Now that the Big Ten has hit its stride, it’s clear the league is stronger than what had been anticipated.

Few games are gimmes, as nearly everyone in the league has already found out.

Let’s take a look at the Week 9, Jan. 11, rankings:


ESPN BET is now live in 17 states

Use promo code SATURDAY to get your $250 bonus


14. Nebraska

Record: 6-10 overall, 0-5 in the Big Ten | Last week: 14

It’s not going well — again — in Lincoln. After the Cornhuskers were nuked at Rutgers Saturday, suffering a 28-point loss, Coach Fred Hoiberg said that his team had “folded.” Not a good look for a program that had hoped, in Hoiberg’s third season, it would be beginning to climb out of the Big Ten basement. Instead, Nebraska is in the exact same spot as a program as it was when Hoiberg took over in 2019. Maybe worse. He’s built no foundation, which is the biggest condemnation of Hoiberg’s tenure.

13. Maryland

Record: 8-7, 0-4 | Last week: 11

After trailing by as many as 20 points in the first half vs. Wisconsin Sunday, Maryland rallied to take the lead in the second, before falling by a point. Interim coach Danny Manning used the game to illustrate that the Terrapins are close, and maybe so, but close doesn’t count for much when a team is winless in the Big Ten. Maryland is a more talented team than what it has shown, but it doesn’t have much depth, and the margin for turning the season around is narrowing. It feels like the Terrapins are in danger of a lost season.

12. Northwestern

Record: 8-5, 1-3 | Last week: 10

Northwestern’s schedule to re-start the Big Ten wasn’t easy — Michigan State, Penn State and at Ohio State — but the Wildcats needed at least a victory to feel good about where it is. Instead, they lost all 3 games, including the home contest vs. PSU in which they were favored. Not good. If Northwestern is to build an NCAA-worth résumé, it must win its home games, then score a big upset on the road. Well, so far it’s 0-2 in Welsh-Ryan in the Big Ten. Wednesday’s home game vs. Maryland isn’t must-win, but it’s darn near close to it.

11. Penn State

Record: 7-6, 2-3 | Last week: 12

There’s not a single team in the Big Ten that wants to play a road game at Penn State. The Nittany Lions are a confident group, following back-to-back conference wins then a competitive game vs. Purdue that they could have won if they only had gotten a few more stops down the stretch. But PSU plays fundamental basketball and doesn’t do much to hurt itself. And lately, Jalen Pickett has given Micah Shrewsberry a great second scoring option on the perimeter. So far, the Lions’ competitiveness isn’t a fluke.

10. Michigan

Record: 7-6, 1-2 | Last week: 9

Michigan hasn’t had enough players lately because of a Covid outbreak, so it’s been forced to postpone back-to-back games vs. Michigan State and Purdue; they’ll need to be rescheduled for later in the season. The Big Ten doesn’t want to see a repeat of last season, when Michigan’s Covid issues caused the Wolverines to be “rewarded,” in a sense, and not play as many games as others in what turned into a championship season. While it’s understandable that UM can’t play right now, the games need to be made up. And hopefully that’s without too big a hindrance on Michigan State, Purdue or anyone else.

9. Minnesota

Record: 10-3, 1-3 | Last week: 7

Minnesota’s Net Rankings took a dive in the last week, as the Gophers dropped a dozen spots down to No. 68 after getting drilled by Illinois and Indiana. Getting beaten is one thing, but losing by an average of 18 is another. The question now: Was Minnesota’s 9-win non-conference run fraudulent? Minnesota had been a surprise for many reasons — they defend well, particularly from the perimeter — but the Gophers are simply atrocious on the glass, where they average only 5.8 offensive rebounds per game, last in the Big Ten. The lack of second-chance points will be a killer in the league.

8. Iowa

Record: 11-4, 1-3 | Last week: 6

If Iowa is to make a move in the Big Ten, it might need to happen right now. The Hawkeyes have endured a tough schedule to start the league, but good teams need to be able to beat good teams, at least on occasion. And so far, Iowa has only challenged, and that’s not good enough. But over the next 4 games, the Hawkeyes have Indiana and Penn State at home, sandwiched around road games at Minnesota and Rutgers. Iowa would love a 3-1 stretch to get back to .500 in the league; anything less would be a disappointment.

7. Rutgers

Record: 9-5, 3-1 | Last week: 13

Suddenly, Rutgers has the look of a team intent on making a run toward the NCAA Tournament, a goal that seemed a million miles away after losses to Lafayette and UMass in back-to-back games in late November. The biggest improvement has been in the Scarlet Knights’ shooting — and a healthy Geo Baker helps — where they’ve made a Big Ten-best 48.6 percent from 3-point range. But here’s the problem: Rutgers has a big hill to climb; it’s 116th in the Net Rankings, with ugly Quad 3 and 4 loses. The Knights need to offset that with big B1G victories.

6. Indiana

Record: 12-3, 3-2 | Last week: 8

The Hoosiers’ defense — yes, defense — is going to keep them in a bunch of ball games this winter. It’s a good sign for Mike Woodson and his program that IU has bought in to what he is preaching on the defensive end, especially considering many of those same players tuned out the previous boss. Indiana leads the Big Ten in points allowed (60.8) and field goal defense (35.3 percent). IU’s ceiling might be limited, depending on whether it can consistently score, but the Hoosiers are trending toward being an NCAA Tournament team.

5. Ohio State

Record: 10-3, 4-1 | Last week: 3

EJ Liddell is likely to get his numbers — the forward is averaging 20 and 7 — but it’s the other guys who opponents might need to start keeping a better eye on. Liddell might have finally found a complementary perimeter player in freshman Malaki Branham, who poured in 24 in Ohio State’s victory against Northwestern Sunday. Branham’s scoring average has crossed over into double-figures (second-most on the Buckeyes), and he’s shooting 46 percent from the field, 42 percent from 3-point range and 92 percent from the line.

4. Purdue

Record: 13-2, 2-2 | Last week: 5

Purdue turned in a workmanlike performance Saturday at Penn State, battling the Nittany Lions in a 7-point victory. Was it perfect? No. But the Boilermakers turned up the defensive intensity at critical moments, something that bizarrely has been missing for them too frequently. In particularly, Jaden Ivey was more focused at the defensive end. It’s a good stepping stone, Purdue hopes. Unfortunately, it won’t be able to test it, because tonight’s game at Michigan is postponed.

3. Wisconsin

Record: 13-2, 4-1 | Last week: 4

The Badgers have found a formula that works, mainly because Johnny Davis has become one of the most — if not the most — feared players in the Big Ten. The guard can take over games, because of his ability to shoot from the perimeter and create his own shots going to the basket. And he’s making everyone around him better. Like in the win at Maryland Sunday night, when he helped Tyler Wahl to his best game of the season, with a career-high 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting. If the Badgers get interior production, then they are darn hard to beat.

2. Illinois

Record: 11-3, 4-0 | Last week: 2

The Fighting Illini jumped into the AP top-25 this week. What the heck took so long? It’s disrespectful to Illinois that no one is paying attention, and why? The Fighting Illini are No. 10 in the Net Rankings with a 3-3 record vs. Quad 1 and 2 opponents and are a matchup nightmare for almost everyone because of Kofi Cockburn. And arguably Illinois has played only 2 of its 14 games this season at full strength.

1. Michigan State

Record: 13-2, 4-0 | Last week: 1

Michigan State received an unexpected break over the weekend, when Michigan had to postpone its game in Ann Arbor. It means the Spartans have to wait until their home game Wednesday night vs. Minnesota to put their 8-game winning streak on the line. It’s gone well during the streak, with MSU shooting an impressive 44.3 percent from 3-point range in the wins. But keep in mind: The Spartans’ have feasted on lesser opponents during the streak; their first 4 Big Ten opponents, for example, have a 5-14 league record.