Ranking the B1G
By Rob Ogden
COLUMBUS, Ohio - A few games into conference play, the Big Ten is beginning to take shape. Right now it looks like no more than a four-team race for the regular season, with a fifth team as a possibility in the tournament. But it's only early January. A lot can, and will, change by March.
1. Michigan State
Tuesday night's win over Ohio State was all the Spartans needed to claim the No. 1 spot in these rankings. They now have two wins over top-5 teams this season and possess two of the league's top scoring threats in Gary Harris and Adreian Payne. They'll be atop these rankings until someone can knock them off.
The Badgers are the only remaining unbeaten in the Big Ten, and are probably on the shortlist of contenders for the conference. Bo Ryan's squad sneaked past Iowa on Sunday then dismantled No. 23 Illinois at home Wednesday. They narrowly edge out the Buckeyes for the second spot by virtue of their undefeated record. A decent non-conference slate that includes a win over No. 10 Florida doesn't hurt, either.
3. Ohio State
The Buckeyes were knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten in East Lansing, but shouldn't fall far from their No. 3 spot in the AP rankings. Big Ten road wins are tough to come by, Big Ten road wins at Michigan State are nearly impossible to come by. By taking the Spartans to overtime at the Breslin Center, the Buckeyes proved they belong, and are on that shortlist in the Big Ten.
Similar to Ohio State, a 4-point loss on the road at No. 4 Wisconsin is almost counted as a win for Iowa. The Hawkeyes will get the chance to show what they're really made of Jan. 12 in Columbus. For now, Fran McCaffery's squad seems legitimate.
Never sleep on a John Groce-led basketball team. I don't take too much stock in Wednesday night's loss at Wisconsin. Those types of games are going to happen on the road every once in awhile. That's life in the Big Ten. Better times are ahead for the Fighting Illini.
The Wolverines have been a disappointment when considering their top-10 ranking to begin the season. There's still time to get it right, but without Mitch McGary, Michigan looks doomed to the middle of the pack in the Big Ten.
The Gophers are in the middle of the pack in nearly every statistical category in the Big Ten. They find themselves in the same place in the standings. Expect them to stay there. Minnesota will likely be on the bubble come tournament time.
0-2 isn't a good way to start league play for the Hoosiers. Maybe even more alarming for coach Tom Crean though are the turnovers. Indiana ranks dead last in the Big Ten and 316th in the nation in turnover margin with a ratio of -3 per game. Consider that much of the Hoosiers' schedule to this point has been against cupcake-soft competition.
0-2 isn't a good look for the Boilermakers, either. Fortunately, they get Nebraska at home next. Their next eight games are Nebraska, at Illinois, Penn State, at Northwestern, Wisconsin, at Michigan, at Penn State and Minnesota. Six wins during that stretch might propel them towards the tournament conversation.
10. Penn State
Penn State's defense is miserable -- last in the Big Ten. But the Nittany Lions are scoring enough that their scoring margin is still better than Nebraska's and Northwestern's. Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill make a decent one-two punch on offense.
There's not much to differentiate the bottom two teams at this point. Nebraska still has a long was to go before becoming a legitimate threat in the Big Ten, though there does seem to be improvement.
Looking at the schedule, the Wildcats legitimately might not get their first Big Ten win until mid-February. And if not then, maybe not until March. It's ugly.
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