Brent Yarina, BTN.com Senior Editor, January 9, 2012
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.
The latest national polls are out, as well. Where does your team land? And check out all of the Big Ten statistical leaders. Also, don't forget to watch our latest Big Ten Blast now.
1. Michigan State (14-2, 3-0) – How long has it been since Michigan State, winners of its last 14, lost? Put it this way: The Penn State football team still controlled its destiny in the Leaders Division with two games remaining. The Spartans, to say the least, are rolling. They have great guard play, they have two huge bodies down low, they play suffocating defense, and I haven't even mentioned Draymond Green yet.
Last time: No. 1
This week: vs. Iowa (1/10), at Northwestern (1/14)
2. Ohio State (15-2, 3-1) – Even when William Buford can't hit a thing, the Buckeyes are good enough and deep enough to tally a 29-point road win at a jacked-up Big Ten venue. Ohio State blasted surging Iowa, 76-47, Saturday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, and it happened with Buford making only 3 of 14 shots (21 percent) and scoring eight points. No worries. Ohio State rode Jared Sullinger (season-high 28 points), its role players and its always strong defense. Simply put, the Buckeyes can beat opponents in so many ways.
Last time: T-No. 2
This week: at Illinois (1/10), vs. Indiana (1/15)
3. Indiana (15-1, 3-1) – As well as the Hoosiers are playing, particularly on offense, the defense is becoming a bit of a concern. This isn't an overreaction to Indiana allowing Penn State to tie its season-high of 82 points, either; the Hoosiers are surrendering 75.8 points per game in conference play and have won their three Big Ten contests by a combined 12 points. If (when) the shots stop falling at a plus-50 percent rate, the defense must improve for the Hoosiers to remain a contender.
Last time: T-No. 2
This week: vs. Minnesota (1/12), at Ohio State (1/15)
4. Michigan (13-3, 3-1) – Another week, another opportunity to praise freshman Trey Burke. Even on one of the worst shooting performances of Burke's young career (4 of 15), he flirted with a triple-double in Thursday's loss at Indiana. The point guard finished with 10 points, seven rebounds and eight assists in the narrow defeat, and it's only a matter of time before he registers the rare feat.
Last time: No. 4
This week: vs. Northwestern (1/11, at Iowa (1/14)
5. Purdue (13-4, 3-1) – After averaging 3.4 points per game in nonconference play, D.J. Byrd is pouring in a team-leading 13.3 through four Big Ten games. His return to last season's role gives Purdue another deadly outside shooter, to go along with Ryne Smith. When they're both on from downtown, they really stretch the defense, allowing for Hummel, Lewis Jackson, Kelsey Barlow and the Johnsons to find driving lanes.
Last time: No. 5
This week: vs. Wisconsin (1/12)
6. Illinois (14-3, 3-1) – Somehow, the Illini are 3-1 in Big Ten play. It's tough to fully buy into Illinois as a Big Ten contender just yet, because the three teams it's beaten boast a combined 1-10 conference clip. Even more, the wins have come by an aggregate 15 points, including a nine-point double-overtime victory against Minnesota (0-4). The emergence of Joseph Bertrand, however, does make the Illini an intriguing team.
Last time: No. 7
This week: vs. Ohio State (1/10), vs. Nebraska (1/7)
7. Wisconsin (12-5, 1-3) – The Badgers have lost three consecutive games for the first time since early 2009, when they dropped six straight. It's been the same problem in each of the defeats, too. Wisconsin can't make any shots. After shooting 46 percent from the field and 40 percent from distance in nonconference play, those figures are 37 percent and 29 percent, respectively, in Big Ten play. The tide's going to turn, it's only a matter of time. Until then, the Badgers will continue shooting from long range.
Last time: No. 6
This week: at Purdue (1/12), vs. Nebraska (1/15)
8. Northwestern (11-4, 1-2) – The schedule is about to get grueling for the Wildcats, with the rest of January looking like this: at Michigan, vs. Michigan State, at Wisconsin, at Minnesota and vs. Purdue. It's not going to be easy, but the optimist would say this is the perfect opportunity for Northwestern to build its NCAA resume. Win a few of these games, and the Wildcats will find themselves in the discussion.
Last time: No. 7
This week: at Michigan (1/11), vs. Michigan State (1/14)
9. Iowa (10-7, 2-2) – Here's a surprising stat: The youthful Hawkeyes are 2-0 on the road in Big Ten play and 0-2 at home. Not sure anyone saw that coming, but Iowa's luck is bound to change at home, especially if the fans continue to fill Carver-Hawkeye Arena as they did against Ohio State. If that place gets rocking again, the Hawkeyes have the talent to make it a very tough place to play.
Last time: No. 10
This week: at Michigan State (1/10), vs. Michigan (1/14)
10. Minnesota (12-5, 0-4) – Rodney Williams is finally living up to all the hype. The super athletic junior has posted back-to-back double-doubles, just the second and third such games of his career, and he's impacting the game across the board. Not only is Williams shooting 54 percent and bringing down 9.5 rebounds per game in conference play, he's averaging 1.3 steals and 1.5 blocks.
Last time: No. 9
This week: at Indiana (1/12), at Penn State (1/15)
11. Penn State (9-8, 1-3) – The Nittany Lions are going to be out-talented just about every time they take the floor during conference play. That said, there aren't many teams that will play harder or give more effort than Patrick Chambers' crew. This team feeds off its fiery and always intense coach, and it doesn't look like he will let his guys roll over or quit. Seriously, watch Chambers on the sideline one of these games – the guy works so hard and has a good sweat going every night.
Last time: No. 12
This week: at Nebraska (1/11), vs. Minnesota (1/15)
12. Nebraska (8-7, 0-4) – The good news: Jorge Brian Diaz and Dylan Talley are back from injury for the first time since Big Ten play opened. The bad news: Nebraska ranks last in the Big Ten in scoring, averaging 47.3 points per conference game. Yes, the Huskers have played the Big Ten's top defensive teams (Illinois, Michigan State, Ohio State & Wisconsin), but it's tough to win if you can't put the ball in the bucket.
Last time: No. 11
This week: vs. Penn State (1/11), at Wisconsin (1/15)
Brent Yarina is a web editor and blogger for BTN.com. Find all of his work here and follow him on twitter at @BTNBrentYarina.