IOWA CITY, Iowa – Three games into conference play seems like a good place to start with my Big Ten power rankings for men’s basketball.
The biggest winner so far has to be the Iowa Hawkeyes, who trail only Maryland at this stage. I probably would’ve ranked Iowa fifth or sixth in the Big Ten heading into the season. But it’s hard to argue with the results.
Iowa has won nine consecutive Big Ten games dating back to last season and is 3-0 in conference play this season for the first time since 2002-03 campaign. Iowa’s starting lineup under Fran McCaffery features four seniors and a junior who have combined for 355 starts in college.
The Hawkeyes haven’t won a share of the Big Ten regular-season title since the 1978-79 season. Barring injuries, this could be Iowa’s best chance to end the drought in quite some time.
1. Maryland (15-1, 4-0) – The Terrapins have arguably the Big Ten’s best transfer (Rasheed Suliamon) and the best freshman (Diamond Stone) to go along with who many feel is the best player in the conference in sophomore point guard Melo Trimble. You name it and Maryland has it, including size, athleticism, depth and shooters. The 6-foot-11, 255-pound Stone was ranked among the top high school players in the country last season and is showing why this season. Georgia Tech transfer Robert Carter Jr., a 6-9, 235-pound forward, also has made an positive impact on both ends of the floor, while Suliamon is playing like he did during the early stages of his career at Duke.
2. Iowa (12-3, 3-0) – Since blowing a 20-point lead at Iowa State on Dec. 10, the Hawkeyes have won five consecutive games, including their first three in Big Ten play. Iowa already has victories over Big Ten contenders Michigan State and Purdue. Iowa also four seniors in the starting lineup, including fifth-year senior forward Jarrod Uthoff, who is making a serious push for Big Ten Player of the Year honors. Forwards Nicholas Baer and Dom Uhl also are providing sparks off the bench.
3. Michigan State (14-1, 2-1) – The Spartans have done a decent job of hanging on until their best player, senior guard Denzel Valentine, returns from a knee injury. Valentine was performing at a national player of the year level and the Spartans were ranked No. 1 nationally when he was injured in practice in mid-December. He is expected back any day now and should be ready when Iowa plays at Michigan State on Thursday.
4. Purdue (14-2, 2-1) – The good and the bad side of Purdue both surfaced during its 70-63 loss to Iowa last Saturday in West Lafayette, Ind. The Boilermakers used a strong inside-outside attack to build a 19-point lead in the first half, but then unraveled in the second half, making just 1-of-11 3-point baskets. Purdue might have the nation’s best one-two punch at center in 7-0 senior A.J. Hammons and 7-2 sophomore Isaac Haas. But it’s the other pieces that ultimately will determine Purdue’s level of success.
5. Michigan (12-4, 2-1) – The Wolverines are healthy, deep and led by one of the top collegiate coaches in the country in 62-year old John Beilein. Last season’s 16-16 record was an aberration, caused mostly by a rash of injuries, the most costly being the loss of star guard Caris LeVert. He is now healthy and performing at a star level again. The addition of Division III transfer Duncan Robinson also has been crucial to Michigan’s turnaround this season.
6. Ohio State (11-5, 3-0) – Just when it looked as if the Buckeyes were headed for hard times, they start Big Ten play with three consecutive wins. Talent is never a problem for Ohio State. The biggest concern is getting a young roster – Ohio State only has one senior – to jell on the court. So far, so good in conference play.
7. Indiana (13-3, 3-0) – The loss of sophomore guard James Blackmon Jr., is a massive blow to the perimeter-oriented Hoosiers. Indiana relies heavily on 3-point shooting and Blackmon thrives in that role. All-Big Ten senior point guard Yogi Ferrell now has to carry an even bigger scoring load.
8. Wisconsin (9-8, 1-3) – All good things must come to an end, including Wisconsin’s incredible 14-year run of finishing no lower than fourth place in the Big Ten. That streak is in danger of ending this season, which already has seen Bo Ryan retire as head coach and three more losses than all of last season.
9. Northwestern (14-3, 2-2) – Chris Collins entered his third season as head coach with some thinking that history was about to be made this winter. Collins is trying to become the first coach to lead Northwestern to the NCAA Tournament. That’s probably too ambitious for this season, but the Wildcats are without question moving in that direction under Collins.
10. Illinois (8-8, 0-3) – Although, it’s still early, Illinois appears headed for a third consecutive season in which it will fail to make the NCAA Tournament under head coach John Groce. Injuries have been a major problem during Groce’s time as head coach, but he also has struggled to recruit top-notch talent.
11. Penn State (10-6, 1-2) – Pat Chambers still hasn’t made Penn State a winner, but he is having more success as a recruiter. Penn State’s 2016 recruiting class consists of two four-star prospects and two three-star recruits.
12. Nebraska (8-8, 0-3) – The Cornhuskers have been on a steady decline since making the NCAA Tournament in Tim Miles’ second season as head coach in 2014.
13. Minnesota (6-10, 0-4) – Richard Pitino’s last name probably helped him land the Minnesota job, but it hasn’t helped him win on the job. The Gophers just don’t have enough firepower to contend for an upper-division finish in the conference.
14. Rutgers (6-10, 0-3) – The State University of New Jersey is in a state of emergency when it comes to men’s basketball and football.