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Friday, December 9, 2011
Conference Power Rankings: Big Ten

By Myron Medcalf

Based on results and not preseason expectations, here's my attempt at ranking the Big Ten teams one month into the season:

1. Ohio State: The Buckeyes lost three veterans, but they’re a more talented team this season. The proof? Their dismantling of Duke and a win over Florida. And top-recruit LaQuinton Ross became eligible this week. Their only concern going forward is Jared Sullinger’s back, which may or may not keep him out of Saturday's game at Kansas.

2. Illinois: Bruce Weber has talent at every position this season. The emergence of Meyers Leonard shifts the entire program and its chances to compete with Ohio State for the Big Ten title. Last week, the 8-0 Illini outplayed a good Gonzaga team at home, but upcoming games against UNLV (in Chicago) and Missouri (in St. Louis) will really prove how legit they are.

3. Michigan: Darius Morris went pro and some (see: me) assumed a collapse would ensue. But Trey Burke has filled that gap in his first season, although you have to worry about his turnovers. Tim Hardaway Jr. is a star. You don't have to worry about him. The Wolverines have a win over Memphis in Maui and for now that's enough to rank them ahead of Wisconsin, which really hasn't beaten anyone outside of BYU.

4. Wisconsin: Early panic about a Bo Ryan team? Check. Listen, the Badgers’ only losses have come against nationally ranked North Carolina and Marquette. No shame in that. But Jordan Taylor is not the scorer he was a year ago (18.1 ppg to 12.4 ppg). And that could be a problem for a team averaging 68.8 points per game. Saturday’s game against UNLV will be a good test.

5. Indiana: The Hoosiers are averaging 85.0 points per game, the seventh-best mark in the country. They pulled off a tough win at NC State in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Cody Zeller is a 6-foot-11 walking testament of Tom Crean’s impact on the program and the Hoosiers’ shot to upset No. 1 Kentucky at home Saturday.

6. Michigan State: The Spartans dropped their first two games against North Carolina (on a boat) and Duke (in New York City). But they’ve won their last seven. Draymond Green is averaging a double-double. If Brandon Dawson eventually lives up to the hype, the Spartans will certainly move up this list.

7. Purdue: Robbie Hummel is just a fighter. He’s leading the Boilermakers with 18.8 ppg following back-to-back ACL tears and a lengthy hiatus. Had he not cramped up in Saturday’s loss to No. 8 Xavier, I think the Boilermakers would have won that game. With a healthy Hummel, Purdue will be a factor in the Big Ten.

8. Minnesota: The Gophers have been a surprise this season. They’ve won their past three games (including a win over Virginia Tech) without star Trevor Mbakwe, who tore his ACL in a Nov. 27 loss to Dayton. Junior Rodney Williams has averaged 14.6 ppg and 7.6 rpg in Mbakwe’s absence. They’re not the same team without their star, but early signs suggest that all is not lost without him.

9. Northwestern: The Wildcats hope to crack the NCAA tournament for the first time in the program’s history this season. And with so much parity in the Big Ten, they might get their shot. There’s nothing wrong with losing to No. 6 Baylor. But scoring 41 points? They’ll still have problems with athletic teams.

10. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers’ double-overtime road win over USC looked promising … until we realized how bad the Trojans were. But Doc Sadler has veterans in a league that lacks them. Bo Spencer, a transfer from LSU, is averaging 16.0 ppg. I still think Nebraska is a sleeper in this league.

11. Iowa: Um, about that rebuilding process in Iowa. This was supposed to be a season of strides for Fran McCaffery’s team, but its deficiencies in athleticism and offensive capability remain. Matt Gatens (13.8 ppg) is the only double-figure scorer on a team that's been wiped out by Creighton (by 23 points), Campbell (by 16), Clemson (by 16) and Northern Iowa (by 20).

12. Penn State: The Nittany Lions lost the best player in program history when Talor Battle graduated. So a fall was anticipated. Still, this is a really bad team, as evidenced by the home loss to Lafayette earlier this week. Reason for hope? Tim Frazier (17.6 ppg) is getting his Talor Battle on.