Here’s my attempt at ranking the Big Ten this week:
1. Ohio State: The Buckeyes have won four of their last five, so they’re back where they’re supposed to be. On top of the Big Ten. Excluding a Jan. 10 road loss at Illinois, the Buckeyes have outscored their last four victims by an average of 27.7 points per game. Nope, they haven’t beaten the league’s best teams during this run. But they’re crushing the bottom-tier squads, and that’s more than the majority of the Big Ten can say right now.
2. Michigan State: The Spartans shook off back-to-back road losses with a 25-point home win over Purdue on Saturday. Coach Tom Izzo certainly has the pieces in place to make Michigan State relevant again in March. But in the more immediate future, given the Spartans' physicality inside, they are the greatest threat to Ohio State’s bid for the Big Ten title.
3. Wisconsin: This is just what Bo Ryan does. After the Badgers lost three consecutive Big Ten games, many assumed their Big Ten hopes were dead. And then, the Badgers did what the Badgers do. They collected themselves and burst back into the Big Ten hunt. They’ve won four in a row, including a 67-63 road win at Illinois on Sunday. Wisconsin Badgers don’t care. Watch out.
4. Michigan: Help me out on this one. Is this too low? Too high? I just don’t know what to make of the Wolverines yet. They’re definitely a talented team with potential. But are they the squad that outplayed Michigan State a week ago and held Wisconsin to 41 points earlier this month? Or is this the team that ended up in a 20-point hole in a loss at Arkansas on Saturday and suffered a 16-point loss at Iowa last weekend? I don’t know. The Wolverines’ next four games (at Purdue/Ohio State, vs. Indiana, at Michigan State) will tell us plenty.
5. Illinois: The Illini have lost two in a row since a Jan. 10 upset win over Ohio State. This seems like the norm for the Illini under Bruce Weber. Outside of a three-game win streak in Big Ten play, the Illini haven’t consistently lived up to projections about their potential this season. There’s still time for the Illini to put it all together, though. And their effort against the Buckeyes was proof that this could be -- should be -- a team that makes a serious push for the Big Ten title.
6. Indiana: The Hoosiers might have saved their Big Ten season with a second-half push during their 73-54 home win over Penn State on Sunday (they were down by two at halftime). Things weren’t looking good early. But the win was a nice way to end a three-game losing skid for a squad that had been plummeting since suffering a surprising home loss against Minnesota on Jan. 12.
7. Purdue: The Boilermakers had a horrible weekend. Their plane was stuck on a runway for three hours, so they didn’t reach East Lansing, Mich., until a few hours before the tipoff of their 25-point loss at Michigan State. But they had issues before Saturday’s mess. The Boilermakers’ Big Ten opponents have shot 46.6 percent from the field against them, 11th in the Big Ten. They’ve lost three of their last five games.
8. Minnesota: The Gophers lost their first four Big Ten games, but they’re riding a three-game winning streak after Sunday’s 75-52 home win over Northwestern. Freshman Joe Coleman has been a catalyst during this run. He’s scored 39 points combined in the team’s past two games.
9. Iowa: The Hawkeyes have lost three of their past four. Their impressive wins against Wisconsin (on the road) and Michigan don’t tell the full story of their season. Neither do their recent losses. Iowa, however, has faced Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State in its first seven games. Their upcoming slate against some of the squads in the league’s bottom tier will give the Hawkeyes a chance to climb the Big Ten standings.
10. Northwestern: End the bubble conversations/hopes/manufactured buzz. This is not an NCAA tournament team. The Wildcats enter the week with a 2-5 record in the Big Ten. They’ve lost their last two games (road losses against Wisconsin and Minnesota) by 43 points combined.
11. Nebraska: Doc Sadler’s squad played five ranked teams in its first eight conference games. Like Iowa, this is a squad that could reel off a string of victories (the Cornhuskers showed promise in last week’s win over the Hoosiers) once its conference slate gets easier in the coming weeks.
12. Penn State: Tim Frazier is Penn State’s only consistent scoring threat. Big Ten opponents have shot 47 percent against the Nittany Lions, the worst mark in the league. Tough year for the program.