Week 3 B1G basketball power rankings
As the start of the Big Ten season approaches, teams are lining up to try to challenge league frontrunner Purdue for a title.
Who is best positioned? Let’s take a look at the Week 3, Nov. 30, rankings:
Record: 3-3, 0-0 | Last week: 13
Rutgers had a rough week. The Scarlet Knights have dropped 3 straight games, including a home buy game against Lafayette, and don’t look like they have many answers to their offensive woes. Add in defensive lapses, and it’s the makings of a long, long season. Rutgers has only 2 proven scorers in Ron Harper Jr. and Geo Baker, and when they combine to hit 5 of 21 shots, as they did vs. the Leopards of Lafayette, then bad things are going to happen. And now the oft-injured Baker is dealing with a bad hamstring that caused him to miss the 2-point loss at UMass. Things are ugly in Piscataway.
Record: 5-2 overall, 0-0 in the Big Ten | Last week: 14
Fred Hoiberg has been forced to fast-track Bryce McGowens to the court, in part because the Cornhuskers couldn’t afford to ease in their most talented player and in part because Bryce’s older brother Trey is out with a foot injury. But since Bryce McGowens has seen increased playing time, the big-time 5-star forward has gotten more comfortable with the college game and started to flourish. Never more so than in a win over South Dakota when the freshman finished with 22 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, a steal and a blocked shot. Now Hoiberg has a young star to build around for the first time in his tenure at Nebraska.
12. Penn State
Record: 4-2, 0-0 | Last week: 12
Micah Shrewsberry has to be happy with that he’s getting defensively from the Nittany Lions. In 2 games at the Emerald Coast Classic last week, Penn State held a high-scoring LSU team to only 68 points in overtime (but lost by 5), then shut down Oregon State in a 60-45 win. The Nittany Lions have limitations on their scoring ability, particularly without a back-to-the-basket scorer in a league in which everyone has at least one, and so they’ll have to win by keeping opponents in the 60s or lower. If PSU buys in to what Shewsberry wants defensively, then it won’t be an easy out this season in the B1G.
Record: 5-0, 0-0 | Last week: 11
Minnesota continues to roll through its early-season slate of directional schools it has welcomed into The Barn, but will get its first power conference game at Pitt, which is only 2-4, tonight in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Don’t take anything away from the Golden Gophers, who have done what is necessary for a rebuilding team under first-year coach Ben Johnson, but they’ll show a lot more in the next 2 weeks, with the trip to Pitt followed by road games at Mississippi State and Michigan with a home contest against Michigan State mixed in.
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Record: 5-1, 0-0 | Last week: 10
Here’s a stat: Only one Big Ten team has at least 2 players averaging 17 points per game this season, and it’s not Purdue. Veterans Pete Nance and Boo Buie are leading the way for the Wildcats, averaging 17.7 and 17.5 points, respectively. They give Chris Collins a duo who can stack up against just about anybody in the Big Ten. Now, do they have enough around them to be able to stay near .500 in a league where almost everyone between teams 4 and 12 feels about the same? Perhaps. The schedule is favorable to being able to rack up wins before the new year, so let’s see where NU is at the start of 2022.
Record: 5-2, 0-0 | Last week: 6
That Maryland might struggle at times to find its perimeter shot — the Terrapins are making only 28.5 percent of their 3-pointers — isn’t a surprise; that it’s not rebounding well is. Despite the addition of big man Qudus Wahab from Georgetown during the offseason, the Terps are one of the worst rebounding teams in the Big Ten. They showed it in a 63-55 loss to Louisville in the Bahamas over the weekend, when they were beaten on the glass 51-25. If Maryland isn’t going to shoot well, and it seems unlikely to change despite trying to solve the issue in the offseason, then it’ll need to defend and board, but so far it’s not been consistent enough.
Record: 6-0, 0-0 | Last week: 4
It’s hard to continue to rank the Hoosiers near the top of the Big Ten if they’re not going to play anyone away from Assembly Hall. IU is undefeated but it has not played away from Bloomington, the only B1G team that hasn’t at least played a couple games on a neutral court. A road game at Syracuse in the Challenge comes tonight, but afterward Indiana still has only one more true road game and one neutral site game left in the month of December. It’s just not been a challenging enough slate to see whether the supporting cast around Trayce Jackson-Davis, who has been great, is good enough for a top-5 finish in the Big Ten.
Record: 5-2, 0-0 | Last week: 9
Brad Underwood has been tasked with putting a roster together on a day-to-day basis depending on who is available, joking this week that he loves his team’s trainer but dreads getting texts from him, fearing bad news about the status of a player. Kofi Cockburn, of course, missed 3 games at the start of the season due to an NCAA suspension, but since his return, Illinois has at times been without Andre Curbelo, who is dealing with lingering effects of a concussion, Jacob Grandison, who has had an illness, and Trent Frasier, who looked like he had suffered a major knee injury but returned in Illinois’ win over Notre Dame Monday night. It’s helped the Illini that Alfonso Plummer has stepped up big time lately, with the Utah graduate transfer pouring in 21, 30 and 21 points in the last 3 games.
Record: 5-1, 0-0 | Last week: 8
Johnny Davis is the breakout star of the Big Ten, as the Wisconsin guard is carrying the Badgers offensively early this season. Davis was on the shelf with an injury in Wisconsin’s only loss, when it scored 58 in a home defeat to Providence, but he returned for the Maui Invitational in Vegas, when he helped the Badgers to a surprising run to the title. Along the way, Wisconsin beat then-No. 12 Houston with Davis scoring 30 points on 10-of-18 shooting; he was the only Badger in double-figures. Imagine where they’d be without him.
5. Michigan State
Record: 5-2, 0-0 | Last week: 7
Michigan State still has issues — it doesn’t shoot well and it’s turning the ball over too frequently — but at least the Spartans are finding ways to overcome those problems. They did so in the Battle 4 Atlantis, when they picked up 2 quality victories, over Loyola Chicago and UConn, and then competed (for a half) vs. defending national champ Baylor in the title game. The turnovers seem like a solvable problem for Tom Izzo and Co. The shooting woes? Well, we’ll see. MSU needs Max Christie and Joey Hauser to hit open shots, but right now they’re not doing so frequently enough. If it keeps up, it will be limiting to the Spartans’ ceiling this season.
Record: 5-2, 0-0 | Last week: 5
Hunter Dickinson is finding Year 2 at Michigan to be more difficult. Last season, the center could make opponents pay for doubling him in the post, because when he threw the ball back outside — and he’s one of the league’s best passing bigs — then his teammates usually made them pay. Unfortunately this season, he’s passing out of the post to players who can’t shoot, or at least haven’t shown it yet. That and turnovers (Michigan has a negative assist-to-turnover ratio) have plagued the Wolverines so far this season, but it’s still early and they have time to figure things out.
3. Ohio State
Record: 4-2, 0-0 | Last week: 2
EJ Liddell has been outstanding for the Buckeyes but the OSU big needs a sidekick, preferably one on the perimeter who can help to draw the opponent’s defense out of the paint. Justin Ahrens has been great, but he is only a 3-point shooter — like, literally only, just one of his 30 field goal attempts this season has been inside the arc — and the Buckeyes need a player who can create for himself on the outside. Who? Don’t know. The return of Justice Sueing would help, but there’s no timetable. He, Seth Towns and Eugene Brown, three pieces in the OSU rotation, will miss the game vs. No. 1 Duke tonight.
Record: 7-0, 0-0 | Last week: 3
The Hawkeyes had beaten up on lesser competition through their first 6 games of the season and needed a tougher opponent to help them prove themselves. They found that in their B1G/ACC Challenge foe at Virginia, traditionally one of the best defensive teams in the country. But it was Iowa that imposed its will more frequently on the Cavaliers, racing out to a big first-half lead before hanging on in the final minutes. In doing so, the Hawkeyes took a step toward showing that the offense, which had scored at nearly a 100-per-game pace in its first half dozen victories, could still dial in vs. an uptick in competition. Keegan Murray has been amazingly solid, and his brother Kris is turning in great minutes, too. Iowa has a bigger-than-expected game at Purdue coming late Friday night in the Big Ten opener.
Record: 6-0, 0-0 | Last week: 1
Maybe the only disappointment so far this season for the Boilermakers came on Monday afternoon, when AP pollsters put Duke at No. 1 rather than Purdue. But all the Boilermakers can do is keep winning, and they’ll have that opportunity tonight vs. Florida State. The Seminoles have been a difficult matchup for Purdue in the past because of their length and athleticism, plus their toughness and physicality up front. But this FSU squad doesn’t seem as skilled, and this Purdue squad seems ready to push back. When’s Purdue’s first loss? Maybe at Michigan Jan. 11.