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Monday, February 13, 2012
Conference Power Rankings: Big Ten

By Myron Medcalf

The Big Ten's tumult continues. Michigan State's win at Ohio State on Saturday changed the league's title race. It's still wide open with a few more weeks to go in the regular season. With that, I present my latest power rankings:

1. Michigan State: The Spartans' weekend road victory over the Buckeyes solidified their top spot in my power rankings. The Spartans have held their Big Ten opponents to a 38 percent clip from the field, the top mark in the conference. They’re physical and versatile. And with Draymond Green's leadership, the Spartans have the potential to make a serious run in March.

2. Ohio State: The Buckeyes took a tough loss against a talented team. Shots weren’t falling (26 percent from the field). Jared Sullinger was frustrated all game (10 turnovers). But it happens. Elite teams fall, especially when they’re up against other top-10 squads. If there’s one major question for the Buckeyes stemming from that loss, however, it centers on their struggles from beyond the arc. When they need the 3-pointer in a tight game (33 percent overall, 2-for-15 against the Spartans), who will step up and hit that shot? Deshaun Thomas was 3-for-11 from beyond the arc in the team’s four  games before Saturday's contest, yet he took and missed all five 3-point attempts against the Spartans. Could be a major problem down the stretch.

3. Michigan: The Wolverines recorded back-to-back victories after last weekend’s loss at Michigan State, which looks even better considering the fact that Ohio State lost to the Spartans at home by the same 10-point margin. Tim Hardaway Jr. recently suggested that the Wolverines had some chemistry issues following his team’s loss in East Lansing last weekend. That might be an ominous indicator for Michigan’s future. The more immediate concern for the team’s supporters, however, should be Hardaway’s two single-digit scoring efforts in the team’s past three games.

4. Wisconsin: The Badgers’ game will never change. They’ll work the shot block, play tough defense and hope for a grind-it-out victory. But will they have the necessary offense to advance in the NCAA tournament? The Badgers lost a double-digit lead at Minnesota on Thursday when they failed to score for the final eight minutes of regulation in a game they eventually won in overtime. But to contend for the Big Ten title, they’ll have to beat Michigan State and Ohio State on the road. Wisconsin lost to both teams in previous meetings because it couldn’t find the offense to squeeze out wins in those games.

5. Indiana: The Hoosiers have won two in a row. But that’s not the best news for a program that’s been subpar outside of Assembly Hall. Three of the team’s final five Big Ten games will be played in Bloomington, where the Hoosiers are 14-1 this season. They’re shooting 49.6 percent from the field. The Hoosiers have a favorable schedule that could help them gain some momentum entering the postseason.

6. Purdue: The Boilermakers have lost five of eight. But all five losses came against ranked Big Ten teams. It won’t get much easier for Matt Painter’s squad, which will play Michigan and Indiana on the road and Michigan State in three of its last six Big Ten games. The Boilermakers continue to suffer from their limited interior depth. They have the worst rebounding defense (35.0 allowed per game) and field goal percentage defense (47.3 percent) as a result of their limited size. It could become an even bigger problem down the stretch.

7. Minnesota: The Gophers have won five of their past eight games and gave the Badgers hell Thursday. They don’t have a true star. They’re just winning with persistence. Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology projections list the Gophers as one of the “last four in,” a surprising position for a team that’s playing with so much youth and inexperience. A home win over Ohio State on Tuesday or Michigan State next week could seal their postseason fate.

8. Northwestern: The Wildcats had won three consecutive games before they lost to Purdue on Sunday. John Shurna (19.5 ppg) is a scoring machine, but his team has given up 70.4 points per game in conference play. And Northwestern is the worst free throw shooting team (65 percent) in the league. That’s not exactly the formula for a squad with limited athleticism and talent to climb the standings in the deepest conference in the country.

9. Illinois: It’s never a good thing when a school’s athletic director refuses to give a coach a vote of confidence with a month to go before Selection Sunday. Bruce Weber’s job will certainly be in jeopardy if this slide continues. The Illini have lost six of their last seven games. They’re just a bad team right now, and they could play their way out of the NCAA tournament. This is one of most disappointing programs in the country right now. They brought in a highly touted recruiting class and have a 7-footer inside who should be a first-round pick in this summer’s NBA draft. And still, perennial pitfalls persist.

10. Iowa: For all of the Hawkeyes' struggles this season, they’ve been solid at home, where they’re 3-1 in their last four games. Three of their final six games will be played at Carver Hawkeye Arena. Perhaps they’ll finish strong.

11. Penn State: The Nittany Lions continue to give squads fits in State College. Wisconsin and Indiana escaped with single-digit victories. Purdue and Illinois lost at Penn State. Three of the team’s final five Big Ten games are at home.

12. Nebraska: Yes, the Huskers have lost four straight. But they’re investing in basketball in Lincoln. A new practice facility and a brand-new arena will be ready next season. As difficult as it might seem, nearby Creighton is proof that Doc Sadler can build in Nebraska in the coming years. If he’s still the head coach.