- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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Big Ten basketball never fails to intrigue. Here are my latest rankings of the conference...
1. Indiana. Spoiler alert: There is nothing much to see at the top of the Big Ten power rankings this week. I would try to gin up some suspense or something, but what's the point? Since last week's post-UNC-demolition rankings, Indiana destroyed Coppin State at home in perfectly expected and entirely boring fashion. (Though Victor Oladipo is more fun to watch than ever.) Until Cody Zeller and Co. lose, they'll be No. 1. Let's move along.
2. Michigan. I know it's early, but is there any doubt this is the best team of John Beilein's career? Not only are the Wolverines (who handled Bradley in an unusual true road game Saturday, and manhandled Western Michigan Tuesday night) a top-five offense with an All-American-level point guard (Trey Burke), an efficient, self-contained shooting guard (Tim Hardaway, Jr.), and one of the best shooters in the country (Nik Stauskas, whose offensive rating through eight games is an insane 152.8). The Wolverines are also, to this point, ranked in the top 25 in efficiency defense. If they end the season that way, it would be the first time in Beilein's career (since 2003, at least, in KenPom's database). Make no mistake: This is a special team.
3. Ohio State. The Buckeyes bounced back from their disappointing five-point loss at Duke -- a game they led for 35 minutes, and definitely could have won -- with a 70-43 win over Northern Kentucky. That Duke loss may end up leaving the Buckeyes just slightly underrated, especially as we move on and people forget how well Ohio State played.
4. Minnesota. Ladies and gentlemen, the best offensive rebounding team in the country … the Minnesota Golden Gophers? It's true: Minnesota is rebounding 49.1 percent of their own misses, the highest mark in the country. My colleague Myron Medcalf wrote an excellent piece after Minnesota's win over South Dakota State (whose star guard, Nate Wolters, sat out with injury), about Tubby Smith's sudden mood change. The occasionally grumpy coach is growing a mustache and joking with reporters and allowing media into his locker room, and why not? Compared to recent seasons, coaching this team must really deliver on the dopamine.
5. Michigan State. After the Miami loss, Tom Izzo said he'd seen about enough of his two-forward lineup. So he benched Adreian Payne, started freshman guard Denzel Valentine, an old-school-savvy passer, and moved 3-4 tweener Brenden Dawson to the frontcourt. Thus far, it's hard to tell how this will hold up -- Michigan State played two easy home guarantee games this week -- but the lineup does look to be more dynamic.
6. Illinois. The Illini have been one of the pleasant surprises of this young season, with their Maui Invitational win and successive victories leading them to a 9-0 start. Whatever malaise fell over Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson last season appears to be lifted, and John Groce has coaxed great performances from less-regarded fill-ins like Joseph Bertrand, Tyler Griffey, and Tracy Abrams. Also, Illinois is taking -- and making -- a lot of 3s. Will they cool off? We'll find out Saturday, when Illinois travels to Spokane to play Gonzaga. Big, big game.
7. Wisconsin. The Badgers bounced back from last week's home loss (a rare occurrence in the Kohl Center) to stylistic cousin Virginia with an 81-56 drubbing of Cal. In other words, maybe it's not time to panic just yet. The Badgers' statistical profile basically looks like last year's, minus Jordan Taylor-level point guard play. No surprise there.
8. Northwestern. Northwestern and the team they leapfrogged this week, Purdue, are both hard to read, but Northwestern is definitely the weirder of the two. The Wildcats got hammered by Maryland at home, then lost (again at home!) to Illinois-Chicago by five (which is not as bad a team as you think, but still, yikes) and then a few days later traveled to Waco, Texas, and beat Baylor, which itself was just days removed from a win at Kentucky. Freshman Alex Olah and Louisville transfer forward Jared Swopshire have made the Wildcats less prone to being subjugated on the glass, but there is much work to be done.
9. Iowa. I hate the sports transitive property -- most of us realize how dumb it is by our first under-10 soccer summers -- but I have to tick Iowa up a notch after Virginia Tech's win over Oklahoma State. I thought Va. Tech's dominant offensive performance in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge was thanks to Iowa's lackluster defense, and that may be true, but the Hokies easily beat the Cowboys a week later. "Losses to Wichita State and Virginia Tech " is suddenly an entirely respectable phrase. (Then again, Iowa hasn't beaten anyone … so this is very much subject to change.)
10. Purdue. Do I think Purdue is the 10th-worst team in this league? Not really. Am I ranking them there for now, after Saturday's home loss to Xavier (who lost at home to a bad Vanderbilt team Thursday night), with the caveat that they can move up if/when they become more consistent? Yes.
11. Nebraska. The Cornhuskers have looked energized under new coach Tim Miles, but their chance to really make a statement -- a home game against in-state rival Creighton -- fell flat Thursday night. And, you know, oh well. The Cornhuskers will have plenty of chances under Miles, particularly when that new Haymarket Arena opens, and maybe Doug McDermott's beautiful offensive game (and Grant Gibbs' passing, which occasionally gives me the vapors) will have left for the NBA by then, too.
12. Penn State. The good news about Penn State's week? They got a win at home over Penn, and they got to play in one of college basketball's most storied arenas, the Palestra. The bad news about Penn State's week? That game was against La Salle, who thrashed the Nittany Lions 82-57. Yeah. Yikes.