Conference Power Rankings: Big Ten

It's ever-fluctuating, of course, but here is how I see the Big Ten Power Rankings as of Monday morning:

1. Ohio State: The Buckeyes can really separate themselves from the field with a victory at Wisconsin on Saturday. They’ve struggled on the road -- all of the league’s contenders have -- but if the 7-2 Buckeyes beat the Badgers, the hottest team in the Big Ten (five consecutive wins), they’ll leave little doubt about their standing atop the league or their top-5 ranking.

2. Michigan State: Are the Spartans really Ohio State’s greatest threats for the Big Ten title? We’ll find out this week. They face the Illini on Tuesday in Champaign, Ill., where the Buckeyes have already lost. And the Spartans play Michigan on Feb. 5. They lost to the Wolverines in their last meeting in Ann Arbor. MSU will have to build off its current two-game winning streak to keep pace with the Buckeyes.

3. Wisconsin: A year ago, the Badgers ended Ohio State’s hopes of a perfect season with a 71-67 victory over the Buckeyes in Madison on Feb. 12, 2011. They’ll have another shot to boost their season at OSU’s expense Saturday when the Buckeyes come to Kohl. The Badgers have put their three-game Big Ten losing streak behind them by winning five straight. We’ll see if they can fully restore the Kohl Center’s mojo (they’ve lost three at home this season, a rarity in Madison).

4. Michigan: The Wolverines are coming off two losses -- 66-64 at Arkansas on Jan. 21 and 64-49 at Ohio State on Sunday -- in a three-game road trip. But with Indiana at home Wednesday and Michigan State on the road Sunday, the Wolverines can stay in the hunt for the Big Ten title. If they struggle this week, they might find themselves too far behind to catch up by season’s end.

5. Indiana: The Hoosiers are 5-5 in conference play after winning two of their past three games. But both victories were achieved at Assembly Hall. Indiana can move past a tough January with a win at Michigan on Wednesday. Three of the Hoosiers' next five games, however, are on the road, where they’ve looked like a completely different squad.

6. Purdue: The Boilermakers’ 58-56 win at Northwestern on Saturday was only their second in five games. But they’re 5-4 without a strong post presence in a big league. That's not bad.

7. Illinois: The Illini have lost three in a row, including Saturday's road 77-72 overtime loss to the Gophers in Minneapolis. They’ve been close in all three. But they’ve also been the subject of the perennial questions about this team’s continued inability to fulfill its potential under Bruce Weber.

8. Minnesota: The Gophers have now won four of five after losing their first four Big Ten games. Their overtime victory over Illinois on Saturday avenged a double-overtime loss at Illinois earlier this month. Tubby Smith has faced a ton of challenges throughout his time at Minnesota, but he’s put together one of the most impressive stretches of his tenure over the past few weeks.

9. Nebraska: The Huskers’ introduction to the Big Ten wasn’t a good one. They lost their first four conference games. But Doc Sadler’s squad has won three of its past five.

10. Northwestern: Things just aren’t working out for Bill Carmody’s program this season. The Wildcats have lost six of their first eight conference games. Feels like the same story for the Wildcats. And it’s a sad tale about a program that can’t get over the hump.

11. Iowa: Did Fran McCaffery’s squad really beat Wisconsin in Madison this season? And Michigan at home? Really? The Hawkeyes have won exactly one game since a Jan. 4 victory at Minnesota.

12. Penn State: The Nittany Lions were impressive when they beat Purdue by 20 points Jan. 5, but they’ve earned just one victory since and get red-hot Wisconsin next.