B1G basketball Week 5 power rankings
Rutgers is on the move.
The Scarlet Knights are hot, having won their first six games of the season including two in the Big Ten. But they’re only one of about a dozen quality conference teams, each with visions of NCAA Tournament berths.
Seven teams are ranked in the AP Top 25: Iowa (4), Wisconsin (9), Rutgers (11), Michigan State (12), Illinois (18), Michigan (19) and Ohio State (23). And four others — Indiana, Purdue, Northwestern and Minnesota — are receiving votes.
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And with the league starting its full slate of games this week, it should be an exhilarating next 2 ½ months.
Let’s take a look at the Week 5 power rankings.
(Previous week: 1)
Record: 6-1 overall, 0-0 Big Ten
It’s not a surprise that Iowa fell to No. 1 Gonzaga on Saturday, but the 99-88 loss did expose a major flaw. The Hawkeyes have to find a way, whether that’s playing zone or man, to at least slow down top-flight opponents. Iowa couldn’t do so against the Zags (not that many will be able to do so this season), and once it starts the Big Ten season — Purdue visits on Tuesday night — the breakdowns might cost a chance at a Big Ten title. But look, let’s not totally sound the alarm; Iowa is still averaging almost 99 points per game while shooting better than 50 percent from the field and pouring in a Big Ten-high 74 3-pointers.
(Previous week: 4)
Record: 6-0, 2-0
If it wasn’t for Iowa’s Luka Garza, Rutgers junior guard Ron Harper Jr. might be the frontrunner for Big Ten Player of the Year. He’s almost certainly the most-improved. The versatile guard is averaging 24 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, while shooting 60 percent from the floor and a tick above 50 percent from 3-point range. And in 196 minutes through 6 games, he has only 5 turnovers, an incredible statistic for a player whose game revolves around his drives to the basket. Geo Baker is back now too, giving Rutgers a great 1-2 in the backcourt. The Scarlet Knights aren’t perfect — they don’t shoot particularly well from the perimeter or the free throw line — but they defend, rebound and don’t turn the ball over, only 35 total giveaways in 6 games. That was a huge win over Illinois, as 2-0 Rutgers is staking an early claim to the Big Ten.
(Previous week: 5)
Record: 6-1, 0-0
In a rescheduled ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchup, Wisconsin smoked a short-handed Louisville squad Saturday, blowing by the Cardinals 85-48. Probably shouldn’t make too much of the final score, since UL was playing for the first time since Dec. 1 due to COVID-related issues, and several players, including its leading scorer, remain out. But credit to the Badgers for jumping on an overwhelmed opponent early, and its depth can help to keep up 40 minutes of pressure. In this weird season, in which players might be forced to the sideline at times, depth should not be overlooked.
4. Michigan State
(Previous week: 2)
Record: 6-1, 0-1
Not only did Michigan State lose its Big Ten opener, but it looked lost, disinterested and tired in doing so. Northwestern blew by the Spartans, with the game being nowhere near as close as the 79-65 final. Afterward, Coach Tom Izzo called the effort “one of the more inept performances of my 26 years.” No doubt. In its first loss of the season, MSU shot just 38.8-percent from the field, going 8-for-31 from 3-point range. Was this a single bad night, or did it expose more underlying issues?
(Previous week: 3)
Record: 5-3, 1-1
Illinois can’t seem to defend without fouling, a problem that Brad Underwood called an “epic concern” following the Illini’s loss at Rutgers to open the Big Ten season. The Illini sent the Scarlet Knights to the free throw line 36 times on Sunday, giving the opponent far too many free opportunities. The Fighting Illini have huge hopes for the season — a Big Ten championship and deep run in the NCAA Tournament — but they need to shore up the defensive end, plus not turn the ball over as frequently. Against RU, Trent Frazier and Ayo Dosunmu combined for 8 turnovers.
(Previous week: 10)
Record: 6-2, 1-0
The Boilermakers are starting to roll into form at the right time, having won three consecutive games since the embarrassing second-half collapse at Miami. Since that game, when Matt Painter issued a wake-up call to veterans — by benching them — the junior trio of Trevion Williams, Eric Hunter Jr., and Sasha Stefanovic has been fantastic. Williams is scoring when played straight up, and is finding teammates when doubled. Hunter played one of the most complete games you’ll see by a guard vs. Notre Dame Saturday, with 18 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists, while helping to hold Irish guard Prentiss Hubb without a point.
7. Ohio State
(Previous week: 6)
Record: 6-1, 0-1
The Buckeyes got a huge boost over the weekend when center Seth Towns played a Division I basketball game for the first time in more than 1,000 days. The former All-Ivy League star at Harvard, Towns hadn’t yet been able to debut for Ohio State due to a string of knee injuries. He played only a couple minutes, but even if he plays only a dozen a game, it’d be a big boost to an OSU team in need of bigs. Speaking of, E.J. Liddell returned to the lineup, helping the Buckeyes get a 7-point win over UCLA, after the forward has missed the last several games, including the loss at Purdue, with mono.
(Previous week: 7)
Record: 6-0, 1-0
The Wolverines enjoyed an extended break following their Big Ten-opening win over Penn State, and could extend their unbeaten streak to start the season. Next up, at Nebraska and Maryland, home games vs. Northwestern and Minnesota, then back to Penn State. Its first loss might not come ’til Wisconsin on Jan. 12, the seventh game of the Big Ten season. Even then, the next two games are at Minnesota and Maryland. But the second half of the Big Ten turns into a murderer’s row.
(Previous week: 9)
Record: 5-2, 0-0
Give the Hoosiers credit, they’ve bought into playing defense this season, which had been missing greatly the last couple years. Indiana is giving up only 61 points per game, the third-best mark in the Big Ten, and opponents are shooting only 37.2 percent, fourth-best. A year ago, IU might not have had the toughness to grind out a game like Saturday, when they had to battle Butler in Indianapolis, coming back for an 8-point victory. The Hoosiers don’t have the offensive firepower to succeed in other ways, although Armaan Franklin’s development — a career-high 20 vs. the Bulldogs — certainly does help.
(Previous week: 8)
Record: 7-1, 0-1
Just when you think perhaps Minnesota is back to its old disappearing act — the noncompetitive loss at Illinois was disheartening — the Golden Gophers respond by upending a solid St. Louis team back in the Barn. We’ll find out a ton more in the next week, when Minnesota has Iowa, Michigan State and at Wisconsin all within a one-week span. It certainly would help if the Gophers could get Gabe Kalscheur going. One of the Big Ten’s best shooters, the guard is hitting only 20 percent of his 3-pointers this season. Maybe his 11-point performance against the Billikens, including 2-of-6 from long range, will be a jump start.
(Previous week: 14)
Record: 4-1, 1-0
Hello, Northwestern. The Wildcats scored the first major upset of the Big Ten season, knocking off Michigan State on Sunday night in Evanston. It was Northwestern’s first win over a top-5 opponent since 1979. The Wildcats did it by outhustling the Spartans everywhere, taking the ball to the basket on offense and playing an aggressive defense. Point guard Boo Buie might be coming into his own, too; the sophomore scored 30 points by hitting 5 of 6 from 3-point range, while also chipping in 4 assists. Buie and other Wildcats took advantage of the smaller MSU guards to get to the basket, score and get the opponent in foul trouble.
Record: 4-1, 0-1
The Terrapins haven’t played in a week, since they were throttled at home by Rutgers. After nonconference LaSalle, Maryland gets three games in seven days, at Purdue and Wisconsin and home to Michigan. Not sure the Terrapins’ offense, which has scored just 111 points vs. Power 5 opponents Clemson and Rutgers in the last two outings, will be up to the challenge in the Big Ten. Aaron Wiggins has only 20 made field goals all season, a disappointing start for a veteran whom the Terps are leaning on heavily.
13. Penn State
(Previous week: 12)
Record: 3-2, 0-1
How is undersized Penn State going to guard Illinois big man Kofi Cockburn? We’re going to find out on Wednesday when the two teams face off in Happy Valley. This might be the first of several bad, bad matchups for the Nittany Lions this season, who will try to counter the size issue by throwing guards at the opponent. Maybe it’ll work for an upset here or there, but it probably isn’t sustainable over a long conference season.
(Previous week: 13)
Record: 4-3, 0-0
Well, Nebraska beat Doane University on Thursday. The NAIA school was a late addition to the schedule, as the Tigers helped fill a gap caused by an earlier cancelation. The Cornhuskers took care of the smaller program easily, with Delano Banton recording the second triple-double in school history. The sophomore guard scored 13 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and dished out 10 assists. What does the win mean? No idea. Nebraska goes to Wisconsin next.