B1G basketball power rankings for Week 12
As the Big Ten nears the middle of February, two of the preseason league favorites find themselves headed in opposite directions.
Illinois has won 4 straight, positioning itself as the most likely to challenge Michigan for a Big Ten regular-season title, while Iowa is dropping, having lost 4 of its last 5.
Let’s see where they — and the 12 others in the Big Ten — shake out in our Week 12 power rankings.
(Previous week: 1)
Record: 13-1 overall, 8-1 Big Ten
Michigan picked up a spot in the most recent AP poll, even though it hasn’t played a game since Jan. 22. But the end of the COVID-spurred pause might be nearing, with the Wolverines scheduled to play at Wisconsin on Sunday. The pause has been longer than anticipated, considering UM thought — originally — that it’d be able to return to take on Illinois on Thursday. Once the Wolverines return, they’ll have only six scheduled games remaining.
2. Ohio State
(Previous week: 2)
Record: 15-4, 9-4
The Big Ten’s hottest team, Ohio State has won 5 straight games. That seems darn near impossible in this league, considering there are so few — maybe two (Northwestern and Nebraska) — breaks in the schedule. But the Buckeyes are playing Chris Holtmann-style basketball: Good, solid defense and an efficient offense that can score from anywhere on the court. Forward Kyle Young isn’t the Buckeyes’ star, but the forward’s game does illustrate what Ohio State desires to be. He’s a rugged, hard-working, do-everything senior, and in the win over Maryland Monday night, he had 18 points and four rebounds.
(Previous week: 3)
Record: 13-5, 9-3
For the first month of the Big Ten season, many wondered what was wrong with Illinois. Well, nothing now. The Fighting Illini have won 4 straight, the latest a blowout of Wisconsin in Assembly Hall. Senior guard Trent Frazier has taken on more of the scoring load of late, dialing up consecutive games of 24, 19 and 8 points, giving the Fighting Illini a third scorer to pair with their big two: Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn. Illinois will get a make-up game vs. Nebraska next.
(Previous week: 5)
Record: 13-7, 8-5
Purdue rebounded from its squandered opportunity at Maryland to continue the misery of Northwestern on Saturday. Sasha Stefanovic returned from a three-day absence following his COVID positive diagnosis, but it was the freshmen — again — who led Purdue. The big man, Zach Edey, recorded his first double-double for the foul-plagued Trevion Williams. Perhaps no freshman benefited more from Stefanovic’s absence than Jaden Ivey, who stepped up repeatedly as the new starter, including Saturday. Against the ‘Cats, he scored 20 with 7 rebounds, 3 assists and no turnovers.
(Previous week: 4)
Record: 13-6, 7-5
When Fran McCaffery isn’t berating reporters for legitimate questions, he’s watching his team falter on the court. The Hawkeyes have lost 4 of their last 5, including a 2-point loss at Indiana Sunday. What’s wrong? Well, Iowa is clearly not the same without CJ Fredrick, one of their best perimeter shooters and all-around players. He’s been out, or at least not as effective, because of a lower-leg injury. And McCaffery has never coached his Hawkeyes to play the kind of lock-down defense needed in the middle of a long Big Ten season. The question is: Can Iowa regain the offensive magic that made it one of the country’s most feared teams?
(Previous week: 7)
Record: 11-6, 7-6
During his career, Geo Baker has had a knack for finding and hitting the big shot. But it’d not happened as often this season. Until Thursday. The senior guard knocked in all 4 of his shots, including a 3-pointer, as Rutgers beat Minnesota to win its fourth straight. His step-back jumper gave RU the lead for good with a minute left. The winning streak has the Scarlet Knights back in the Top 25, signifying the team’s recovery since a midseason slump.
(Previous week: 6)
Record: 14-6, 8-5
Wisconsin is a good 3-point shooting team — fourth in the Big Ten at 36.5% — but the Badgers made only 4-of-24 in a loss at Illinois Saturday. That’s not going to win many games. Probably a reason Wisconsin has been so up-and-down the last month, with its last winning streak coming in mid-January. Since it beat Rutgers and Northwestern back-to-back, Wisconsin has alternated wins and losses, not the kind of consistency one might expect from one of the country’s most experienced teams.
(Previous week: 9)
Record: 10-8, 5-6
The Hoosiers trailed by 10 in the second half to Iowa, yet rallied to beat the Hawkeyes for the second time this season. It’s a season sweep that will go a long way toward helping IU qualify for the NCAA Tournament. IU’s freshman class has been inconsistent, but the foursome came up big off the bench in the Hoosiers’ win, combining for 19 points and 9 rebounds. In two games, IU has proven to know how to lock down the Hawkeyes, holding Luka Garza to only 6-of-14 shooting, and 18 points, on Sunday.
9. Penn State
(Previous week: 10)
Record: 7-8, 4-7
Penn State might be the best sub-.500 team in the country, so much so that the Nittany Lions are now up to No. 28 nationally in the NET rankings. Seems impossible for a 7-8 squad, but PSU is buoyed by Big Ten wins over Rutgers and Wisconsin, and the latest victory against Maryland. Had it not been for a 5-game losing streak at the start of the Big Ten, the Nittany Lions could be in a very different spot right now. PSU needs to get on a streak, but it hasn’t won more than 2 in a row all season.
(Previous week: 8)
Record: 12-7, 5-7
Minnesota had to overcome its own cold streak against Nebraska on Monday night, when it missed 17 consecutive shots over 7 1/2 minutes over the second half, but still pummeled the lowly Cornhuskers. The matchup was the one Minnesota needed, considering the Golden Gophers had lost 3 in a row and 5 of their last 6. Minnesota is better when it gets contributions from Brandon Johnson, and the senior forward delivered with the double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Record: 10-9, 4-8
Maryland couldn’t replicate its home success for a second week in a row; after beating Purdue in the Xfinity Center last week, it got its next opportunity vs. Ohio State Monday night. But the Terrapins shot only 40% and made only 6 3-pointers, as they are prone to do. Maryland was on the bubble of the NCAA Tournament — thanks to its quality Quad 1 Big Ten road wins — but what’s the magic number? It probably needs to get to 8 conference victories and that would mean winning 4 of its final 6, a streak that it’s not done all season.
12. Michigan State
(Previous week: 12)
Record: 9-7, 3-7
Michigan State ended its 4-game losing streak with a victory over Nebraska on Sunday, but it was still an effort that was described as “lacking emotion and intensity” by Spartan beat writers. It’s incredible to think that MSU, once ranked No. 4 in the country this season, has 3 Big Ten wins, 2 vs. winless Nebraska and the third vs. Rutgers. Even in the win, Michigan State was bad against a Cornhusker team that had not played in 26 days, with 22 turnovers and only 39% shooting.
(Previous week: 13)
Record: 6-10, 3-9
Northwestern’s loss at Purdue wasn’t as close as the 5-point margin might indicate. The Wildcats were down double-digits in the first half and second, before hitting a couple of shots late in each half. It runs the losing streak to 9, after NU’s 3-0 start. At least the Wildcats have been losing closer of late, with the last 3 all by single digits. Baby steps, right? But Chris Collins’ group should probably be farther along than this.
(Previous week: 14)
Record: 4-10, 0-7
Nebraska has returned from its long hiatus, only to look exactly the same as before. The Huskers dropped both of their games since the return, extending their Big Ten losing streak to 24 following an 18-point loss to Minnesota on Monday night. There’s not much end in sight. But Nebraska could get plenty of opportunity for a victory, if it’s able to make up all the Big Ten games it’s scheduled to. Starting with the Monday nighter at Minnesota, the Huskers are scheduled to play every other day until Sunday, a grueling stretch.