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Big Ten Hoops Preview and Power Rankings

it is time

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Tomorrow at noon E.T. Indiana tips off in Assembly Hall against Nebraska to open this early-season stretch of Big Ten play before the holidays. Also noteworthy: Purdue opens its Big Ten season tonight as the No. 2 team in the country with a home game against Iowa. This will be the last Purdue game before the next AP poll, and with Duke’s loss to Ohio State this week, the Boilermakers have a shot at the No. 1 spot for the first time in program history. (Go Hawkeyes!)

As a graduate of The Media School at Indiana University, I feel as though it would be journalistic malpractice to take a step that the Associated Press has never taken themselves, so I will not put Purdue in the one spot of our power rankings. I am a spiteful man. Anyway, here is our first power rankings of the Big Ten basketball season, as I take the dubious task of judging teams based on fewer than 10 games!

1. Michigan State

Record: 6-2

KenPom/Bart Torvik: 24/18

With their only losses coming to teams ranked in the top 10 and with solid wins against UConn, Louisville and at Butler, the Spartans are off to a solid start this year after losing Joshua Langford and Aaron Henry in the offseason. Michigan State has plenty of experience this year as four of its top five scorers are juniors or seniors, led by senior Gabe Brown’s 13 points per game. Freshman Max Christie also looks good so far, averaging 8.3 points and 3.1 boards per game.

2. Purdue

Record: 7-0

KenPom/Bart Torvik: 2/2

Computers love the Boilermakers, sports media loves them, they’re 7-0 with wins over UNC, Villanova, and FSU so far, and are 12-point favorites in their conference opener with Iowa tonight. They are definitely not bad.

3. Ohio State

Record: 5-2

KenPom/Bart Torvik: 21/26

Sure, they also have two losses, but the Buckeyes are the only team in the conference with a win over the AP No. 1 team. E.J. Liddell looks like one of the best players in the conference right now, averaging 21.3 points per game on 40-percent 3-point shooting. They began the season ranked with many experts picking them to finish near the top of the conference and both of their early losses (at Xavier and to No. 23 Florida) are forgivable at this stage.

4. Indiana

Record: 6-1

KenPom/Bart Torvik: 31/21

Indiana basketball looks pretty fun again, albeit imperfect. The turnovers Tuesday against Syracuse were frustrating and, alongside questionable officiating, led to Mike Woodson’s first loss as a college coach. Still, this group has shown massive improvement in 3-point shooting, up to 37.6 percent this year from 32.4 percent last year, and has played at a significantly faster pace offensively. Plus, Trayce Jackson-Davis looks like the best player in college basketball at the moment.

5. Wisconsin

Record: 6-1

KenPom/Bart Torvik: 28/32

In case you haven’t watched the Badgers yet this season, I regret to inform you that Brad Davison is still playing college basketball at a pretty high level. Doubling as an agitator and guard, he’s averaging 15.3 points per game even while shooting a career-low 31.4 percent from three so far. With Archie Miller gone, Greg Gard seems poised to take on the role of upholding the Big Ten’s reputation for playing ugly, low-scoring, physical basketball. KenPom has their defense ranked 11th with the offense lagging behind at 60th. Yuck!

6. Illinois

Record: 5-2

KenPom/Bart Torvik: 22/22

Illinois was without Kofi Cockburn for its loss to Marquette in the Gavitt Games, so it gets a pass for that one. Since his return from a three-game suspension to start the season, Cockburn has been dominant, averaging 26.8 points per game. The Illini did lose to Cincinnati on a neutral court in Cockburn’s worst game and it seems like the trend may be that this team goes as far as he can take them. Many of the people who were high on Illinois coming into the year counted on Andre Curbelo taking a huge leap this year, which has not quite happened yet, as he’s been committing four turnovers per game so far this year.

7. Iowa

Record: 7-0

KenPom/Bart Torvik: 20/24

Hawkeye fans will probably resent that I have an undefeated team so low in the power rankings, but they’ve played an even weaker schedule than Indiana so far this year as Fran McCaffery has to adjust to Life After Luka. Jordan Bohannon is playing his SIXTH season of college basketball this year and appears to be back to his usual self, hitting 44.7 percent of his threes so far and averaging 11.4 points per game. Sophomore Keegan Murray is also off to a hot start, averaging 24.6 points per game.

8. Michigan

Record: 4-3

KenPom/Bart Torvik: 18/23

The preseason darling Michigan Wolverines’ best win so far this year came in their first game against Buffalo, which comes in at a whopping 83rd on KenPom. With losses to Seton Hall, Arizona, and North Carolina – two of which have first-year head coaches – Michigan has yet to beat anybody impressive. Caleb Houstan has looked good, not great, averaging 8.7 points on just 28.6-percent 3-point shooting.

9. Northwestern

Record: 5-2

KenPom/Bart Torvik: 42/53

With their win over Tom Crean’s Georgia Bulldogs, one could argue that Northwestern has a more impressive resume than Michigan so far this year. Senior Pete Nance leads the Wildcats with 17.3 points per game behind a career-high 52.8 field-goal percentage. Fellow upperclassmen Boo Buie and Ryan Young also have double-digit scoring averages, with 16.7 and 11.9 points per game, respectively. Outside of that Georgia win, they’ve been unimpressive against their high-major and mid-major opponents, with losses to Providence and Wake Forest.

10. Maryland

Record: 5-3

KenPom/Bart Torvik: 48/62

Maryland was mostly projected to finish towards the middle of the conference, but after dropping its last two games they made the “mutual decision” to part ways with Mark Turgeon. The Terps’ last two losses, to Virginia Tech and Louisville, don’t look awful yet, so the earlier loss to George Mason may have been the final straw for Turgeon. Danny Manning was announced as the interim head coach, despite this being his first year on the Maryland coaching staff. Manning’s experience aside, it’s hard to have much faith in a team who fired their coach just eight games into the season.

11. Rutgers

Record: 4-3

KenPom/Bart Torvik: 88/88

After the top 10 teams in the conference, things start to get a little ugly, starting with Rutgers. Senior Ron Harper Jr. leads the team in points per game (16.1) and rebounds per game (9.0). The Scarlet Knights have also benefitted from Cliff Omoruyi taking a huge leap this year, averaging 12 points a game so far this season. With losses to DePaul, Lafayette, and UMass already this year though, their tournament hopes aren’t looking great.

12. Penn State

Record: 4-3

KenPom/Bart Torvik: 86/97

First year coach Micah Shrewsberry has had a bit of a tough start with three losses already. The Nittany Lions took LSU to overtime, but outside of that, their best win came against an underwhelming Oregon State team. Like Rutgers, which at least has a win over Clemson, the Nittany Lions also lost to UMass.

13. Nebraska

Record: 5-3

KenPom/Bart Torvik: 97/107

Nebraska opened the season with a home loss to Western Illinois. Don’t have too much else to add, they’re just pretty bad. Their best win is against Sam Houston State, ranked No. 215 on KenPom.

14. Minnesota

Record: 6-0

KenPom/Bart Torvik: 100/103

The Gophers’ 6-0 record right now is truly a masterclass in scheduling. I’ll miss the humor that the small, incompetent Pitino brought to the conference. Having a designated failson in the conference is always a good thing.