Week 7 B1G basketball power rankings: One team best poised to challenge Purdue
Outside of only a couple teams, nearly everyone in the Big Ten has been affected by Covid cancelations in the last couple weeks, either by outbreaks in their own programs or in those of the opponents.
But hopefully — and this might be a big hope — the worst in behind and the Big Ten schedule can restart, as expected, this weekend. Even with only a few games over the last week, due to the holiday and the pandemic, there’s been some movement in the rankings. Is there one team that is best positioned to challenge Purdue?
Let’s take a look at the Week 7, Dec. 28, rankings:
14. Penn State
Record: 5-5 overall, 0-2 in the Big Ten | Last week: 13
Penn State returns to action Wednesday for one last non-conference game (Delaware State) after being shelved since Dec. 11 due to Covid. As of Monday, though, coach Micah Shrewsberry didn’t yet know who would be eligible to play, because not everybody was yet through the protocol. What a way to coach, right? PSU should, though, have forward Greg Lee for a second straight game — his first of the season after an injury was vs. Michigan State on Dec. 11 — and that’ll be a big boost for a Nittany Lions’ front line in need of big bodies.
Record: 6-7, 0-2 | Last week: 14
Nebraska’s keeping an eye on its next opponent, making sure Ohio State is healthy enough to be able to play in the Big Ten restart on Sunday after the Buckeyes have been set back by a Covid outbreak the last couple weeks. The Cornhuskers will be coming off a pre-Christmas victory over Kennesaw State, a game in which they shot better than 50 percent from the field and hit 15 3-pointers. The problem for Nebraska is that’s going to be an outlier; if the Cornhuskers can find the way out of the cellar in the Big Ten this season that might be a small victory.
Record: 5-5 overall, 1-1 | Last week: 12
Steve Pikiell is concerned about the mental health of his Rutgers’ team, and rightfully so. He and several players spent their holidays not at home with family but holed up in isolation because of Covid, which has caused the cancelation of 1 game and the postponement of 2 others. A frustrating part for the Scarlet Knights is that their Covid cases are breakthroughs; the entire program had been fully vaccinated by September and half had already received their booster shots. Players started to return to practice on Monday and Tuesday to prepare for Thursday’s game vs. Maine, which will be played assuming enough players test negative for the virus.
Record: 6-4, 0-1 | Last week: 11
Maryland has been off since Dec. 12, not because of its own health concerns but because another (Loyola) had to cancel a game. It’s been an extended layoff, which even saw many players start to head home as early as Dec. 19 for the holiday. Back now, Danny Manning is hoping to put what’s been a weird first 10 games — Mark Turgeon resigned after the first 6 — behind the Terrapins and try to build momentum toward the Big Ten. It’ll play 2 games in 3 days to try to do so, first vs. Lehigh, then Brown, before taking on Iowa in conference play Monday.
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Record: 8-2, 1-0 | Last week: 10
Add Northwestern to the list of Big Ten schools affected by Covid cancelations. Its game vs. Prairie View A&M, scheduled for Thursday, was nuked on Monday evening, likely because of issues in the Panthers’ program. It was the 2nd cancelation off Northwestern’s schedule following the DePaul game a week and a half ago. Next up is a home meeting with Michigan State on Sunday. The ‘Cats have fond memories of the early-season home meeting with the Spartans last season, when an upset spurred a hot start in the Big Ten. It wasn’t sustained then, but the Wildcats — they think — are a more veteran, balanced team now.
Record: 7-4, 1-1 | Last week: 9
Michigan might go as DeVante’ Jones goes. When the point guard is playing well and organizing Michigan’s offense, the Wolverines are a much better, more composed team that can overcome some of its deficiencies, like shooting from the perimeter. But when he’s having a bad night, UM can be besieged by turnovers; it’s averaging more than 13 per game. Michigan had won 3 of 4 before its Purdue Fort Wayne cancelation, and now has a trip to Central Florida on Thursday as its last pre-Big Ten game.
Record: 10-2, 1-1 | Last week: 8
With one remaining non-conference game — a date Wednesday with UNC-Ashville — Mike Woodson is confident in the Hoosiers’ abilities this season, saying on his radio show Monday that IU “has as good a chance as anyone” to win the Big Ten. Well, probably not, but love a coach supporting his guys. Indiana does have some real positives headed to the Big Ten restart, mainly that it is playing defense better than it has in years — the Hoosiers are holding opponents to only 35 percent shooting, the best mark in the league — a sign that players respect Woodson’s teaching.
Record: 9-3, 0-2 | Last week: 7
Knock on wood, but so far Iowa has been able to avoid the scheduling issues that many others in the Big Ten have faced the last 2 weeks. It’ll play its last non-conference game Wednesday vs. Western Illinois before re-opening the league with Maryland on Monday. The Hawkeyes have a résumé that still leaves them as one of the unknowns in the Big Ten: They’ve pounded the lesser teams on their schedule, but haven’t found a way — outside of a win at so-so Virginia — to beat one of the big boys. And they’ve lost their first 2 in the Big Ten, granted against Purdue and Illinois.
Record: 10-1, 1-1 | Last week: 6
Minnesota has won 3 straight games to improve its record to 10-1, making it the surprise team in the Big Ten through the end of 2021. But what will that mean for the Big Ten? We’ll find out a heck of a lot more about the Golden Gophers in the first 4 games, with home dates vs. Illinois and Iowa and trips to Indiana and Michigan State. If Minnesota can be 2-2, then it might bode well and prove that the Gophers are for real. Minnesota has probably done enough that if it can just hover around .500 in the Big Ten, that’ll be enough to get it into the Dance in March.
Record: 9-2, 1-1 | Last week: 5
Wisconsin appears to be set for a return to action on Wednesday vs. Illinois State after having not played since Dec. 15 because of Covid within the program. It’d be nice to have a game to shake off the rust, with a trip to Purdue coming Monday to get back into Big Ten play. Wisconsin will be an interesting watch during league play. Why? There are so many great bigs in the Big Ten that it leads one to wonder how the Badgers will stack up. They’ve not fared particularly well in the non-conference against teams with big, physical interior presences, and that describes almost everyone in the league.
4. Michigan State
Record: 10-2, 2-0 | Last week: 3
Guard Max Christie has a strangle-hold on the Big Ten Freshman of the Week award, as the rookie picked up his 3rd on Monday following a 17-points, 4-rebound performance in a win over Oakland last week, the Spartans’ 5th consecutive victory. Christie has been a major reason why MSU is climbing during the non-conference, because he’s a matchup problem for many opponents on the perimeter due to his length and athleticism. He has not yet shot the ball as well as expected, but there are some signs that he’s starting to find his touch, like a 6-of-8 performance (including 4 triples) vs. Oakland.
3. Ohio State
Record: 8-2, 2-0 | Last week: 2
Sidelined since Dec. 11 while dealing with a wide-spread Covid outbreak in the program, Ohio State is zeroing in on a return to action vs. Nebraska on Sunday. It’s getting closer. Monday night, Chris Holtmann said his team practiced earlier in the day with 5 players, 4 of whom are eligible to play. Clearly, though, that’s not enough. Once it’s healthy again, Ohio State has a formidable group that could challenge at the top of the Big Ten, especially if it consistently can shoot from the perimeter.
Record: 9-3, 2-0 | Last week: 4
Illinois is on a Covid pause, the school announced on Monday, after multiple players came back from the Christmas break with positive virus results. So the game vs. Florida A&M on Wednesday is canceled and its game at Minnesota on Sunday might be in doubt. The Big Ten has not yet changed its forfeiture policy — as many other leagues have done — so as of now if a team can’t play, it’ll go down as a loss. Although the Big Ten has been behind on its decision-making the last 2 years, it seems unlikely that policy will remain in place. Before the pause, Illinois had been playing great basketball, perhaps positioning itself as the biggest challenger to Purdue.
Record: 11-1, 1-1 | Last week: 1
The Boilermakers seem to have put the one-week malaise behind them, because after losing to Rutgers, then eking out an overtime victory vs. N.C. State, they’ve dismantled Butler and Incarnate Word, largely because they are more focused on playing at a higher intensity level. When things are so easy, as they were in the first 8 games, it’s easy to forget what it takes to win. Purdue has clearly established itself as the team to beat in the Big Ten, because its variety of offensive weapons and depth make it a challenge on a nightly basis.