Jon Crispin, BTN men's basketball analyst, December 4, 2017
Big Ten play beginning December 1 is a tremendous holiday treat. The competitiveness of most of the conference games thus far are further confirmation of the wide-open nature of the middle of the pack in the Big Ten. There are a number of teams that have been pleasant surprises and others that have room for improvement.
Here's where they stand in my latest Big Ten Power Rankings, presented by ArcelorMittal.
Editor's note: Team records are through Sunday, Dec. 4, games.
1. Michigan State (7-1, 1-0). The offensive firepower is there and the defense has been much-improved over the past couple of weeks. As Jaren Jackson Jr. gets more and more comfortable, the ceiling for the Spartans will continue to rise.
Last week: 1
2. Minnesota (8-1, 1-0). The Gophers have been incredibly impressive but missed an opportunity to take a step forward nationally with that home loss to Miami. It's hard to imagine this team losing the battle down low, so guard play may determine their ultimate fate. I'd like my chances with Nate Mason, Amir Coffey and Dupree McBrayer.
Last week: 2
3. Purdue (8-2, 2-0). The Boilers, like Minnesota, could be a top 10 team. They've got great balance, dynamic guard play and two highly effective bigs in Isaac Haas and Matt Haarms. The key for Matt Painter's crew will be to play every game with consistent effort and execution, regardless of the the opponent.
Last week: 3
4. Northwestern (5-4, 1-1). I have confidence in this team again. It's been a rough start, but it's beginning to look like the NCAA tournament team we thought it would be this season. Picking up a win at Mackey Arena on Sunday would have been huge, but there's still room for improvement.
Last week: 4
5. Maryland (7-3, 1-1). The Terps had a tough draw having to host Purdue and traveling to Illinois to start conference play. If you don't think a win at Illinois right now is a good win, you're crazy. Maryland has all of the pieces, and when they all come together to be complimentary, this will be a really good team.
Last week: 5
6. Michigan (7-2, 1-0). John Beilein teams are always better in February and March than they are in December. That being said, this is already a different team than they were in November. Spacing and ball movement have been better and with good rhythm on the offensive end this team becomes a better defensive team. The best defense is a good offense.
Last week: 6
7. Penn State (7-2, 1-0). The Nittany Lions have much more talent than any Penn State team I've seen, and they have the potential to be really good. The issue will be whether they can find balance on the offensive side of the floor. The ball will have to move better if they want to reach their potential in the conference.
Last week: 9
8. Ohio State (6-3, 1-0). The Buckeyes are quietly improving week over week. That's to be expected from a Chris Holtmann team. The effort has been there and the blowout win at Wisconsin was impressive. Four players averaging 12 points or more is a recipe for success.
Last week: 11
9. Illinois (6-3, 0-2). Call me crazy, but this team has been impressive. The Illini are one or two possessions away from being 2-0 in conference play. The pressure and tempo with which they play will win them a lot of games. It is a style that differs from most Big Ten teams, which means they'll be a tough team to prepare for.
Last week: 10
10. Iowa (4-4, 0-1). I've been big on Iowa since the start of the season, but it just hasn't come together for it yet. While the talent is there, the defense, execution and the swagger has been lacking. The hope is that Nicholas Baer returning and getting acclimated again can be the leadership on the floor that they need.
Last week: 8
11. Wisconsin (3-5, 0-1). I'm not sure where to go with the Badgers, because I can't believe that the Ohio State loss is an indicator of where they're at. It's expected that Wisconsin will struggle having to replace four starters, but consistency has been a staple in Madison. It's hard to see a Wisconsin team get dismantled the way it did vs. Ohio State.
Last week: 7
12. Indiana (4-4, 0-1). I know a lot of people will object to where the Hoosiers are located in my rankings, and many will point to the Duke game for justification. You could certainly see the potential there, but there's got to be carryover if you expect to get through a brutal stretch of games. Up next: Iowa, Louisville and Notre Dame.
Last week: 12
13. Nebraska (6-3, 0-1). Talk about a team with a tough stretch of games. Michigan State and Minnesota to start off conference play, followed by Creighton and Kansas. It's hard to determine where a team like Nebraska fits until it is able to play conference opponents that would fall in the middle of the pack.
Last week: 13
14. Rutgers (6-2, 0-1). Like Nebraska, Rutgers faces Minnesota and Michigan State to start conference play. There are a few games in December that it should win, but the focus remains on improving every day. Rutgers is 272nd in the country in assists, which is likely why they only shoot 40 percent from the field. Better shooting often comes from better sharing.
Last week: No. 14