With the Big Ten Tournament set to begin on Wednesday, here’s a look at all 14 teams and their play as of late.
#14 Rutgers—Trending: Down
Despite winning their first conference game of the season by 23, Rutgers remains on the down trend. While they avoided joining Boston College as the only Power-5 schools to go winless in conference play, Rutgers still had a season to forget. They enter the Big Ten tournament as the 14 seed with very little chance of winning any games in the tournament.
#13 Minnesota—Trending: Down
A bad season gets worse for Minnesota as they lost by 25 points to Rutgers on Saturday. To shoot 30 percent from the field against a team ranked 272nd in field goal percentage against only begins to show how bad this loss was. Minnesota reached a high point of the season after beating Maryland on February 18, but player suspensions and bad losses have this team trending way down.
#12 Illinois—Trending: Down
After a double overtime loss to Penn State, Illinois finished their Big Ten season with only five conference wins. This is their lowest total since the 2007-2008 season when they won five games. They did play the 45th hardest schedule in the country, and they do have talent in Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn, but inconsistent Big Ten performance has them on the down trend as they enter the tournament as the 12 seed.
#11 Nebraska—Trending: Down
Five straight losses is not the best way to head into a conference tournament. Beating Michigan State on January 21 put them above .500 in conference play with optimism of a successful season. A 2-8 schedule since that point has put a damper on expectations. There is good news on the horizon. A first round matchup against Rutgers gives Nebraska the chance to show that they are just a bad team, but not a terrible team.
#10 Penn State—Trending: Neutral
Penn State finished regular season play with a double overtime victory over Illinois. This gave them 16 wins on the season, which guarantees they will finish at or above .500 for the second straight year. That’s not too bad for a team that had only three winning seasons between 2004 and 2014. They earned a bye in the Big 10 tournament by finishing better than the bottom four teams, and a Thursday game against Ohio State is a good chance to build some optimism for next season.
#9 Northwestern—Trending: Up
After starting the season 13-1, Northwestern ran into the gauntlet that is Big Ten conference play. Their 8-10 conference record does include a victory over Wisconsin and an overtime loss to Maryland (ranked #7 at the time). While they have had a sub-.500 Big Ten record in every season since 2003-2004, 20 wins in a season is no small accomplishment. A BPI of 71 puts Northwestern in the territory of bubble teams Temple, St. Bonaventure and LSU, and a first round matchup against a slumping Michigan team gives Northwestern a chance for a quality win to build on.
#8 Michigan—Trending: Down
Michigan is among Joe Lunardi’s First Four out, and will likely need two wins in the Big Ten tournament to feel better about their tournament chances. After starting conference play 7-2, Michigan has gone 3-5 and 1-4 against ranked teams. They do not have a loss to any team ranked below them in the conference, but only have two wins against teams ranked above them. The Michigan Wolverines are the pinnacle of the adage “beat who you are supposed to beat”, but they will likely need to beat some better teams in the conference tournament if they want to go dancing in March.
#7 Ohio State—Trending: Neutral
Ohio State is among the next four out in Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology despite having an 11-7 conference record. This is likely because of their particularly easy conference schedule in which nine of their 11 victories have come against the bottom half of the conference. A hard-fought victory against Iowa on February 28 is sandwiched between two blowout losses to Michigan State. Still, as a #7 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, Ohio State is afforded another chance for a quality win if they can get by Penn State on Thursday.
#6 Wisconsin—Trending: Up
Losing a game by 11 points rarely has been a source for optimism. Sunday’s loss against Purdue should be a source of optimism going forward for the Badgers. Yes, it would have been nice to win the game, but to only lose by 11 to one of the top teams in the country during one of their best promenades of the season is not something to be terribly distraught about. Wisconsin has still won 11 of their last 13 games and finished with at least 12 conference wins for the seventh straight season. The Badgers should continue to ride their surprising season into the conference tournament with Greg Gard officially locked up for the next five years.
#5 Iowa—Trending: Down
This was going to be a neutral trend after Iowa’s win over Michigan, but poor play over the last month has Iowa trending down. Losers of five of their last seven conference games, Iowa is doing their best to look like a team that was once ranked as high as number four in the country. Despite having one of the best players in the conference with in Jarrod Uthoff and one of the most improved players in Peter Jok, Iowa seems to be falling apart at the worst time. They will enter the Big Ten Tournament as the five seed, and a loss to either Illinois or Minnesota in their first game could have people doubting their abilities come tournament time.
#4 Purdue—Trending: Up
Shooting 62% from the field and almost 53% from three is a good way to beat a team that had won 11 out of 12. In their game against Wisconsin, Purdue showed that they can beat you from the inside and the outside in what was one of their most complete offensive performances of the year. As a team that can sometimes be inconsistent (see 14 point loss to Illinois and a four point win against Minnesota) the performance against a surging Wisconsin team should give Purdue plenty of confidence moving forward. If First Team All-Big Ten center A.J. Hammons continues to dominate down low and if role players can make shots from the outside, Purdue could win the conference tournament.
#3 Maryland—Trending: Down
After being ranked as high as #2 in the AP poll as recently as February 8, Maryland has fallen all the way down to #18. Ending conference play with a 2-4 skid likely explains the fall in the rankings. An awful loss to Minnesota and a blowout loss to Indiana has Maryland stumbling in the last month as they enter the conference tournament. These struggles also coincide with the struggles of Maryland’s best player, point guard Melo Trimble. Over the last six games, Trimble is shooting 33% from the field and 31% from three. He is also averaging four turnovers per game. As Trimble goes, the Maryland offense goes, and he needs to play better if they want to make noise in the Big Ten Tournament and going forward.
#2 Michigan State—Trending: Up
A midseason losing streak was a slight cause for concern, but the winners of 10 of the last 11 have put that in the rear-view mirror. Player of the Year candidate Denzel Valentine continues to impress as Michigan State looks to push towards a #1 in the Big Dance. With only one really bad loss on their resume, Nebraska (RPI 174), Michigan State showed that they can be an elite team that can play with the best in the country while also avoiding bad losses. A 13-5 conference record is good but not great, but recent play has Michigan State as the best adjusted offense in the country (per kenpom.com) and poised to make a run in the conference tournament.
#1 Indiana—Trending: Up
Remember when Indiana was 5-3 after being blown out by Duke and losing to UNLV and Wake Forest (137 and 143 RPI respectively)? Remember when Tom Crean was on the hot seat for what seemed like the tenth year in a row? Remember when second leading scoring went out with a season ending injury right before tournament play? Well, all of that should be a distant memory for any Indiana fans. A midseason 12-game winning streak, a regular season Big Ten Title, and 15 win conference season all tend to make people forget pretty quickly. The number four adjusted offensive efficiency per Kenpom.com and First Team All-Big Ten point guard Yogi Ferrell are also nice distractions. Indiana is riding a four game win streak into the conference tournament and should have plenty of confidence when their first game starts on Friday.
Photo courtesy of the Big Ten Network.