One week of Big Ten play in the books, it’s time to release my latest Big Ten men’s hoops power rankings. The rankings are not meant to mimic the Big Ten standings. What fun would that be? They aren’t scientific, either. They’re simply my thoughts on where each Big Ten team stands right now and who would win on a neutral court. Agree? Disagree? Tweet @BTNBrentYarina or leave your comments below. See Brent’s rankings in this post.
1. Michigan State (13-2, 2-0) – The Spartans haven’t lost since the season-opening defeats to North Carolina and Duke. All together, Michigan State is on a 13-game winning streak, having beaten the likes of Gonzaga, Nebraska – both on the road – previously undefeated Indiana and Florida State. As long as Derrick Nix and Keith Appling continue their recent play, the Spartans are the Big Ten’s best team.
Last time: No. 3
This week: at Wisconsin (1/3)
T-2. Indiana (13-1, 1-1) – Tom Crean couldn’t have asked for much more than a 1-1 start in Big Ten, considering the grueling start. Just about every coach in America would take a split when faced with a road game at Michigan State and a home date vs. Ohio State. The win over the then-No. 2 Buckeyes not only made Indiana the second Big Ten team to knock off an AP No. 1 and No. 2 in the same season, joining the 1952-53 Gophers, it also served as further proof that it is a legit contender. And the Hoosiers did it with freshman star Cody Zeller fouling out and contributing only 21 minutes.
Last time: No. 2
This week: vs. Michigan (1/5), at Penn State (1/8)
T-2. Ohio State (13-2, 1-1) – The Buckeyes found out exactly what then-No. 1 Kentucky did a month ago: Indiana is a very good team and Assembly Hall is an intimidating venue. Said Jared Sullinger: “You walk off the floor, they hang an ‘L’ on you and your ears are ringing because the fans are so loud.” One positive from Ohio State’s second loss of the season was Lenzelle Smith (season-high 12 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists) picking up the slack while Sullinger, William Buford and Deshaun Thomas battled early foul trouble.
Last time: No. 1
This week: vs. Nebraska (1/3), at Iowa (1/7)
4. Michigan (12-2, 2-0) – Everybody knows the impact freshman sensation Trey Burke has had on the Wolverines, who lost last year’s star point guard Darius Morris to the NBA. Almost as important as Burke’s immediate success, however, is the improvement of sophomore Evan Smotrycz. The forward has become a deadly shooter (55% after 40% as a freshman), plus he leads Michigan, a poor rebounding team a season ago, with 7.1 boards per night. Oh, and he also has three double-doubles in the last four games.
Last time: T-No. 4
This week: at Indiana (1/5), vs. Wisconsin (1/8)
5. Purdue (12-3, 2-0) – The Boilers showed a lot in their victory over Illinois on Saturday. No, the Illini aren’t a terrific team right now, but Purdue, void of a true big man, shut down Meyers Leonard (7 points, 6 rebounds, 0 blocks) and looked explosive despite getting only five points and 22 minutes from standout Robbie Hummel. Kelsey Barlow is finding his groove, with three straight double-digit efforts, and it’s nice to D.J. Byrd back in the rotation and being effective.
Last time: No. 8
This week: at Penn State (1/5), at Minnesota (1/8)
6. Wisconsin (12-3, 1-1) – Any team that shoots as many 3-pointers as Wisconsin is susceptible to cold spells and an upset here or there. Averaging 21 3-point attempts a night, the Badgers shoot 39 percent of their overall field goal attempts from distance. When they’re going down, it’s no big deal. But when they’re clanking off the rim, much like they were in the upset loss to Iowa, it puts a lot of pressure on the rebounders and defense.
Last time: T-No. 4
This week: vs. Michigan State (1/3), at Michigan (1/8)
7. Northwestern (11-3, 1-1) – Drew Crawford’s game has improved leaps and bounds from last season, but now that the Big Ten’s second-leading scorer is a known name, he’s expected to produce in the biggest of games. That hasn’t been the case so far, with the junior shooting a combined 9 of 28 (32 percent) in losses to Baylor and Ohio State, the team’s two biggest tests – yes, he torched Creighton, however it isn’t a defensive power. If Northwestern is going to earn its first NCAA bid, it will need a couple signature wins over elite competition, and Crawford is the key.
Last time: No. 6
This week: vs. Illinois (1/4)
8. Illinois (12-3, 1-1) – The Big Ten’s biggest enigma, Illinois can’t seem to find much of any consistency. During the course of any game, the Illini can look like world-beaters one moment and like a fringe NIT team the next. There somewhere in the middle, most likely, but the Illini won’t have a lot of success if they can’t avoid their all-too-familiar prolonged offensive droughts.
Last time: No. 7
This week: at Northwestern (1/4), vs. Nebraska (1/7)
9. Minnesota (12-3, 0-2) – A couple things we know about the Gophers: they’re going to compete every minute and are a better team than everyone thought post-Mbakwe. The key now is for Tubby Smith to keep his players motivated and positive following an opening week that featured a pair of close road losses, including a double-overtime defeat at Illinois. The Gophers are home for the next two games, and that can’t be understated.
Last time: No. 9
This week: vs. Iowa (1/4), vs. Purdue (1/8)
10. Iowa (9-6, 1-1) – Who saw Iowa going into the Kohl Center and taking down then-No. 11 Wisconsin on Saturday? No hands, right? The Hawkeyes have plenty of talent, but they consistently struggle to put it all together on the same night. With Matt Gatens, Devyn Marble, Melsahn Basabe and promising freshman Aaron White, the Hawkeyes have the talent to compete on a nightly basis. Let’s see if they can build off Saturday’s big-time upset.
Last time: No. 11
This week: at Minnesota (1/4), vs. Ohio State (1/7)
11. Nebraska (8-5, 0-2) – All things considered, the Huskers were pretty competitive in their first week of Big Ten play. While they lost to Wisconsin and Michigan State at home, they battled and gave each its share of trouble – even without shot-blocker Jorge Brian Diaz and fourth-leading scorer Dylan Talley, who were both out with injuries. A team that relies on its defense, Nebraska could really use Diaz and his shot-blocking skills back in the fold.
Last time: No. 10
This week: at Ohio State (1/3), at Illinois (1/7)
12. Penn State (8-7, 0-2) – If Penn State is going to be competitive against Big Ten teams, it needs Tim Frazier to start looking for his shot more often. The star junior averages a hefty 13.5 attempts a game, however he may need to be more around the 18 or 20 mark for the Nittany Lions to card an upset or two. He’s easily Patrick Chambers’ top scoring option on a team void of scorers, so all the freedom in the world can do nothing but help.
Last time: No. 12
This week: vs. Purdue (1/5), vs. Indiana (1/8)