Power Rankings: Michigan State ascends to No. 4 in Jon Crispin's list
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Happy New Year, Big Ten basketball fans.
Following a week of conference play, I can honestly say that I have no idea how this season is going to shape up in the Big Ten. I always felt that Indiana, Purdue and Wisconsin were in their own category, but I’m beginning to think the conference as a whole is wide open. We usually reserve the parity conversations for March, but it seems to be more than relevant for us Big Ten fans at the moment.
I can tell you that I’m going to have a tough time justifying and “arguing” my point, because I’m not even sure how strongly I feel about some of my own Big Ten Power Rankings, presented by ArcelorMittal. Regardless, I’ll do the best I can and will accept the displeasure and differences in opinion on Twitter. I will encourage those who are unhappy to wait a week and see how it all unfolds. It’s going to be a roller coaster season, which usually means I am left to eat my own words on a weekly basis. Either way, cheers and my best to you all in 2017.
Editor’s note: Team records through Sunday, Jan. 1, action.
1. Wisconsin (12-2, 1-0). The Badgers still appear to be the team that is best built for a long conference season and a potential run in March. They’re playing at a much higher level than they were earlier in the season, and I feel like they could grow into the Midwest and higher scoring version of UVA. The ceiling is high, but I believe Wisconsin is certainly beatable in conference play.
Last week: 1
2. Purdue (12-3, 1-1). You can’t say enough about Caleb Swanigan and his development in every aspect of the game. The guard play has certainly picked up with Carsen Edwards playing starter’s minutes, but the Boilers have to be able to close out close games if they want to be considered elite in this conference. I still believe this is the year for Purdue to make a run in the NCAA tournament.
Last week: 2
3. Indiana (10-4, 0-1). The Hoosiers are still, in my opinion, the most dangerous team in the conference. We’ve seen them excel against superior competition, and we’ve seen them struggle against inferior opponents. It may sound simple, but the Hoosiers are best when they are the aggressor. This makes sense considering they play their best against the best teams in the country. They host Wisconsin next and need a win to avoid losing three in a row….and falling in my Power Rankings.
Last week: 3
4. Michigan State (10-5, 2-0). This is where things get interesting, and this is when the tweets start flowing. The Spartans picked up a huge win at Minnesota, which set the tone for conference play. They’ve got Miles Bridges back and the super freshmen class of Bridges, Nick Ward, Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford may all be in the starting lineup. When you think of (potentially) having Alvin Ellis III, Matt McQuaid and Tum Tum Nairn Jr. coming off the bench, it quickly becomes a deep and dangerous team. I got the sense that the Spartans are viewing this as a new season, and I’m taking them seriously.
Last week: NR
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5. Michigan (10-4, 0-1). The Wolverines had a tough start to Big Ten play at Iowa. They hadn’t played a game since Dec. 22 and looked a little rusty in the first half. The second half at Iowa was a terrific game, one in which both teams showed how good they could be. Michigan has to be consistent for 40 minutes if it wants to stay at or above fifth in the conference. They lost to a good Iowa team on Sunday, but I do still believe they are one of the better teams in the league.
Last week: 5
6. Minnesota (13-2, 1-1). I was waiting to see the Gophers in conference play to have better perspective on their placement in the league. Richard Pitino’s group has been impressive all season, and it is showing how competitive and tough it can be to match up against on both sides of the ball. They’ve got good balance, adequate depth and some superstar level talent in Amir Coffey, Nate Mason and Jordan Murphy. I’m officially buying this team as a NCAA tournament contender.
Last week: 8
7. Maryland (13-2, 1-1). The Terps have already shocked me twice this season. First, I couldn’t believe they handled Illinois as well as they did in the conference opener. Second, I couldn’t believe they gave up a late double-digit lead against Nebraska at home. Mark Turgeon will use it as an opportunity to grow. It’s a good lesson to a young team that you have to continue to play to win the game and not take your foot off the gas in this conference. Getting frontline players back from injury will be key for them as well. Damonte Dodd was back against the Huskers and Michal Cekovsky is expected back soon.
Last week: 9
8. Ohio State (10-4, 0-1). The Buckeyes are the type of team that I may have seemed to be too high on, but I believe they’ll be a .500 or better (the magical number for B1G bubble teams in March) team in conference play because of what they can do to opponents on the defensive end with good length and athleticism. Like Michigan, Ohio State had a bye in the opening round of conference play, which I believe is not ideal for a group of young kids coming off of a long break. They lost to a legitimate competitor in the Illini on the road to start their Big Ten season, and they’ve got a tough stretch of games against Purdue, at Minnesota, at Wisconsin and Michigan State, which will either expose their weaknesses or open the door for more praise and consideration for postseason play.
Last week: 4
9. Nebraska (8-6, 2-0). With all due respect to the Huskers, I doubt anyone would have picked them to start 2-0 in conference play. Particularly with two wins on the road in Bloomington and College Park. It would appear as if this team is best when playing without fear and with nothing to lose. And possibly best when Coach Tim Miles is avoiding Twitter. Tai Webster and Glynn Watson Jr. make up a dynamic backcourt, but the play of Ed Morrow is what is keeping opponents honest on the defensive end. Energy, effort and a giant chip on the shoulder seem to be the recipe for success for Miles and the Huskers. I still feel that they’ve got a ways to go to maintain this level of success. Time will tell.
Last week: NR
T-10. Illinois (11-4, 1-1). The Illini are still one of my go-to picks for a big turnaround in the Big Ten. As experienced and downright old as they are, this group does not have a ton of time on the court together. Improvement from game to game and week to week will be key. Identifying and establishing stable rotations should help this group find continuity on the court. The potential is certainly there, but the time to figure out who they want to be is now.
Last week: 6
T-10. Iowa (9-6, 1-1). The Hawkeyes took one on the chin in West Lafayette but bounced back well against a very good Michigan team on New Year’s Day. Peter Jok continues to impress, but this team’s real potential lies within its youth. Add “Mr. Intangible,” Nicolas Baer and Jok to a young starting lineup that consists of Jordan Bohannon, recently returned from injury Tyler Cook and Cordell Pemsl, and it begins to look like a formidable bunch. Fran McCaffery will have his hands full with a ton of “teachable moments” this season, however he really likes his team and I can see why.
Last week: 10
T-10. Northwestern (12-3, 1-1) I can’t say enough how much Chris Collins, Bryant McIntosh and the Northwestern Wildcats need Dererk Pardon back. So much of McIntosh’s offense and play-making comes off of a strategically located ball screen and read situations. The potential is there for the Wildcats, but for them to reach their true potential, McIntosh has to begin to shine. In doing so, the game will get so much easier for teammates who are less apt to create for themselves. This is a team that will play hard, compete and will make you earn a victory.
Last week: 7
Note: The logjam at 10 is my passive-aggressive/uncertain approach to figuring out who should make the list. It’s understandable because all three teams at 10 could be .500 or better in conference play by the end of the season, but (at the moment) still have work left to do.