Jon Crispin, BTN men's basketball analyst, February 1, 2016
We are officially in the second half of Big Ten Conference play. For some teams the schedule gets, somewhat, easier, while for others, such as Indiana, it gets considerably more challenging.
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While I predict that the elite programs in the conference will begin to separate themselves from the pack, this is where I have them all ranked in my latest Big Ten Power Rankings, presented by ArcelorMittal.
Editor's note: Team records are through Sunday, Jan. 31 action.
1. Iowa (17-4, 8-1). Regardless of the loss at Maryland, the Hawkeyes continue to be the most consistent team in the conference. The tempo and sense of urgency with which they bring every night will win them games against high-caliber opponents, even if they don?t shoot it well. They are a legitimate top-5 team.
Last week: 1
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2. Maryland (19-3, 8-2). I think this is about the time when Maryland will begin to pull away a bit and find some consistency. The issue I have with the Terps is their pace. For this team to be most effective, they?ve got to be able to play with better tempo. They?ve got the horses to do so and they have the best transition and ball-screen point guard in the county in Melo Trimble.
Last week: 3
3. Indiana (18-4, 8-1). I?m keeping the Hoosiers in the top 3 for the moment as the loss at Wisconsin doesn?t deter me at all. That is a tough place to play, and the Badgers are doing a great job limiting possessions, which is like Kryptonite for the Hoosiers. February will tell us a lot about IU, beginning with Tuesday's matchup at Michigan.
Last week: 2
4. Michigan (17-5, 7-2). The Wolverines do not have a bad loss all season, and that?s why I have them at No. 4. They?re playing at a high level, winning games without Caris LeVert, one of the best players in the conference. Their balance, spacing and ball movement can beat anyone in the country. Beating IU on Tuesday would be a statement win for the Wolverines, who hope to add LeVert to the lineup soon.
Last week: 6
5. Michigan State (19-4, 6-4). The Spartans still have some work to do, but they have been limited in their development this year because of injury. Losing Denzel Valentine for a few weeks forced Tom Izzo to change the scheme a bit, and now with Valentine back, Tum Tum Nairn is out, meaning the scheme has had to be shifted yet again. Once again, the storyline is setting up nicely for a late-season run for the Spartans.
Last week: 4
6. Purdue (19-4, 7-3). The Boilermakers are right back to where they were (nationally) before the start of the season. As big as they are, they?re flying under the radar again. I think this is the perfect place for them to be. The team continues to develop and get more confidence in who they are. I still think they finish in the top 3 of the conference at the end of the season.
Last week: 5
7. Ohio State (14-9, 6-4). The Buckeyes are the one team that I believe can be the seventh Big Ten team in the NCAA tournament. Sitting on a great win over Kentucky and showing that they can compete with the best in the conference (at times) should give Thad Matta's young bunch the confidence they need to get it together and find some consistency in the second half of Big Ten play.
Last week: 7
8. Wisconsin (13-9, 5-4). No team that requires tempo and rhythm to win wants to play the Badgers right now. They are getting very good at dictating tempo and keeping teams from finding any rhythm offensively. Ethan Happ has been terrific in his inaugural season, and Nigel Hayes is the best in the country at getting to the foul line. Just ask the Hoosiers. Greg Gard has done a terrific job turning this season around.
Last week: 10
9. Nebraska (12-10, 4-5). The Huskers may not have the ideal balance to work their way up toward the top half of this league, but Shavon Shields and Andrew White III are good enough to cause all sorts of problems for opponents on their own. The Spartans learned that the hard way when Shields went off for 28 in an all-out ISO battle to get to the rim. They?ll certainly win some games down the stretch.
Last week: 8
10. Northwestern (15-8, 3-7). On paper, this team is much better than their record. On the court, they just haven?t played to their potential. Aside from Sunday's career-high 30-point performance, Tre Demps has had his struggles, plus they have had to deal with losing Alex Olah for a few weeks during Big Ten play. With Olah back and getting back toward full strength, I think the against-all-odds mentality will settle in and help motivate a very capable team.
Last week: 9
11. Illinois (10-12, 3-7). This team still remains one of the most dangerous teams in the lower third of the Big Ten standings. Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn can win games themselves, and if this team had all of their weapons, they?d be a NCAA tournament team with Sweet 16 aspirations. The injury bug has really hit John Groce the hardest.
Last week: 12
12. Penn State (11-11, 2-7). The Nittany Lions continue to compete. The problem is, most of their damage is done in late-game situations. This team would be better if they played the entire game like they do the last 6-8 minutes, when they play faster on offense and bring a sense of urgency on both ends that could lead to wins. Brandon Taylor has shown terrific skill down in the post, and I think that?s got to become option No. 1 for them moving forward.
Last week: 11
13. Minnesota (6-16, 0-10). The Gophers have gotten close, showing significant improvement. I think this team will win a few games before the Big Ten Tournament and will find a little rhythm heading into Indianapolis. Nate Mason is a high-level player who will serve the top 3 (in conference) recruiting class very well next season. Having a stable and capable floor general for young talent is key for development.
Last week: 13
14. Rutgers (6-16, 0-9). Much like Minnesota, the Scarlet Knights have shown improvement over the past couple of weeks. They played Iowa tough and gave Michigan a great game on the road. Corey Sanders can play anywhere in the country, and I think his playmaking ability will eventually begin to make his teammates better as this season progresses. Ultimately, they lack the size and depth to compete against the majority of this conference.
Last week: 14