A challenging stretch for all 14 Big Ten teams is complete. After playing an ACC-Big Ten Challenge game leading into the first two conference games of the season, the Big Ten has entered the less-appealing December lull that coincides with final exams and the holiday season.
Five teams made their way through the start of Big Ten play, which saw each team play once at home and once on the road, with an unblemished start: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin. At the other end, five teams sit winless: Iowa (which is still ranked No. 22 nationally), Northwestern, Penn State, Rutgers and Illinois.
The Wolverines have done nothing to lose their grip atop the leaderboard, but Michigan State continues to nip at their heels after a four-point road win at Florida in a true road game. Indiana, too, continues to plug along, holding on for a one-point home win against Louisville.
We are not even three weeks from the resumption of conference play. Until then, cupcakes and buy games help present unbalanced schedules in the coming weeks. Ohio State, for example, will go 10 days without a game since it beat Illinois in Chicago on Dec. 5.
All figures are as of Tuesday night’s games.
Big risers: Minnesota. Maybe the Golden Gophers were just too fatigued against Ohio State. Since that dispirited loss, Minnesota has rallied around Dupree McBrayer and the loss of his mother to win three straight and show some fight.
Big fallers: Maryland and Rutgers. The Terrapins are 9-2 but continue to underwhelm against smaller, less-talented teams. The Scarlet Knights remain tough competitors, but they will take a three-game losing streak into a road game at Seton Hall.
Big picture: Illinois is the only team with a sub-.500 record, while the Wolverines, Spartans, Hoosiers, Buckeyes, Badgers and Cornhuskers all look like the upper crust of a conference projected to get as many as 10 teams into the NCAA Tournament.
Here are this week’s rankings:
1. Michigan (10-0): The Wolverines have the nation’s most efficient defense and have allowed just one opponent to top 68 points. (Last week: 1)
2. Michigan State (8-2): The Spartans are playing at their fastest pace in nine years. The problem: they are still turning it over on 18.2 percent of their possessions. (LW: 3)
3. Indiana (8-2): Three straight wins, but the Hoosiers are shooting a disconcerting 63.6 percent from the free-throw line. That’s 311th in the nation. (LW: 4)
4. Ohio State (8-1): Keyshawn Woods might have turned a corner with his offense, giving the Buckeyes a much-needed complimentary weapon. (LW: 6)
5. Wisconsin (8-2): They play hard, but the Badgers have a ceiling when outside shots don’t fall that even Ethan Happ can’t break. (LW: 2)
6. Nebraska (8-2): After losing to an emotional Minnesota team, the Cornhuskers blew out rival Creighton to claim state superiority. (LW: 5)
7. Purdue (6-4): Someone has to help Carsen Edwards, who had 40 points in a four-point loss at Texas. Anyone. (LW: 8)
8. Iowa (7-2): A rivalry win against Iowa State erased the taste of a winless start to conference play. The defense remains problematic. (LW: 9)
9. Maryland (9-2): It took until the second half for the Terrapins to decide to put away overmatched Loyola Maryland, and they needed a 19-0 run to do so. (LW: 7)
10. Minnesota (9-2): The tragic death of Dupree McBrayer’s mother on Dec. 3 created one of the most emotional wins of the year against Nebraska. (LW: 13)
11. Northwestern (7-3): The Wildcats rallied from 15 points down with a 25-0 run against DePaul in their seventh game in 17 days. (LW: 10)
12. Penn State (5-4): Mike Watkins is rounding into form, scoring 18 points and adding 16 rebounds in an otherwise forgettable 11-point win against Colgate. (LW: 11)
13. Illinois (3-7): The Illini played Ohio State close, then had freshman 7-footer Samba Kane channel Dikembe Mutumbo with a finger-wag after a block against UNLV. (LW: 14)
14. Rutgers (5-4): Back to the basement for the Scarlet Knights as punishment for an eight-point loss to lowly Fordham. (LW: 12)