The Big Ten race is close.

Three teams are tied at the top of the league standings in the loss column, with 3 more only a game back. Purdue helped itself — and everyone else — with a road win over Illinois in an MLK Day matinee in Champaign.

Let’s take a look at the Week 10, Jan. 18, rankings:

14. Nebraska

Record: 6-13 overall, 0-8 in the Big Ten | Last week: 14

The Cornhuskers don’t appear close to digging themselves out of the Big Ten cellar, which has far too often been the case over the last several seasons. They battled visiting Indiana on Monday evening, as they’ve done with a few opponents in the Big Ten, but there’s a vast difference between playing close and winning. And Nebraska has yet to find the necessary tools to bridge that space. The return of Trey McGowens, who had been out since mid-November, will help; he had 7 points, 2 rebounds and 2 steals vs. IU.

13. Maryland

Record: 9-8, 1-5 | Last week: 13

These are dark days in College Park. The Terrapins’ only Big Ten victory is one that they tried their best to lose, when they squandered a 6-point lead with 30 seconds left in regulation, but managed to outduel — if that’s the right word for it — Northwestern in double overtime. But Maryland has lost its 5 other Big Ten games because it doesn’t shoot the ball well, has very little depth and has had suspect coaching. There doesn’t seem to be a quick fix, at least not this season.

12. Michigan

Record: 7-7, 1-3 | Last week: 10

Michigan came off its lengthy Covid pause without a complete roster, as it was without Hunter Dickinson and Brandon Johns Jr. in the loss to Illinois on Friday. But the expectation is both will be able to go when Maryland visits tonight, giving Juwan Howard’s group a chance to get headed in the right direction. It’s needed, or the season will slip in a direction that nobody predicted when the season started. UM is on the outside of the NCAA Tournament picture, and will have a challenging schedule to navigate, assuming the Big Ten reschedules the Michigan State and Purdue games. 

11. Minnesota

Record: 10-5, 1-5 | Last week: 9

Minnesota’s hot non-conference start was fraudulent, it appears, because the Golden Gophers haven’t been able to replicate the success in the Big Ten. Had only they been able to pull off the upset at Michigan State on Wednesday, then maybe we’d look at them differently. Or if they had completed the comeback against Iowa on Sunday, when they played with only 8 available players. Not all is lost. Senior transfer EJ Stephens is playing great of late, combining for 40 points vs. MSU and Iowa.

10. Northwestern

Record: 9-6, 2-4 | Last week: 12

Northwestern kept its faint Big Ten pulse beating with a 2-point upset at Michigan State Saturday, upsetting the Spartans without leader Pete Nance, who sat with an ankle injury. It ended a 4-game Big Ten losing streak and kept alive at least a backdoor chance at an NCAA Tournament bid. Northwestern has the personnel to hover around .500 in the Big Ten, but they don’t always play with the purpose or intensity needed, like in a listless first 39 minutes against Maryland earlier in the week.

9. Penn State

Record: 8-7, 3-4 | Last week: 11

Penn State has lost 2 of its last 3 Big Ten games, but they were by 7 points to then-No. 3 Purdue and 5 to then-16 Ohio State, illustrating that the Nittany Lions are battling against more talented teams. And the latter game was without leading scorer Seth Lundy, who is “day-to-day” with an undisclosed issue that might cause him to miss Wednesday’s home game with Minnesota. It’s been hugely beneficial to PSU that it has a veteran roster that understands the grind of Big Ten play.

8. Rutgers

Record: 10-6, 4-2 | Last week: 7

Rutgers goes as Ron Harper Jr. goes. In the Scarlet Knights’ 4 Big Ten wins, the senior guard has averaged 27.5 points on better than 61 percent shooting, but in their 2 loses — both by double figures — he’s averaged only 6 points on 16.7 percent shooting. In those games, Rutgers has managed to score only 50 points. The Scarlet Knights have to find a way to off-set a poor shooting night, but there aren’t many options; Rutgers doesn’t have a consistent low-post scorer, so dumping the ball inside for higher-percentage attempts isn’t a great possibility. It has to hit shots, and that’s a big reason why Rutgers has been so inconsistent on offense this season.

7. Iowa

Record: 13-4, 3-3 | Last week: 8

Iowa has won 6 of its last 7, including 2 straight in the Big Ten, to climb its way back to .500 in league play. The Hawkeyes are probably sitting in good shape in terms of NCAA résumé, with a Net Ranking (as of this morning) of 19, but they’ve not yet put a marquee win on the board. Iowa is 0-4 vs. Quad 1 opponents, with 4 wins vs. Quad 2 foes, 2 against Q3 and 7 vs. Q4. Its next Q1 chance is vs. Purdue in Iowa City Jan. 27, the return trip after the Boilermakers barely edged by Keegan Murray-less Iowa in the Big Ten opener.

6. Indiana

Record: 13-4, 4-3 | Last week: 6

Indiana won its first true road game in nearly a full year when it went to Lincoln to beat up on hapless Nebraska on Monday. It sets up what will be a huge game in Assembly Hall, where IU is undefeated in 11 games, vs. rival Purdue on Thursday night. There’s at least some concern about the health of Trayce Jackson-Davis, who took a hard fall vs. NU and sat the final 7 minutes. Sophomore Jordan Geronimo was fantastic in his place, and a reason why IU held off the Huskers, but the Hoosiers will need to be at full strength to have a chance to break the Boilermakers.

5. Ohio State

Record: 11-4, 5-2 | Last week: 5

Ohio State hasn’t won consecutive games since early December, as its Covid pause left the Buckeyes with lingering inconsistencies. But one would expect OSU to get on a bit of a roll now, as it has IUPUI in a makeup game of sorts — it was scheduled to replace a game lost to the pandemic — then Nebraska, both in Value City Arena, over the next several days. But the Buckeyes are unlikely to be at full strength. Justice Sueing and Seth Towns have been joined on the sideline by freshman point guard Meechie Johnson, who suffered a facial injury in practice and has missed the last 2 games.

4. Michigan State

Record: 14-3, 5-1 | Last week: 1

Was Michigan State caught looking ahead? The Spartans had been feasting on lesser opponents during a 9-game winning streak and probably thought they would continue it vs. Northwestern Sunday — perhaps with an eye toward back-to-back upcoming road games at Wisconsin and Illinois — but the Wildcats had other plans. MSU had a couple chances to tie or win in the closing seconds, and the officials appeared to try to give the Spartans an assist too, but they couldn’t complete the comeback. It didn’t help that MSU didn’t shoot well in the second half, only 37 percent from the field; it’s something to watch as the competitive improves.

3. Wisconsin

Record: 14-2, 5-1 | Last week: 3

Of the Badgers’ 14 victories this season, 9 of them are against Quad 1 and 2 opponents, and its 5-1 record vs. Q1 is tied for the best in the country with Baylor. It’s been an impressive start to the season, to say the least. Lately, forward Tyler Wahl has been outstanding, as he scored 20 points against Ohio State on Thursday to bounce his season average into double-figures. When Wahl is physical and aggressive inside, it gives Wisconsin an interior scoring option that it otherwise lacks.

2. Illinois

Record: 13-4, 6-1 | Last week: 2

The Fighting Illini might have lost at home to Purdue on Monday, tightening up the top of the Big Ten race, but there were positives, too. The biggest? Andre Curbelo returned to the rotation after a nearly 2-month absence, and he looked as good as ever. The dynamic point guard, who’d been suffering lingering effects of a preseason concussion, was a handful for the Boilermakers, with his creativity near the basket leading to scoring opportunities that kept Illinois in the game. He makes Illinois a front-runner for a Big Ten title and gives it the potential for a Final Four run.

1. Purdue

Record: 15-2, 4-2 | Last week: 4

Purdue won at Illinois on a day when 2 of its best players — Trevion Williams and Jaden Ivey — combined to shoot only 9-of-28 from the field. But the Boilermakers’ depth came though, as they got big-time performances from veterans Sasha Stefanovic (22 points) and Eric Hunter Jr. (11 points). But it’s Purdue’s defense that has been the difference since the home loss to Wisconsin. Purdue might never be great at the defensive end, but it’s been average, and that might be good enough for the Boilermakers to win a conference title.