As we enter 2024 and the conference basketball season, it is time to take an elevated look at the Big Ten conference as a whole and where we stand through two months.
Who is elite? Are there any national title contenders? What is Maryland? Time to answer all of those questions.
Here are the current Big Ten tiers.
This reflects all results through Jan. 1, 2024.
Tier 1: Purdue
We came into the season thinking Purdue would be the top team in the conference, and two months into the season, Purdue is the top team in the conference.
They have been one of the best teams in the conference, and even though they lost to Northwestern to open up conference play, they followed that up by beating Iowa 87-68 and getting right back on track. As we enter conference play, Purdue is not only the best team in the Big Ten, they are ranked No. 1 in the country.
Tier 2: Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Indiana
Illinois was a team that we knew was talented coming into the season, but we weren’t sure how it would look. So far this season, it has looked like a national contender. The Fighting Illini defeated Florida Atlantic behind 30-point performances from Terrence Shannon and Marcus Domask. Domask, the Southern Illinois transfer, has been outstanding so far, and Coleman Hawkins has done a good job as the Swiss Army knife for Illinois. However, with the unknown status of Terrance Shannon right now, they have to go into tier two.
If there was a 1.5 tier, that is where Wisconsin would be. They got on a hot streak, beating Marquette and Michigan State, but they lost by 25 to Arizona, and that is lingering. They are incredibly talented and, right now, look like a top team in the conference.
Ohio State is a tough team to pin down because they are 11-2 with wins over Alabama, Santa Clara, and UCLA, but all of those teams have struggled since, and the loss to Penn State still weighs heavy. Due to the guard play, they are in the second tier, but they will need to prove their spot early on in conference play.
Indiana missed a great opportunity to beat Kansas and pick up a huge non-conference win, but they didn’t, and they lack a quality win heading into conference play. Xavier Johnson needs to come back soon for the Hoosiers. They are in tier two but could be tier three soon if he doesn’t.
Tier 3: Michigan State, Northwestern
Northwestern is a tough one to figure out because they beat Purdue. And that’s it. But trust in Boo Buie and the pieces around him have been good so far. The Wildcats need someone to step up and take some of the load off Buie, or they could slip up in conference play.
Michigan State is a weird one because they are still 0-2 in confidence, but recent wins over Baylor, Oakland, and Indiana State have us to believe they are getting where we thought they would be.
Tier 4: Michigan, Rutgers, Nebraska, Iowa, Maryland
Michigan started strong, and one loss to Long Beach State seemed to really derail their season. They are moving towards tier five, but I will keep them in tier four for now because of Dug McDaniel.
Nebraska is 11-2, and they beat Michigan State, but I have to see a little more from them to move them into the third tier and into possible tournament contention. Rutgers just beat 2013 Stonehill by one point, and they do not have an offense right now. Iowa and Maryland both have significant weaknesses that they need to clear up before I can move any of these teams into possible tournament territory.
Tier 5: Minnesota, Penn State
Dawson Garcia is the only thing that separates Minnesota from Penn State, but he is not good enough to propel them into the next tier. Minnesota and Penn State are not awful teams, and Penn State has a quality win over Ohio State, but as it stands in the conference, they just have not shown enough to warrant being in tier four.