New week, new Big Ten power rankings, new No. 1. Let's dig right in:
1. Michigan: Indiana's loss to Butler Saturday -- and the fashion in which it came -- prompted some legitimate near-term questions for the Hoosiers. But it's not like Michigan only gets this spot by default. Quite the contrary. The Wolverines are 12-0, have an All-America-level point guard (Trey Burke) running a balanced, hyper-talented team, and as such play some of the most efficient offense in the country. Michigan has its weak spots on the defensive end -- it doesn't force many turnovers, for one -- but the Wolverines don't allow opposing offensive rebounds, and they don't foul. They're the real deal.
2. Illinois: It does not make me an Illinois "hater" (haterz!) to assume that the Illini will not finish above Ohio State and Indiana through the rest of the college hoops season. I mean, I'm ready to have my perceptions altered and all, but even at 12-0 the Illini haven't been playing as well on a per-possession basis as many of the teams now sitting below them in my rankings. And, you know, so what? John Groce's team is still shooting the ball well enough from the perimeter to keep all those attempts looking like the right strategy, and Brandon Paul is still playing well, and the Illini beat Butler on a neutral floor (cough, Indiana) and Gonzaga at the Kennel. I think Illinois is probably the fourth- or fifth-best team in the league by February. But right now, it would be a disservice to move Illinois any lower than this.
3. Ohio State. Nonconference games don't get much bigger than what the Bucks have on tap Saturday. Kansas comes to town. Why is this so important? For one, it's Kansas, a good, tough team that will push the Buckeyes to the limit (particularly on the low block, where Jeff Withey's height poses a major matchup problem). For another, Ohio State had just one other nonconference game of note this season, and it was at Duke -- a game the Buckeyes could well have won. Other than that, Ohio State has a pretty weak noncon schedule. Saturday's game is massive.
4. Indiana. Don't worry, Hoosiers fans: Indiana won't languish this low in the rankings too long. But there's nothing wrong with a little medicine right now. On Saturday, IU was outworked by a Butler team with a fraction of its talent. Cody Zeller was beaten up by Andrew Smith. Tom Crean was outcoached by Brad Stevens. The Hoosiers were outrebounded, outfought and outthought, and couldn't put away a team missing three starters to foul trouble in the final minutes of overtime. Zeller needs some physical help along the front line -- the arrival of Hanner Mosquera-Perea should be a step in the right direction there -- and the Hoosiers still need to shore a few things up on defense. They'll get there.
5. Minnesota. It's becoming a weekly routine for me: I dig around for some college hoops stats, I check in on Minnesota, I make sure they're still ranked No. 1 in the country in offensive rebounding, I write as much in the power rankings. And so it is again this week, as the Gophers haven't played since last week's 13-point victory over a really solid North Dakota State team.
6. Michigan State. Thursday was tough on the Spartans. Right up until he unveiled that Duke T-shirt, MSU fans were still holding out a ton of hope that star recruit Jabari Parker would decide to take his talents to East Lansing. Instead, Parker passed, citing his positional similarity with Branden Dawson (a fair point). The good news: The Spartans you know are still a very good defensive team, and they rebound the ball on both ends of the floor. If they can cut down on turnovers -- particularly by not allowing so many possessions (13.9 percent) to turn into steals -- Keith Appling and company have a ton of potential. (Saturday's home date versus Texas should be a win, but beware that Longhorns defense.)
7. Wisconsin. It will come as no surprise for me to tell you that I base most of my statistical analysis -- i.e., the stuff I use to help me see the game, in addition to actually seeing the game (word to ESPN3 and Synergy Sports) -- on Ken Pomeroy's measures of per-possession performance. Currently, Wisconsin is ranked No. 16 overall. Much as it pains me to say this … that number is untrustworthy, even if it isn't quite as off as you might think. Wisconsin's four losses (at Florida, Creighton, Virginia, at Marquette) are all to good teams, and Bo Ryan's squad did put an utter beating on a decent Cal team. But we still haven't seen Wisconsin beat anyone really good. The Badgers have a ways to go yet.
8. Iowa. Hey, don't mind me -- just hanging out on the Iowa Big Ten sleeper bandwagon again. Oh, I'm all the way back on. Sure, sure: I was critical of the Hawkeyes after that loss at Virginia Tech, but that's because I didn't realize Virginia Tech was actually a really good offensive team (and that Erick Green was a legit All-America type this season). But after being somewhat dismissive, the Hawks swept their state foes (Iowa State and Northern Iowa) in back-to-back weeks. I already have Indiana fans telling me they're dreading opening the Big Ten season at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on New Year's Eve. All aboard!
9. Northwestern. The Wildcats got a quality home win this week, beating Texas State 74-68 … wait a second … how do you only beat Texas State 74-68 at home? It's Texas State! (No offense to Texas State.) I'll tell you how: When your best player, guard Drew Crawford, is sidelined for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury, you're bound to experience some difficulties pulling away from inferior teams. The Wildcats had a chance to stay in the middle of the Big Ten race this season, but that Crawford injury might be a killer.
10. Purdue. I maintain faith in Matt Painter's ability as a coach; indeed, he's probably already underrated, and at this rate will definitely remain so. The Boilermakers play good defense. They do not play particularly good offense. Surrounded by a young team and no real developed interior, one-time glue guy D.J. Byrd has tried to morph into a catch-and-shooter star. It hasn't worked. The lackluster loss to Notre Dame at the Crossroads Classic last Saturday wasn't pretty, but it had nothing on the 47-44 loss to Eastern Michigan that preceded it. Yuck.
11. Nebraska. How offensively challenged are the Huskers? I could give you a handful of statistics, like their rank -- No. 251 -- in points per possession, or cite their paltry offensive rebounding and inability to get to the free throw line. Or I could tell you that Nebraska scored 38 points at Oregon last Saturday, or exactly 0.59 ppp. In the words of Jesus Quintana: laughable man.
12. Penn State. No jokes or Lebowski references here. We all knew the Nittany Lions were going to struggle without Tim Frazier, and that's what's happened. To wit: Last Saturday, Penn State had to battle to hold on for an overtime home victory against Delaware State. But hey, at least the Nittany Lions are battling.