Big Ten competition finally gets underway Tuesday afternoon. So here are The Catch and Shoot’s final non-conference power rankings for the conference:
1. Wisconsin (12-1)
Wisconsin will lose games in the Big Ten, but it would not be surprising if the Badgers win the league by several games. Their only loss is to Duke, and they have beaten Oklahoma, Georgetown and California away from the Kohl Center.
Wisconsin struggled a bit with Buffalo in its final non-conference game, but the Badgers still beat the Bulls by 12.
2. Maryland (12-1)
There have been a handful of surprises in the Big Ten, but Maryland has been the only positive one. The Terrapins still have work to do — like basically every team does at this point in the season — but they are looking like a clear tournament team.
Dez Wells returned Saturday after missing seven games with a wrist injury. The Terps are finally at full strength, and they face a good test in their Big Ten opener at Michigan State.
3. Ohio State (11-2)
Ohio State is clearly a very good team, but the team’s résumé lacks anything resembling a significant win. While the Buckeyes avoided bad losses, their best victory is at home against Marquette.
D’Angelo Russell is one of the Big Ten’s best freshmen, and he has a good supporting cast. If the Buckeyes want a favorable seed in March, they will need a very strong showing in Big Ten play.
4. Minnesota (11-2)
Minnesota’s style of play has completely changed in Richard Pitino’s second year as head coach. The Golden Gophers ranked in the bottom-third of Division I last year in Kenpom adjusted tempo, and so far this year they rank in the top 10 nationally. The style is woking for Minnesota, which has won eight games in a row.
Deandre Mathieu has become one of the nation’s best distributors, averaging 6.6 assists and only 1.7 turnovers per game.
5. Michigan State (9-4)
Michigan State competed well with Kansas and Notre Dame early in non-conference play but failed to pull out a win in either game. So the Spartans are left without a quality out-of-league win, and they also lost on their home floor to Texas Southern.
Tom Izzo has not missed the 1996-97 season, and he most likely won’t miss it this year. But his squad does have a fair bit of work to do in conference play. They can get their first big win in their opener against Maryland.
6. Indiana (10-3)
Indiana nearly got a huge win against Georgetown at Madison Square Garden, but the Hoosiers lost in overtime. And they are in danger of a poor start to conference play, traveling to Nebraska and Michigan State and then hosting Ohio State in their first three league games.
In terms of a résumé, Indiana is in better shape than most Big Ten teams. The Hoosiers lost at home to Eastern Washington, but they also beat Southern Methodist, Pittsburgh and Butler.
The Hoosiers have an electric offense, but they will have to improve a ton defensively to finish in the top half of the Big Ten.
7. Illinois (10-3)
Illinois had opportunities for key wins against Miami (Fla.) and Villanova but lost both. The Illini have a good win against a Baylor, though.
John Groce is trying to get Illinois back to the NCAA Tournament after missing out last year, but his team will need to win some big games in the Big Ten. They have the talent to do so.
Getting Aaron Cosby going will be important for this team. Cosby was a very good scorer at Seton Hall, but with the Illini he is averaging 8.2 points on 30.8% shooting.
8. Penn State (12-1)
Penn State is in position to make its first NCAA Tournament since 2011. The Nittany Lions enter Big Ten play on a 10-game winning streak, including a big one against George Washington.
D.J. Newbill has become one of the best scorers in college basketball, and the rest of the team has fit in well around him.
9. Iowa (9-4)
Iowa can cling to that big win at North Carolina, but it’s still not convincing enough. The Hawkeyes also had opportunities against Texas, Syracuse, Iowa State and Northern Iowa, and they lost to all of them.
After a year where the Hawkeyes were all offense and no defense, this year it is basically the opposite. They rank No. 22 in defensive efficiency on Kenpom, but No. 108 in offensive efficiency.
10. Michigan (7-5)
A four-game losing streak in December brought Michigan from nationally ranked to nationally irrelevant. The Wolverines are stuck with a lackluster non-conference résumé. Their best wins are against Syracuse and Oregon, and they have bad losses to NJIT and Eastern Michigan.
Caris LeVert is a great player, but he needs more help out there.
11. Purdue (8-5)
Despite a home loss to North Florida, Purdue was looking like a possible Big Ten sleeper after 10 games. Then the Boilermakers lost three games in a row, including one on their home floor to Gardner-Webb.
Purdue is very young, and these struggles could be part of the growing process. This team may still be a year away from making any noise in the Big Ten.
12. Nebraska (8-4)
Nebraska’s 2013-14 performance is looking like a fluke.
The Cornhuskers have not protected their home court, falling to Creighton and Incarnate Word. They also lost on the road to Rhode Island and Hawaii. Wins against Florida State and Cincinnati are respectable, but nothing special.
Nebraska has a soft start to Big Ten play, which could help the team regain its footing. Here are the Cornhuskers’ first four games: vs. Indiana, at Iowa, vs. Rutgers, vs. Illinois.
13. Northwestern (9-4)
Northwestern has a talented young group, but it struggled in non-conference play. Losses to Northern Iowa, Georgia Tech and Butler were understandable, but a home loss to Central Michigan raises some major questions.
Northwestern has won three straight going into Big Ten play, but the Wildcats need their freshmen to grow up fast if they are going to compete.
14. Rutgers (8-5)
Rutgers has respectable wins against Clemson and Vanderbilt, but it also has some awful losses. The Scarlet Knights were blown out by St. Peter’s at home and also lost to St. Francis (Penn.). They needed a buzzer-beater Sunday to defeat Monmouth.
Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack are Big-Ten-level players, but they are going to be carrying the entire load for this team. Rutgers will win only a small handful of conference games, at best, but one of those could very possibly come Tuesday when they host Northwestern.