Could Purdue run away with the Big Ten?

The Boilermakers, at 8-1 during conference play, are 2 games up in the loss column on the rest of the field, where seemingly everybody (outside of Minnesota and Nebraska) is hovering around .500. But it makes every game critical, as teams start to jockey for the Big Ten Tournament double-bye and a chance at the NCAA Tournament.

Let’s take a look at our Week 12 B1G basketball power rankings:


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14. Minnesota

Record: 7-11 overall, 1-7 in the Big Ten, update | Last week: 14

The Gophers have been more competitive on the road than at home of late, with their past 3 games away from Williams Arena resulting in a 3-point loss, a victory (the only 1 so far in the B1G) and a 4-point loss. Meanwhile, earlier this week in The Barn, Minnesota was bombed by 22 by Purdue and 18 by Illinois. What gives? The Gophers are so far in the, eh, hole that they’d probably need to win a couple games in a row to get out of the cellar. Not going to happen.

13. Nebraska

Record: 10-10, 3-6 | Last week: 13

The only joy for Nebraska basketball right now might be when Keisei Tominaga comes off the bench to start blitzing opponents, which the diminutive lefty shooter does for a short burst about once a game these days. He’s a joy to watch. Otherwise, however, the Cornhuskers are laboring along, although they picked up a win over Ohio State on Wednesday, and now have injuries to boot. Forward Juwan Gary will miss the rest of the season due to a shoulder injury and guard  Emmanuel Bandoumel hurt his left leg Saturday at Penn State, leaving his status in doubt.

12. Maryland

Record: 12-7, 3-5 | Last week: 12

Maryland is under .500 in the league but still has a chance at a run toward building an NCAA-worthy résumé. Maybe the Terrapins can get back to .500 — or better — with 5 of the next 7 games at home, where they are 9-1 this season, with 1 of the road games at Minnesota. A 5-2 mark during that stretch would put the Terps within striking distance of a 10-10 conference mark by season’s end, and with a couple marquee nonconference wins, might be good enough to Dance.

11. Ohio State

Record: 11-8, 3-5 | Last week: 11

Ohio State might have salvaged any hope it has of a late-season recovery with a win over Iowa on Saturday, the Buckeyes’ 1st win since Jan. 1 following 5 straight losses, including at Lincoln earlier in the week. But OSU looked like the OSU of the nonconference season vs. the Hawkeyes, particularly at the offensive end, where the Buckeyes shot 56-percent from the field, including 50-percent from 3-point range. Freshman Brice Sensabaugh was terrific, scoring 27 on only 12 shots. But will this lead to something more for Ohio State?

10. Northwestern

Record: 12-5, 3-3 | Last week: 6

Northwestern is set to resume play Monday vs. Wisconsin in Welsh-Ryan Arena, after the Wildcats had been idle for a week-plus while dealing with a COVID outbreak that had left them with only 6 healthy players. And they’ll be busy, with 4 games scheduled in a 9-day period. Northwestern enters the stretch having lost 2 straight, the last being on Jan. 15. Before then, the Wildcats had looked like an NCAA team, but will the layoff have an adverse effect on their play? We’ll soon find out.

9. Penn State

Record: 13-6, 4-4 | Last week: 9

Andrew Funk went off against Nebraska on Saturday — how did the Cornhuskers lose track of him so frequently? — scoring 23 points with 5 3-pointers. He now leads the Big Ten and is 16th nationally in 3-pointers made per game, averaging 3.2 per game. Penn State still needs signature wins to make sure it stays on the right side of the bubble, and its next 2 road games — at Rutgers and at Purdue — will give the Nittany Lions that chance.

8. Michigan

Record: 11-8, 5-3 | Last week: 8

Michigan held off Minnesota on Sunday afternoon but it could have come at a cost. Jett Howard, the flashy freshman scorer, missed the 2nd half after rolling his ankle toward the end of the 1st. His status is unclear, and Purdue comes into Ann Arbor on Thursday night. Michigan is dealing with a number of nagging — and more serious — injuries, yet has managed to stay near the top of the Big Ten standings (currently in a tie for 2nd).

7. Wisconsin

Record: 12-5, 4-3 | Last week: 7

Wisconsin will take on Northwestern today in Evanston rather than Saturday, as the game was pushed back due to the Wildcats’ COVID issues. It means the start of a condensed week for the Badgers, who will play 3 games in the next 6 days. Wisconsin beat Penn State last week to end a 3-game losing streak, and did so in typical fashion this season, by making winning plays in the final minutes. The return of Tyler Wahl, who had missed the previous 3 losses, proved a big difference, even if he looked a bit rusty.

6. Iowa

Record: 12-7, 4-4 | Last week: 5

Iowa has games where it decides it’s not going to guard anyone, and that ugly characteristic popped out again on Saturday at Ohio State. The Hawkeyes gave up 56 points in the 2nd half to a Buckeye team that had scored only 67 per game during his previous 5-game losing streak. And Iowa also didn’t rebound, compounding its defensive issues. Ohio State was The issue was compounded by a poor second-half rebounding effort. Ohio State missed only 12 of its 34 shots in the 2nd half, but rebounded 8 misses. Iowa can’t win on the road, or maybe anywhere, with that kind of effort.

5. Michigan State

Record: 13-7, 5-4 | Last week: 4

Michigan State, which has lost 3 of its past 4, is learning that it doesn’t have the size to be able to compete day in and day out in the Big Ten, after the Spartans were hammered in the paint by Zach Edey and Trayce Jackson-Davis in the past 2 losses. Luckily for MSU, those games came sandwiched in between a home victory over Rutgers. But Michigan State is leaning heavily — probably too heavily — on center Mady Sissoko, hoping that he can slow down opposing posts all by himself. It’s not happening.

4. Illinois

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

Illinois looked to be rolling again, winners of 4 straight, before the Fighting Illini inexplicably decided to let IU’s Trayce Jackson-Davis roam free in the paint during Thursday’s game. The result: Jackson-Davis scored 35 in a 15-point Indiana win. It still, though, feels like Illinois has more upside than perhaps anyone else (outside of Purdue) in the Big Ten, but getting the Illini all pointed in the same direction, then keeping them there is proving to be a continuing problem.

3. Indiana

Record: 13-6, 4-4 | Last week: 10

Jackson-Davis has turned up the intensity the past 2 games, and Indiana is winning because of it. The Hoosiers rolled their winning streak to 3 straight with a convincing victory over Michigan State on Sunday in Assembly Hall. Jackson-Davis was at the center of it; in the past 2 games, the big man has hit 24-of-32 shots while averaging 33 points per outing. With Race Thompson likely to return soon, the Hoosiers might be finding a groove at the right time.

2. Rutgers

Record: 13-6, 5-3 | Last week: 2

Rutgers is a tough, physical team capable of beating about anyone on any given night. But it does have a flaw that could prove to be costly, as it was in the Scarlet Knights’ road loss at Michigan State on Thursday. Rutgers isn’t a great shooting team — it hit only 2-of-17 3-pointers vs. the Spartans — ranking 289th out of 363 DI teams in 3-point shooting percentage (31.5). That likely puts a cap on Rutgers’ potential this season.

1. Purdue

Record: 19-1, 8-1 | Last week: 1

Purdue had to hang on against Maryland in Mackey Arena on Sunday, but the victory gave the Boilermakers a 3-0 week, including 2 games — at Michigan State and at Minnesota — on the road. The Boilermakers didn’t shoot the ball well vs. the Terrapins (only 2 made 3-pointers), as they’ve faced bouts of poor perimeter shooting this season, but Zach Edey still gives them a consistent baseline that’s hard to overcome.