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Big Ten Basketball Power Rankings - Week 1 Edition

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With conference play underway, let’s examine who’s rising and falling in the Big Ten landscape

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at N.C. State Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Greetings, dear readers. I’m sure you thought with the Wolverines stomping the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten Championship game that you would no longer have to deal with my inane ramblings and frivolous commentary when it came to Big Ten rankings. Well, much like a child finding presents under the tree come Christmas morn, I have a surprise for you... I love college basketball even more than I love college football and therefore would like to welcome you to the weekly (hopefully) Big Ten Basketball Power Rankings!!!

Due to the somewhat recent expansion of the conference schedule, Big Ten play begins earlier than ever with most teams completing a couplet of games in the early part of December before fully diving into the conference slate near the turn of the New Year. Now that all fourteen teams in the conference have Big Ten games under their belt, let us examine where they fall in these completely subjective (and thoroughly unscientific) power rankings.

Things I consider when ranking teams (in no particular order and with no regard for consistency or proper weight): win-loss record, efficiency, strength of schedule, consistency, most recent run of play, cool factor (this is made up), whether I generally like the team or not (spoiler: everyone is awful except for Minnesota), etc, etc. In all seriousness, I’ll try to encapsulate realism with a dash of overreaction to the most recent results.

As for the tiers you have come to know and loathe in conjunction with this running series, I may, from time to time and for times’ sake, not include them. But I promise you, dear reader, I will do my best to continue to provide you with the quality of nonsense you have come to expect from this poorly executed and over-played bit if/when time allows. To kick off the 2021-2022 Big Ten basketball season, let’s start with college basketball coach tiers!!!

(Do with these rankings what you will. Overall record, conference record and overall KenPom efficiency ranking and NET Ranking as of time of typing (typically Monday morning) is provided next to each team, respectively. Click this link for more information on KenPom (link behind paywall). The previous week’s position in these pointless power rankings follows the three aforementioned superior metrics.)

The John Wooden Tier

#1 - Purdue Boilermakers (9-1, 1-1, 4th, 6th, last week N/A)

This is a bit of a layup, as the Wizard of Westwood played his college ball at Purdue before becoming an 10-time national champion coach at UCLA. Much like the GOAT of men’s college basketball coaching (Geno would like a word for the overall belt), Purdue has established themselves in the early going as the strongest squad in the conference. With one of the best offenses in the country to complement their perfect record, two high quality non-conference wins (North Carolina and Villanova at the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament) and a very impressive road win in Iowa City over the Hawkeyes, there aren’t any holes to really poke in the Boilermakers’ resume. Trevion Williams and Zach Edey are both impossible guards for most opponents and look to be two parts of the eventual First Team All-Big Ten front court.

The above is what I wrote prior to the Boilermakers’ two late week games, including the Piscataway Prayer from Thursday night that led to Purdue’s first loss of the season against an extremely suspect Rutgers team. Additionally, they had to scrape and claw back against North Carolina State to salvage an overtime win on Sunday afternoon. I personally think this is currently still the best team in the Big Ten but they probably shouldn’t have their own tier. For thematic purposes, I will keep it as such because it’s my rankings and I can do what I want. Sorry but not sorry.

The Mike Brey Tier

#2 - Michigan State Spartans (9-2, 2-0, 18th, 13th, last week N/A)

#3 - Ohio State Buckeyes (8-2, 2-0, 15th, 20th, last week N/A)

#4 - Illinois Fighting Illini (7-3, 2-0, 19th, 32nd, last week N/A)

#5 - Wisconsin Badgers (8-2, 1-1, 29th, 26th, last week N/A)

All of these teams are really, really good. They may stack up quality wins. They may threaten for a conference title. But I don’t think they’ll ever make you think, “Oh yeah, I could see this team winning a national championship.” Much like the tier’s namesake and current Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey. Wisconsin had an excellent showing in the Battle 4 Atlantis but just got thumped by Ohio State on Saturday. The Buckeyes have wins against Duke and Seton Hall and have played one of the toughest schedules in the country to date. Illinois has a high quality road win against Iowa but just dropped their third game of the season, their first home defeat, against Arizona on Saturday. Meanwhile, the Spartans have played their typical gauntlet of a schedule in the early-goings (ranks as 8th hardest per KenPom) and have only lost to Baylor and Kansas on neutral courts, ranked 1st and 3rd, respectively, in KenPom. They are the only team in the country thus far this season up to the task of defeating the red-hot rodents from Minneapolis, our beloved Golden Gophers... that counts for a lot in my book.

The Shaka Smart Tier

#6 - Indiana Hoosiers (8-2, 1-1, 27th, 43rd, last week N/A)

#7 - Minnesota Golden Gophers (8-1, 1-1, 69th, 35th, last week N/A)

#8 - Michigan Wolverines (6-4, 1-1, 20th, 50th, last week N/A)

#9 - Iowa Hawkeyes (7-3, 1-1, 30th, 33rd last week N/A)

The teams in this tier all have hype, whether because they are massively over-achieving (Gophers), a blue-blood program looking for rebirth (Indiana), a pre-season darling (Michigan), or a perennial offensive juggernaut (Iowa). But despite this hype, perhaps, for one reason or another, they won’t end up achieving truly high goals. Coach Smart once took VCU to the Final Four. And while he is a quality coach, with just a single losing season on his career resume, he, much like these teams, has never reached the heights of their hype. I know, I know, this doesn’t really fit the vibe of Minnesota’s season so far but these things can never be perfect... my least sincere apologies. Indiana has lost two games, both heart-breakers on the road, but have yet to capture a win outside of Assembly Hall. One could argue the Gophers have a better current on-paper resume. But I wanted to be a tentative with my handling of the maroon and gold as possible, preparing for the inevitable course correction that is very well coming down the road, despite an impressive performance in Ann Arbor on Saturday. While Michigan has dropped four games already, those losses have all been to quality opponents (depending on your feelings about the aforementioned Gophers). They have also played the 20th hardest schedule in the country per KenPom and have shown flashes of the potential their pre-season prognosticators portended to in ranking them 6th in the nation. Iowa has lost three straight, albeit against very high-level competition (Purdue, Illinois, Iowa State). They are still stuck in the heavily volatile (in more ways than one) McCaffery Ball, ranking 4th in the country in offense and 116th in defense.

The Richard Pitino Tier

#10 - Northwestern Wildcats (7-2, 1-0, 38th, 42nd, last week N/A)

#11 - Maryland Terrapins (6-4, 0-1, 52nd, 137th, last week N/A)

These teams, much like a Richard Pitino team, leave you just shrugging your shoulders and say, “Meh.” Not great, not terrible but also nothing really to write home about thus far. Northwestern defeated Maryland on the road so props to them for accumulated the rare Big Ten road victory but the rest of their resume, beyond the solid KenPom overall rating, is very mediocre. Maryland, on the hand, has several losses to mostly good teams sans George Mason and just captured a neutral court win over a good Florida team. All in all, neither of these teams light the world on fire but surely they will be a thorn in the side of most Big Ten teams on a night-to-night basis in conference play. But they very likely will leave you wanting more.

The Billy Gillispie Tier

#12 - Rutgers Scarlet Knights (5-5, 1-1, 100th, 162nd, last week N/A)

#13 - Penn State Nittany Lions (5-5, 0-2, 84th, 113th, last week N/A)

#14 - Nebraska Cornhuskers (5-6, 0-2, 128th, 221st, last week N/A)

Obviously, there’s a long list of infamous names to use for this week’s tier of shame. But Billy Gillispie resonated in my mind for some reason. Perhaps he flew too close to the sun on the wings of great recruiting at Texas A&M, only to be fired by Kentucky two years into his tenure. Or the following one-year tenure at Texas Tech that ended in sanctions and player mistreatment allegations. Regardless, he personifies the college basketball coach who can gleam bright one second and catastrophically collapse the next which is how these teams find themselves in this tier. Generally speaking, even the worst of the worst in the Big Ten will find a few moments of glory during the basketball season. Rutgers may have already hit their season high point with the miracle heave upset of Purdue this past Thursday. Despite that excellent pelt on their resume, a home loss to Lafayette will be a season-long albatross around the neck of their post-season hopes. Sitting at 5-5 with a full Big Ten slate ahead doesn’t seem conducive to an invite to a post season tournament starting with the letter N. Penn State sports a similar overall record without the marquee win. They will be battling for position among the teams caught in the bottom third of the conference. And while the only true bad opponent that Nebraska has lost to was Western Illinois in their first game of the season it looks like there’s still a ton of work for Fred Hoiberg to do in Lincoln.