Week 14 B1G basketball power rankings: Illinois leads standings, but who leads our rankings?
Four teams are within a game of Illinois in the loss column as the Big Ten enters its final 3 weeks of the regular season.
Can the Fighting Illini be caught? And are they the No. 1 team in our power rankings?
Let’s try to answer in the Week 14, Feb. 15, rankings in the B1G:
Record: 7-18 overall, 1-13 in the Big Ten | Last week: 14
Nebraska picked up its first Big Ten win of the season, smoking Minnesota on Wednesday, to end its 10-game losing streak. But winning didn’t seem to agree with the Cornhuskers, who reverted back to form — and looked disinterested in doing it — the next time out, giving up nearly 100 in a loss to Iowa on Sunday. The Huskers trailed by as many as 36. Nebraska’s defense was so bad that it was giving up transition baskets after it had scored, which is darn near impossible unless a team isn’t giving much, if any, effort.
Record: 11-14, 3-11 | Last week: 12
Interim coach Danny Manning complained about officiating following his team’s near-upset victory at Purdue on Sunday, as the Terrapins lost out on what would have been one of the most shocking outcomes of the Big Ten season. But referees didn’t cause Maryland to lose a 12-point lead in the second half. It was the Terps’ 5th straight loss — in No. 4, they gave up 110 points to Iowa — sending Maryland under .500 at 11-14. Might be difficult for Maryland to get back to .500 by season’s end, which would at least give the Terrapins a shot at the NIT.
12. Penn State
Record: 9-12, 4-9 | Last week: 11
Penn State’s loss to Minnesota doesn’t mean much in terms of the Big Ten race, but it could have a heavy influence on whether the Nittany Lions are able to play in the NIT. The loss dropped PSU 3 games under .500, making the climb back to the mark a near impossibility. And the Nittany Lions looked bad in the Minnesota loss, with 13 turnovers that led to 26 Gopher points, and 3 giveaways in the final 90 seconds. After a solid start to the Big Ten, the Lions might be running on fumes, having lost 3 straight and 6 of their last 7.
Record: 12-10, 3-10 | Last week: 13
Coach Ben Johnson is trying to build a culture at Minnesota, and while losing at Nebraska isn’t part of that equation, following a bad loss with a quality win, like the Gophers did against Penn State 3 days later, is a good sign. The Big Ten hasn’t gone the way the Gophers envisioned after a quality non-conference, but after traveling to Ohio State tonight, 5 of the final 6 are against opponents with a .500 league record or worse. Maybe a chance to end the season on a higher note.
Record: 12-11, 5-9 | Last week: 10
The way Northwestern is playing — 3 wins in its last 4 — it’s not impossible to say the Wildcats could still finish .500 in the Big Ten. Yep. The Wildcats will be an underdog to visiting Purdue on Wednesday night, but after that, it’s likely Northwestern will be a favorite (or at least only a slight ‘dog) in 4 of its remaining 5. Could NU keep up its recent run? Even in the loss to Illinois Sunday, which broke a 3-game winning streak, the ‘Cats had fight, rallying to within striking distance in the final minute.
Record: 16-8, 7-7 | Last week: 6
Indiana fans are panicking. Only a week ago, IU looked like a virtual lock for the NCAA Tournament and the Hoosiers are probably still in OK position, provided they come out of their funk, and soon. But that’s the problem; aside from losing — it’s 3 straight now — there’s smoldering issues. Indiana’s shooting woes, which it had been able to mask with the play of Trayce Jackson-Davis and excellent defense, have boiled back to the surface. And then add in the suspension that led to the loss at Northwestern, and many are wondering not only about the Hoosiers’ play but their leadership. Tuesday night’s home game vs. Wisconsin will be telling.
Record: 17-7, 7-6 | Last week: 9
We know this: Iowa can score on bad opponents. Nebraska put up very little resistance on the Hawkeyes on Sunday, when Iowa rolled up 98 points in a win. That was, somehow, 12 points less than Iowa had scored — in a road game — at Maryland 3 days earlier. The 3 straight wins have the Hawkeyes above .500 for the first time this season in conference play. But boy, do they have a tough slate upcoming, with 3 games — vs. Michigan, at Ohio State and vs. Michigan State — in a 6-day period starting Thursday. If Iowa wins 2 of 3, it should be sitting in a solid spot for an NCAA berth.
Record: 13-10, 7-6 | Last week: 8
Big Ten teams clearly can’t handle big, emotional victories. That’s been the case with Purdue, which followed up huge victories against league-leading Illinois with Ls (Indiana and Michigan) and now has been the case with the Wolverines as well. After UM destroyed Purdue on Thursday, in a game that almost no one saw coming, the Wolverines were listless in a home loss Saturday vs. Ohio State. The win over the Boilermakers showed what Michigan can be, but has been seldom. Offensively, Hunter Dickinson drew in Purdue’s attention, but it was the shooters, like Caleb Houston and Eli Brooks, who fired daggers. Unfortunately, games like that have been few for the Wolverines.
6. Michigan State
Record: 18-6, 9-4 | Last week: 4
After a 2-game losing streak, Tom Izzo made a change at point guard, moving A.J. Hoggard into the starting lineup in the place of Tyson Walker. The swap paid off, at least in the victory over Indiana on Saturday, as each of the pair thrived in their new roles. They combined for 29 points, 8 assists and 4 turnovers. Can it lead to MSU making a late-season run? With only 4 Big Ten losses, the Spartans can control the league title race, especially considering the Spartans still have remaining games vs. Illinois, Purdue, Michigan and Ohio State.
Record: 15-9, 9-5 | Last week: 7
Rutgers is catching fire at the right time, winning 3 straight games vs. ranked opponents for the first time in program history. One of them — shockingly — was at Wisconsin, in what was Rutgers’ first victory at the Kohl Center. Rutgers, which could run its consecutive streak to 5 this week, as it hosts No. 12 Illinois on Wednesday, then goes to No. 5 Purdue Sunday, has beaten 4 ranked conference opponents this season, tying a program record. Rutgers is going to be a very intriguing team on Selection Sunday, because its résumé is built on big-time victories offset by horrible losses.
4. Ohio State
Record: 15-6, 8-4 | Last week: 5
It’s going to be a race to the finish line for Ohio State, which still has 8 games remaining, including 2 makeup dates, between now and March 6. Three times, the Buckeyes have a game after only a day’s rest, and between Feb. 27 and March 3, they’ll play 3 games in a 5-day window. Ouch. You’ve got to wonder how gassed Ohio State will be after the regular season. But it is what it is. Ohio State feels stagnant lately, alternating wins with losses the last 4 games. Maybe the tight schedule gives the Buckeyes a chance to get on a roll.
Record: 19-5, 10-4 | Last week: 3
The Badgers have been one of the surprise teams of the Big Ten season, but its home loss to Rutgers exposed flaws, too. If a team can hound guards Johnny Davis and Brad Davison, like the Scarlet Knights did, then Wisconsin’s offensive identity gets nuked and it’s hard to overcome. And with Davison, in particular, enduring a 4-game shooting slump, it’s putting too much pressure on others. It’s remarkable that UW has been as solid as it has been, considering it’s riding a thin line offensively. Tonight’s game at Indiana feels like a big one, at least in terms of getting righted. It should be a slugfest, too.
Record: 18-6, 11-3 | Last week: 2
Illinois maintains its loss-column lead in the Big Ten standings, but we’ll see how long that lasts considering the Illini’s next 3 games are at Rutgers and Michigan State, then home to Ohio State. If Illinois sweeps, then it might be sitting in a good position to win the Big Ten title outright. But can it sweep? The Fighting Illini had to hold off a big-time challenge from Northwestern, needing a huge game from reserve RJ Melendez, who had 14 points, 6 rebounds and 2 steals in only 17 minutes, to hold off the charging ‘Cats.
Record: 22-4, 11-4 | Last week: 1
Purdue was 2-1 last week, following its gigantic home victory over Illinois — it won by 16 — with a 24-point loss at Michigan and a forgettable 1-point win over Maryland. What gives? Are the Boilermakers simply gassed after a stretch of 6 games in 14 days? Or should there be more reason for concern in West Lafayette? Hard to tell. Aside from a short streak vs. the Terrapins, when Purdue shot its way back into the game, the offensive efficiency numbers have dipped. And Purdue is average, at best, defensively. It’ll need to figure things out quickly if it’s to catch Illinois in the standings.