Big Ten basketball re-rankings: Purdue is the clear No. 1, but the challengers are coming

Can Wisconsin keep it up? Can Illinois get it together? Can Northwestern actually be pretty good?

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Purdue’s Zach Edey is the heavy favorite for national player of the year.

Purdue’s Zach Edey is the heavy favorite for national player of the year.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Big Ten has the No. 1 team in the country, Purdue.

Have we mentioned the Boilermakers’ No. 1 ranking? Because after that, the conference really drops off, more disappointing than not so far this season. Wisconsin and Indiana come in at Nos. 15 and 16 — 16 and 22, respectively, on your old pal’s latest AP ballot — and the best of the rest are in “others receiving votes” territory.

The Big 12 and SEC look a bit more robust. The ACC won its annual “challenge” against the Big Ten for the first time since 2017, for whatever that’s worth. Still, the Big Ten is no slouch. With league games about to heat up for real, here are our Big Ten Re-Rankings:

1. PURDUE (12-0, 2-0 Big Ten)

What’s right: Zach Edey is averaging 22.6 points and 13.9 rebounds and running away with the national player of the year race. Better still, the 7-4 game-plan wrecker is doing it without fouling, getting whistled for under two per game.

What’s wrong: Can the rest of the Boilers make defenses pay? Shooting 31.1% from three sounds like an inevitable problem.

Best case: Edey stays healthy and the Boilers grab a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday.

2. WISCONSIN (9-2, 2-0)

What’s right: Nobody loves a close game more than the Badgers, whose experience keeps shining through. Having two players — Tyler Wahl and Chucky Hepburn — who can get their own buckets in the clutch goes a long way. Freshman Connor Essegian is the deadeye shooter this program has been waiting for.

What’s wrong: The stats say this is more of a middle-of-the-pack team. Then again, Wisconsin basketball and stats often have a funny relationship.

Best case: Wisconsin Wisconsins and wins the Big Ten even though it shouldn’t.

3. INDIANA (10-3, 1-1)

Indiana v Kansas

Indiana needs Trayce Jackson-Davis more than ever.

Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

What’s right: Led by big man Trayce Jackson-Davis, the Hoosiers lead all conference teams in field-goal percentage and assists. That’s a heck of a place to start. The defense is strong, too.

What’s wrong: Jackson-Davis’ back pain is an ongoing concern, and point guard Xavier Johnson’s absence until at least February after foot surgery will be felt.

Best case: Jackson-Davis stays loose, freshman Jalen Hood-Schifino keeps ascending, Mike Woodson coaches his rear end off and, come March, nobody wants a piece of the Hoosiers.

4. MARYLAND (9-3, 1-1)

What’s right: The seasoned Terrapins have four players — Jahmir Young, Donta Scott, Hakim Hart and Julian Reese — who have scored at least 22 in a game this season. Young, a transfer from Charlotte, has been a godsend, and first-year coach Kevin Willard has hit the ground running.

What’s wrong: Like we saw in a 17-point first half against Tennessee, the Terps can go ice cold at the offensive end. Among league teams, this one is dead last in assists.

Best case: You’re pretty much looking at it, but this is a tough team with staying power.

5. OHIO STATE (8-3, 1-0)

What’s right: The Buckeyes might have the best overall balance in the league. They score efficiently, shoot it well, rebound extremely well and defend the three-point line exceptionally. And they have Brice Sensabaugh, a sparkling freshman who leads the team in scoring.

What’s wrong: Nothing much outside of relatively modest production off the bench and not enough rim protecting.

Best case: Here’s your dark-horse champ. Hey, it could happen.

6. PENN STATE (9-3, 1-1)

What’s right: In the time it takes you to read this sentence, the Nittany Lions will knock down at least three more shots from the arc. They lead all major-conference teams in threes — ask Illinois how it feels to be on the wrong end of that — and burly guard Jalen Pickett can get to the rim on anybody.

Illinois v Maryland

Terrence Shannon Jr. has been Illinois’ best player.

Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

What’s wrong: Big men? What big men? Rebounding? What rebounding?

Best case: Again, you’re pretty much looking at it. Over the last 26 seasons, the best PSU has done is tie for fourth place (twice).

7. ILLINOIS (8-4, 0-2)

What’s right: Texas Tech transfer Terrence Shannon Jr. can terrorize an opponent. Baylor transfers Matthew Mayer and Dain Dainja each can carry the Illini on a big run. Freshman guards Skyy Clark, Jayden Epps and Sencire Harris have had some big moments.

What’s wrong: As great as the Illini were in the second halves against UCLA and Texas, all the nice pieces aren’t fitting together well. Can Coleman Hawkins handle not being the man? Is RJ Melendez going to show up? Can coach Brad Underwood fix this?

Best case: Underwood — on the spot post-Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn — proves he’s more than a motivator and yeller. The talent is there to do big things.

8. MICHIGAN (7-4, 1-0)

What’s right: As expected, 7-1 Hunter Dickinson is playing like an All-American. Freshman Jett Howard scores like dad Juwan wishes he did in the “Fab Five” days. Losses to Virginia, Kentucky and North Carolina were oh, so close.

What’s wrong: This team is just plain bad at the defensive end, not the kind of problem that just goes away. Another problem that won’t go away: Senior point guard Jaelin Llewellyn is out for the season after tearing an ACL.

Best case: Bag the “Title Town” talk, Ann Arbor — you’re not sniffing first place this season. You can do better than eighth, though.

9. MICHIGAN STATE (8-4, 1-1)

What’s right: The Spartans looked like obvious contenders after an early stretch in which they lost by one to Gonzaga, beat Kentucky and nipped Villanova. Seniors Tyson Walker and Joey Hauser have upped their games big-time, and A.J. Hoggard is, as ever, a tremendous point guard.

What’s wrong: Speaking of three-game stretches, the Spartans more recently beat Portland (who?) by one, got blown out at Notre Dame (oof) and lost at home to Northwestern (whoa!). The Tom Izzo magic is disappearing.

Best case: Izzo pulls a rabbit out of his hat. Come on, you know he might.

10. RUTGERS (8-4, 1-1)

What’s right: The Scarlet Knights roll out of bed defending like madmen. And — yet again — they are absolutely deadly on their home court. If big fella Clifford Omoruyi played for a sexier school, everybody would know his name.

What’s wrong: The Knights can’t shoot it, and we’re all used to them being either suspect or unlucky — did you see that brutal buzzer-beater loss to Ohio State? — on the road.

Best case: This team is strong-willed enough to return to the NCAA Tournament.

11. NORTHWESTERN (9-2, 1-0)

What’s right: The defense has been tremendous, rebounding has been — unusually — a plus and the Wildcats repeatedly win the turnover game. Chase Audige and Boo Bouie are a heck of a guard combo.

What’s wrong: Are you going to say it or do we have to? It’s Northwestern. Fast starts have happened many times before. But then, well, you know.

Best case: We doubters happily eat our words. Wouldn’t a return to the Big Dance be a scream?

12. IOWA (8-4, 0-1)

What’s right: As always, the Hawkeyes can flat-out score. Kris Murray is blowing up like twin Keegan did last season. Patrick McCaffery is doing pops Fran mighty proud.

What’s wrong: Losing by nine at home to Eastern Illinois, anyone? Fran McCaffery is about to get T’d up again just thinking about it. (The writer gets a technical, too, for using “flat-out.”)

Best case: McCaffery discovers a long-lost Murray triplet.

13. NEBRASKA (7-6, 0-2)

What’s right: What makes you think anything is right? But we kid coach Fred Hoiberg. Sort of.

What’s wrong: Derrick Walker is a baller, but he’s all alone out there. Maybe there are a couple of football players in Lincoln who can make a three-point shot?

Best case: Nice weather in Chicago on the opening day of the Big Ten tournament.

14. MINNESOTA (6-6, 0-2)

What’s right: Look, this team is ranked beneath Nebraska.

What’s wrong: The Gophers are one of a kind — the league’s only team with a negative scoring margin.

Best case: There’s always next year.

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