Week 15 B1G basketball power rankings: Purdue, Illinois, Wisconsin vie for title
With 2 weeks to go in the regular season, it’s a 3-team race for a Big Ten title, with Purdue, Wisconsin and Illinois vying for a championship.
Those 3 have jockeyed for position all season in our top 3, and do yet again this week. But there are other big-time storylines, as teams try to build résumés for the NCAA Tournament.
Let’s break down the Week 15, Feb. 22, rankings in the B1G:
Record: 7-19 overall, 1-14 in the Big Ten | Last week: 14
Nebraska can’t win for a lot of reasons, but near the top of the list is its atrocious defense. Forget all the next-level analytics; simply look at the raw data: The Cornhuskers allow 79.4 points per game, which is not only last in the Big Ten but it’s last by nearly 8 points. And it’s so far behind league-leaders Penn State and Indiana that it’s hard to believe they’re even playing the same sport. In its last 2 losses, Nebraska has given up 98 and 90 points.
Record: 12-13, 5-11 | Last week: 10
If Northwestern still had any hope at the NCAA Tournament, which was a long-shot at best, then it was nuked in a 17-point loss to Minnesota in Williams Arena. It’s hard to explain the Wildcats’ season. They’ve been solid for portions of games, but generally for only 20-30 minutes, with the remaining minutes not only average but often abysmal. It’s a reason why Northwestern has lost 9 of its 11 Big Ten games by single digits. But the Minnesota loss was different. The Wildcats failed to show up in any meaningful way and now it might be a challenge for them to finish above .500 on the season.
Record: 13-12, 4-12 | Last week: 11
Luke Loewe didn’t have any issues filling in at the point for ill Payton Willis on Saturday. Instead, Loewe thrived, scoring 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting (including 6 3-pointers), with 7 assists and only 2 turnovers. He was the reason the Golden Gophers’ picked up Win No. 4 of the Big Ten season in a thumping of Northwestern. Minnesota is trying to stay above .500 to be eligible for the NIT, but it might come down to how it fares on the road. The Gophers get Wisconsin and Indiana next in The Barn before wrapping the season at Maryland and Northwestern. Can they go .500?
11. Penn State
Record: 11-13, 6-10 | Last week: 12
The Nittany Lions saw their modest 2-game winning streak come to an end with a Monday night loss at Maryland, a potentially crippling defeat in Penn State’s quest to get back to .500 and become NIT eligible. PSU might be favored in its next 2 games — vs. Northwestern and Nebraska at home — but certainly won’t be in road games vs. Illinois and Rutgers. It would now need to win 3 of 4, or hope for a lengthy run in the Big Ten Tournament. But Micah Shrewberry has to consider Year 1 a success, because the Nittany Lions have often given opponents fits in the Big Ten. He just needs more talent.
Record: 13-14, 5-11 | Last week: 13
The Terrapins have won 2 straight games following a 5-game losing streak, with back-to-back victories over Nebraska and Penn State. And now they could put a huge roadblock up for Indiana’s quest for an NCAA Tournament bid if they can go on the road Thursday and beat the Hoosiers in Bloomington. Fatts Russell has been super at times this season for Maryland, and was in the second half vs. Penn State, scoring all 18 of his points as the Terps ran away from the Lions.
Record: 16-10, 7-9 | Last week: 9
Indiana is a sinking ship. It wasn’t all that long ago — the Hoosiers had improved to 16-5, 7-4 in the Big Ten with a win at Maryland Jan. 29 — that IU appeared destined for a ticket to the Big Dance. But that’s all been erased due to a winless February that’s seen the Hoosiers drop 5 consecutive games, including an overtime killer at Ohio State on Monday night. IU held a 4-point lead with about a minute left in regulation, but collapsed, and a horrible final possession — why didn’t Xavier Johnson show any urgency? — led to OT, which Ohio State dominated. IU’s Net Ranking is still 43, with 5 wins against Quad 1/2, so not all is lost … yet. But the Hoosiers need to start winning again soon.
Record: 14-11, 8-7 | Last week: 7
Juwan Howard has been suspended the final 5 games of the regular season after his handshake line altercation with Wisconsin coaches Greg Gard and Joe Krappenhoff, a justified punishment for unjustified actions at the end of Michigan’s loss on Sunday. Regardless of what led up to the climax, when Howard open-hand hit Krappenhoff, Howard passive-aggressively escalated the tension at the end of the game. It’s not his first issue, and unless he learns from this, it also won’t be the last. Players Terrance Williams II and Moussa Diabate will also be out a game, meaning they’ll sit when Rutgers visits Wednesday. A messy season for Michigan, to say the least.
7. Michigan State
Record: 18-8, 9-6 | Last week: 6
Michigan State’s offense lately has been offensive. In the past 4 games, when the Spartans have a 1-3 record, they’ve shot less than 33% from 3-point range. And in the last loss, Saturday vs. Illinois in the Breslin Center, MSU endured a 7-minute scoreless drought in the first half. Tom Izzo seems fed up with his team; after they lost a 14-point lead in a loss at Penn State, he kept them from talking to the media — a punishment? — but it’s a sign of cracks, for sure. Recovery won’t be easy, considering MSU has a tough slate in the last 2 weeks of the season.
Record: 18-8, 8-7 | Last week: 8
Iowa has won 4 of 5 ahead of its date with Michigan State tonight in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, including an impressive 13-point win at Ohio State its last time out on Saturday that helped the Hawkeyes enter the AP Top 25, at No. 25, for the first time this season. The Hawkeyes have seen a bounce, at least in terms of consistency, since veteran Jordan Bohannon moved over to run the point more frequently. He’s not going to win a lot of one-on-one battles but he knows where to go with the basketball.
Record: 16-10, 10-6 | Last week: 5
Rutgers’ incredible run of 4 consecutive wins against ranked opponents ended at Purdue on Sunday, when the Scarlet Knights couldn’t find a way to slow the Boilermakers’ multitude of offensive weapons. Now, RU will try to get rolling again, because there’s still work to be done if it wants to secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament. The Net Ranking sits at 80, as the huge wins lately are offset by bad early-season losses. The next 2 games are crucial. If Rutgers can beat short-handed Michigan Wednesday, then sweep Wisconsin at home on Saturday, then the Knights’ situation will look less precarious.
4. Ohio State
Record: 17-7, 10-5 | Last week: 4
Down by 4 with a little more than a minute left against IU, the Buckeyes used a 21-6 run over the next 6 minutes to not only rally in regulation but blow the doors off the Hoosiers in overtime. The victory kept Ohio State’s hopes alive for a share of a Big Ten title. It’s not impossible, but the Buckeyes would probably need to run the table, which would include a Thursday night win at Illinois. The rally vs. the Hoosiers was the highlight on Monday night, but it doesn’t erase that OSU’s offense was a mess for much of the second half. It’s concerning that Chris Holtmann’s crew can endure such painful stretches.
Record: 19-7, 12-4 | Last week: 2
Illinois split in back-to-back road games at 2 of the most difficult places to play, at Rutgers and at Michigan State, beating the Spartans to keep pace in the loss column atop the Big Ten standings. Three of the Illini’s final 4 games are at home, and the lone road game is at Michigan, where the Wolverines will be dealing with the fallout from the ridiculousness vs. Wisconsin. It’s hard to bet against Illinois running the table, especially if Trent Frazier continues to play at a high level. The super senior probably won’t be a first-team All-Big Ten player, but he’s been one of the most influential players in the league this season.
Record: 21-5, 12-4 | Last week: 3
Wisconsin didn’t come out of the thing with Michigan unscathed. The Big Ten levied a fine on Greg Gard and suspended reserve Jahcobi Neath one game for fighting. It’ll be interesting to see if any of that lingers this week, as Wisconsin has a huge road trip upcoming with games at Minnesota and Rutgers, then the home date with Purdue. Arguably that makes the Badgers’ remaining schedule the most difficult among it, the Illini and the Boilermakers.
Record: 24-4, 13-4 | Last week: 1
Purdue took a rare day off before the Rutgers game on Sunday and it showed, as the Boilermakers looked fresher than they had in weeks, scoring 84 points against a Scarlet Knights’ team that had been giving up only 63 during its 4-game winning streak. Now, with Purdue getting the benefit of a bye right now, the Boilermakers are taking 2 more days off this week, hoping that they can be rejuvenated before traveling to Michigan State and Wisconsin in their next 2 games. Win those and the Boilermakers are likely Big Ten champs.