Week 3 B1G basketball power rankings: Big Ten showing depth, strength
Although it’s only 3 weeks into the season, the Big Ten looks like a deep conference.
Penn State, Maryland and Michigan State each picked up quality victories in the last week, vaulting them up the power rankings. Meanwhile, Illinois and Indiana, who have jockeyed for position as the team to beat (at least as of right now) in the league, also scored marque wins away from their homes.
Let’s take a look at our Week 3 power rankings:
Record: 3-1 | Last week: 14
Minnesota bounced back from its 1st loss of the season with a win over Central Michigan Thursday, but there are still plenty of alarm bells for the Golden Gophers. With Jamison Battle still rehabbing from a knee injury — he should be back soon, it seems — Minnesota needs to find alternate scorers. And while that might work when the schedule is weak now, it’s not going to hold up in the Big Ten. But first things first; Minnesota gets a date with California Baptist next in the SoCal Challenge. OK.
Record: 3-1 | Last week: 12
The Cornhuskers had a chance to prove themselves early this season on the road at St. John’s last week, and for a half it looked like Nebraska might be up for the challenge. Then, the Cornhuskers suffered a monumental collapse after halftime, as they saw their 27-20 lead evaporate in the last 20 minutes. The Johnnies outscored Nebraska 50-23 in the 2nd half, leading many to feel like this season might be like all the past ones with Fred Hoiberg, too inconsistent to amount to much. Nebraska recovered vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff Sunday, rallying with a big 2nd half. But it was Arkansas-Pine Bluff. A more telling game might come Thursday vs. Oklahoma in Orlando.
Record: 4-0 | Last week: 13
Chris Collins feels good about his team’s defense through the 1st 4 games of the season, as the Wildcats are holding opponents to 33 percent shooting, including less than 26 percent from 3-point range, while giving up only 53.8 points per game. How that will hold up vs. better competition remains to be seen, but it’s a good start. Northwestern has an intriguing squad because of veterans like Boo Buie, who went over 1,000 career points in the win over Fort Wayne Friday.
Record: 4-1 | Last week: 3
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Michigan needed overtime vs. Ohio on its home court Sunday night to avoid its 2nd straight loss, which would have raised real questions about the Wolverines’ start to the season. There are still questions, even after UM rallied to get to overtime vs. the Bobcats, who came into Crisler Center with a 1-2 record. It’s hard to determine the issues right now for Juwan Howard’s squad, but there seems to be a cohesiveness missing, which might be expected for a team working in so many new pieces. Potential is there because of the talent, but Michigan isn’t hitting it yet.
Record: 3-0 | Last week: 8
The Badgers have done little to deserve a drop in the power rankings, but others in the Big Ten have been more impressive. The league looks particularly deep this season, with 12 teams — as we stand right now — thinking they could have legitimate NCAA Tournament opportunities in March. Wisconsin is one of those. But for the Badgers to compete in the top half of the Big Ten, they’re going to need more from Chucky Hepburn, who is struggling a bit in a lead role this season, shooting only 32 percent from the floor and less than 31 percent from 3-point range in averaging 11 points per game.
Record: 3-1 | Last week: 9
Rutgers is dealing with a couple significant injuries to start the season, as point guard Paul Mulcahy has joined defensive star Caleb McConnell on the sideline. Neither played in the Scarlet Knights’ loss to Temple Friday. The loss of Mulcahy, who has a left shoulder injury, was particularly acute, as Rutgers struggled to get into its offense without the versatile, veteran guard leading the way. Neither Mulcahy nor McConnell (knee) is expected to miss significantly more time, but Rutgers is only a shell of itself without the duo on the court.
Record: 5-0 | Last week: 11
Maryland’s start is attention-getting, to say the least. Not only are the Terrapins’ 5-0 to start the tenure of new coach Kevin Willard, but they’ve won each by at least 18 points, including blowout victories against Saint Louis and Miami in the Hall of Fame Tipoff Classic on back-to-back days over the weekend. In early December, the Terps play Illinois, Wisconsin, Tennessee and UCLA in a 2-week period, a gauntlet that will be telling of whether Maryland is saltier than anyone expected.
7. Penn State
Record: 5-1 | Last week: 10
The Nittany Lions continue to shoot a blistering pace from 3-point range this season, the major reason why they’ve won 5 of their 1st 6 games. Penn State has 75 triples in 6 games, averaging 12.5 makes per game. And the Nittany Lions are hitting them at a 42.4 percent clip, with 11 players who have made at least 1 this season and 5 players who have at least 6 makes. Micah Shrewsberry’s crew will win this season, even scoring some upsets, if it continues to shoot at that pace.
Record: 3-0 | Last week: 6
Iowa hasn’t missed a beat offensively this season, as it continues to churn out points efficiently at the start of this season. Why? Kris Murray has picked up almost exactly where brother Keegan left off last season. Kris is averaging 21.7 points while shooting 56 percent from the field, including 41 percent from 3-point range. He hasn’t missed a free throw this season, while also hauling in 8.3 rebounds per game. Most importantly, he’s erased any doubt about whether he’d be able to morph into the lead after playing second fiddle to his brother a year ago.
Record: 3-0 | Last week: 5
The Boilermakers mounted an impressive comeback in their last win, upending Marquette in the Gavitt Tipoff Games in Mackey Arena on Tuesday. Purdue’s freshmen, mainly point guard Braden Smith, came up clutch in the final 5 minutes, as Purdue pulled out a win in a game that felt like it was trending toward a loss. Even though the Boilermakers are young, with 2 freshmen starting in the backcourt, they play with a maturity beyond their years. And transfer David Jenkins Jr. is providing needed leadership for his younger backcourt mates.
4. Ohio State
Record: 3-0 | Last week: 4
Ohio State is likely to get a check-up in the next week-and-a-half, 1st at the Maui Invitational, then at Duke to end the month. It’ll mark a major step up in competition after playing 3 teams outside the top-300 nationally in the 1st 3 games. But the Buckeyes feel like they’re playing defense and rebounding well enough to match up with better opponents, although they’ll have to be better holding onto the ball on offense. OSU has committed more turnovers than desired, which could be an issue vs. big, physical, experienced San Diego State on Monday night.
3. Michigan State
Record: 3-1 | Last week: 7
The Spartans had a fantastic week, beating then-No. 4 Kentucky in Indianapolis, then Villanova at home, showing they’ll be a bigger factor in the Big Ten than what was anticipated. Before the season, Tom Izzo said this would be an improved shooting team, but that was spotty through the 1st 3 games. But against Villanova, MSU made 13-of-25 from 3-point range, helping to offset a lack of interior scoring. The Spartans will defend, rebound and play tough, but finding consistency offensively, both inside and out, will remain a question.
Record: 4-1 | Last week: 2
Virginia is the only team so far this season that has solved Terrence Shannon Jr., who has had a fantastic start to his Illinois career, as the Cavaliers held him to only 9 points. Otherwise, however, the Texas Tech transfer has been excellent — and perhaps has staked an early claim to Big Ten Player of the Year — by averaging 21.2 points and nearly 7 rebounds per game. The loss to Virginia, which was playing in honor of the 3 slain Cavalier football players, came 2 days after a win over then-No. 8 UCLA. The Illini are going to be tough to handle in the Big Ten.
Record: 4-0 | Last week: 1
The Hoosiers picked up their 1st true non-conference road victory in more than a decade Friday when they held on for a win at Xavier. Trayce Jackson-Davis was great, as one might expect, but the difference in the Hoosiers this season is their depth. Freshman forward Malik Reneau has shown he’s going to be a big-time impact player off the bench, after he had 12 points and 6 rebounds in Cincinnati.