"But, Coach, there was really only one female Smurf? That just doesn't make any sense..." - USA TODAY Sports
The good ship Power Rankings sails the friendly seas of the B1G ocean.
For the record, I made these rankings before the Indiana-Michigan State game tonight. So if Sparty smashes Indiana and makes me look like a fool... well, it wouldn't be the first time. Anyway, full rankings are available at The B1G Time.
1) INDIANA (23-3 overall, 11-2 B1G) (LAST WEEK: 1st)
LAST WEEK: W, 76-47 vs. Nebraska; W, 83-55, vs. Purdue
THIS WEEK: Tuesday at Michigan State
Indiana entertained two of the conference's lesser lights last week... and thoroughly lambasted both of them, winning both with an average margin of victory of 28.5 ppg. Yowza. I see no reason to drop Indiana from the top spot after performances like that. This week brings only one game (it's a light week all around the Big Ten, actually -- there are only 8 B1G games on the slate this week), but it's a big one: a road clash with the #2 team on these rankings. A win over MSU would solidify Indiana's grip on the Big Ten regular season crown.
2) MICHIGAN STATE (22-4, 11-2) (LAST WEEK: 2nd)
LAST WEEK: W, 75-52 vs. Michigan; W, 73-64 at Nebraska
THIS WEEK: Tuesday vs. Indiana; Sunday at Ohio State
Speaking of Sparty... they recorded the best win in the Big Ten last week, blasting big brother Michigan by 23 points (in one of those "it wasn't even really that close" games). They followed that up with a tougher-than-expected win over Nebrasketball in Lincoln, but Lincoln has proven to be a somewhat tricky place for B1G teams to win this year (two of Nebraska's three league wins have been at home and only one of their five home losses has been by more than 10 points, a 20-point loss to Illinois) and a bit of a letdown was probably justified after the big win over Michigan. This week is big for MSU's Big Ten title aspirations, though, with a home game against Indiana tonight and a road game against Ohio State on Sunday -- neither of those games will be easy Ws for Sparty.
3) WISCONSIN (18-8, 9-4) (LAST WEEK: 3rd)
LAST WEEK: L, 58-53 (OT) at Minnesota; W, 71-49 vs. Ohio State
THIS WEEK: Wednesday at Northwestern
The Badgers opened the week with their third-straight overtime game (after a 2OT win over Iowa and an OT win over Michigan two weeks ago), but their OT luck finally ran out as Team Tubby clipped them in a low-scoring slugfest in The Barn. To their credit, the Badgers didn't let that loss linger, though -- they played one of their best games of the season on Sunday and absolutely thrashed Ohio State, which kept them within striking distance of a B1G regular season title. This week brings only a road trip to Evanston; for the sake of your sanity (and your television), I recommend not watching that game.
4) MICHIGAN (22-4, 9-4) (LAST WEEK: 4th)
LAST WEEK: L, 75-52 at Michigan State; W, 79-71 vs. Penn State
THIS WEEK: Sunday vs. Illinois
I was expecting to drop Michigan in these rankings after they got blasted by Michigan State, but it didn't happen. One, their body of work in league play is still strong enough to warrant inclusion in the top five. Two, they got smoked, but they got smoked by a very good team. And three, the team immediately below them in the rankings got smoked, too. So everything is steady as she goes at the top of the rankings. Michigan went 2-2 in a four-game stretch that included games against Indiana, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Michigan State (including three on the road), which is understandable. The bigger surprise was how much they struggled against B1G bottom-feeder Penn State at home on Sunday. They still have the resume of a very good team... but it's been a while since they actually played like one. Let's see how they respond in Sunday's game against a newly-resurgent Illinois team.
5) OHIO STATE (18-7, 8-5) (LAST WEEK: 5th)
LAST WEEK: W, 69-59 vs. Northwestern; L, 71-49 at Wisconsin
THIS WEEK: Wednesday vs. Minnesota; Sunday vs. Michigan State
Ohio State was in prime position to move past the Wolverines in these rankings... and then they actually played a few games last week. First was their lackluster win over an injury-ravaged Northwestern team at home; even worse was the beatdown they endured in Madison on the weekend. They return home for two games this week, but the competition doesn't get any easier: they've got a suddenly-desperate Minnesota team tomorrow and a surging Michigan State squad on the weekend. Time for Deshaun Thomas & Co. to buckle down.
6) ILLINOIS (19-8, 6-7) (LAST WEEK: 6th)
LAST WEEK: W, 79-59 vs. Purdue; W, 62-41 at Northwestern
THIS WEEK: Thursday vs. Penn State; Sunday at Michigan
Meanwhile, Illinois is riding a four-game winning streak, second-best in the Big Ten (behind Michigan State's five-game winning streak) and suddenly looking a lot like the scary Illinois team that lit up teams in December and not much like the LOLful team that was the butt of so many jokes in January. For Iowa's sake, let's hope they revert back to their January ways in March. Two weeks ago, Illinois turned their season around with upset wins over Indiana and Minnesota; the question last week was whether or not they could keep the momentum going in a pair of games they "should" win. The answer? An emphatic yes. Illinois smashed Purdue in mid-week, then used a 25-0 (!) run to obliterate Northwestern. Big Ten title hopes are long-gone, but a top-half finish is very much within their grasp. Assuming they don't overlook a feisty Penn State team on Thursday, Illinois has one of the week's biggest games when they head to Ann Arbor on Sunday.
7) IOWA (17-9, 6-7) (LAST WEEK: 9th)
LAST WEEK: W, 74-72 at Penn State; W, 72-51 vs. Minnesota
Thursday Saturday at Nebraska
Two games, two wins for Iowa -- nicely done. It wasn't always easy (Iowa had to hold on against a late Penn State push on Thursday, then had to dig themselves out of a 16-point hole against Minnesota on Sunday), but getting the win was all that really mattered and on that front, Iowa succeeded. Whew. This week brings only one game, a rescheduled game at Nebraska on Saturday. As noted earlier, despite Nebraska's ugly B1G record, they've been a tough out at times, especially in Lincoln. Iowa can't afford to overlook them.
8) MINNESOTA (18-8, 6-7) (LAST WEEK: 7th)
LAST WEEK: W, 58-53 (OT) vs. Wisconsin; L, 72-51 at Iowa
THIS WEEK: Wednesday at Ohio State
The week started on a good note for the Gophers, as they scrapped out an ugly 58-53 OT win over Wisconsin. It looked like that positive mojo was going to carry over against Iowa when they blasted out to an early 16-point lead, but then they ran into their kryptonite: zone defense. Iowa dropped into a zone after that horrendous start and completely flipped the game on its head, turning a 16-point deficit into a 21-point win. Just like we all expected! (Or not.) That loss dropped the Gophers under .500 in league play and also dropped their record to 3-7 in their last ten games. This year's flameout isn't quite as dramatic as last year's (yet), but it's far more inexplicable, given the general good health of this Gopher team. They're still solidly in the NCAA Tournament field for now, but they're certainly headed in the wrong direction.
9) NORTHWESTERN (13-13, 4-9) (LAST WEEK: 10th)
LAST WEEK: L, 69-59 at Ohio State; L, 61-41 vs. Illinois
THIS WEEK: Wednesday vs. Wisconsin; Sunday at Purdue
Two losses last week weren't exactly unexpected, not after Northwestern got even thinner after sustaining a few more injuries in the Iowa game ten days ago and against quality opponents. The loss to Ohio State was actually pretty encouraging -- until Ohio State pulled away very late, an injury-ravaged Northwestern team was neck-and-neck with them. Considering how many important players jNW was playing without in that game, that was pretty remarkable. Sunday's game with Illinois didn't go as well, but that's kind of what happens when you give up a 25-0 run in a game.
10) PURDUE (12-14, 5-8) (LAST WEEK: 8th)
LAST WEEK: L, 79-59 at Illinois; L, 83-55 at Indiana
THIS WEEK: Sunday vs. Northwestern
The bottom keeps falling out in West Lafayette. That 4-2 start in conference play looks like something that happened in a totally different season. Since then they've gone 2-6, with all six losses coming by at least 13 points and three coming by 20+ points. It's hard out there for a Boilermaker. They get a full week to lick their wounds before entertaining Northwestern this weekend.
11) NEBRASKA (12-14, 3-10) (LAST WEEK: 11th)
LAST WEEK: L, 76-47 at Indiana; L, 73-64 vs. Michigan State
Thursday Saturday vs. Iowa
Nebrasketball may be a scrappy bunch, but games against Indiana and Michigan State were never going to go well for them. And they didn't, although they put a decent scare into MSU. This week brings a (delayed) game against Iowa. Surely Nebrasketball and their imposing hallways will be salivating at the thought of an upset.
12) PENN STATE (8-17, 0-13) (LAST WEEK: 12th)
LAST WEEK: L, 74-72 vs. Iowa; L, 79-71 at Michigan
THIS WEEK: Thursday at Illinois
Speaking of scrappy bunches... Penn State may be 0-13, but they sure as hell haven't quit on this season.
Tim Pat Chambers certainly deserves a ton of credit for that accomplishment. Penn State put an unholy fright into Iowa on Thursday before hanging with Michigan for longer than anyone would have dreamed possible. I'm still not quite sure where a win is going to come from (the best bet still looks like their road trip to Northwestern), but they sure deserve one for the effort they're playing out the string with this year. Props to them for not just throwing in the towel.