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Jimmy Watkins' Big Ten basketball power rankings, Jan. 14
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Jimmy Watkins' Big Ten basketball power rankings, Jan. 14

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Here are Jimmy Watkins' latest Big Ten basketball power rankings.

1. Michigan State (14-2, 5-0)

Last week: 2

Record since: 1-0

Tom Izzo’s team officially owns the Big Ten’s longest winning streak (nine and counting) of the season. The Spartans haven’t beaten any juggernauts during their run — Northwestern might be their best win since November — but it’s hard to win every night. Ask Purdue.

2. Purdue (13-2, 2-2)

Last week: 1

Record since: 1-0

The rankings are officially asking Purdue to show us something. The Boilermakers followed last week’s Wisconsin loss with another shaky performance at Penn State on Saturday morning. Matt Painter’s team can skate by on talent against Nebraska on Friday. It can’t three days later at Illinois on MLK Day.

3. Illinois (12-3, 5-0)

Last week: 3

Record since: 2-0

The Illini reminded Nebraska fans that veteran guard play goes a long way during important moments. The idea that Illinois could close a win with Kofi Cockburn on the bench says plenty about its supporting cast and culture. But Brad Underwood’s team still lacks a signature win, unless you count beating Iowa on the road (not a bad win). Curious to see what Illinois looks like against Purdue on Monday night.

4. Wisconsin (13-2, 4-1)

Last week: 5

Record since: 2-0

The Badgers are one of three Big Ten teams (Michigan State, Illinois) to rank in the top 40 in KenPom’s offensive and defensive efficiency. Johnny Davis is generating top-10 draft buzz, and he might be the front-runner for the Wooden Award. Bellevue West alum Chucky Hepburn is a perfect fit in Greg Gard’s defense-first culture, too. I know another Big Ten team that could use a player like that ...

5. Indiana (12-3, 3-2)

Last week: 7

Record since: 2-0

Good luck solving the Hoosier defense, which hasn’t allowed more than 64 points since November. Ohio State couldn’t when IU bludgeoned the Buckeyes 67-51 in Bloomington last week. Indiana traveled to Iowa on Thursday night and hosts Purdue next week. If those teams can’t crack Mike Woodson’s scheme, who can?

6. Ohio State (10-3, 4-1)

Last week: 4

Record since: 1-1

Nice bounce back performance for E.J. Liddell against Northwestern (34 points, four rebounds, five blocks). That’s the Liddell OSU needs going forward. The COVID-19 layoff impeded the Buckeyes. Can they find their prepause prime again?

7. Iowa (11-4, 1-3)

Last week: 6

Record since: 0-1

Iowa might be the cutoff between good and very good teams in the conference. The Hawkeyes handled their business against Maryland last week but have lost to Purdue, Illinois and Wisconsin. Thursday’s game against Indiana offered another chance to climb into a more serious conversation.

8. Michigan (7-6, 1-2)

Last week: 8

Record since: 0-0

The Wolverines needed a break after losing to Minnesota, Rutgers and UCF during a four-game span. But Illinois welcomes them back Friday, and Michigan still has games against Illinois (again), Ohio State (twice), Purdue and Wisconsin. It’s getting late early for Juwan Howard’s crew. Michigan hasn’t missed two NCAA tournaments in three seasons since the late 2000s.

9. Rutgers (9-6, 3-2)

Last week: 9

Record since: 1-1

The Scarlet Knights will lay offensive eggs, like the one after Tuesday’s 66-49 loss to Penn State. But the wins over Michigan and Nebraska last week might’ve been RU’s best two-game stretch of the season. Ron Harper Jr. can swing a matchup, and the Scarlet Knights have beaten three RPI top-100 teams. Nobody ranked below them can say the same.

10. Penn State (8-6, 3-3)

Last week: 13

Record since: 1-1

Expect these last few spots to shuffle often the next few weeks (with the possible exception of the basement). The Nittany Lions looked like the best of the lower tier after a close loss against Purdue and a thorough beating of Rutgers. Stat nugget: Only eight teams send opponents to the foul line less often than PSU, which allows free throws on 21.2% of opposing field goal attempts.

11. Maryland (9-7, 1-4)

Last week: 10

Record since: 1-2

As the Terrapins learned last week, the difference between high point and disappointment is thin in the Big Ten. Led Illinois on the road at halftime, led Wisconsin with 6:30 to play, lost both games. Maryland showed impressive fortitude to cap those losses with a double-overtime win against Northwestern, though. Keep fighting, Terps.

12. Minnesota (10-4, 1-4)

Last week: 11

Record since: 0-2

The Gophers came so close to pulling a huge upset at Michigan State on Wednesday. Now they need good showings vs. Iowa, at Penn State and vs. Rutgers. Because after that, the road turns rough: Ohio State, at Wisconsin, Purdue and at Iowa. That’s the kind of stretch that sucks the air out of a bright-eyed season.

13. Northwestern (8-6, 1-4)

Last week: 12

Record since: 0-2

Statistically, the Wildcats don’t belong in this spot (or this group). But they haven’t won since before Christmas, and they’ve beaten one team ranked in KenPom’s top 200 this season (Maryland). Northwestern is close — its four consecutive losses have come by a combined 25 points — but Nebraska fans don’t need a lesson in how little close earns you. The Wildcats play at Michigan State, Wisconsin, at Purdue, at Michigan and Illinois to close January. When does the streak end?

14. Nebraska (6-11, 0-6)

Last week: 14

Record since: 0-2

I tweeted this earlier in the week, but it bears repeating: After Saturday’s 93-65 loss to Rutgers, Nebraska ranks 219th in the NCAA’s NET rankings. That’s 103 spots behind the second-lowest Big Ten team, which is ... Rutgers! Which just beat the Huskers by 28! NU looked frisky again Tuesday against Illinois, and for the season, it's only been skunked three times — twice when the team was dealing with a viral infection. But Nebraska’s defense has surpassed Iowa’s for the worst in the Big Ten, per KenPom. NU’s offense is the eighth worst among high-major teams. This team badly needs whatever boost Trey McGowens can provide.


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