Recapping How the Big Ten Fared in Nonconference Play
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Recapping How the Big Ten Fared in Nonconference Play

January 03, 2019

On Tuesday, Hail Varsity looked back on what Nebraska accomplished during the nonconference portion of the season. Well, what about the rest of the conference? Here’s a look at what the other 13 Big Ten teams have done with conference play now under way.


  • Record: 4-9 (0-2 Big Ten)
  • NET Ranking: 129
  • KenPom Ranking: 113
  • Strength of Schedule: 5th
  • Offensive Rating: 101.0 (240th)
  • Defensive Rating: 101.6 (224th)

It’s never a good thing when a team’s defensive rating is higher than it’s offensive rating, and that goes a long way towards explaining Illinois’ current record. Their schedule takes care of the rest of the explanation.

Brad Underwood has a young, scrappy team with some decent guard play and the ability to shoot it a bit from deep and force turnovers, but the Illinois really aren’t good on either side of the ball. They went 0-8 against high-major opponents (I’m including Gonzaga) and also dropped their final nonconference game against Florida Atlantic in overtime. The Illinois showed some fight against Gonzaga and pushed them to the final minutes, but at the end of the nonconference they’re left without a quality win.

Illinois dropped both of its early conference games as welt Nebraska and Ohio State. 

No. 21 Indiana

  • Record: 11-2 (2-0)
  • NET Ranking: 21
  • KenPom Ranking: 26
  • Strength of Schedule: 56th
  • Offensive Rating: 109.3 (93rd)
  • Defensive Rating: 88.6 (20th)

Illinois had an up-and-down nonconference but found its way into the rankings by the end nonetheless. The Hoosiers got blown out by Duke (now ranked No. 1, No. 3 at the time) and dropped a 73-72 decision to a decent Arkansas team, but they won their other five games against high-major competition including its Gavitt Games meeting with a talented Marquette team that has since climbed into the top 25.

Indiana also beat Louisville and Butler. Juwan Morgan is one of the best big men in the Big Ten and has played like it while 5-star freshman guard Romeo Langford is leading the team in scoring and putting up some big games despite struggling with his jumper. Their defense has been really strong al year (except against Duke).

The Hoosiers won both their early Big Ten games, but they were against bottom-half teams in Penn State and Northwestern.

No. 25 Iowa

  • Record: 11-2 (0-2)
  • NET Ranking: 36
  • KenPom Ranking: 41
  • Strength of Schedule: 152nd
  • Offensive Rating: 115.2 (26th)
  • Defensive Rating: (98.4 (149th)

Iowa played a pretty weak nonconference schedule which it navigated without a loss. It got good but not great wins over then No. 13 Oregon (which has since suffered key injuries and has fallen out of the rankings) and an Iowa State team that received a few votes in the latest AP Poll. The Hawkeyes beat Pittsburgh and UConn as well, although I don’t think those wins will add much to their resume. 

Iowa is good again on offense, but unlike last year, they’re playing at least a little bit of defense.

Iowa got a tough draw in its early Big Ten games, playing two ranked foes in Wisconsin and Michigan State, and it dropped both of them. Just how good Iowa actually is remains to be seen, but the Hawkeyes certainly have some talent.


  • Record: 10-3 (1-1)
  • NET Ranking: 42
  • KenPom Ranking: 32
  • Strength of Schedule: 110th
  • Offensive Rating: 113.1 (45th)
  • Defensive Rating: 95.2 (86th)

Maryland played a weaker nonconference than Iowa did and is even more of an unknown. The Terrapins only played two high-major nonconference foes — No. 4 Virginia and Seton Hall — and it lost both of those games.

Maryland’s metrics are pretty good as the Terps have been solid on both sides of the ball, but they don’t have a quality win yet.

Maryland split its early Big Ten games, beating Penn State and losing to Purdue.

No. 2 Michigan

  • Record: 13-0 (2-0)
  • NET Ranking: 3
  • KenPom Ranking: 4
  • Strength of Schedule: 112th
  • Offensive Rating: 111.2 (58th)
  • Defensive Rating: 83.7 (5th)

The Wolverines have been the class of the conference to this point as one of just four remaining unbeaten teams in the country. Despite losing some key pieces from last year’s team that made it all the way to the national championship, the Wolverines are back and better than ever this season.

Michigan has one of the best defenses in the country with elite defenders at point guard, on the wing and in the middle and they’re good enough on offense to be a top-five team nationally. The Wolverines beat Villanova and North Carolina (both ranked at the time, and the Tar Heels still are) as well as Providence.

Michigan beat a Purdue team that was ranked 19th at the time but is now unranked as well as Northwestern in its early Big Ten games. 

No. 8 Michigan State

  • Record: 12-2 (3-0)
  • NET Ranking: 9
  • KenPom Ranking: 5
  • Strength of Schedule: 26th
  • Offensive Rating: 119.5 (5th)
  • Defensive Rating: 93.3 (64th)

Michigan State entered the season as the favorite in the conference for most people, but the other Michigan team has stolen the spotlight. Still, the Spartans have looked pretty solid. They’ve knocked off three traditional powers in UCLA, Texas and Florida, though none of them are having particularly great seasons (and UCLA just fired its coach though the Bruins were ranked at the time they played the Spartans). 

Michigan State did lose to Kansas (no shame in that) but it also dropped a bizarre game to Louisville. Michigan State is elite offensively led by Cassius Winston at the point and Nick Ward in the middle and should be right there in the conference race all season.

Party went 2-0 in its early Big Ten games against Rutgers and Iowa and destroyed Northwestern on Wednesday to open conference play once again.


  • Record: 11-2 (1-1)
  • NET Ranking: 50
  • KenPom Ranking: 62
  • Strength of Schedule: 87th
  • Offensive Rating: 107.8 (117th)
  • Defensive Rating: 96.7 (113th)

Minnesota played a handful of middle of the pack high-major teams and beat most of them (Utah, Texas A&M, Washington an Oklahoma State) while sweeping through its mid-to-low-major opponents, though it did trip up once against Boston College. 

The Golden Gophers had a nightmare season last year with injuries and disappointing play, but they’re mostly healthy this season and have a tough one-two punch in Jordan Murphy and Amir Coffey.

Minnesota split its early conference games, beating Nebraska at home and losing at Ohio State. 


  • Record: 9-5 (0-3)
  • NET Ranking: 54
  • KenPom Ranking: 46
  • Strength of Schedule: 131st
  • Offensive Rating: 107.8 (119th)
  • Defensive Rating: 90.3 (34th)

The Wildcats went 3-1 against high-major nonconference foes, though the three teams they beat — Utah, Georgia Tech, DePaul — aren’t particularly impressive, and they lost to a good team in Oklahoma and a mid-major team in Fresno State.

Northwestern has dropped its first three conference games as well against three of the best teams in the league in Indiana, Michigan and Michigan State. Northwestern has a couple quality players in Vic Law and Derek Pardon but the depth of talent just isn’t there to stay out of the bottom third of the league.

No. 14 Ohio State

  • Record: 12-1 (2-0)
  • NET Ranking: 19
  • KenPom Ranking: 25
  • Strength of Schedule: 65th
  • Offensive Rating: 113.3 (40th)
  • Defensive Rating: 89.9 (31st)

Chris Holtmann is a really good coach, folks. In his first year, he led the Buckeyes to a top-three Big Ten finish. He lost his best two players from that team plus another starter yet has Ohio State right rolling once again.

The Buckeyes’ only loss of the season came against Syracuse, a team outside the top-25 but one with a good deal of talent. They’ve won at Creighton in a late comeback and have also beat Cincinnati and UCLA. They’re top-40 nationally on both sides of the ball thanks in part to a pair of transfers and a big sophomore leap from center Kaleb Wesson.

Ohio State beat Minnesota and Illinois in its early Big Ten games.

Penn State

  • Record: 7-6 (0-2)
  • NET Ranking: 77
  • KenPom Ranking: 45
  • Strength of Schedule: 17th
  • Offensive Rating: 101.6 (231st)
  • Defensive Rating: 95.6 (93rd)

Penn State is a bizarre team. The Nittany Lions have just one win over high-major team, a ranked Virginia Tech squad. They’ve also lost to DePaul in overtime, North Carolina State, Alabama and … Bradley.

Penn State lost two starting guards including Tony Carr and double-double machine Mike Watkins has missed some games for personal reasons and has had a more limited role since his return.

The Nittany Lions lost to two good teams in Maryland and Indiana in early December.


  • Record: 8-5 (1-1)
  • NET Ranking: 30
  • KenPom Ranking: 19
  • Strength of Schedule: 7th
  • Offensive Rating: 114.8 (28th)
  • Defensive Rating: 100.6 (202nd)

Purdue lost a ton from one of the Big Ten’s best rosters last year, but expectations were high thanks to the return of preseason Big Ten Player of the Year Carsen Edwards. Edwards is putting up 25 a game, but the depth of offense production isn’t there and they’re struggling defensively against a really tough schedule.

The Boilermakers dropped all of their high-major nonconference games, losing to Virginia Tech, Florida State. Texas and Notre Dame. The first two are in the top 25.

Purdue lost to Michigan and beat Purdue in its first two league games. That Maryland win is really the teams only quality one, but their metrics are still strong despite not getting as many wins as they would have hoped for from the nonconference.


  • Record: 7-5 (0-2)
  • NET Ranking: 126
  • KenPom Ranking: 110
  • Strength of Schedule: 92nd
  • Offensive Rating: 101.1 (237th)
  • Defensive Rating: 92.2 (55th)

Rutgers is still Rutgers. They pulled out a win against a down Miami team in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge but lost to St. John’s, Seton Hall and Fordham. They’re competitive defensively but not good at all on offense. 

Rutgers got a tough draw in its early Big Ten games, losing against Michigan State and Wisconsin. The Scarlet Knights are looking like a 14th place team once again.

No. 22 Wisconsin

  • Record: 10-3 (2-0)
  • NET Ranking: 14
  • KenPom Ranking: 14
  • Strength of Schedule: 41st
  • Offensive Rating: 113.2 (43rd)
  • Defensive Rating: 93.6 (67th)

The Badgers had a down year last season — the first in a long time — but they’ve gotten off to a good start this season led by one of the best players in the conference in big man Ethan Happ.

Wisconsin’s best win was over Oklahoma, and it also beat Xavier and Stanford. The Badgers gave No. 4 Virginia a run before the Cavaliers pulled it out. Marquette won the in-state battle against the Badgers then Wisconsin lost its nonconference finale against Western Kentucky.

The Badgers beat Iowa and Rutgers in December and look to be a top-half team in the Big Ten.


As a conference, the Big Ten went 34-26 (.566) against other high-major conference teams during the nonconference. Seven teams found their way into the Top 25 by the end of nonconference play with two others earning their way into the poll for multiple weeks. Joe Lunardi’s bracketology currently has 10 teams projected to make the NCAA Tournament field, three more than any other conference. Some of the teams will beat each other up now that conference play has begun and that number is unlikely to stay at 10, but it still goes to show how improved the conference is this season than a year ago when 13 Big ten wins weren’t enough to get Nebraska into the Big Dance.

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