We are done with non-conference play and two games into what should be a raucous Big Ten season. Conference play resumes tonight, so let’s recalibrate the rankings as we jump into 2019:
14. Illinois (4-9)
It’s already been a long season for the Illini, who Indiana will host tomorrow night. They went 0-for-3 in Maui, and lost in overtime to FAU over the weekend. Trent Frazier provides some moments of inspiration for this team, but mostly, this is gearing up to be another lost season in Champaign.
Which begs the question: would the Illini cut ties with Brad Underwood after just 2 years and pursue Fred Hoiberg? AD Josh Whitman seems like a loyal guy (see: his recent contract extension to Lovie Smith), but Hoiberg, whose failure with the Bulls was more the fault of GarPax than his own, could be a dynamic hire to a program that hasn’t really been itself for almost a decade now. But with the UCLA job open now too after Steve Alford’s firing, maybe Hoiberg is already destined to head to Westwood?
13. Rutger (7-5)
Steve Pikiell has improved the on-court product of the Scarlet Knights, and the defense has been up to B1G standards, but without any offensive playmaking, Rutger could still have trouble making a dent into the conference standings. Against MSU and Wisconsin, this team had an Indiana football-like quality of sticking around for three-fourths of the game until falling apart in the final few minutes. They also fell to Fordham and almost lost to Columbia.
12. Penn State (7-6)
The Nittany Lions just can’t get over the hump in close games. A two-point loss to IU. A three-point loss to Bradley. An overtime loss to DePaul. It all is starting to add up, but at least the win over Virginia Tech gave them a highlight to non-conference season.
11. Northwestern (9-4)
10. Minnesota (11-2)
The Gophers had a huge come-from-behind victory over Nebraska, and got wins over several middle-of-the-road power conference schools, but things are about to step up when they travel to Wisconsin on Thursday. Both Jordan Murphy and Amir Coffey are “they still play here?” first-teamers.
9. Purdue (8-5)
Carsen Edwards is having a fantastic season, as predicted. But he can’t do it himself, and other Boilers around him just aren’t stepping up enough to come through for big victories yet. Purdue has already played a tough schedule, and it doesn’t get any easier — after hosting Iowa tomorrow they’ll play at MSU and Wisconsin.
8. Maryland (10-3)
The best win so far for Maryland has been against Penn State at home. The Terps have coasted through easier competition thus far, but could make a statement tonight with a win over Nebraska in College Park. Anthony Cowan has become a reliable point guard, but other than him the Terps are a very young team — they’ll have room to grow throughout conference play.
7. Iowa (11-2)
The 0-2 record in conference so far is a little deceiving, since the losses were to Wisconsin and MSU. The Hawkeyes went perfect in the non-con, including convincing wins over UConn, Oregon, and Iowa State. As usual with Fran McCaffery teams, when Iowa’s shots are falling, this is a dangerous bunch.
6. Nebraska (11-2)
The Huskers got stomped by #1 defense Texas Tech and lost on the road at Minnesota, but otherwise it’s been smooth sailing, which is not something you often say about Nebrasketball. James Palmer is a top-tier B1G player, while Isaac Copeland continues to be a force in the paint. Meanwhile, Nebraska has two reserves with great names: Johnny Trueblood, and Iceland native Thorir Thorbjarnarson.
5. Indiana (11-2)
With 4 wins by a total of 8 combined points, this team is not good for your heart. Juwan Morgan’s triple-double over Jacksonville was pretty cool to watch in an otherwise mundane victory. Morgan hasn’t gotten as much hype as other top players, but that could change in an upcoming stretch of Michigan/Maryland/Nebraska/Purdue after tomorrow night’s game against Illinois.
4. Wisconsin (10-3)
So far, Wisconsin seems to be back to their normal routine after last year’s aberration, and losses to UVA and at Marquette are forgivable. The Badgers did lose at WKU over the weekend, but I’m not going to hold that loss against them too much, seeing as the Hilltoppers were out for revenge this year after getting screwed out of a victory in Madison last season.
3. Ohio State (12-1)
The Buckeyes had two nice early wins at Cincinnati and Creighton, and haven’t really looked back since. Kaleb Wesson is yet another reliable big man in this conference, and Chris Holtmann seems to have revitalized the Buckeyes from the funk they were in a few years ago. They’ll try to make a statement on Saturday when they host Michigan State.
2. Michigan State (11-2)
Tom Izzo’s teams aren’t generally known for their pace of play, but Sparty seems to be mixing it up this season — they’re 72nd in tempo instead of in the 200s like in past seasons. MSU has an incredibly efficient offense, and can seemingly turn it on at any time — the beginning of their second half against Iowa, where they outscored the Hawkeyes 23-2, is a prime example.
1. Michigan (13-0)
They’re not just the best team in the Big Ten, they could be the best team in the country right now.
And Indiana will get to play them in Ann Arbor on Sunday afternoon.