Week 9 B1G basketball power rankings: Penn State, Ohio State move up as others drop
The Big Ten is heating up now, with conference games back on the schedules this week.
Much is to be decided in the next 2 months. This much we know now: Purdue is the No. 1 team in the Big Ten and Minnesota is No. 14. But where does everyone else fall? Let’s take a look at our Week 9 B1G power rankings:
Record: 6-6 overall, 0-2 in the Big Ten | Last week: 14
Travel issues forced Minnesota and Alcorn State to cancel their scheduled game last Thursday, meaning the Gophers lose out on their last non-conference opportunity. They’ll reenter Big Ten play having lost their 5 games against Power 5 conference opponents, which doesn’t bode well for the next 18 games. Coach Ben Johnson is still searching for rotations and combinations that work, but he better work quickly if the Gophers are to make any noise in the conference.
Record: 8-6, 0-3 | Last week: 8
Iowa has hit a rough patch, to say the least, with consecutive losses to Eastern Illinois — yes, Eastern Illinois and at home, too — Nebraska and Penn State. It’s left a lot of questions for Fran McCaffery in Iowa City, where he has a veteran group that suddenly looks without a rudder. Kris Murray was great against Penn State Sunday, scoring 32 points, but the Hawkeyes played 35 listless minutes before waking up for a rally that came up just short. It’s been a plummet for Iowa, which was ranked in the AP Top 25 earlier this season.
Record: 8-5, 2-0 | Last week: 12
Maybe Sunday’s crushing defeat of Maryland in Crisler Center can be the game that catapults the Wolverines, because they certainly need it. The win came only days after Michigan lost at home to Central Michigan, ending a more-difficult-than-anticipated non-conference season. But Michigan turned in its best defensive performance against the Terrapins, limiting the guests to 13 first-half points, tying a program-record. And Hunter Dickinson was dominant, as he can be, scoring 32 points with 12 rebounds. But did the game say more about Michigan or Maryland? We shall see.
Record: 8-6, 1-2 | Last week: 13
Nebraska might be a more cohesive group, willing to play hard for one another, as opposing coaches have generally stated so far this season, but will that equate to victories? Answers about the Cornhuskers are likely to come the next 2 weeks, when Nebraska plays 4 Big Ten games, including 3 on the road. It has trips to Michigan State and Purdue, with a home date vs. Illinois (and against Minnesota, too). A 2-2 record would be respectable.
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Record: 10-3, 1-1 | Last week: 11
Northwestern had a chance to show it could be a contender in the top half of the Big Ten Sunday night when it welcomed Ohio State to Evanston. Instead, the Wildcats found themselves down 34-8 with a couple minutes left in the first half. Northwestern can challenge teams when it slow the pace to a crawl and forces the opponent into undesirable shots. But against teams like the Buckeyes, who have a variety of scoring options, NU is going to struggle to keep up.
Record: 10-4, 1-2 | Last week: 3
The Terrapins were blitzed by Michigan on Sunday, as they again couldn’t find any offense in the first 20 minutes. By the break, Maryland had scored only 13 points in trailing by 31. It’s been a bad pattern for the Terps, who have been outscored 127-50 in the first halves of their last 3 games vs. major-conference opponents, losses to Tennessee, UCLA and Michigan. Kevin Willard has done a lot of good in his first few months as the head coach at Maryland, but his next task is fixing the slow starts.
Record: 9-4, 1-1 | Last week: 10
Rutgers has a veteran team that says it doesn’t fear top-ranked Purdue, the Scarlet Knights’ opponent tonight in Mackey Arena. Stands to reason considering they beat the Boilermakers last season, albeit in Piscataway, when Purdue was the No. 1 team in the country. It’s likely to be an absolute bloodbath in Mackey Monday night, between 2 programs that respect each other’s similar rugged styles defensively.
7. Michigan State
Record: 9-4, 1-1 | Last week: 9
The Spartans restart Big Ten play on Tuesday vs. Nebraska at full strength, with a chance to continue a winning streak that’s up to 4 games. Michigan State gets the Cornhuskers, then the Wolverines at home this week, before a difficult road trip to Wisconsin and Illinois next week. It’s hard to count out the Spartans in the race for a Big Ten title, but MSU has a narrow margin offensively, so it’ll have to play tough, Tom Izzo-style defense and hit shots to make a run to the top of the league. Being healthy helps.
Record: 9-4, 0-2 | Last week: 7
Brad Underwood shifted his lineup in Illinois’ final non-conference game, a win over Bethune-Cookman, by inserting freshman Sencire Harris into starting 5. It seemed to work, bringing more balance to the group and giving the Fighting Illini a much-needed energy boost. He scored 12 points, with 4 rebounds and 3 assists. Illinois has a ton of talent offensively, but getting the ball to the right places at the right time has proven challenging, so maybe Harris can help facilitate while keeping teammates happy.
5. Penn State
Record: 11-3, 2-1 | Last week: 6
It’s time to start taking Penn State seriously, after the Nittany Lions knocked off Iowa on Sunday — holding on in the closing seconds after a big-time Hawkeye comeback — to start the Big Ten with a 2-1 record. Coach Micah Shrewsberry has done a remarkable job of building a team in only a couple seasons, as he has a bunch of quality role players and shooters around star Jalen Pickett. After traveling to Michigan on Wednesday, the Nittany Lions have 3 straight vs. ranked opponents, including against No. 1 Purdue in The Palestra.
Record: 10-3, 1-1 | Last week: 4
The banged up Hoosiers have taken advantage of a bit of time off, having not played since Dec. 23 and with their next game being Thursday vs. Iowa in Iowa City. It’s given Trayce Jackson-Davis a chance to try to get refreshed after a non-conference when he was slowed by back and wrist injuries. Indiana has a chance to compete for a Big Ten title, but also needs to not forget what has made it a dangerous team: Defense, rebounding and physicality. It’s still not going to be able to simply out-shoot opponents.
3. Ohio State
Record: 10-3, 2-0 | Last week: 5
Ohio State has a ton of great young talent, led by Brice Sensabaugh, the front-runner for Big Ten Freshman of the Year, and Bruce Thornton, making it likely that the Buckeyes will continue to get better as the season progresses. And OSU is already pretty good now, as it showed in taking care of the Wildcats at Northwestern with relative ease on Sunday night. Next up, the Buckeyes host No. 1 Purdue on Thursday night in Value City Arena, a real test to see how far along Ohio State has come.
Record: 10-2, 2-0 | Last week: 2
The Badgers got a bit of a challenge from Western Michigan in the Badgers’ final non-conference game on Friday, but center Steven Crowl proved too much to handle inside, as he scored a game-high 25 points. It shows the versatility of the Badgers, who can get big games from Chucky Hepburn and Tyler Wahl, but also Crowl in the paint. There’s still a feeling that Wisconsin sits No. 2 in the Big Ten — clearly — because none of the more talented teams has jumped up to take the spot. Maybe so. Or maybe the Badgers are just a solid team from top to bottom.
Record: 13-0, 2-0 | Last week: 1
Purdue kept its record perfect by nuking Florida A&M in its final non-conference game last week, but now things get real again, with a home date vs. Rutgers, then a road trip to Ohio State. The Boilermakers have been terrific — and freshman Trey Kaufman-Renn’s recent emergence as another interior scorer has provided another problem for opponents — but they must shoot the ball better from the perimeter if they are to keep the unbeaten record in tack.