they've already built a strong resume to this point, buoyed by victories over Purdue and Wisconsin. 

6. Michigan State Spartans (17-10 overall, 9-7 Big Ten)

Previous Ranking: 7

The same old script continues to repeat itself in East Lansing. The Spartans have pushed past their early season woes, and have been arguably the Big Ten's top team not named Purdue over the last month. That evolution doesn't come as much of a surprise - Tom Izzo teams always take their lumps early on, and this roster is far too talented and experienced to have been down for long. Still, a loss to Iowa at home earlier in the week showed there is still work to be done for Michigan State. The Spartans didn't even play particularly bad, it was more of the Hawkeyes shooting lights out, but this MSU team is set to see more difficult opponents down the stretch as they gear up for an NCAA Tournament run. In order to do just that, the Spartans are going to need more from their bigs, namely Maddy Sissoko - as elite of the guards on this roster are, keeping pace in the paint may end up being the X-factor.

7. Minnesota Golden Gophers (17-9 overall, 8-7 Big Ten)

Previous Ranking: 6

A buttery soft non-conference schedule aside, the Minnesota Golden Gophers have been one of the better stories anywhere in college basketball this winter. After a horrific 2022-23 that saw the Gophers go just 2-17 in the league and finish as one of the worst power conference teams in Division I hoops, they find themselves in the NCAA Tournament bubble mix in late February. The turnaround has been spurred by a number of things - the continued growth of Dawson Garcia and Pharrel Payne down low, the additions of Elijah Hawkins and Mike Mitchell Jr., and improved depth overall - and it doesn't feel like Minnesota is done just yet. With road trips to Nebraska and Illinois still remaining on the schedule, there are numerous opportunities to boost the resume, but the Gophers can't avoid the late-game woes that have become an all-too-common occurrence in the Twin Cities. 

8. Penn State Nittany Lions (14-14 overall, 8-9 Big Ten)

Previous Ranking: 11

It's unlikely to happen, but to my mind Penn State head coach Mike Rhoades deserves serious consideration for Big Ten Coach of the Year. Rhoades came over from VCU and inherited a roster with some of the most turnover in the league, and has them nearly at .500 inside the Big Ten with three games remaining on the schedule. The Nittany Lions haven't been intimidated by anybody on their schedule - on the contrary, they've beat a number of the conference's best, including Wisconsin and Illinois, despite missing leading scorer Kanye Clary. This is certainly a team that could be a spoiler in the Big Ten Tournament, as they're ending the year strong and look to be building momentum for a potentially much improved 2024-25.

9. Iowa Hawkeyes (16-12 overall, 8-9 Big Ten)

Previous Ranking: 9

Iowa remains one of the most confusing teams in the Big Ten, a team that had their share of struggles early on before finding themselves the deeper they've gotten into league play. Even so, the Hawkeyes still are prone to the occasional baffling loss, none larger than the Maryland defeat on the road on Valentine's Day. The Hawkeyes do remain in the NCAA Tournament mix after bolstering their resume as of late, but losing over the weekend to Illinois was a major missed opportunity for a team without much margin for error down the stretch. They will get the Illini again, this time in Iowa City to conclude the regular season, but they're running out of opportunities to prove themselves to the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. The Big Ten Tournament will be huge for them, and we've seen Fran McCaffery-coached teams get hot when it matters most in the past.

10. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (14-12 overall, 6-9 Big Ten)

Previous Ranking: 12

What was looking like a lost season for Rutgers changed rapidly when Jeremiah Williams was inserted into the rotation, with a four-game win streak through mid-February that suddenly had them gearing up for the postseason. Things have cooled since, with a pair of losses to Purdue and Minnesota, but with coming on the road, the Scarlet Knights still have a chance to end the campaign on a high note over their final five games. None of those five remaining games are against ranked opponents, although road trips to Lincoln and Madison will be tough to overcome for a team that struggles away from Jersey Mike's Arena. Still, Steve Pikiell's team is always a tough matchup and they are another wild card that could play spoiler over the next several weeks inside the league.

11. Maryland Terrapins (14-13 overall, 6-10 Big Ten)

Previous Ranking: 10

It's been a frustrating second season for Kevin Willard in College Park, as Maryland suffered several baffling losses in the non-conference and now find themselves near the bottom of the Big Ten standings in late February. Jahmir Young continues to be the only consistent source of offense for the Terrapins, but hasn't been enough to carry them to victory in consecutive close losses to Illinois and Wisconsin. The final stretch of conference games will be all about building momentum for next winter and on the bright side, the recent commitment of five-star center Derik Queen provides some solace for a team unlikely to be playing in the postseason.

12. Ohio State Buckeyes (15-12 overall, 5-11 Big Ten)

Previous Ranking: 13

Two straight frustrating seasons in Columbus doomed Chris Holtmann's tenure, and the program is now searching for new life as they look ahead to 2024-25 and beyond. It remains one of the more attractive jobs in the Big Ten, nestled in a great recruiting area and with plenty of NIL firepower, which means plenty of big names are going to be connected to it. But in the meantime, the Buckeyes are still playing hard under interim Jake Diebler, and the shocking upset of Purdue last week showed this team won't give up without a fight. The NIT is still very much on the table for the Buckeyes and without a ranked foe remaining on the schedule, they still have plenty to play for.

13. Indiana Hoosiers (14-13 overall, 6-10 Big Ten)

Previous Ranking: 8

Will Mike Woodson get a fourth year leading the Indiana Hoosiers? That's the question swirling around Bloomington as they've sunk near the bottom of the conference standings. Woodson was a strange hire at the time and while there have been a few good moments, Indiana simply has not won as much as the fans believe they should at this point in his tenure. Four consecutive losses have not helped, and the prognosis for ending the year strong doesn't appear encouraging - Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan State are all better basketball teams at this point than the Hoosiers and the lone winnable game (Maryland) comes on the road. Add in Woodson's struggles on the recruiting trail, it just feels like a change is needed with the Big Ten set to expand for the 2024-25 season.

14. Michigan Wolverines (8-19 overall, 3-13 Big Ten)

Previous Ranking: 14

Chris Holtmann may be gone and Mike Woodson potentially out the door, but Juwan Howard's hot seat isn't far behind after a disastrous 2023-24. The Wolverines have been situated at the bottom of the conference essentially the entire season, and it's hard to take away any bright spots from the year. It's particularly baffling because the ingredients aren't terrible - Dug McDaniel is one of the most exciting young guards in the league, Olivier Nkamhoua and Nimari Burnett have been winning players elsewhere, and Terrance Williams II has quietly had a productive campaign. But, they just haven't worked together and the overall energy around the program is missing. It will be difficult to move on from Howard, one of the architects of the "Fab Five" but it's worth watching as we look towards the offseason.

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