Bardo: Spartans seize top spot in Power Rankings

With all the upsets we saw this past week, my latest Big Ten Power Rankings, presented by ArcelorMittal, look a lot different. As expected, there’s a new No. 1 following Wisconsin’s back-to-back losses. This week, it’s Michigan State that stakes claim to the top stop. Find out where your team lands in this post.

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1. Michigan State (17-1, 6-0). Keith Appling has been the straw that stirs this national title contender. He averaged 22 points per game last week. His command of this team and dealing with injury issues all season has been quite impressive. His poise in the road victory over Illinois led to the Spartans scoring on their last 9 possessions to close out the game. The Spartans have done this without All-American Adreian Payne the last two games. If they get everyone healthy, look out.
Last week: 2

2. Michigan (13-4, 5-0). I’m not sure even head coach John Beilein expected to see his team in this position. Since their narrow two-point loss to Arizona, the Wolverines have ripped off seven straight wins, and the latest victory in Madison put them back on the national radar. Just when you think you’ve seen all of his tricks, Nik Stauskas pulls out more in the 23-point performance against Wisconsin. Watch this shot!
Last week: 5

POWER RANKINGS PRESENTED BY
ArcelorMittal

3. Iowa (15-3, 4-1). Devyn Marble and Aaron White were almost non-existent in the first half against Minnesota. Didn’t matter as the Hawkeyes depth, behind Josh Oglesby (he was hot!) and Gabe Olaseni, closed the double-digit deficit to just two points. Then, it was the Marble and White show in the second half as Iowa won going away. The amount of offensive options, veteran experience, and “next-man-up” attitude makes Iowa a Big Ten title and Final Four contender.
Last week: 3

4. Minnesota (14-5, 3-3). In spite of losing by double digits at Iowa, I still really like this Gophers team. They have a collective spirit about them that makes them competitive in every game and they pull for one another as well as any team in the Big Ten. For Richard Pitino to blend players that were there before his arrival with transfer DeAndre Mathieu and Malik Smith and have this result thus far makes him a candidate for Big Ten coach of the year.
Last week: 7

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5. Wisconsin (16-2, 3-2). It’s been quite some time since Wisconsin has allowed back-to-back opponents over 50 percent from the field. The Badgers offense has been a thing of beauty with its versatility, a new twist for a Bo Ryan team. Their defense is not what we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in the past. Wisconsin is allowing opponent shoot 41 percent from the field, which is only sixth in the Big Ten. Until they can tighten up on the defensive end, they will be vulnerable like we’ve seen in the last week.
Last week:
1

6. Purdue (13-5, 3-2). Purdue is enjoying a three-game winning streak after its come-from-behind victory over Penn State. The young Boilers are starting to develop as much depth as any other team in the Big Ten not named Iowa. If Errick Peck, Rapheal Davis, and Sterling Carter continue to contribute with their toughness and experience, these Boilers could find themselves in good position come selection Sunday. Next game at Northwestern will be a good challenge.
Last week: 8

7. Ohio State (15-3, 2-3). Ohio State can’t wait to get back to it after this three-game losing streak. Going to Nebraska will be a good challenge, and coming home against struggling Illinois and Penn State may be just what it needs to get its confidence back. Thad Matta spoke about his player’s reluctance to take shots they work on in practice following the loss at Minnesota. This indicates his players are struggling with their confidence and maybe starting to wonder among themselves if they can score enough to stay with the Big Ten’s elite
Last week: 4

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8. Indiana (12-6, 2-3). With young teams it’s not uncommon to take two steps forward and one backward. That was the case last week with the Hoosiers. During their game with Northwestern, I wondered if Indiana could handle success and respect their opponent after such an emotionally charged victory over Wisconsin. I’m still not certain why Noah Vonleh doesn’t touch the ball 30 times each game? He missed 10 shots against Northwestern and still ended up with 17 points and 12 rebounds and was the only Hoosier to score in double figures.
Last week: 9

9. Northwestern (9-10, 2-4). Don’t look now, but the Wildcats have won two of their last three games after stunning Indiana in Bloomington. Northwestern and Indiana did set the game back three decades with their inability to score in the first half. It isn’t pretty, yet it’s effective for Chris Collins’ team, which plays with a certain toughness that can be felt courtside. Their ability to limit dribble penetration slowly took the air out of Illinois and Indiana in those victories. It will be interesting to see if their defensive intensity will continue against Purdue while using only seven players.
Last week: 10

10. Illinois (13-6, 2-4). Coach John Groce was more animated than usual in the Illini’s home loss to Michigan State. See the proof here. The frustration of a four-game losing streak is starting to set in. Starting center Nana Egwu went scoreless for the second consecutive game and fifth-year guard Joseph Bertrand continues his enigmatic play with four points and two rebounds. Groce faced a similar situation last year and rallied the Illini all the way to a narrow third-round NCAA loss to Miami. They need to figure it out quickly as they go to Ohio State, and host Iowa and Wisconsin during their next 4 games.
Last week: 6

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11. Nebraska (8-8, 0-4). The Huskers had a rare eight-day break after a brutal start to conference play. They welcome the struggling Buckeyes on Monday with an opportunity to get their first conference win. Nebraska was competitive in three of its four losses, the one loss that got away was in Columbus. Terran Petteway has been their leading scoring in each of their last six games, and his desire and effort are obvious. The Huskers won’t be successful if the other players can’t match Petteway’s effort night in and night out.
Last week: 12

12. Penn State (9-10, 0-6). Michael Jackson’s music is rarely used to describe a basketball team’s nature.  “Heartbreak Hotel” would just about sum up the Nittany Lions early on in conference play. Ever since dropping a home game against Princeton, leading by 20 points with 15 minutes left, Penn State has lost six of their last seven games. In those six games, Penn State lost to Minnesota and Indiana by 3 points each, and a heartbreaker at Purdue by 1. How does head coach Pat Chambers continue to get his players to play as hard as they do in spite of the mounting losses? Very impressive.    
Last week: 11

– Team records are through January 19 action.

About Stephen Bardo
The BTN basketball analyst and former Flyin’ Illini star is a regular contributor to BTN.com. Follow Bardo on Twitter @stephenbardo, read his past posts right here, and use the form below to submit your questions to his Big Ten basketball mailbag.

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