Big Ten Power Rankings
By Rob Ogden
When I ranked the league a few weeks ago, I wrote that it looked like a four-team race for the regular season Big Ten championship. Now it's looking more like a two or three-team competition, and one of those teams wasn't one I originally counted among the of four. Though if the next three weeks are like the past three, there's no telling how many teams – or which ones – will be in contention come March.
1. Michigan (15-4, 7-0 Big Ten)
Somehow, some way, the Wolverines just keep winning. Michigan's non-conference play was uninspiring, but its conference play has been everything but. In consecutive games, the Wolverines have knocked off No. 3 Wisconsin, No. 10 Iowa and No. 3 Michigan State. According to STATS, they're the first team since the 1996-97 season to win three consecutive games against top-10 opponents. Two of those wins came on the road. That's unheard of in the Big Ten these days.
Even without Mitch McGary, Michigan looks like a legitimate Big Ten (and national championship?) contender.
2. Michigan State (18-2, 7-1)
The Spartans' loss at home to Michigan came without injured starters Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson. Payne is being affected by plantar fasciitis and Dawson broke his right hand by slamming it against a table during a film session. He's expected to miss four-to-five weeks. With the pair, Michigan State has to be the favorite in the league. Without them, it's a completely different story. The Spartans will be tested again Tuesday when they travel to Iowa.
3. Iowa (16-4, 5-2)
The Hawkeyes can stay in the thick of the Big Ten race with a win Tuesday night. The next four games will likely make or break their chances. Michigan Sate, followed by a trip to Illinois before rematches against Ohio State and Michigan.
4. Wisconsin (17-3, 4-3)
The Badgers have the convenience of not having to travel to either East Lansing or Columbus. They might have already played themselves out of title contention though with three-consecutive losses.
5. Ohio State (16-4, 3-4)
Four losses won the league last season, and five was good enough two years ago. With four losses in their first six Big Ten games, the Buckeyes would likely need to win out in order to have any chance at a regular season crown. They won't have to travel to Ann Arbor, but trips to Wisconsin and Iowa loom in the coming days.
6. Minnesota (15-6, 4-4)
Things were looking good for the Gophers. They had wins over Ohio State and Wisconsin with their only conference losses to Michigan, Michigan State (overtime) and Iowa, and then they lost to Nebraska. They probably would have made the top five if not for the blunder. That one could hurt come tournament time.
7. Indiana (13-7, 3-4)
Yogi Ferrell is having a phenomenal individual season (he ranks in the top six in the league in points, assists, three pointers and free throw percentage), but is a one-man show at times. The win over Wisconsin will keep the Hoosiers in tournament contention for now.
8. Northwestern (10-11, 3-5)
The Wildcats were miserable during the non-conference slate, but have been respectable in conference play. They have wins over Illinois, Indiana and Purdue and their league losses have come to Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State and Iowa (twice).
9. Purdue (13-7, 3-4)
The Boilermakers don't have a noteworthy win on their schedule, but edge out Illinois for the No. 9 spot simply because they're not on a six-game losing streak.
10. Illinois (13-8, 2-6)
Ouch. The Illini dropped their sixth-consecutive game Sunday against Indiana, and it doesn't get any easier with games against Iowa and Wisconsin up next. A win over the Hawkeyes might be needed to provide a confidence boost and propel Illinois back in to tournament contention.
11. Nebraska (10-9, 2-5)
Tim Miles clearly has this team playing better. The Cornhuskers have wins over Ohio State and Minnesota and lost by only a point against Michigan.
12. Penn State (10-10, 1-6)
With two of the league's top seven scorers, Penn State should be better, but the defense has been brutal, allowing a league-worst 73 points per game.
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