Here’s this week’s Big Ten basketball power rankings:
14. Northwestern (10-11, 1-7): Things are as bleak as ever for a Northwestern team that has lost seven consecutive games, with its only conference win coming against Rutgers. Despite their recent losing streak, the Wildcats have been in striking distance almost every game at one point or another. Four of their losses have been by three points or less, while they’ve lost the other three games by a combined total of 20 points. There’s been one lone bright spot for the team, which is the play of freshman guard Bryant McIntosh. Over the last seven games he has averaged 14.6 points on an efficient 48 percent shooting. His offensive rating is 102.9, which tops every other freshman in the Big Ten this season. This week: Feb. 3 at Nebraska; Feb. 7 at No. 5 Wisconsin.
13. Rutgers (10-13, 2-8): Since their upset win over conference-leading Wisconsin, the Scarlet Knights have suffered a long losing streak of their own for six games. Their Jan. 27 matchup with MSU was pushed back two days due to a snow storm, and they ended up losing by 20 points in the makeup game. During Saturday’s loss at Indiana, Rutgers managed to put up a good fight for most of the game. Ultimately, the Scarlet Knights and their Big Ten-worst offense could not produce enough against the league’s second-worst defense and allowed the Hoosiers to pull away late. The upcoming schedule does not provide any hope for a late season turnaround. Their remaining opponents have a combined record of 44-28 in conference play. Due to the effect of last week’s snowstorm, Tuesday’s contest against Illinois will be their third game in six days. This week: Feb. 3 at Illinois; Feb. 8 vs. No. 20 Ohio State.
12. Penn State (14-8, 2-7): The Nittany Lions had gone on a two-game winning streak before suffering a close road loss to a shorthanded Illinois team on Saturday afternoon. They began last week by holding off a late Minnesota push to win at home, picking up its second Big Ten win of the season. It took a collective effort on the offensive end to do so with star guard and leading scorer D.J. Newbill limited to 12 points. Six role players came up big with at least six points to make up for his off night. With four of Penn State’s next five games against the top three teams in the conference, things are looking pretty rough for the near future. The Nittany Lions are projected to win just two of their remaining nine games. That makes their NIT Tournament outlook slim, and could possibly put head coach Pat Chambers on the hot seat. This week: Feb. 4 at Maryland; Feb. 7 at Nebraska.
11. Nebraska (12-9, 4-5): Heading into last week, Nebraska had appeared to gain some momentum by winning four of its five previous games. That momentum came to sudden halt on Tuesday at the hands of a depleted Michigan team in Ann Arbor, and then on the road against an inconsistent Minnesota team on Saturday. The Huskers struggled mightily over the course of both games. They averaged 43 points per game and just 0.735 points per possession. Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields combined to shoot 13-43 in the losses. Against the Gophers, they turned the ball over on 33.2 percent of their possessions. The Huskers are set to play two teams below them in the standings this week, so maybe they can get back on track. This week: Feb. 3 vs. Northwestern; Feb. 7 at Penn State.
10. Minnesota (14-9, 3-7): Minnesota’s frustrating trend of losing close games have continued. Six of the Gophers’ Big Ten losses have been by five points or less. There hasn’t been much consistency with this team as they have alternated wins and losses since Jan. 13. That’s despite being one of just five teams in the conference with a positive efficiency margin. They have also failed to win a single road game during the conference schedule. The Gophers loss on the road to Penn State on Wednesday before picking up an 18-point win over Nebraska at home on Saturday. The win was Minnesota’s best defensive performance against a conference opponent since a March 13, 2010 victory over Purdue, 69-42. This week: Feb. 7 vs. Purdue.
9. Illinois (14-8, 4-5): On Saturday, Malcolm Hill carried the Fighting Illini to a late victory against Penn State at home. He shot 10-for-15 from the floor, which included four three-pointers, en route to a game-high 27 points. It was his third consecutive game scoring 18 points or more. With a combination of injuries and suspensions forcing Rayvonte Rice and Aaron Cosby to miss time, Hill has stepped up big time. Over the last three games since Crosby’s injury, he has averaged 21.0 points per game. Prior to the injury, he had been averaging 13.6 points per game. Illinois dressed only eight players against Penn State, but still found a way win thanks to Hill’s late game heroics. The Fighting Illini own a non-conference win over Baylor and a conference win against Maryland. If they finish out the conference season strong and continue to overcome injuries and suspensions, then they could find themselves on the bubble when it comes to making the NCAA tournament. This week: Feb. 3 vs. Rutgers; Feb. 7 at Michigan State.
8. Iowa (13-8, 4-4): There have been better days for the Hawkeyes. They are currently riding a three-game losing streak and senior forward Aaron White is playing through a shoulder injury. White had 15 points and seven rebounds and senior center Gabriel Olaseni came off the bench for 12 points against Wisconsin, but no one else provided much of anything, resulting in a nine-point loss at home. They have the worst defense in the Big Ten. Iowa allowed the Badgers 1.30 points per possession, which was an improvement compared to the 1.52 points per possession they gave up to Wisconsin 11 days earlier. The Hawkeyes have one of the five tallest teams in the country but cannot keep their opponents off the boards (64.0 defensive rebounding percentage). Thursday’s matchup with Michigan will be their fourth game in the last 17 games, which is a long time in conference play. Will their fresh legs give them an advantage over the Wolverines? This week: Feb. 5 at Michigan; Feb. 8 vs. Maryland.
7. Michigan (13-9, 6-4): Injuries have definitely been detrimental to the Wolverines this season. First, junior guard Caris LeVert suffered a season-ending foot injury, then last week sophomore guard Derrick Walton Jr. went down with a foot injury of his own. The team has not set a date for his return. In spite of their health issues, they were able to handle Nebraska at home before forcing overtime against MSU in East Lansing on Sunday. Michigan’s starting lineup consisted of three freshmen, one sophomore and one junior, while several walk-ons saw playing time in the first half. With a questionable backcourt moving forward, the Wolverines will continue to look to freshman guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman when it comes to taking on a larger role in the offense. For the past two games he played over 30 minutes in both contests. He scored 18 points on 8-for-14 shooting in the loss to the Spartans. This week: Feb. 5 vs. Iowa; Feb. 8 at Indiana.
6. Indiana (16-6, 6-3): The Hoosiers went 4-for-19 on three-point attempts in their loss to Purdue, while allowing the Boilermakers to shoot 72 percent on two-pointers. Sophomore forward Troy Williams bounced back in the team’s win over Rutgers with 14 points to go along with 12 rebounds. He was benched at the start of the game after he struggled against the Boilermakers, but responded nicely and with confidence. Although they defeated the Scarlet Knights, the Hoosiers still allowed more than a point per possession to the league’s worst offense. Indiana has the second-worst defense in the conference, which doesn’t help since their offensive play has been shaky to say the least. The Badgers are looming on the schedule. This week: Feb. 3 at Wisconsin; Feb. 8 vs. Michigan.
5. Michigan State (15-7, 6-3): In a rescheduled game against Rutgers, Branden Dawson was a man on a mission as he dropped 17 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. He was near perfect from the field, shooting 6-for-7, as the Spartans blew the Scarlet Knights out 71-51. He followed up that performance with 19 points and 10 rebounds in the Spartan’s overtime scare against in-state rival Michigan. They survived that scare by holding the Wolverines to two made baskets over the final 10 minutes of the game before shutting them out in the overtime period. The Spartans may have won both of their games last week with solid defensive efforts down the stretch, but overall, the effort on that end of the floor has been inconsistent. However, the Spartans are 5-1 when holding their opponents to under a point per possession during league play. This week: Feb. 7 vs. Illinois.
4. Purdue (14-8, 6-3): The Boilermakers have won three consecutive games, including an impressive home win over the Hoosiers. For a team with one of the worst defensive efficiency ratings, it’s surprising that they’ve held Iowa, Indiana and Northwestern under 70 points during the streak. Offensively, Purdue played to its strength, which is getting to the basket and drawing fouls. Over 80 percent of their points through both of their wins last week came on two-pointers or at the free throw line. Junior guard Raphael Davis scored 12 points against the Hoosiers and 19 points against the Wildcats. In both games, he earned the majority of his points at the charity stripe. This week: Feb. 4 vs. Ohio State; Feb. 7 at Minnesota.
3. No. 17 Maryland (18-4, 6-3): The Terps have hit a few bumps in the road recently. After a 19-point loss to Indiana heading into last week, they struggled against Northwestern but pulled out a one-point victory at home before getting blown out on the road by 24 points against Ohio State. Maryland shot just over 30 percent from the field against the Buckeyes while scoring only 16 points in the paint. The Terps leading scorer, freshman guard Melo Trimble, was held to a season-low three points and didn’t make a field goal thanks to stout individual defensive efforts by Shannon Scott and D’Angelo Russell. Ohio State also did a great job in its pick and roll coverage and did not allow Trimble to get to the basket. Maryland never had the lead in the game. With that said, the Terps are still a solid 14 games above the .500 mark, tied for second place in the conference, and are nowhere near in danger of missing out on a tournament berth. This week: Feb. 4 vs Penn State; Feb. 8 at Iowa.
2. No. 20 Ohio State (17-5, 6-3): Freshman guard D’Angelo Russell continues to be the man for the Buckeyes. He scored 18 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and dished out six assists in the team’s 80-56 blowout win over Maryland. Russell is undoubtedly the top NBA prospect in the conference and is one of the two best players in the Big Ten next to Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky. Freshman forward Jae’Sean Tate also had two good performances last week with 16 points and eight rebounds against Maryland and 20 points against Indiana. The Buckeyes also made lineup change that has seemingly made them even better with sophomore forward Marc Loving now coming off the bench. Loving had a slow beginning to the conference season but has really turned the corner for Ohio State. In the last two games against Maryland and Indiana, he scored 12 and 19 points respectively. He’s ranked No. 2 in the Big Ten and No. 35 nationally in true shooting percentage. This week: Feb. 4 at Purdue; Feb. 8 at Rutgers.
1. No. 5 Wisconsin (19-2, 7-1): It’s more than likely that the Badgers will continue to roll through Big Ten play. They probably won’t even suffer another loss this season. Here’s how their February schedule stacks up: Feb. 3 vs. Indiana, Feb. 7 vs. Northwestern, Feb. 10 at Nebraska, Feb. 15 vs. Illinois, Feb. 18 at Penn State, Feb. 21 vs. Minnesota and Feb. 24 at Maryland. During this span, starting point guard Traevon Jackson may return from injury. Since their embarrassing Jan. 11 loss to Rutgers, the Badgers have been winning comfortably, other than their overtime win against Michigan. Their most recent win came against Iowa on Saturday. The Badgers had beaten the Hawkeyes by 32 points 11 days earlier. This week: Feb. 3 vs. Indiana; Feb. 7 vs. Northwestern.