After a Sunday afternoon in which Indiana barely held off Penn State and Michigan handed Wisconsin yet another loss, here is my latest attempt to rank the Big Ten:
Michigan State: The Spartans are undefeated in Big Ten play after pulling off a somewhat controversial 63-60 overtime victory against Wisconsin in Madison. They’re ranked 11th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offense rankings and seventh in his adjusted defensive rankings. Translation: The Spartans are a complete team.
Indiana: The Hoosiers held off a crafty Wolverines squad in Bloomington, but we’ll learn more about Indiana’s Big Ten title hopes when it travels to Columbus this weekend. The Hoosiers snapped a 16-game road losing streak in Big Ten play with an 88-82 victory at Penn State Sunday. Congrats, but how did IU give up 82 points to the Nittany Lions? Did Talor Battle play?
Ohio State: This is what I like about the Buckeyes: After suffering that disappointing New Year’s Eve loss to Indiana, they did what a top-10 squad should do. They destroyed a pair of teams that are projected to finish at the bottom of the Big Ten (Nebraska by 31, Iowa by 29). At its best, Ohio State is the best team in this league. Will we see it consistently for the rest of the year?
Michigan: This is where the league gets blurry. But Michigan deserves kudos for losing by two on the road against an Indiana squad that had previously defeated Ohio State and Kentucky in the same building. Plus, they held their own against an Indiana team with Christian Watford and Cody Zeller inside, despite playing with one post man (Jordan Morgan).
Illinois: The Big Ten’s most perplexing squad needed a comeback to beat Nebraska. In Champaign. Joseph Bertrand’s 11 for 12 clip was impressive Saturday. Meyers Leonard taking five shots? Not so much. The Illini need more balance. Not sure why Bruce Weber’s squad isn’t playing more of an inside-outside game.
Purdue: The Boilermakers don’t have much beef inside. Their offense revolves around Lewis Jackson’s speed off the dribble and Robbie Hummel’s versatility. But they’re in a massive league. So their margin of error, given their dependence upon outside shots, is slim. The team’s 20-point road loss to Penn State suggests that the Big Ten’s bottom half is murky at best.
Iowa: Fran McCaffery’s wins at Wisconsin and Minnesota were promising. He continues to build in Iowa City, which is not an easy task. But additional lopsided losses, such as the one suffered against Ohio State at home Saturday, might soon suggest that the Wisconsin win was a fluke.
Wisconsin: The Badgers don’t look very good right now, even though two of their Big Ten losses came against a pair of tourney teams. The Iowa loss is inexplicable. And those nonconference victories against UNLV and BYU seem ancient right now.
Northwestern: That one-point loss to Illinois last week might haunt the Wildcats for some time. They’re not good enough to squander those tight games. And for the umpteenth time, the Wildcats’ dream of an NCAA tourney berth seems like a pipedream.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions crushed Purdue last week. And they gave Indiana a run Sunday. Both games were at home. Those efforts might mean progress in State College, but we won’t know until Penn State adds a few W's to the win column.
Minnesota: Tubby Smith’s squad looks lifeless right now. Against Purdue, Smith went with a small lineup, even though his team’s size advantage should have been significant weapon. As the Gophers learned last season, when they finished with 10 losses in their final 11 games, this thing can go downhill quickly.
Nebraska: The Cornhuskers had a shot on the road against Illinois over the weekend. But they took some tough shots late. Three of their next four are against Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio State. It’s not going to get easier.