Week 6 B1G basketball power rankings: Not much has changed in the past 7 days
Between finals weeks for several programs in the Big Ten and bouts with Covid-19, there wasn’t a lot of basketball being played in the conference this week.
Instead, many teams are studying, practicing, taking on lesser non-conference competition or simply trying to get healthy, as the resumption of Big Ten play looms.
Let’s take a look at the Week 6, Dec. 21, rankings:
Record: 5-7 overall, 0-2 in the Big Ten | Last week: 14
Nebraska lost its 5th straight game on Sunday, only a few days after AD Trev Alberts was forced to issue a statement denying rumors that Coach Fred Hoiberg was set to be fired. So, another bad week for the Cornhuskers’ basketball program, which seems in no better shape now than when Hoiberg took over in 2019. There’s no foundation. Nebraska gets Kennesaw State in a last non-conference tune-up Wednesday, then back into the Big Ten starting with Ohio State, Michigan State, Illinois and Purdue in 4 of the first 5.
13. Penn State
Record: 5-5, 0-2 | Last week: 13
Penn State was forced to cancel 2 games this week because of health and safety protocols related to Covid-19, but the school did not release information about the number of personnel who were affected. Neither game will be rescheduled. Penn State’s women’s basketball team was also forced to cancel a game. The Nittany Lions’ next chance to get back on the court — it has not played since a Dec. 11 loss to Michigan State — is a home contest vs. Delaware State on Dec. 29.
Record: 5-5 overall, 1-1 | Last week: 12
Rutgers is in the same situation as Penn State, forced to cancel or reschedule games out of “an abundance of caution.” It nuked the Rider game hours before tip-off on Saturday and now has moved its Central Connecticut State game, scheduled for Thursday, back to Jan. 1. The Big Ten had originally planned to force teams that had Covid-related issues to forfeit games in the conference, but we’ll see if the conference sticks to it, considering these setbacks might be unavoidable with a fast-moving variant.
Record: 6-4, 0-1 | Last week: 11
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Maryland beat Florida on Dec. 12, before an extended period of practices and the holiday break before it plays against Loyola on Dec. 28. Perhaps that provides time for interim coach Danny Manning to calibrate the Terrapins more in his vision before the resumption of Big Ten play in early January. What will that look like? Not sure. But Maryland has several pieces that, if they come together, could make for a squad that can compete with most teams in the Big Ten. The win over Florida was either a sign of good to come or simply an outlier.
Record: 8-2, 1-0 | Last week: 10
After having its game vs. DePaul Saturday canceled — that would have been a nice one to play, because we would have gotten a better marker on where Northwestern is this season — the Wildcats smoked Illinois-Springfield on Monday night. Not as much to learn from that 90-50 NU victory. Veteran guard Chase Audige has played 3 games back from injury and has looked OK, although his outside shot (only 1-of-10 from 3-point range) has yet to return, but he’s giving Chris Collins a legitimate 3rd scorer along with Pete Nance and Boo Buie.
Record: 7-4, 1-1 | Last week: 9
The Wolverines, who have won 3 of 4 games since being stomped in the last game of the B1G/ACC Challenge, are likely to add 2 more victories before the start of Big Ten play, with Purdue Fort Wayne before Christmas and then Central Florida after. But Michigan has been the disappointment of the Big Ten so far, because Juwan Howard hasn’t been able to get his players to embrace roles, big and small. A year ago, the Wolverines might have done that better than anyone in the league.
Record: 9-2, 1-1 | Last week: 8
For years, Archie Miller struggled to get Indiana to buy in to playing good, fundamental, hard-nosed defense. But Mike Woodson has been able to accomplish it in less than a dozen games. That’s a good harbinger for things to come for the Hoosiers, who locked down Notre Dame in their last game, holding the Irish to only 56 points and a 4-of-22 clip from 3-point range. IU has some limitations on offense — the point guard play has still been sporadic, at best — but it can defend, and that might be the path to victory once competition increases.
Record: 8-3, 0-2 | Last week: 7
After a brutal stretch in late November to early December in which Iowa won only 1 of 4, the Hawkeyes get a reprieve before the end of the calendar year. The first opponent saw the full arsenal from sophomore forward Keegan Murray, who scored 35 points on 13-of-17 shooting vs. Utah State on Saturday. Brother Kris Murray scored 17 off the bench, in what has to be one of the greatest all-time games for brothers in NCAA history. Thanks in large part to the Murrays, Iowa has smoked inferior competition, and it has Southeastern Louisiana and Western Illinois to finish its non-conference slate.
Record: 9-1, 1-1 | Last week: 6
After winning 9 of its first 10 games, Minnesota has played its way into early NCAA Tournament projections, both in Joe Lunardi’s bracket and Jerry Palm’s. While there’s still a long way to go between now and early March, the Golden Gophers have set themselves up to have a chance come Selection Sunday. When Ben Johnson took over as head coach, he had to fill out a nearly-depleted Minnesota roster, but says he did so not only by finding bodies in the transfer portal but by finding good fits for what he wanted to do. So far, it’s proven that he did a solid job.
Record: 9-2, 1-1 | Last week: 5
Wisconsin is looking for a replacement opponent for Thursday after Morgan State said it’d be unable to travel due to “health and safety protocols.” In their last game, the Badgers survived a scare from Nicholls, rallying from a double-digit 2nd-half deficit to get the win. And they did so without leading-scorer and drink-stirrer Johnny Davis, who was out with a non-Covid illness. It was an excellent collective effort without Davis, who had also missed 1 of the Badgers’ previous losses.
Record: 8-3, 2-0 | Last week: 4
Illinois faces Missouri in the “Braggin’ Rights” rivalry game Wednesday in St. Louis, a good test for a Brad Underwood squad that feels like it’s closer to finding an identity. That’s been a challenge for the Fighting Illini, because they’ve had so many pieces moving in and out. One who is out continues to be point guard Andre Curbelo, who suffered a concussion in the preseason. No word yet on his return, although he’s said to be improving. Others, though, are stepping up the scoring, like Alfonso Plummer, who has been a complete stud on the perimeter, averaging 16.9 points per game and hitting 39 3-pointers in 11 games.
3. Michigan State
Record: 9-2, 2-0 | Last week: 3
Michigan State has won 4 straight game to move up to No. 11 in the latest AP top-25 poll. Next up it plays Oakland in an in-state matchup in Detroit. The Spartans might be poised to present the biggest challenge to Purdue, in part because they get the Boilermakers only once this season and it’s in the Breslin Center. It helps too that MSU is a big, physical, tough defensive team and has a coach who has been there before. It’s been a good bounce-back for Tom Izzo after a trying 2020-21 season.
2. Ohio State
Record: 8-2, 2-0 | Last week: 2
Unfortunately, the matchup between the 14th-ranked Buckeyes and the 20th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats didn’t materialize over the weekend because of Covid issues within the Ohio State program, because that could have been a heck of a battle between 2 great front lines. OSU also canceled its home game vs. Tennessee-Martin, which was scheduled for today. But Chris Holtmann has said that Ohio State fully intends to be ready to go for its next game, Dec. 28 vs. New Orleans.
Record: 11-1, 1-1 | Last week: 1
Matt Painter seemed to take it easy on fellow Boilermakers alum Carson Cunningham, who brought his overmatched Incarnate Word squad into Mackey Arena on Monday night, starting to sit his stars with a comfortable lead midway through the second half. It’s been a solid week for the No. 3 Boilermakers, after what had been rough one as the No. 1 team in the country, with blowout wins over Butler in Indianapolis and UIW in Mackey. If Purdue embraces defense, and there are signs it’s improving, then Purdue can be even more dangerous, and that’s scary.