With teams having played either three or four conference games, it is an opportune time for a Big Ten power rankings.
1. Indiana (3-1, 15-1)
Assembly Hall is well on its way to becoming the new Breslin Center. Indiana has beaten a No. 1 (Kentucky) and a No. 2 (Ohio State), and has yet to lose a game on its home floor. The Hoosiers only loss of the year was on the road against Michigan State, and this team has been impressive. Indiana has the ability to do its work on the inside with Cody Zeller — who is averaging almost 15 points a game — or on the outside, where it is shooting almost 46-percent from beyond the arc. In a close 73-71 win over Michigan, Indiana’s starting frontcourt of Zeller and Christian Watford combined for 43 points. Three days later, the Hoosiers made 15 3-pointers in a win over Penn State. Eventually, Indiana is going to need a big win on the road, but for right now, they top this week’s Power Rankings.
2. Ohio State (3-1 Big Ten, 15-2 overall)
The Buckeyes could make a case for the No.1 spot as they continue to roll through the early, albeit cupcake, portion of their Big Ten schedule. Ohio State has beaten Northwestern, Nebraska and Iowa, and it’s only Big Ten loss was on the road against Indiana. The Buckeyes get another chance against the Hoosiers at home next week, but their schedule doesn’t get tough until late January. Ohio State has a four-game stretch against Michigan, Wisconsin, Purdue and Michigan State, so we will have a much better idea of how the Buckeyes will fare in the Big Ten in a couple of weeks.
3. Michigan State (3-0, 14-2)
It’s hard to fault a team that hasn’t lost since November, back-to-back losses that came against North Carolina and Duke. But in a very strong Big Ten, Michigan State hasn’t done enough to rise to the top. The Spartans did hand Indiana its only loss, but they also needed an overtime and to beat Wisconsin—and if Ryan Evans had shot the game-tying 3-pointer about .2 seconds earlier, who knows what could have happened in double overtime. If Keith Appling can keep up his sidekick to Draymond Green role, Michigan State could be a dangerous team come March.
4. Michigan (3-1, 13-3)
Sunday’s win against Wisconsin was probably the best game Michigan has played all year. Sophomore guard Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, as the Wolverines held Wisconsin to 19 first half points en route to a 59-41 victory. But on nights when Hardaway Jr. is off, Michigan will struggle. Last week on the road against Indiana, he scored 17 points, but went 0-7 from deep in Michigan’s only Big Ten loss. Freshman point guard Try Burke is a great talent, but he is a freshman and can be a streaky scorer (4-15 against Indiana and 6-15 against Wisconsin). The post play, specifically the interior defense, will continue to be a question all season, especially when Jared Sullinger and Draymond Green come to town.
5. Wisconsin (1-3, 12-5)
The slowest-pace team in the Big Ten has lost three conference games in a row, but they will almost certainly make the Tournament for the 14th year in a row. Senior point guard Jordan Taylor is leading the Badgers in scoring despite shooting 40-percent from the floor. He is also averaging more than eight minutes a game than the next closest Wisconsin player, playing almost 35 minutes a game. The Badgers will only go as far as Taylor takes them.
6. Purdue (3-1, 13-4)
This is where things start to get murky. Illinois, Purdue, Iowa, Northwestern, and Minnesota could all conceivably make the Tournament, but the Big Ten is probably only going to send seven, maybe eight, teams to the tournament. Basically, five teams that so far aren’t that far apart are fighting for two or three spots. Purdue has beaten all the teams it was supposed to, but it also doesn’t have a defining win. Robbie Hummel leads the team with 16 points a game, and Purdue could backdoor its way into the tournament with a couple upsets here and there. The Boilermakers have a brutal month long stretch coming up, playing Wisconsin, Michigan State, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio State in the span of seven games.
7. Illinois (3-1, 14-3)
Illinois is a solid team that doesn’t wow in any particular area. The Fighting Illini have four players averaging more than 10 points a game, but nobody averaging more than 13. The standout could be Meyers Leonard, who is averaging 13 points and eight rebounds a game. Illinois hung tough with Missouri and beat Gonzaga, but also lost to Purdue by 15 and only beat Nebraska by five — The fighting Illini season could go a lot of different ways over the final two months.
8. Iowa (2-2, 10-7)
Iowa beat Wisconsin by seven, then lost to Ohio State by 29. A team like Illinois that doesn’t have a standout player or characteristic, the next month will go a long way to figuring the Hawkeyes out.
9. Northwestern (1-2, 11-4)
Northwestern doesn’t have a particularly impressive win, and has lost to Baylor by 28 and Ohio State by 33, but they could still hang around the Big Ten. The Wildcats have two very solid players, Jon Shurna (almost 19 points-per-game) and Drew Crawford (17 points-per-game), and could be in a decent position by doing well against the lower half of the Big Ten. But as with teams 6-10, the next month is going to tell us a lot.
10. Minnesota (0-4, 12-5)
Playing the what-if game is never fun, but Minnesota losing Trevor Mbakwe was a crushing blow. The Golden Gophers went into conference play with a 12-1 record, then promptly lost their first four conference games. A few good bounces could land Minnesota in a good spot, but not having Mbakwe really makes this season tough.
11. Penn State (1-3, 9-8)
The Nittany Lions played Indiana tough on Sunday, only losing by eight, but that might be one of the high points of the season — moral victories can’t be discounted for struggling teams.
12. Nebraska (0-4, 8-7)
The Cornhuskers have lost their four Big Ten games by a combined 73 points. That is all.