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Big Ten power rankings: College basketball is back

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A 3-on-5 game, a dominant force in Sparty, and a poor showing against ACC teams highlight the Big Ten so far.

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

We’re three weeks into the 2017-18 college basketball season. After tying the Big East in the Gavitt Games, the Big Ten had a very disappointing showing in the ACC/B1G Challenge, where they got destroyed 11-3. In addition, teams participated in a flurry of holiday tournaments.

Big Ten play starts tonight, on account of the season ending earlier for the B1G Tourney in Madison Square Garden this year. Each team will play two games in three days, then conference play won’t resume until around New Year’s. As conference play starts, here’s where each team stands.

TIER 5: Nowhere to go but up

14. Rutger

Best win: vs. #247 East Carolina
Worst loss: vs. #40 Florida State

Don’t let the lack of big wins and the 14th-place rank fool you: Rutger is definitely improving. Steve Pikiell has a top-50 defense in Piscataway; however, the offense has failed to progress at the same rate. Games with the head of the conference in Minnesota and Michigan State await the Scarlet Knights though, as does a non-conference in-state fight with Seton Hall.

13. Nebraska

Best win: vs. #96 Boston College
Worst loss: vs. #73 UCF

The Huskers got one of the Big Ten’s only three ACC-Big Ten Challenge victories, but it did come at the expense of Boston College, who could be in the ACC cellar once again this year. This team will need big performances from Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland all year - he played poorly in both of the Huskers’ losses.

12. Iowa

Best win: vs. #133 UAB
Worst loss: vs. #115 Louisiana-Lafayette

Iowa had two bad losses - against Louisiana-Lafayette and South Dakota State - in an event called the Cayman Islands Classic. I can be forgiving of a team going 1-2 in what sounded like a disastrous event according to Cincinnati blog Oh Varsity, but a 24-point loss earlier this week to Virginia Tech is not a good early-season look. The Hawkeyes play at Indiana on Monday night.

TIER 4: The new coaches category

11. Indiana

Best win: vs. #148 Eastern Michigan
Worst loss: vs. #180 Indiana State

To be honest, if the Hoosiers don’t get run out the gym on opening night, I’d probably have them 3-4 spots higher right now. Nonetheless, it’s the worst loss of any B1G team so far, and hard to look past, even if the Hoosiers have improved since then and gave Duke a fight the other night. Archie Miller’s team still needs to improve on the defensive end, especially from behind the arc, and free throws have been a concern thus far as well.

10. Illinois

Best win: vs. #130 DePaul
Worst loss: vs. #81 Wake Forest

Brad Underwood’s teams always play fast, and some B1G teams may have trouble keeping up with the Illini this year. But unlike Jawun Evans on his Oklahoma State team last year, Underwood doesn’t seem to have any game-changing players on this Illinois roster thus far. They’ll get a nice test to start conference play at Northwestern and hosting Maryland.

9. Ohio State

Best win: vs. #93 Stanford
Worst loss: vs. #58 Butler

Chris Holtmann suffered a one-point overtime loss to his old squad, Butler, in the PK80 last weekend, despite leading by 15 with under 4 minutes remaining. The Buckeyes have faced stiff competition so far, but have also now lost 3 of their last 4 and travel to Wisconsin on Saturday.

TIER 3: Still not sure what to make of them

8. Northwestern

Best win: vs. #128 La Salle
Worst loss: vs. #63 Georgia Tech

A season after the first-ever NCAA Tourney bid, the Wildcats find themselves in the unusual position of being victims of preseason hype. A 36-point loss to Texas Tech was a disastrous performance a few weeks ago, and Northwestern couldn’t seal the deal against either Crieghton or Georgia Tech. And it doesn’t get too much easier - on Sunday, the Wildcats head to Mackey.

7. Penn State

Best win: vs. #155 Pitt
Worst loss: vs. #79 N.C. State

The Nittany Lions have a trio of Philly-based sophomores - Tony Carr, Lamarr Stevens, and Nazeer Bostick - who are all starting this year. Carr - a 6-5 point guard - has especially been a scoring machine so far. Penn State hoops has been absent from the tourney for several years now - could this be the breakout year? The win over Pitt was triumphant, but Tuesday night’s loss to N.C. State suggested they might still be a year away. Regardless, Penn State could be a hard out for any B1G opponent, and they put up a fight against a very strong Texas A&M team last month.

6. Wisconsin

Best win: vs. #111 Yale
Worst loss: vs. #45 UCLA

The Badgers lost 49-37 to Virginia in what might be the ugliest game of the entire season. At this point you know what to expect from Wisconsin, and though they have four losses already, all are against Tourney-caliber teams. We’ll see if their tough early schedule rewards them down the road.

5. Maryland

Best win: vs. #58 Butler
Worst loss: vs. #70 St. Bonaventure

Both of the Terps’ losses were by only two points. The loss to the Bonnies was especially damaging because it prevented them from an opportunity to face TCU. The Terps should have a raucous atmosphere in Xfinity Center tonight, as they take on Purdue to start conference play. Like Penn State, the Terps will be counting on a trio of sophomores in Anthony Cowan, Justin Jackson, and Kevin Huerter to do well this season.

4. Michigan

Best win: vs. #87 VCU
Worst loss: vs. #91 LSU

Losing to LSU in the first Maui game prevented the Wolverines from potential games against Notre Dame or Wichita State, and the Wolverines were never in contention against UNC Tuesday night.. Regardless, Michigan has a tough stretch of IU, OSU, UCLA, and Texas up next. Will Kentucky transfer Charles Matthews and 6-11 junior Mo Wagner be up for the challenge?

TIER 2: Protected NCAA Tournament seed potential

3. Minnesota

Best win: vs. #31 Alabama
Worst loss: vs. #17 Miami

Who needs Rick Pitino in college hoops when his son is establishing a similarly tenacious squad up in the Twin Cities? Jordan Murphy has had a double-double in every game thus far - he’s positioned himself to be a prime candidate for B1G Player of the Year. The home loss to Miami stings, but Minnesota can lay claim one of the funniest wins of the year last Saturday, when they defeated Alabama as the Crimson Tide played with only three players (including the incredible Collin Sexton) down the stretch. Bama actually outscored the Gophers in the 3-on-5 lineup, and the game was great theater in the midst of a packed college football Saturday.

2. Purdue

Best win: vs. #16 Arizona
Worst loss: vs. #131 WKU

Yes, the Boilers blew games to Tennessee and WKU last week. But while Purdue went 1-2 in Atlantis, they did have a nice final-game victory against an Arizona team that seems distracted by the FBI scandal fallout. The Boilers also know how to win ugly and play tough defense at home, as the win over Louisville on Tuesday proved. More concerning, however, are the weak rebounding totals of Purdue’s twin towers - Isaac Haas and Matt Haarms. When the threes fall for Purdue, however, this offense has potential to be lethal.

TIER 1: The team to beat

1. Michigan State

Best win: vs. #11 UNC
Worst loss: vs. #6 Duke

The class of the conference right now, and have now put together two great performances in a row against UNC and Notre Dame. Sparty’s only blemish thus far is a loss in Chicago to Duke, but like IU on Wednesday, they stayed right with Duke until the last few minutes. Sophomores Miles Bridges and Cassius Winston are really coming into their own for MSU as well. In short, never count Tom Izzo out.