Power Rankings: Wisconsin takes over No. 1 spot in Jon Crispin's top 10
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Just when you think we are calming down for the holidays and gearing up for Big Ten conference play, we get a great week of basketball. That was particularly the case this past Saturday, when we saw Ohio State give No. 2 UCLA a test, Purdue take down Notre Dame, Indiana fall to Butler and Illinois and Northwestern pick up big wins in the Chicago Legends.
There are still questions about some teams in the conference, but the consistency of Minnesota and the glimpses of brilliance from Fran McCaffery’s Hawkeyes certainly make me question where they should fall within the list.
Either way, I’m sure my friends online will let me know if my Big Ten Power Rankings, presented by ArcelorMittal, are wrong.
Editor’s note: Team records are through Sunday, Dec. 18 action.
1. Wisconsin (10-2). The Badgers seem to be improving on a daily basis. While they are built for a grueling Big Ten season, they are also the ideal team to pick to make a run deep in March. Greg Gard told me last year that he wants to be able to play faster and take advantage of additional options available within the offense. I think we are seeing this team’s development and potential first hand. Nigel Hayes as the offensive facilitator makes this team nearly impossible to cover in the half court.
Last week: 3
2. Purdue (9-2). I have a tough time convincing myself that the Boilers are better than Indiana, but, at the moment, they have taken care of business, the latest example coming in a huge neutral court win over Notre Dame in the Crossroads Classic. They are also playing faster and more aggressive on the offensive end, which is opening up the game for some of Matt Painter’s perimeter players, particularly freshman Carson Edwards.
Last week: 2
3. Indiana (8-2). I’m in no way concerned with the loss to Butler in what was anything but a neutral court game. Every fan from the Purdue-Notre Dame game stayed to cheer against the Hoosiers, making it a tough road game, in my opinion. Those games become the perfect primers for preparing for conference play. I’m confident that the Hoosiers are still one of the better teams in the country, but perimeter shooting will always be a key for their success as it often frees up opportunities around the basket for Thomas Bryant and driving guards. Tom Crean’s “position-less” basketball is something many teams will eventually attempt to adopt, because it creates mismatch opportunities all over the court.
Last week: 1
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4. Ohio State (8-3). This is officially where things get interesting. I still like the Buckeyes and possibly even more after seeing them compete hard in the first half against a legitimate Final Four team in UCLA. The key for Ohio State will be consistency and effort. Talent, length and depth are certainly there, but we’ve seen talented teams struggle in the past. With the middle of the pack wide open this season, there’s no reason why the Buckeyes can’t separate themselves.
Last week: 4
5. Michigan (9-3). We’ve seen the potential of the Wolverines, but we have yet to see them truly at their best. I like the balance of this team with Duncan Robinson coming off the bench and providing a spark from the perimeter. The key will be in getting Derrick Walton Jr. back to last season’s form. Saturday was a step in the right direction (21 points; 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 0 turnovers) for the veteran who gets this team into the rhythm of the offense and can help it reach its true potential.
Last week: 5
6. Illinois (9-3). I’ve been praising this year’s Illini squad since last season. Tracy Abrams being back is even more important than I originally thought after seeing them in person against a very good BYU team. Additionally, the post dominance of Mike Thorne Jr. and Maverick Morgan makes them even more dangerous when it comes to Big Ten play. They can play fast, they can win a half-court game, and they have more depth than John Groce knows what to do with. Mo money…mo problems.
Last week: 10
7. Northwestern (9-2). The Wildcats are one or two possessions away from being undefeated. Losing close games is all a part of the process of learning how to win. Chris Collins is a winner and his team is now becoming one, too. They competed hard against Dayton and weathered the storm well enough in the second half to pull out a great win. Getting Dererk Pardon back is important to the team but also to Bryant McIntosh as the pick-and-roll game is key for the point guard’s offensive game.
Last week: 7
8. Minnesota (11-1). I’m beginning to be a believer in the Gophers, but, ultimately, time will tell. The pieces are all there, but we haven’t seen them up against stiff competition, especially on the road. Big Ten play will give us a better picture of the Gophers and where their ceiling might be. Until then, I’m dropping them safely in the 8-spot. But, I will say this: With the middle of the pack wide open, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if this team finished as high as fifth or sixth in the conference.
Last week: 9
9. Maryland (11-1). The only reason a team with an 11-1 record is at No. 9 is that I just don’t know enough about the Terps to put them ahead of anyone else. They very well may be one of the top five teams in the conference, but their close margin of victory and less-than-stellar schedule give me cause for pause at the moment. I still have high hopes for this team with Melo Trimble leading a young but talented and balanced group. Conference play will teach us a lot about every Big Ten team, possibly none more than the Terrapins.
Last week: 8
10. Iowa (6-5). Just when I began to think the Hawkeyes were going to fall toward the bottom of the pack, they go out and beat Iowa State and Northern Iowa – and all without super-frosh Tyler Cook. With Cook coming back from injury and others gaining much-needed big game experience, Iowa could end up pushing conference opponents for a spot in the middle of the pack. Where it is truly anyone’s ballgame.
Last week: NR
Note: I’d be remiss in not mentioning Michigan State, but they’ve got work to do to get back into the top 10 of the conference. Other teams have played their way in and the Spartans have seemed to play their way out. Getting Miles Bridges back is key, but considering the talent that is still available, this is a team that should be playing at a higher level. I’m confident Tom Izzo will get things straightened out, but he may have to ruffle some feathers in the process. Following the Spartans’ success, or failure, this season will be something the nation will be dialed into.