Week 16 B1G basketball power rankings: Can surging Northwestern overtake Purdue?
Is the Big Ten race over?
Purdue hopes so, but Northwestern doesn’t. The race is as tight as it’s been all season, and considering the way the league has played out this winter, it seems almost anything is possible, especially with as many as 11 teams still having hopes of adding to their NCAA Tournament résumés.
Let’s take a look at our Week 16 power rankings:
Record: 7-17 (1-13 Big Ten)
Last week: 14
The Gophers continue to labor through their season, but at least now the end is within sight. But over the next 2 weeks to finish it out, Minnesota has a brutally compact schedule, with at least 5 games and perhaps a 6th. The Gophers’ Covid pause makeup game at Illinois was Monday night, and they’d still like to reschedule the game vs. Michigan State — it was postponed following MSU’s on-campus shooting last week — but that seems unlikely. The Gophers got Dawson Garcia back after an extended absence. His presence helps down the stretch.
13. Ohio State
Record: 11-16 (3-13)
Last week: 13
The Buckeyes continue to limp to the finish line of what has turned into a miserable season. Now, not only are they not winning games, they aren’t even competing. Ohio State’s last 3 losses have been by 21, 17 and 27 points. Yikes. It’s been a ghastly fade for the Buckeyes, considering their talent level and that they had started the season 10-3. What happened? And will someone — Chris Holtmann? — be forced to take the blame?
Record: 14-14 (7-10)
Last week: 12
The scrappy Cornhuskers are among the Big Ten’s hottest teams right now, having won 3 straight and 4 of their last 5. Nebraska upended Maryland on Sunday afternoon, getting big performances from Derrick Walker (23 points) and Keisei Tominaga (20), but it was another hero, Sam Hoiberg, who might have made the game’s biggest play, getting a steal and layup to give the Huskers the edge late in overtime. The Cornhuskers are proving to be a regular-season Cinderella, with a home date against Minnesota next.
Record: 15-11 (7-9)
Last week: 10
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The Badgers are now 0-of-3 in their past 3 chances to get back to .500 in the Big Ten, the last coming Saturday when they didn’t score for the last 3.5 minutes in a home loss to Rutgers. For an NCAA bubble team, it’s an incredibly frustrating loss, especially after Wisconsin got a couple decent looks to take the lead on its final possession. Connor Essegian will have better days — he looks like a future Big Ten star — but the freshman was 0-of-10 from the field vs. the Scarlet Knights, including 2 misses in the final seconds.
10. Penn State
Record: 16-11 (7-9)
Last week: 11
Penn State’s win over Minnesota, the Nittany Lions’ 1st on the road in the Big Ten, might not be the nugget that gets them in the NCAA Tournament, but it certainly kept their bubble from bursting. Jalen Pickett has been playing like a man intent on getting PSU back in the tourney, first with his 41-point performance in a win over Illinois, then with a 32-point, 9-rebound, 8-assist outing in the win over the Gophers. He deserves to go Dancing. Now, he and his teammates need to earn a spot.
9. Michigan State
Record: 16-10 (8-7)
Last week: 8
Michigan State has endured an incredibly tragic week, with the campus shooting that took the lives of 3 classmates and wounded several others. Getting back on the court was probably a bit of a relief. Unfortunately for the Spartans, they ran out of steam in the last 4 minutes vs. the Wolverines, seeing a back-and-forth game finish in a UM runaway. The biggest problem: The Spartans, who don’t have the most significant interior size, couldn’t keep Michigan off the glass, especially when the Wolverines played their 2 bigs together.
Record: 15-12 (9-7)
Last week: 9
Kudos to Michigan for the incredible grace showed to the rival Spartans during their matchup Saturday night in the Crisler Center, as the Wolverines welcomed their grieving opponent back to the court. It was a special moment. And then Michigan went out and did what it has largely failed to do this season, by making key plays in the closing minutes to win a close game. In recent losses to Wisconsin and Indiana, the Wolverines faded after the under-4 timeout. But vs. MSU, UM ended the game on a 15-5 run, running away with what might be the Wolverines’ most well-played game of the season. Michigan can play its way into the NCAA Tournament, considering its difficult remaining schedule: At Rutgers, vs. Wisconsin, at Illinois and at Indiana.
Record: 17-9 (8-7)
Last week: 6
With Terrence Shannon Jr. back in Champaign still recovering from a concussion, Matthew Mayer took on more of the offensive burden at Indiana Saturday, and it looked as though the talented Illini forward might be able to push Illinois to an upset victory. But his 24-point effort wasn’t enough in a 3-point loss, ending a week in which the Fighting Illini lost road games at Penn State and IU. For as talented as the Illini are, they haven’t yet put the pieces together. Can they over the last 2 weeks of the season?
Record: 17-10 (9-7)
Last week: 7
The Scarlet Knights were a desperate team heading to Madison on Saturday, trying to end a 3-game losing streak to prove that they weren’t heading into an end-of-season swoon. Rutgers reversed course in a typical fashion, by playing a rugged brand of basketball and holding Wisconsin without points for the final minute in taking a 1-point victory. That, and Cam Spencer provided the spark offensively, throwing in 22 points. A concern: Caleb McConnell was out with back spasms, a condition he’s suffered in the past. Rutgers can ill afford to lose its defensive star for any significant time.
Record: 17-10 (9-7)
Last week: 4
The Hawkeyes got frustrated on their trip to Northwestern on Sunday evening, which seems to be a recurring theme for visitors to Welsh-Ryan Arena these days. It got to be too much for coach Fran McCaffery, who took an early trip to the showers after being ejected. If a defense shuts down the Hawkeyes’ offense, like Northwestern did, they don’t seem to have any other options to try to win the game. And that’s been a big problem for Iowa.
Record: 17-8 (9-7)
Last week: 5
Following its NCAA Tournament-sealing win over Purdue, Maryland took about the scariest trip possible Sunday, going to Nebraska to face the hot Huskers. And like seemingly everyone else these days, the Terrapins got Tominaga’d in an OT loss. It doesn’t hurt their tourney chances — the loss was only the 2nd in the last 8 games — but the Terrapins will have to work a little harder to secure a double-bye in the B1G.
Record: 19-8 (10-6)
Last week: 2
After feeling like it was robbed at Northwestern — and it might be able to build a good case — Indiana returned home to close out Illinois in the final minutes, showing once again that the Hoosiers are likely to be a tough out in the postseason. For much of the game, probably too much, the Fighting Illini looked like the tougher, more physical opponent, but the Hoosiers pushed back in the final minutes, getting key plays from Jalen Hood-Schifino and locking down defensively. But a big week awaits: IU hits the road for games at Michigan State and Purdue.
Record: 20-7 (11-5)
Last week: 3
No one in the Big Ten is playing better right now than Northwestern, which ran its winning streak to 5 games after beating Iowa Sunday night. The difference against the Hawkeyes? The Wildcats won convincingly, going up by more than 20 late in the 2nd half, after the previous 4 Ws came by a combined 16 points. Chris Collins has done a fantastic job this season, with each player in his 9-man rotation playing his role perfectly. The Wildcats might need to run the table to catch Purdue in the standings — and they still go to Illinois, Maryland and Rutgers — but why not?
Record: 24-4 (13-4)
Last week: 1
Poor Ohio State came along at exactly the wrong time. Madder than heck after losing 3 of their last 4, including frustrating consecutive road losses at Northwestern and Maryland, the Boilermakers took it out on the Buckeyes. Purdue won in just about every facet, with its defense and rebounding (a 44-21 edge on the glass) looking like it had when the Boilermakers were really rolling a few weeks ago. Add in a dominant Zach Edey, and Purdue looked fresh again.