Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Rankings dead ahead.
I have to confess: I'm not crazy about my top-6 this week. If you think it should be arranged in a different order, well, I probably wouldn't really disagree with you. Feel free to state your case in the comments.
1) MICHIGAN (17-1 overall, 4-1 B1G) (LAST WEEK: 3rd)
LAST WEEK: W, 83-75 at Minnesota
THIS WEEK: Thursday vs. Purdue, Sunday at Illinois
This ranking is predicated on how highly you think of Minnesota. I think Minnesota is still a very good team, so I consider it damn impressive that Michigan walked into The Barn and schooled the Gophers for most of their win (the game wasn't quite as close as that 83-75 scoreline might suggest). Beyond that, though, Michigan's best win is probably Iowa, so if you wanted to argue that their B1G resume is a little lacking at this point.... well, I wouldn't complain much. This week doesn't offer much in the way of resume-boosters, either; Michigan should make short work of Purdue and Illinois (unless Illinois suddenly rediscovers their December form).
2) WISCONSIN (13-5, 4-1) (LAST WEEK: 5th)
LAST WEEK: W, 64-59 at Indiana; L, 70-66 at Iowa
THIS WEEK: Tuesday vs. Michigan State; Saturday vs. Minnesota
If Michigan's road win over Minnesota wasn't the most impressive win of the B1G season so far, Wisconsin's win over Indiana in Bloomington might take top honors in that department. Bo Ryan has an inexplicable hex over the Hoosiers (the Badgers have now won 11 straight against Indiana), but beating this Indiana team on their home court is a mighty impressive feat. They couldn't follow that up with another win after digging themselves a massive hole against Iowa and their overall resume is a little weak (wins over Penn State, Nebraska, and rapidly-imploding Illinois don't do much for it), but that win over Indiana was magnificent. If they can pull off a pair of wins this week they'll be at worse tied for the best record in the league and their overall resume will include wins over Indiana, Michigan State, and Minnesota -- that's probably worthy of the top spot in these rankings.
3) INDIANA (16-2, 4-1) (LAST WEEK: 1st)
LAST WEEK: L, 64-59 vs. Wisconsin; W, 67-59 at Northwestern
THIS WEEK: Wednesday vs. Penn State, Sunday vs. Michigan State
Indiana's bizarre hex against Wisconsin continued last week; even the friendly confines of Assembly Hall and the best Indiana team in years (decades?) wasn't enough to end Sconnie's 10-game winning streak over the Hoosiers. The Hoosiers looked like they were on pace to rebound in impressive fashion with a blowout win on the road against Northwestern -- then their defense abandoned them (NW scored 42 points in the second half!) and they were forced to settle for a less-impressive 67-59 win. That was also the second-straight time a team held them under 70 points; before last week, Indiana had scored fewer than 70 points only twice all season. The Big Red Hoosier Machine isn't running quite as smoothly in conference play. Sunday's clash with Michigan State will be (yet another) big game in the Big Ten title race.
4) MICHIGAN STATE (16-3, 5-1) (LAST WEEK: 6th)
LAST WEEK: W, 81-72 at Penn State; W, 59-56 vs. Ohio State
THIS WEEK: Tuesday at Wisconsin; Sunday at Indiana
Michigan State has more league wins than any other team, but outside of their most recent win (over Ohio State), their best win is either Iowa or Purdue. No offense to our beloved Hawkeyes or our reviled Boilermakers, but wins over teams in the bottom-half of the league are nice, but not that nice. If Michigan State still has the best record at the end of this week, though, after heading to Madison to take on Wisconsin and trekking to Bloomington to face down Indiana, well, they'll definitely deserve to be the top-ranked team in the rankings next time.
5) OHIO STATE (13-4, 3-2) (LAST WEEK: 2nd)
LAST WEEK: L, 59-56 at Michigan State
THIS WEEK: Tuesday vs. Iowa; Saturday at Penn State
This feels low for Ohio State, especially since it was just over a week ago that they scored a win over the team currently ranked #1 in these rankings (Michigan) and it's not like they followed that up with a bad loss -- losing to Michigan State in East Lansing is hardly an albatross for them. On the other hand, their other wins are Nebraska and Purdue and that loss to Illinois just looks uglier and uglier.
6) MINNESOTA (15-3, 3-2) (LAST WEEK: 4th)
LAST WEEK: L, 83-75 vs. Michigan
THIS WEEK: Wednesday at Northwestern; Saturday at Wisconsin
Probably no team in America has three "better" losses than Minnesota -- #1 Duke, #2 Michigan, #7 Indiana -- so it feels wrong to put them in the middle of the Big Ten pack. If they can get back to winning games -- particularly Saturday against interstate rivals Wisconsin -- it will be much easier for me to slide them up these rankings into a loftier spot.
7) IOWA (13-5, 2-3) (LAST WEEK: 9th)
LAST WEEK: W, 70-66 vs. Wisconsin
THIS WEEK: Tuesday at Ohio State; Sunday at Purdue
I said last week that if Iowa beat Wisconsin, then I would be inclined to move them ahead of Illinois. Well, I am a man of my word. Iowa finally notched its first signature win of the Big Ten season and looked great in doing so (for 30 minutes, at least). This weeks brings a tricky pair of road tilts; just getting a split of those games would probably qualify as a strong outcome for the Hawkeyes. As for why they're ahead of Purdue... that win over Wisconsin is better than anything Purdue has on their B1G resume.
8) PURDUE (10-8, 3-2) (LAST WEEK: 7th)
LAST WEEK: W, 65-56 at Nebraska; W, 79-52 vs. West Virginia
THIS WEEK: Thursday at Michigan; Sunday vs. Iowa
Road wins in the Big Ten are nothing to sneeze at, even in the home of Nebrasketball, so no snide cracks about the ugliness of their game with Nebraska here. They followed that up by trouncing West Virginia in a curiously-timed non-conference game. After a fairly ghastly November and December, Matt Painter's troops seem to be rounding into form. This week brings a murderous challenge at Michigan and a game with a fellow Big Ten mid-tier team in Iowa.
9) NORTHWESTERN (11-8, 2-4) (LAST WEEK: 10th)
LAST WEEK: W, 68-54 at Illinois; L, 67-59 vs. Indiana
THIS WEEK: Wednesday vs. Minnesota; Saturday at Nebraska
I didn't envision Northwestern moving higher than 10th in these rankings after watching Iowa torch them by 20 points in Evanston just over a week ago, but then again, I also never thought they'd go into Champaign and torch the Illini, either. This is why I would make a terrible fortune teller. Northwestern shook off that ugly Iowa loss in emphatic fashion and came surprisingly close to stealing a big home upset over Indiana later in the week. They may not be very good, but they're certainly a lot feistier than I gave them credit for a week ago.
10) ILLINOIS (14-5, 1-4) (LAST WEEK: 8th)
LAST WEEK: L, 68-54 vs. Northwestern
THIS WEEK: Tuesday at Nebaska; Sunday vs. Michigan
Illinois' terrible tailspin continues. A home game against Northwestern seemed to offer a much-needed opportunity to halt their skid, but a 68-54 loss (in which they were outscored 36-21 in the first half and let Northwestern make 8/15 three-pointers) just made things worse. On the surface, a game against Nebrasketball looks like a possible elixir for Illinois, but given Illinois' travails, Nebraska's frisky play, and the fact that the game is in Lincoln, well, it's just as likely that you'll be seeing Illinois and Nebraska swap places next week after Nebraska notches its second conference win of the season. Sunday's game against Michigan figures to be bloody unless the Illinois team that beat Butler, Gonzaga, and Ohio State suddenly re-emerges.
11) NEBRASKA (10-9, 1-5) (LAST WEEK: 11th)
LAST WEEK: L, 65-56 vs. Purdue; W, 68-64 at Penn State
THIS WEEK: Tuesday vs. Illinois; Saturday vs. Northwestern
Nebrasketball is not pretty, but it can be effective -- at least when playing a fellow cellar dweller. Nebraska picked up its first win of Big Ten play in Happy Valley last week and that is enough to keep them from the bottom spot in these rankings. Hell, back-to-back home games against Illinois and Northwestern both look shockingly winnable for Nebraska -- dare they dream of a three-game winning streak in league play? Probably not... but it doesn't seem pants-on-head crazy, either.
12) PENN STATE (8-10, 0-6) (LAST WEEK: 12th)
LAST WEEK: L, 81-72 vs. Michigan State; L, 68-64 vs. Nebraska
THIS WEEK: Wednesday at Indiana; Saturday vs. Ohio State
Good job, good effort, Penn State. You lost both games you played last week (again), but you played hard and kept things respectable against Michigan State and... wait, you lost to Nebraska at home? Oh. Well, that's not good. And now you get to play Indiana and Ohio State? Well, feel free to make yourselves at home in this spot in the rankings. You're probably not leaving here anytime soon.