Michigan State has been the class of the Big Ten so far this season, which was expected. The Spartans return Player of the Year candidate Miles Bridges and have teamed him up with a talented group of players young and old that the rest of the conference simply can’t match.
This was always going to be Michigan State’s season. But what happened to the rest of the Big Ten? Purdue and Minnesota have been fine, but many of the conference’s usual contenders are underwhelming so far.
Here at Land of 10’s power rankings, I’ll give a rundown of how things look each Monday morning. With football season over and the Big Ten completing a brief detour into conference play last week, let’s get to it:
1. Michigan State
9-1, 2-0 Big Ten
The Spartans did play Rutgers a whole lot closer than they should have, but they’re still easily the class of the Big Ten. Part of that is due to the fact that no one else in the conference is remotely challenging the Spartans, but it’s also because Tom Izzo’s team has been mostly blowing out folks since losing to Duke in the Champions Classic. Sophomores Nick Ward and Cassius Winston and freshmen Jaren Jackson Jr. round out a talented core for Michigan State, and it’s helped the team withstand poor-shooting performances. They’ve all been special, but Jackson’s tantalizing length and athleticism have proven too much for most of Michigan State’s opponents so far. Here’s an example:
— Michigan St. on BTN (@MichiganStOnBTN) December 9, 2017
Another example: Jackson’s statline against Rutgers. He had 11 points, 3 rebounds, 8 blocks(!!) and 3-for-5 from the free-throw line.
Michigan State’s lone game this week is against Oakland on Saturday.
10-2, 2-0 Big Ten
The Boilermakers suffered back-to-back losses to Tennessee and Middle Tennessee State two weeks ago, but haven’t lost since. Purdue’s surviving on the strength of three seniors and a sophomore, all of whom have been able to pick up the slack with Caleb Swanigan off in the NBA. Coach Matt Painter has seen an increase in production and efficiency across the board. Isaac Haas, Vince and Carsen Edwards and Dakota Mathias have made steady improvements, and that’s made for a balanced team.
Purdue passed its first two Big Ten tests, defeating Maryland and Northwestern. The Boilermakers followed those up with wins over Valparaiso and IUPUI. A neutral-site game against Butler on Saturday is likely Purdue’s toughest game until Big Ten play resumes.
8-3, 1-1 Big Ten
This was a bad week for the Gophers.
A 10-point loss Tuesday to a Nebraska team that doesn’t look like it’ll make much noise this season wasn’t great, but it was one game. Combine that with a 16-point loss to Arkansas on Saturday, however, and Minnesota’s trending downward after some preseason hype. A home game against Drake on Monday should get the Gophers pointed back in the right direction, but they likely will look back at the end of the season and wish they could have notched another win this early in the season.
5-4, 1-1 Big Ten
Northwestern has gone from preseason darling to probable NIT team quickly. A startling 36-point loss to Texas Tech dropped the Wildcats to 3-2. A 52-51 loss to Georgia Tech won’t look great when the committee examines Northwestern, and a 74-69 setback to Purdue is an opportunity Chris Collins’ team would like to have back.
8-3, 1-1 Big Ten
This is somewhat of an awkward rebuilding season for Michigan, but it’s going OK so far. Junior Moe Wagner and Kentucky transfer Charles Matthews are the go-to offensive options for the Wolverines, with freshman Jordan Poole contributing in streaks. An early-season loss to LSU didn’t look great, and blowing a 20-point lead against Ohio State was a bad look. Michigan’s overtime win over UCLA is probably its best win so far, which gives a Tuesday game against Texas even more importance.
9-3, 1-1 Big Ten
Maryland lost Melo Trimble to the NBA and hasn’t found a way to replace his production. The Terps are a young team that routinely plays three sophomores with two freshmen late in games, and its offensive fluidity routinely pays the price. There’s no go-to scorer to bail them out late in the shot clock like Trimble was able to, and potential first-round pick Justin Jackson has been underwhelming so far. Point guard Anthony Cowan and freshman Bruno Fernando have been Maryland’s standout performers so far, but they’ll need help from a bench that lacks playmakers or lockdown defenders.
7. Ohio State
8-3, 2-0 Big Ten
Ohio State has been better than expected this season. A coaching change combined with a couple players leaving figured to result in a Buckeyes team finishing near the bottom of the conference. But Chris Holtmann is getting the best out of Ohio State in his first season there. Losses to Gonzaga and Clemson were predictable, though a 1-point overtime loss to Butler is one this young team probably needed. A 20-point comeback win over Michigan was fun, and an absolute decimation of a bad Wisconsin team (more on that soon) was impressive at least for its 25-point margin.
4-7, 1-1 Big Ten
Ethan Happ deserves better than this. Wisconsin is unable to surround its star forward with enough production, and has paid the price against one of the toughest schedules in the country so far. Happ is averaging 16 points and 8 rebounds per game, and KenPom rates him as one of the top 10 players in the country. Apart from him, Brad Davison is the only other Badger to average double-digit points. The Badgers picked a bad season to schedule Xavier, Baylor and Virginia, but they can’t point to strength of schedule as their only problem. A blowout loss to Ohio State paints a dark picture for Wisconsin heading forward. The Badgers encounter a slew of cupcake mid-majors before conference play starts again, but things look really bad in Madison.
9. Penn State
8-3, 1-1 Big Ten
Penn State has been better than expected so far this season. Sophomore Tony Carr is leading the Nittany Lions’ offense for the second consecutive season, averaging 20 points per game on 44 percent shooting. He’s actually more efficient from beyond the arc (55 percent) than inside (40 percent). Pat Chambers’ team hasn’t registered any particularly impressive wins so far, but was competitive in losses to Texas A&M and N.C. State, as well as in a 1-point loss to Wisconsin. The Nittany Lions won’t be tested much until they resume Big Ten play against Maryland on Jan. 2.
7-4, 1-1 Big Ten
Nebraska has seemed non-threatening, but a win over Minnesota looks pretty good right now. Still, Tim Miles’ team doesn’t seem like it’ll make much noise. A game against Kansas on Saturday is a huge test for the Huskers.
5-5, 1-1 Big Ten
Archie Miller’s first season has been rocky, as expected. The Hoosiers hung with Duke for a while on Nov. 29, and that’s about the most notable thing they’ve done so far.
5-6, 0-2 Big Ten
It’s been rough going for Iowa this season. Back-to-back losses to Louisiana-Lafayette and South Dakota State exposed some major flaws for Fran McCaffery’s team.
7-4, 0-2 Big Ten
Illinois has lost four of its past five games in Brad Underwood’s first season, though its conference losses to Maryland and Northwestern both came in overtime. Still, we’re in Year 1 of a rebuild in Champaign.
8-3, 0-2 Big Ten
Rutgers drew an unfortunate early slate in the Big Ten, and lost to Michigan State and Minnesota. Still, that 8-3 record is definitely deceiving. KenPom ranks the Scarlet Knights as the worst team in the conference. Rutgers’ best win so far is against East Carolina, a team that is 263rd in KenPom’s rankings.
Big Ten highlight of the week
This sequence wasn’t bad.
Ethan Happ dunks on Mike Watkins. ✅
Mike Watkins dunks on Ethan Happ. ✅
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) December 5, 2017
Big Ten game to watch for Week 6: Michigan vs. Texas
Michigan’s hoping for a repeat of its performance against UCLA, and it’ll need to be at its best to beat a Texas team that features Mo Bamba, a lanky prospect who’s expected to be a lottery pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Tune in Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN2
See you back here next Monday!