Photo Credit: MSUToday – Michigan State University
As the Big Ten season reaches its quarter point and the college basketball season reaches the halfway mark, it’s time to take stock of the Big Ten. Namely, it’s time to start looking at power rankings and project the end of season awards. The season thus-far has been one of the more competitive Big Ten seasons in recent memory. This is a testament to the growth of bottom feeder teams like Penn State and Rutgers, and the strength of the mid-pack. With that being said, let’s rank the conference.
- Illinois (4-12, 0-5)
- Illinois is the lone team in the Conference that cannot seem to put a complete performance together. The Illini have narrow losses to solid programs like Notre Dame, Gonzaga, Georgetown, and Northwestern. Brad Underwood has shown little of the potential he generated while leading Stephen F Austin to surprise NCAA tournament wins. However, it is only year 2 of his tenure. In spite of their rough start, look for Illinois to possibly pull out an upset or two down the stretch.
- Rutgers (8-7, 1-4)
- Rutgers basketball has always been out of place in the Big Ten and struggled to compete with both the big and little brands in the conference. An upset win over #16 Ohio State last week was a positive sign for a program still looking for an identity in a conference with deep basketball roots. Rutgers still has a long way to go as a program to routinely compete with the top end of the conference and a long way to go this year to compete with the mid-pack.
- Penn State (7-9, 0-5)
- Penn State is better than their record shows, but this program is cursed. The Nittany Lions have talented players like junior Lamar Stevens and freshman Myles Dread, but the roster never seems to be able to fit together and compete consistently. If Pat Chambers can’t salvage an average Big Ten season, it would be no surprise that Penn State may look to move on from their coach and look for someone who can.
- Northwestern (10-6, 1-4)
- Doug Collins has assembled another scrappy lineup with experienced seniors Derek Pardon, Vic Law, and graduate transfer Ryan Taylor. Close games at Indiana and at home against #5 Michigan point to this team having the potential to turn around their fortunes as the season progresses and compete for a tournament berth in the ultra-competitive Big Ten.
- Nebraska (12-4, 2-3)
- There is a clear line of separation between the top 10 and the bottom 4 in the Big Ten. Nebraska has been in and out of the AP Top 25 this year and should continue to be a tough challenge while at home for Big Ten opponents. Could this be the year Tim Miles finally breaks into the NCAA Tournament? It very well may be if the Huskers can find a way to stay around .500 in the Big Ten this year.
- Iowa (14-3, 3-3)
- Fran “Red Face” McCaffrey has yet another pesky, fringe-top 25 team this year. With a collection of blue-collar players like Jordan Bohannon and Luka Garza, Iowa has the look of that annoying team who screws up a top team’s bid for a top 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. Look for Iowa to be strong at home, as evidenced by wins against #16 Ohio State, #24 Nebraska, and a solid Iowa State team. In contrast, I expect they will be hit or miss on the road this year but likely find their way into the NCAA tournament.
- Minnesota (13-3, 3-2)
- Minnesota makes no sense to me. Losses to an average Boston College team and at home by 17 to Maryland make Minnesota look like an average at best team, but the Gophers have been great at taking care of business this year. Richard Pitino has another squad that should be able to compete in the Big Ten. However, his coaching talent will be tested by the depth of the conference as a whole.
- Ohio State (12-4, 2-3)
- This Ohio State team bothers me for some reason. While the results point to the Buckeyes being a Top 25 team, the loss at home to Syracuse and road losses to Iowa and Rutgers in the same week make me think this team overachieved early in the season. Regardless, Chris Holtman has a strong roster that should be in a position to compete for an NCAA tournament berth. I would not be surprised if the Buckeyes got hot at the right time and made a run through the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.
- Wisconsin (11-5, 3-2)
- Ethan Happ is one of those really annoying players the Big Ten seems to have every year that just has to be respected because of how good he is. Coming into the season, Wisconsin was thought of as a team that would compete for a Big Ten championship, but has taken a step back as their losses have mounted throughout the season. However, behind Happ and Aaron Craft 2.0 (Brad Davison),Wisconsin has a ceiling higher than most of the teams below them in the power rankings.
- Indiana (12-4, 3-2)
- Send me all your hate fellow IU fans. I am putting us below Purdue. “But the Hoosiers have the better record overall and in the conference!” I hear you guys. I really do. But, the Hoosiers have been unimpressive to me this season. Outside of Romeo Langford and Juwan Morgan, Archie Miller doesn’t have anybody he can really trust to score at will. The defense is elite and that should continue, but the losses at Maryland and at Michigan are hard to overlook. A fast start squandered at Maryland cost the Hoosiers a huge momentum building win and the loss at Michigan stopped the Hoosiers from making a statement about their competitiveness in the conference. Archie should have the Hoosiers in the tournament for the first time in his tenure, but it may not be a high seed as many hope and expect.
- Purdue (10-6, 3-2)
- Carsen Edwards is an absolute beast. I am not looking forward to whoever is guarding him when the Hoosiers travel to West Lafayette this weekend. Coming off a very impressive OT win at Wisconsin where Edwards scored 36, the Boilers are starting to settle in and find a rhythm. Matt Painter finally started freshman Trevion Williams who has given the Boilers the presence in the paint this team has been lacking all year. In spite of his rough shooting from the field (4-11 for 9 pts), his size and rebounding ability should remind fans of Caleb Swanigan. Purdue is building positive momentum and the roster is starting to come together, which should translate to more wins as the season progresses.
- Maryland (14-3, 5-1)
- I have a friend who goes to Maryland that has zero belief in this team. He told me: “Not a team. Just a bunch of players. No clear, defined goals, no mission, no belief in the people getting you there.” That was before the Terrapins came all the way back from down 17 at home against Indiana to win. The trio of Anthony Cowans, Bruno Fernando, and Jalen Smith is one of the best three-man groups in the conference. Bruno Fernando is a stud and should give bigs throughout the conference a fit over the course of the season. Mark Turgeon and this team may not have the seal of approval from some Maryland fans, but this team looks legit and ready to make a name for itself in the Big Ten.
- Michigan State (14-2, 5-0)
- Tom Izzo has another deep and talented group in East Lansing. Led by seniors Josh Langford and Cassius Winston, the Spartans look like another Izzo Final Four squad. With their only losses coming at the hands of Kansas and on the road at an underrated Louisville team, Michigan State should continue to take care of business in conference play. And with no matchups against Michigan until the very end of the season, the Spartans could be undefeated in the conference and continue to rise up the AP Poll.
- Michigan (16-0, 5-0)
- 31-1. That’s Michigan’s record over their last 32 games. The one loss: the national championship game against Villanova, who the Wolverines ran out the gym early in the season. Jordan Poole is one of my favorite players to watch in the Big Ten and Ignas Brazdeikis is a rare talent and a Big Ten Freshman of the Year candidate. Michigan is the type of team that refuses to beat itself and one I fully expect to win most, if not all, of their games going forward.
End of Season Award Projections
Big Ten Player of the Year
- Carsen Edwards
- Ethan Happ
- Jordan Poole
- Romeo Langford
- Cassius Winston
Who wins it?
- Carsen Edwards should walk away with player of the year in the Big Ten and very likely National Player of the Year. He is the straw that stirs the drink for Purdue and has singlehandedly kept the Boilermakers afloat throughout the season and should maintain his production as the team improves around him.
Big Ten Freshman of the Year
- Romeo Langford
- Ignas Brazdeikis
Who Wins it?
- Romeo Langford. A consensus top 10 pick in the upcoming NBA draft, Langford has done nothing to slide down draft boards this year posting an 18.8/5.5/2.6 stat line while shooting 51.3% from the field and 73.9% from the free throw line. What’s more impressive is the step Romeo has taken in conference play, upping his line to 22/5/2 shooting 54.7% from the field, 40% from 3, and 88.9% from the free throw line. Brazdeikis has had an impressive season, but Langford is a top 10 pick for a reason and is showing it more and more each game.