by Jared Greenspan
1. Michigan (7-1)
It would be near-impossible to script a better start to the Juwan Howard era for the Wolverines. For months, questions swirled about how Michigan would acclimate to life without long-time coach John Beilein and its top-three scorers from a year ago. In the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, the Wolverines proved doubters wrong, bulldozing perennial powerhouses North Carolina and Gonzaga en route to the tournament title. Michigan picked up its first loss of the year against #1 Louisville on Tuesday, but still stands as the cream of the crop in the nation’s best conference.
2. Ohio State (8-0)
The Buckeyes have built a resume as impressive as any team in the nation, with two 25-point victories over then-top-10 teams in Villanova and North Carolina. Ohio State’s wing players like Duane Washington and Luther Muhammad have an additional year under their belt, making Chris Holtmann’s group equipped with weapons to coincide with one of the nation’s best big men in Kaleb Wesson.
3. Maryland (9-0)
The Terrapins lost Bruno Fernando to the NBA back in June yet haven’t missed a beat thus far in the 2019-2020 campaign. Marc Turgeon has a plethora of weapons and wing players to complement big man Jalen Smith, who looks vastly-improved in his sophomore season. Critics would point out that Maryland, ranked third in the nation, has yet to play a ranked opponent, yet its resume features wins over Notre Dame and Marquette, two teams expected to compete for an NCAA tournament berth.
4. Michigan State (5-3)
The Spartans entered the season with as much national hype as any team in the country, boosted by a solid incoming recruiting class and the return of national player of the year favorite Cassius Winston. Without Josh Langford, who continues to struggle with recurring foot injuries, Michigan State has hit a few bumps in the road, mainly a first-round loss in the Maui Jim Maui Invitational to unranked Virginia Tech. Until Langford returns, the Spartans’ ceiling will be as far as Winston can carry them, which right now isn’t enough to crack the top-three in a top-heavy Big Ten conference.
5. Purdue (5-3)
Purdue basketball underneath Matt Painter is always steady, and there’s no reason this year shouldn’t culminate with another NCAA Tournament appearance for the Boilermakers. Life is different without Carsen Edwards, and a young team has shown struggles against other major-conference opponents, falling to Marquette, Texas and Florida State.Expect this team, though, to only get better as the months move on -- with a resounding victory over defending-champion Virginia in the Big Ten-ACC challenge, the Boilermakers already appear to be making strides,
6. Penn State (7-1)
After years of false temptations, this might finally be the season that the Nittany Lions are relevant on the basketball court. Lamar Stevens is a pure scorer, and Penn State has built a solid early-season resume with wins over Georgetown and Syracuse. We’ll know a lot more about this team after their trip to Ohio State and hosting of Maryland to open the Big Ten slate this upcoming week.
7. Indiana (8-0)
The Hoosiers are receiving far less national attention post-Romeo Langford, and that might be for the better. Entering its Big Ten-ACC matchup against Florida State, the narrative was that Indiana had yet to be tested. Still, it won the games it was meant to win, something that was a downfall of last year’s squad. A dominating victory over the Seminoles, though, puts Archie Miller’s squad back on the map. Indiana has a lot of fresh faces on and it’ll be interesting to see who emerges as the team’s legitimate scoring option with more formidable opponents looming around the corner.
8. Iowa (6-2)
Iowa under Fran McCaffery always seems to be middle-of-the-pack, and it seems as if the Hawkeyes are destined for another one of those years. This isn’t the same Iowa team that was one disastrous collapse against Tennessee away from advancing to the Sweet 16, but it returns potent scorers and outside-shooters. Resounding victory over then 12th ranked Texas Tech and Syracuse in the Carrier Dome seem to subdue apprehensions after a non-competitive home loss to Depaul a few weeks earlier.
9. Wisconsin (4-4)
Life without Ethan Happ has not gone smoothly for the Badgers, who remain a perplexing bunch. Losses to Richmond and New Mexico State look worse than they are at first glance, but these two mid-majors are formidable opponents that will vy for a tournament spot come March. Still, they are games that Wisconsin should win if they plan on remaining relevant in the Big Ten. A convincing win over in-state rival Marquette and a hard-fought loss against St. Marys tell us not to count the Badgers out quite yet, unless offensive struggles continue to persist.
10. Minnesota (4-4)
Richard Pitino’s program was destined to take a step back last year after losing several prominent players from a team that topped Louisville in the NCAA tournament. The only question was how big a step it would be and early results are not encouraging. The Gophers played four major-conference opponents in non conference play and lost all four of them, before breaking that spell with a big win over Clemson on Monday. It’s a team that will likely grow into its own as the season progresses, yet for now remains in the wrong half of the power rankings.
11. Illinois (6-2)
Entering the season, expectations for the Fighting Illini were as high as they’ve been in recent memory. Brad Underwood and company showed tantalizing flashes toward the end of last season, and when fringe first-round pick Ayo Dosunmo returned to school for his sophomore season, the hype only grew. In the Big Ten-ACC challenge on Monday, Illinois failed to show up, trailing by as many as 25 in the first half at home to a subpar Miami squad. Performances like these won’t cut it in a cutthroat Big Ten.
12. Rutgers (6-2)
Oh, Rutgers. At some point, you figure, Steve Pikell will turn Rutgers into a contender. While the Scarlet Knights have gone 6-2 thus far, it seems unlikely that this is the year. The resume, though, does feature a victory over Stephen F Austin, so, by the transitive property, Rutgers would beat Duke…. Enough of that. Back to reality. A team that squeaked past Bryant by two and Drexel by five will remain a bottom-dweller.
13. Northwestern (4-3)
It feels like just the other day that the Wildcats were turning the corner toward prolonged national relevance after finally breaking through and making the tournament in 2017. Instead, Doug Collins’ team, instead of using their NCAA appearance as a springboard, has done the opposite, reverting back to their laughable losing ways. Any optimism for this season was quickly quelled with a season-opening loss to Merrimack -- a team that had yet to win a game at the DI level -- as 18.5 point favorites.
14. Nebraska (4-4)
Fred Hoiberg’s return to college basketball thus far has gone, to put it kindly, poorly. Struggles were expected after the team went through a complete offseason overhaul, losing their four best players in the process. But consecutive home losses to UC Riverside and Southern Utah to open the season, combined with a loss to George Mason a few weeks later, wasn’t something anyone saw coming. Despite rebounding a bit with wins over USF and Washington State, this Cornhusker team remains the least-competitive in the Big Ten until they prove otherwise.