What a way to end the season and lead into the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis. A three-way tie for first in the Big Ten. So without further ado, here are my final Power Rankings of the 2011-12 season. Thanks for reading all year.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes weren’t perfect down the stretch. But they did what they had to do to grab a slice of the Big Ten title with a road win over Michigan State on William Buford's last-second jumper Sunday. The Buckeyes definitely have the personnel to make a run in March. And they’ve regained the necessary mojo, too.
Michigan: The Wolverines also earned a share of the Big Ten championship after beating Illinois and Penn State on the road in the final week of the regular season. John Beilein’s squad has been undersized all season. And it’s led by a freshman point guard. But the Wolverines have been as tough as any team in this league.
Michigan State: Can’t explain it. The Spartans needed one win to secure the Big Ten title outright. They were outplayed for 40 minutes in Bloomington. And then, they blew a sizable lead against the Buckeyes Sunday in East Lansing, Mich. They’re still champs but they had multiple opportunities to stand on that perch alone. Plus, they were still in the hunt for a No. 1 seed.
Wisconsin: Despite losing key components from last year’s roster, the Badgers regrouped and stayed in the mix all year. They finished strong by winning their final three games of the regular season. They can defend. They have a savvy, talented leader in Jordan Taylor who helped them most past a three-game losing skid in January.
Indiana: The Hoosiers ended the regular season by winning seven of their final eight games. This is the same squad that won three Big Ten games last season. Indiana’s wins over Kentucky and Ohio State were huge. But on Tuesday, they stopped a hungry Michigan State team that just needed one win to seal the Big Ten crown, so that was another major statement for Tom Crean’s squad.
Purdue: The Boilermakers weren’t very deep to begin with. And then D.J. Byrd was suspended and Kelsey Barlow was dismissed. But they pressed forward and used their versatile backcourt to continue their fight for an at-large slot. They’ve won three of their last four, despite facing as much adversity as any team in the league.
Northwestern: “Almost” doesn’t matter. The Wildcats were close to pulling off the upset against the Buckeyes last week, a victory that could have anchored their at-large résumé and guaranteed a trip to the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history. Perhaps they’ve done enough. Perhaps not. The Wildcats, who were 8-10 in the Big Ten, have to enter the Big Ten tournament assuming the latter.
Iowa: In 2010, Minnesota went to the NCAA tournament after a run to the tournament title game. Penn State used the Big Ten tourney as a vehicle to the Big Dance last year. Iowa could be this season’s come-out-of-nowhere squad (seems like there’s one every year).
Minnesota: A Saturday win over Nebraska snapped Minnesota’s six-game losing streak, one that threw the Gophers off the bubble. That win alone, however, didn’t reduce the local scrutiny of Tubby Smith, who hasn’t won a postseason game since his arrival in 2007.
Illinois: The Illini have lost eight of their last nine games. A coaching change seems inevitable. And it just doesn’t make sense. Meyers Leonard inside. Talented players around him. But the Illini finished the regular season at the bottom of the Big Ten standings.
Penn State: Not the finish the Nittany Lions desired. But, they certainly had one bright spot this season: Tim Frazier. He averaged 18.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg and 6.3 apg. He did everything in his power to keep the Nittany Lions afloat this season.
Nebraska: A tough Big Ten debut for the Cornhuskers, who certainly had an easier transition on the gridiron than they did on the hardwood. They finished the regular season on a four-game losing skid.