RLR Big Ten Power Rankings: Penn State Moving Up

By Vincent Lungaro on January 12, 2022 at 10:21 am
Jan 8, 2022; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions forward Greg Lee (5) dribbles the ball towards the basket as Purdue Boilermakers forward Mason Gillis (0) defends during the second half at Bryce Jordan Center. Purdue defeated Penn State 74-67. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports
© Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

We've reached the unofficial quarter-way point of the Big Ten basketball season, and though COVID-19 postponements make that a little more tricky to quantify, it's time to start rolling out our weekly conference power rankings. 

Let's take a look at where Penn State and the rest of the Big Ten land in our inaugural RLR Power Rankings. 

14. NEBRASKA (6-11, 0-6 Big Ten) — Net: 215 — KenPom: 159
Next Game: at No. 7 Purdue (Jan. 14) 

Remember back in the preseason when I said this could be the year the Cornhuskers take that next step under Fred Hoiberg? LOL. Yeah...that hasn't been the case. Nebraska is winless in the Big Ten and has dropped eight of its past nine games overall. The lone win came against Kennesaw State. The schedule doesn't get any easier either, with matchups against No. 7 Purdue, Indiana, No. 16 Ohio State, No. 13 Wisconsin and Rutgers all on deck. Hoiball is officially sunk (at least for another season). 

13. MARYLAND (8-7, 0-4 Big Ten) — Net: 111 — KenPom: 68
Next Game: at Northwestern (Jan. 12)

Maryland has been competitive in every conference game this season but have nothing to show for it. Terrapins fans are already looking ahead to who the program's next head coach will be after the in-season separation with Mark Turgeon. 

12. MICHIGAN (7-6, 1-2 Big Ten) — Net: 54 — KenPom: 27
Next Game: at No. 25 Illinois (Jan. 14)

Woof. To say this season has been a disappointment for Juwan Howard and co. is a big understatement. This team was supposed to be a Big Ten title contender and Final Four challenger. The Wolverines still have time to get back into the NCAA Tournament discussion, but the window is shrinking. They're set to return to action on Friday at No. 25 Illinois after a COVID-19 pause.

11. NORTHWESTERN (8-5, 1-3 Big Ten) — Net: 68 — KenPom: 44
Next Game: vs. Maryland (Jan. 12) 

Northwestern started off the season hot at 8-2, only to drop its past three games to Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State. The Wildcats' defense was nowhere to be found in the loss to the Buckeyes, giving up 95 points and allowing OSU to shoot 57 percent from the floor. Wednesday's matchup with Maryland is close to must-win for the Wildcats if they want to steady the ship.

10. MINNESOTA (10-3, 1-3 Big Ten) — Net: 67 — KenPom: 87
Next Game: at No. 10 Michigan State (Jan. 12)

So far, Minnesota has exceeded expectations under first-year head coach Ben Johnson, with some nice wins over Pitt, Mississippi State and Michigan. The Golden Gophers fell back down to earth a bit this past week, suffering non-competitive losses to Illinois and Indiana. 

9. IOWA (11-4, 1-3 Big Ten) — Net: 27 — KenPom: 25
Next Game: vs. Indiana (Jan. 13)

It's the same old story for Fran McCaffrey's Hawkeyes. They're an offensive machine (ranked No. 3 in KenPom's Adjusted Offensive Efficiency) and defensive calamity (No. 155 in KenPom's Adjusted Defensive Efficiency). That makes all of their games compelling at least, and Keegan Murray is one of the most electric players in college basketball (24.7 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 2.1 bpg). 

8. RUTGERS (9-6, 3-2 Big Ten) — Net: 121 — KenPom: 98
Next Game: at Maryland (Jan. 15) 

The offense struggled mightily in Tuesday's loss to Penn State, snapping a four-game win streak for the Scarlet Knights. Ron Harper Jr. and Geo Baker were ineffective in the loss, combining for just 14 points on just 5-of-21 shooting. Rutgers is now 0-5 on the road, with another away game on Saturday at Maryland on deck. 

7. PENN STATE (8-6, 3-3 Big Ten) — Net: 82 — KenPom: 67
Next Game: at No. 16 Ohio State (Jan. 16) 

Jalen Pickett has been playing at an All-Big Ten level the past few weeks, Greg Lee has been a big addition to the starting lineup, and the Nittany Lions defense has been terrific. Add all that together and you've suddenly got a team that's as hot as anyone in the conference. Nobody is going to want to play Penn State because of the way Micah Shrewsberry has gotten this team to defend. The Nittany Lions also play at one of the slowest paces in college basketball (No. 346 in KenPom's Adjusted Tempo Ratings) and that's been a huge benefit to a team that lacks the talent depth of its Big Ten peers. 

6. INDIANA (12-3, 3-2 Big Ten) — Net: 31 — KenPom: 23
Next Game: at Iowa (Jan. 13) 

Trayce Jackson-Davis is one of a few All-American candidates within the Big Ten (19.4 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 3.0 bpg) and has really elevated his game to another level under Mike Woodson. His decision to return to Bloomington for another season looks better and better each game. The Hoosiers' defense has also been impressive; Indiana is currently tops in the Big Ten in scoring defense. Thursday's matchup with Iowa is going to be a ton of fun. 

5. OHIO STATE (10-3, 4-1 Big Ten) — Net: 24 — KenPom: 21
Next Game: at No. 13 Wisconsin (Jan. 13) 

You could rank the top 5 any way you'd like and I wouldn't argue with you. The Buckeyes responded well to their first conference loss of the season last week by putting up 95 points in a win over Northwestern. E.J. Liddell was phenomenal in the win, tallying 31 points, four rebounds, five blocks and two assists. A second win over Wisconsin this season would see Ohio State leapfrog the Badgers in our power rankings. The two teams meet on Thursday at the Kohl Center. 

4. PURDUE (13-2, 2-2 Big Ten) — Net: 8 — KenPom: 5
Next Game: vs. Nebraska (Jan. 14) 

I still think Purdue is the best team in the conference and maintain the upside to realize that. The Boilermakers are going to need a lot more from their guards not named Jaden Ivey or Sasha Stefanovic to get there, though. Maybe the home loss to Wisconsin was the jolt that gets this team going again. 

3. WISCONSIN (13-2, 4-1 Big Ten) — Net: 22 — KenPom: 30
Next Game: vs. No. 16 Ohio State (Jan. 13) 

Wisconsin held on for a narrow 70-69 home win after a scare from Maryland on Sunday. All eyes now turn toward the game with Ohio State. The Buckeyes embarrassed the Badgers the first time around on Dec. 11 (a 73-55 Ohio State win). Johnny Davis remains a bonafide National Player of the Year candidate. He leads Wisconsin in four of the five major categories (points, rebounds, assists and steals). 

2. ILLINOIS (12-3, 5-0 Big Ten) — Net: 11 — KenPom: 13
Next Game: vs. Michigan (Jan. 14) 

We're starting to see the Fighting Illini team we all expected at the start of the season. After a rocky 2-2 start, Illinois has rattled off 11 wins from its past 12 games. The lone loss was to Arizona, who looks like a Final Four contender themselves. Kofi Cockburn has been a monster, averaging 22.8 points and 13. 2 rebounds per game over the last five games. The Illini have also had other players step up in the absence of the injured Andre Curbelo.

1. MICHIGAN STATE (13-2, 4-0 Big Ten) — Net: 17 — KenPom: 19
Next Game: vs. Minnesota (Jan. 12) 

The Spartans haven't faced any of the other title contenders yet, but have been the most complete and consistent team in the conference this season. Games against Minnesota and Northwestern should see Tom Izzo's squad get to 6-0 before headline games against Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan. This is a trademark Izzo team. They have depth, defend well, rebound at a crazy rate and get to the free throw line. It would take quite a big upset from one of Minnesota or Northwestern to knock Michigan State off the top spot before next week's power rankings.