Rutgers stays locked in at the bottom of my power rankings. They are carrying an 11-2 record with losses to Miami and Seton Hall. Now, the record looks good on paper, but they just haven't beaten anyone notable. Sure, you have a nice record coming out of non-conference play, but if you haven't played anyone in the non-conference it is tough for me to give you any credit. Both of their non-con losses have come by double digits, but they will have a shot right out of the gate to prove me wrong. They'll get Wisconsin tonight at the Kohl Center. They have four players averaging double figures with Kansas State transfer, Nigel Johnson leading the way scoring 13 points per game.
The Cornhuskers have lost 6 of their last 8 games, but it's been to superior talent. They've played UCLA, Creighton, and Kansas over the course of their first 12 games. They have a tough loss to a good Clemson team on the road and have a good win over the Dayton Flyers. I jostled with the last spot a bit here and decided to give Nebraska the edge because they've played some real talent. Tai Webster has been one of the best guards in the conference this season averaging 17 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists per game. The Huskers open up Big Ten play on Wednesday against Indiana.
12. Penn State
The Nittany Lions sit at 8-5 coming out of non-conference play and have been extremely balanced. I said in the preseason that I think the Nittany Lions are just a few years away from being pretty solid and they have shown it early on. They have five guys averaging double figures with Shep Garner averaging 15 points per game. Freshmen Lamar Stevens, Tony Carr, and Mike Watkins all average double figures as well. They are a lot like Iowa in the fact that they have a lot of young and talented players. They're probably a bottom tier Big Ten team this year, but that could change in the next few years for Pat Chambers and company. They open up Big Ten play today against Northwestern.
The Illini have played pretty well over the course of the non-conference. John Groce's bunch comes in at 10-3 with wins over NC State and VCU on their record. Their losses have come to Winthrop, West Virginia, and Florida State. Those losses were all consecutive as well, so the Illini will ride a six game winning streak into conference play. The Illini are sort of a mystery for me. They have got Malcolm Hill, who is one of the best players in the conference, along with some solid support, but they've been hit and miss. I think Jalen Coleman-Lands could be a really productive player in his sophomore season, but he's averaging just 8 points per game so far this season. They've been relying on Tracy Abrams and Leron Black after Hill, but Black's production has come to a screeching halt the past few games. Illinois opens up Big Ten play today at Maryland.
The Hawkeyes came in at 12th in my last power rankings, but have rattled off 5 straight victories. Two of which came over in-state opponents in Iowa State and Northern Iowa. If Iowa hadn't won both of those games convincingly, they may not have rose to 10, but they did. Both games were never really in doubt for the Hawkeyes, who have seemed to find their groove. They have one of the best scorers in the nation in Peter Jok and are getting great help from the young pieces around him. They also did all this damage without Tyler Cook, who comes back for Big Ten play tomorrow night at Purdue. If Iowa's young players can keep this up, the sky could be the limit for Fran McCaffery's team.
The Terrapins come in at 12-1, but have some really close wins. They've won three games by one point and a few others by single digits to lesser teams. They have the one loss that came to Pittsburgh, which was a game that I had a chance to watch and man, the Terps looked bad. Their last four victories have been blowouts, but they did not play anyone noteworthy in the back end of the non-con. As long as they've got Melo Trimble they are going to be in ball games, he's averaging 18 points a game for the Terps who will get Illinois to start conference play today. They've got an easier start to conference play than most, so we'll see if the Terrapins get off to a fast start.
8. Michigan State
I had high expectations for the Spartans coming into this season. Sure, they lost a lot of talent from last years team, but as Tom Izzo usually does, he reloaded. He brought in a stellar class that was highlighted by Miles Bridges. However, Bridges has missed the past five games due to injury. And the Spartans have suffered a bit. They are just 8-5 this season and their latest loss came at the hands of Northeastern. And they beat Tennessee Tech by just 8 and Oral Roberts by just 4. Losing Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter at the start of the season did not help the front court any because it made them very small. Then when Bridges went down they got even thinner. Bridges also will not play tonight in the Spartans' Big Ten opener. Eron Harris and Nick Ward are the only two active Spartans tonight that average double figures.
Many raved last year that it would finally be the year Northwestern went to the NCAA Tournament. Well, after a cupcake non-conference slate the Wildcats kind of face planted and finished 8-10 in the conference, which isn't all that bad, but if that gets turned around to 10-8 the Wildcats are probably dancing. This year, they look like they might be headed there again. They are 11-2 and have won 8 straight games. They've got key wins over Texas and Dayton and their losses to Butler and Notre Dame were slim. If a few extra bounces could've went their way, they might be 13-0. Scottie Lindsey has been a pleasant surprise averaging 15 points per game and if they can get Dererk Pardon back he will help a lot. Pardon is likely out for a while, however. They get Penn State to open Big Ten play today.
One of the nice surprises has been the Golden Gophers this season. They are 12-1 with their only loss coming narrowly at Florida State. They've got a nice core of players and are led by Nate Mason, who is averaging 13 points and 6 assists per game. They don't have real notable wins, but from watching them I think they're going to be in the thick of it during Big Ten play. With 6 guys averaging over 9 points per game, they have a lot of balance and if they stay healthy I believe they could be really good. They'll get Michigan State tonight and then Purdue a few days later so we'll see what the Gophers are made of right out of the gate.
5. Ohio State
The Buckeyes, it seems, have been playing to their level of competition. They've got solid wins over Providence and Connecticut and losses to good teams like Virginia and UCLA. I watched both of those games and I liked the potential I saw from the Buckeyes. But then they turned right around and almost lost to UNC Asheville. Inconsistency isn't something that Thad Matta needs heading into conference play. He's got six guys averaging double figures, including 4 that average 10 apiece. Jae'Sean Tate leads the way pouring in 14 a game to go along with 7 rebounds. They've got good guards, but I think a lot of how their season will go could hinge on the play of Marc Loving. They get Illinois on New Year's Day to open Big Ten play.
Currently sitting at 10-3, the Wolverines have good wins over Texas and Marquette this season and no real glaring losses early on. They are led by Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr, who both average double figures. Irvin averages 14 points per game, to Walton's 12. I said coming into the season a lot of their success would hinge on whether or not they get good play from their forwards and Moritz Wagner has answered the call. He's third on the team in scoring averaging 12 points per game. The Wolverines have the ability to stretch the floor with the three and have one of the best on-ball defenders in the conference in Walton Jr. They get Iowa on New Year's Day to open conference play.
The top three teams I think really separate themselves from the rest of the pack and it starts with the Hoosiers. They have really good wins early on and really bad losses as well. Wins over North Carolina and Kansas are about as good as they get early on in the season, but losses to IPFW and Butler aren't typical, especially the loss to IPFW. The Hoosiers are tough mainly because of guys like James Blackmon and Thomas Bryant, but they get help. Robert Johnson and OG Anunoby are two really nice pieces as well and those four all average double figures. Bryant is one of the tougher match ups in the conference because at 6'10" and 250 pounds he has the ability to beat you on the block and he's also a 45% three point shooter. Indiana gets Nebraska tomorrow night followed by Louisville on New Year's Eve.
The Boilermakers, like the Hoosiers, are a team that is going to contend for the Big Ten title. They've got arguably the best player in the conference in Caleb Swanigan and have the biggest front line that is made up of he and Isaac Haas. They have two close losses to start the season to Villanova and Louisville, but 11-2 is good enough to net you the second slot. They get after you on defense and crash the glass hard on both sides. Matt Painter is one of the best coaches in the conferences and with a talented roster like he has, he'll have his team in the mix until the end. Swanigan averages 18 points and 13 rebounds, while Haas averages 14 points and 5 rebounds. Purdue gets the Hawkeyes tomorrow night to open Big Ten play.
The Badgers are still the most complete and experienced team in the conference. They come out of non-conference play at 11-2 with losses to Creighton and North Carolina, both of whom reside in the AP's Top 10. They have good wins over Providence, Syracuse, Oklahoma, and Marquette so their top spot here is warranted. Bronson Koenig leads the team averaging 14 points per game, but Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ join him averaging 14 and 13 points per game, respectively. Wisconsin is going to be tough throughout the conference slate because they are so disciplined. It's a toss up right now as to who wins the conference, but Wisconsin will be there in the end. They get Rutgers to open Big Ten play today.