Here’s my latest attempt to rank the Big Ten, as conference play really begins to heat up:
Michigan State: One of the hottest teams in America has shaken up the Big Ten. Michigan State’s 15-point win over Indiana last week was a message to the rest of the league. With Keith Appling blossoming into a confident floor leader, the Spartans are as good as any team in the Big Ten right now.
Indiana: The Hoosiers have wins over former No. 1 Kentucky and former No. 2 Ohio State (74-70 Saturday at Assembly Hall). They lead the Big Ten in field goal percentage and scoring offense. Cody Zeller is a young force on a gutsy roster. This is not just a resurgence of Indiana basketball. It’s a renaissance.
Ohio State: After his team lost to IU on Saturday, Jared Sullinger tweeted his kudos. “IU basketball is back everybody,” his short message read. His Buckeyes squad -- at full strength -- had never been so vulnerable prior to their weekend loss, their second of the season. They’ve missed 20 of 28 three-point attempts in their two losses this season.
Michigan: The Wolverines have won seven straight and their only two losses of the season came against ranked teams (Virginia and Duke). Jon Horford’s foot injury is a significant blow for one of the smaller squads in the Big Ten. But Trey Burke’s offensive growth (he had 27 points in his team’s 61-56 win over Minnesota on Sunday) is promising.
Purdue: The Boilermakers defeated Iowa in their Big Ten opener last week. And Saturday, they outscored the Illini 49-36 in the second half of a 15-point win. The Boilermakers hit 53 percent of their shots in those two games. With Robbie Hummel back to all-Big Ten form, Purdue will be a dangerous opponent for any squad in the conference.
Wisconsin: Just can’t make any excuses for Wisconsin’s home loss to Iowa. The Badgers hit 10 percent of their threes and only 35 percent of their field-goal attempts. UW is built around a stubborn defense. But it betrayed them against the Hawkeyes, whose 72 points were the most against the Badgers this season.
Illinois: Four. That’s the number of shots that sophomore center Meyers Leonard took in his team’s 75-60 loss to Purdue on Saturday. Illinois is 6-1 when Leonard takes 10 or more shots. Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson took half of the team’s field goal attempts. The Illini have to find to a way get Leonard and others more involved in their offense.
Iowa: There just aren’t any easy wins in this league. The Hawkeyes’ win over Wisconsin in the Kohl Center proved that point Saturday. Freshman Aaron White, who scored 18 points in that game, continues to improve. It’s a long season, so Iowa can’t rest on one upset. But it can certainly build off it.
Northwestern: In their first two conference games -- a big loss to Ohio State and a win over Penn State -- the Wildcats were in the Bottom 5 of the Big Ten in scoring defense and scoring offense. Three-point shooting (39 percent) might keep them alive in most games, but without consistent defense, they’re in trouble.
Minnesota: The Gophers lost two close ones in their first two Big Ten games. Their double-overtime effort against Illinois was impressive. And they stayed close to Michigan in Ann Arbor Sunday. But the Gophers won’t get any credit for effort. They have to find ways to win in those situations.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions suffered double-digit losses in their first two conference games (Michigan and Northwestern). But they were both on the road. Their next two are at home.
Nebraska: What a way to get welcomed to the Big Ten. The Huskers faced nationally ranked Wisconsin and Michigan State in their first-ever Big Ten games. The 0-2 squad travels to Ohio State and Illinois in their next two outings. Ouch.