2021-22 Tradition midseason Big Ten basketball coach power rankings
With the exception of Michigan and Ohio State, every team in the Big Ten has reached the exact midpoint of the conference basketball schedule.
And you know what that means.
It’s time for midseason lists.
Here, we revisit one of our preseason pieces — the Big Ten basketball coach power rankings.
Things are quite a bit different than they were back in late October. We’ve lost a coach — pour one out for Mark Turgeon — while gaining an interim in Danny Manning. And we have seen what 3 new coaches — Indiana’s Mike Woodson, Minnesota’s Ben Johnson and Penn State’s Micah Shrewsberry — actually bring to the table.
1. Tom Izzo, Michigan State
Preseason Rank: 1
A caveat: This one wasn’t changing even if the Spartans were 0-10 in conference right now.
But given that they are coached by Tom Izzo, the Spartans are obviously not winless. Michigan State, which barely squeaked into the First Four a year ago and was picked 6th in the preseason, is instead tied for first place.
And frankly, I don’t know how.
Gabe Brown is the closest thing the Spartans have to an all-conference player, and I’m not sure he’ll make the second team. And they turn the ball over a ton. Purdue-Fort Wayne, to name a random example, is one of the 278 teams in the country with a lower turnover rate than Michigan State.
But these guys play hard. And they shoot worlds better than they did a year ago. This is why Izzo’s at the top.
2. Matt Painter, Purdue
Preseason Rank: 2
Purdue stumbled to a 1-2 start in conference play, but the Boilermakers are still the top-ranked Big Ten team in the AP poll for good reason.
Painter has assembled a scoring juggernaut that ranks No. 1 in the country in offensive efficiency. His ability to manage 7-4 center Zach Edey in a rotation with 6-10 Trevion Williams is working to perfection. Painter’s ability to get both to buy into the concept of playing around 20 minutes a game — sometimes more, sometimes less depending on matchups — speaks to his communication and leadership skills.
3. Brad Underwood, Illinois
Preseason Rank: 6
What can Underwood do without Ayo Dosunmu?
Quite possibly win the Big Ten.
And it hasn’t just been without Dosunmu, who is one of the top rookies in the NBA right now. The Illini have gotten by most of the season without Andre Curbelo, who is their top-scoring guard. They’ve also been without all-American center Kofi Cockburn at times, both due to an early-season suspension for an NIL issue and then a midseason concussion.
Despite that, Illinois is tied with Michigan State for first place. And with Curbelo and Cockburn finally back together, the Illini might not leave that position.
4. Chris Holtmann, Ohio State
Preseason Rank: 5
Ohio State has yet to underachieve in Holtmann’s 5 seasons in Columbus. (Not in the regular season, anyhow.)
Despite having the appearance of a one-man wrecking crew this season, the Buckeyes are just a game off the pace in the standings. They have one of the season’s best wins, knocking off then-No. 1 Duke in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
If Holtmann can continue developing scoring threats around EJ Liddell, this might be his first Ohio State team to break through to the Sweet 16.
5. Greg Gard, Wisconsin
Preseason Rank: 8
No Big Ten coach felt inherently on the hot seat at the start of the season, but it certainly seemed like things could go south for Gard. One of the major storylines last offseason was his tense meeting with last year’s seniors that was recorded and went public over the summer.
Gard has performed a minor miracle this season — he’s made the Badgers fun to watch. Yes, much of that is player of the year candidate Johnny Davis. But the Badgers are actually playing up-tempo basketball!
According to KenPom.com, Wisconsin is 191st nationally in adjusted tempo. No Gard team had ever been quicker than 332nd prior to this season. And no Wisconsin team has ranked in the top 200 in tempo since Bo Ryan’s 2006 squad. In fact, that remains the lone Badger team in the top 200 since Dick Bennett took over in 1995.
Gard’s reshaping of what Wisconsin basketball is all about while still producing a championship contender is top-notch coaching.
6. Mike Woodson, Indiana
Preseason Rank: 11
Of the 3 newest coaches in the B1G, Woodson was the most known quantity due to his experience in the NBA.
But given that he wasn’t an overwhelmingly successful NBA coach and he hadn’t been part of the college game since leaving Indiana in 1980, it was hard to know exactly what the Hoosiers were getting with their prodigal son.
They’re getting hard-nosed defense.
Indiana is playing its best defense since current assistant coach Dane Fife was a player in the first 2 seasons under Mike Davis. The Hoosiers are 8th nationally in effective field-goal percentage on defense. They have not been in the top 10 of that category since 2000-01, when Davis took over for Bob Knight on the fly.
Indiana is also ranked 15th in adjusted defense by KenPom. IU hasn’t been in the top 20 of that category since Tom Crean’s team reached the Sweet 16 as a No. 1 seed in 2016.
7. Micah Shrewsberry, Penn State
Preseason Rank: 14
Confession: I love watching Penn State play this season. And judging by attendance at the Bryce Jordan Center, that makes me one of approximately 415 people for whom that is true.
This is not a talented roster. But damn, are they tough. If the Nittany Lions can make the NIT, that’s a major accomplishment for Shrewsberry in Year 1.
Penn State has taken LSU to overtime, beaten Indiana and Iowa, and given Ohio State a fight in Columbus.
I’m curious to see what Shrewsberry will do next year — he’s starting 4 seniors — but so far I’m impressed.
8. Fran McCaffery, Iowa
Preseason Rank: 9
McCaffery was tasked with replacing arguably the best player in program history, and based on how the Hawkeyes are scoring you’d never know that was the case. For the third straight year, the Hawkeyes are effectively a top-10 offense in the country.
Fran is a bit of a victim of bad timing here. The Hawks have lost 3 of their past 4 games, and the postponement of Thursday’s scheduled game at Ohio State keeps that trapped in amber. Iowa’s season is at a bit of a crossroads, though the schedule is quite favorable in February.
9. Steve Pikiell, Rutgers
Preseason Rank: 7
When Rutgers plays at home, Pikiell is somewhere around 4th in these power rankings. And when the Scarlet Knights are on the road, somewhere around 13th.
The Knights can beat anybody at home — Purdue! Iowa! — and lose to anyone on the road — DePaul! UMass!
Rutgers’ schedule is a bear the rest of the season, so we’ll see just how sharp Pikiell is.
1o. Juwan Howard, Michigan
Preseason Rank: 3
Not quite a Tom Petty-caliber free-fall, but it’s been a rough season for Howard and the Wolverines.
Fresh off an Elite 8 appearance, Michigan was the preseason pick to win the Big Ten and a trendy national championship choice. Now they look like a long shot just to reach the tournament.
Howard’s first 2 Michigan teams played elite defense, but these Wolverines don’t guard anybody. Michigan has dropped from 3rd nationally in 2-point field goal percentage last year to 173rd this season.
This season may prove a blip in an otherwise stellar coaching career. Or is it the start of a slide?
11. Chris Collins, Northwestern
Preseason Rank: 10
Collins would have found himself in worse shape here had the Wildcats fully collapsed against Rutgers this week.
Northwestern blew a 24-point lead, but escaped with an overtime win that saved the season from hitting the skids.
The experienced Wildcats looked to be a dark horse NCAA Tournament candidate, but right now it looks like the only path available will be winning the Big Ten tournament. If Collins can’t at least get this team to the NIT, his once-promising tenure in Evanston could come to an end.
12. Ben Johnson, Minnesota
Preseason Rank: 13
Johnson at least started his career on the right foot as the Gophers tore through their Charmin-soft nonconference schedule before running into reality in the Big Ten.
This is the worst roster in the Big Ten this year. If Johnson can keep Minnesota out of the cellar — and it looks like he will — he’s done as much as you can ask of him in Year 1.
13. Danny Manning, Maryland
Preseason Rank: N/A
Maryland is 6-8 since Manning took over for the fired Turgeon, so it’s pretty safe to assume the interim tag won’t be removed after the season.
The Terps have been playing better under him, though. Maryland has a nice win over Illinois and took Michigan State and Wisconsin to the brink — aka, the top 3 teams in the conference standings.
If you’re looking for a Cinderella in the Big Ten tourney, Maryland may be it.
14. Fred Hoiberg, Nebraska
Preseason Rank: 12
Hoiberg was christened The Mayor of Ames, but he probably wouldn’t make it onto the city council in Lincoln. Especially if he was running against the Boneless Wings Guy.
Hoiberg’s Huskers are winless in Big Ten play, though they’ve come agonizingly close against Ohio State, Rutgers and Michigan.
Hoiberg’s future may hinge on Bryce McGowens, who is the league’s best freshman this season. If McGowens sticks around instead of going pro or hitting the portal, maybe something good could happen in the basketball black hole of the Big Ten.
15. Mark Turgeon, Maryland
Preseason Rank: 4
Turgeon made several moves in the transfer portal after the Terrapins tumbled from the top 10 in 2020 to just a 10-seed in last year’s tournament.
They didn’t work. And now neither does he.