Big Ten Power Rankings

Brian Kersey | Associated Press

1. OHIO STATE

Last time around: 3

This week: at Nebraska (Jan. 21)

Ohio State showed on Sunday night exactly what its capable of when revenge is on the Buckeyes’ minds. All five starters were on top of their games, and the fifth guy, Lenzelle Smith Jr., dominated Indiana from the perimeter. As Indiana coach Tom Crean said afterwards, if the Buckeyes are firing on all cylinders like that, they’re a championship team. I’ve said from day one that Ohio State is a Final Four team, and it’s looking more and more like that. Aaron Craft is the perfect on-the-ball defending and facilitating point guard for a team with so many playmakers, and if Ohio State can beat Michigan State in one of their two remaining matchups, I think we’ll see the Buckeyes reign supreme for the majority of the remainder of the season.

2. MICHIGAN STATE

Last time around: 1

This week: at Michigan (tonight), Purdue (Jan. 21)

I was absolutely floored by the Spartans’ seven-point loss to Northwestern, as Michigan State was playing some of the most consistent basketball in the conference, especially against teams that had a limited post presence (i.e. Northwestern). But when the Wildcats shoot the lights out (50 percent from the floor), and those shooters include John Shurna and Drew Crawford, then well, you’re liable to lose a few. Draymond Green is still my vote for Big Ten Player of the Year at the midseason, and he’s only getting better as time goes on, it seems. Michigan State has an important stretch coming up with two games against Michigan and a road game in Champaign. They’ll continue to battle Ohio State for the top spot till the bitter end, in my opinion.

3. INDIANA

Last time around: 2

This week: at Nebraska (Jan. 18), Penn State (Jan. 22)

It’s been a rough week for the Hoosiers. With a loss to Minnesota at Assembly Hall and a blowout at the hands of Ohio State, it appears more and more that Indiana was a bit overhyped in the top 10. However, they remain in the top three in my rankings because I think this team is better than it showed in its last two games. Nothing will take away wins over the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country and when pretty much every good team in the conference loses one this week, it’s hard to drop the Hoosiers too far. Cody Zeller is only beginning to come into form – I think he’ll be even better in the next two games – and Indiana should realize now that its at an important crossroads. Win and gain momentum in the next two games, and the Hoosiers should get back on track. Slip up again and Indiana could find itself free-falling on this list.

4. ILLINOIS

Last time around: 5

This week: at Penn State (Jan. 19), Wisconsin (Jan. 22)

Let’s preface this ranking by saying that Brandon Paul’s 43-point performance in an upset win of Ohio State was about as fluky as flukes get. Paul is normally not an efficient shooter, and as big of a part as he played in beating the Buckeyes, I don’t think we’ll see him perform even near to that level again this season. But beyond Paul, the Illini are starting to come into their own, and wins like their recent one over Ohio State do a whole lot to build confidence. Meyers Leonard is still the team’s best player and Illinois will soon get back point guard Sam Maniscalco. Throw in Joseph Bertrand as a solid, young piece, and you’ve got a team that is better than I initially credited them in the first half of the season. I still think the Illini are prone to bad shooting stretches, as Paul and D.J. Richardson are notoriously streaky and inefficient.

5. MICHIGAN

Last time around: 4

This week: Michigan State (tonight), at Arkansas (Jan. 21)

The Wolverines needed overtime to beat Northwestern and weren’t as lucky in their last matchup with Iowa, as the Hawkeyes handled Michigan in Iowa City. Those last two games put Michigan in a similar position to Indiana, as the team is at an interesting crossroads. The reliance on wingman Tim Hardaway Jr. should be concerning, especially when Hardaway is prone to taking bad shots in bunches at times. That means the offense will need to be run more consistently through freshman phenom point guard Trey Burke, and that should mean more opportunities for budding forward Evan Smotrycz, who started off strong and has tailed off as of late. The gauntlet is coming soon for Michigan, and a win or two before then is almost a necessity for John Beilein’s crew.

6. WISCONSIN

Last time around: 7

This week: Northwestern (Jan. 18), at Illinois (Jan. 22)

The Badgers seemed to hit rock bottom last week, and with a win at Mackey Arena over Purdue, Wisconsin picked itself up quickly. Following that win with a grinding win over Nebraska was important too, as Bo Ryan’s crew continues to seriously lack offensive firepower, getting by on its patented Bo Ryan defense. Wisconsin has yet to hit 70 points in a Big Ten game, and against teams with powerful offenses like Michigan State and Ohio State, that sort of gameplan ain’t gonna fly for long. Jordan Taylor has been scoring a little more consistently lately, dropping 19 in a game where the Badgers scored just 50, but it’s still hard to trust Wisconsin against the conference’s better teams.

7. PURDUE

Last time around: 6

This week: Iowa (tonight), at Michigan State (Jan. 21)

Robbie Hummel had one of his worst games of the season in Purdue’s close loss to Wisconsin, making it even more clear that the Boilermakers will struggle when their star player struggles. Terone Johnson stepped up nicely, scoring 16 points, but Purdue is a vulnerable team right now – having lost two of three – and have yet to play anyone in the Big Ten’s top half, with the exception of Wisconsin and Illinois. Someone other than Hummel will have to step up and make plays for Purdue to stay afloat in the next month. Who will that be though? Lewis Jackson? Ryne Smith? Neither have shown the capability to take over stretches of games. Purdue has the most question marks of anyone capable of being on the top half of this list.

8. IOWA

Last time around: 8

This week: at Purdue (tonight)

Iowa pulled off another memorable upset, downing the Wolverines at Carver-Hawkeye this weekend, a lot of which was on the shoulders of a resurgent Matt Gatens, who has played exceedingly well recently. Still, Iowa remains at No. 8 on the list, and it’s going to take some more convincing wins for me to believe that they’re better than that. I tend to assume that the top seven teams on this list are Tournament-caliber teams, and the Hawkeyes don’t really strike me as such this year. There are a lot of good pieces in place for the future of Fran McCaffrey’s club, but I think it’s fair to say that the Hawkeyes are a year away from making a lot of noise.

9. NORTHWESTERN

Last time around: 9

This week: at Wisconsin (Jan. 18), at Minnesota (Jan. 22)

The Wildcats have plenty of offensive pieces to make games interesting, but I never expected them to be a few lucky calls away from sweeping the state of Michigan in back-to-back games. But indeed, Northwestern proved that it is still relevant last week, upsetting Michigan State in Evanston. Alas, it’s impossible for me to justify moving the Wildcats up this list. They still have little to no post presence, and they’re still reliant on getting hot from the field. That’s not a sustainable pattern in the Big Ten. Plus, they weren’t the only team to unseat one of the Big Ten contenders this week.

10. MINNESOTA

Last time around: 10

This week: Northwestern (Jan. 22)

It’s the same story for Minnesota, as their upset at Indiana is swept under the rug a bit by the bevy of Big Ten upsets this week. The Golden Gophers are not one of the more talented teams in the Big Ten without Trevor Mbakwe, and it’s easy to forget that their two-game win streak was on the heels of a four-game losing streak. I will give them credit for shooting the lights out and playing a solid, all-around game against Indiana, but I don’t think we’ll see that happen on many more occasions this season. Rodney Williams is establishing himself as a strong presence on the glass, and that’s good news for Minnesota. But beyond a spot performance from Austin Hollins – like he had against IU – then Minnesota is a bottom tier conference team.

11. NEBRASKA

Last time around: 12

This week: Indiana (Jan. 18), Ohio State (Jan. 21)

The Huskers leapfrogged their cellar-dwelling counterparts after beating the Nittany Lions on their home court last week by a pretty comfortable margin. Against Wisconsin though, there was no such luck. Now, Nebraska has the toughest week of any team in the Big Ten with Indiana and Ohio State coming to town. I’ll never again rule out an upset in this topsy-turvy Big Ten, but this week isn’t looking good for Nebraska. It helps to have all of their guys back and healthy – both Jorge Brian Diaz and Dylan Talley missed time – but this team is Bo Spencer’s to control, and Spencer doesn’t really have all the pieces quite yet to really make a push forward.

12. PENN STATE

Last time around: 11

This week: Illinois (Jan. 19), at Indiana (Jan. 22)

There’s no doubting the Nittany Lions have fought in their last three games, and although they’ve lost all three, you can see tangible progress in coach Pat Chambers’ first season. There’s still a long way to go and Tim Frazier isn’t quite Talor Battle when it comes to relying fully on one player. The problem is Penn State may not be able to build much in the next few games, as they play three of the conference’s elite in the next week-and-a-half. It’s going to be a long season, and Penn State knows that. But that win over Purdue will continue to be a bright spot in what should be a fairly dark season.

8 comments

  1. Ryan-

    Please never use Jon Shurna as the lead photo again. Man, can’t stand that ugly bastard; worst looking shot in the nation.

  2. Hoosier Plus, heres the response to your questions in #33 from “Live Discussion”…

    I don’t think that the starting line-up or finishing line-up will be much different from this year. Obviously (and thankfully) VJ3 will be gone, but I can’t imagine that anyone else will be leaving. CW has a shot at being a second round pick, but why would he leave early for a non-guaranteed contract or roster spot on an NBA team.

    In my opinion Dipo, Watford and Zeller are all locks for starting roles, and I think that Hulls is pretty close to a lock, at least to start the season. Some of these freshman are a little unknown. I think that Yogi has a real shot at starting, whether it’s from the beginning or as the season moves along. Certainly Parea brings something that we don’t have currently, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he slid into the starting 4 spot as the season progressed, moving Wat to the 3 and Dipo to the 2. I don’t think Jurkin is going to be ready next year to start or be in at the end of games, but I certainly could see him averaging 10 minutes, with some of those being along side Cody.

    I think the real wild card here is Hollowell. Depending on who you read he’s either under-rated or lazy and a wuss. I have no idea what to believe since I haven’t seen him live. There are always those players that come across as not having a fire, not playing with passion, that are hard to get behind, but the then you look at the box score and he has 22 points and 12 rebounds. I have this weird feeling that he is just too good an athlete and too talented to keep off the floor. He is 3 inches taller than Dipo, a much better athlete than Wat, and has a well rounded perimeter offensive skill set.

    Another interesting aspect of “The Movement” is that a lot of the freshman have played together and with Zeller for HUNDREDS of AAU games over the last few years. There is a real comfort level that the second unit will have that usually takes a while for other teams to achieve, I think that our bench is going to be a huge advantage next year, because although they’ll be very young, they will have a built in rhythm and cohesion that is irreplaceable.

    So my best guess at the starting line-up for next year is:

    PG – Hulls
    SG – Dipo
    SF – Watford
    PF – Parea
    C – Zeller

    With a second unit of:

    PG – Yogi
    SG – Abel
    SF – Sheehey
    F – Hollowell
    C – Zeller

    Both teams have an interesting mix of athleticism, shooting, scoring, quickness, and experience. There are some obvious omissions – Jurkin, Patterson, Etherington, and potentially Roth and Creek, who may apply for, and be granted, additional eligibility. Sometimes it’s great to have the problem of too much talent, as long as everyone is buying into the “team” mantra. It’s certainly a lot better than what we had to deal with a couple years ago when our starters got hurt and all of a sudden we are starting Danny Moore for stretches…

  3. Geoff – having too much talent is also great when the inevitable injury occurs. God forbid but it’s nice to know that when a key player goes down, you have someone like Remy who can come in and barely lose a step.

    Localsun- yes, and that’s when Shurna is just standing there. When he shoots, He looks like the Elephant Man’s son impersonating Bill Cartwright.

  4. Haha – of course, but there’s no reason he doesn’t play 30 minutes a game (except foul trouble), so there plenty of overlap for Zeller. I do think Jurkin will get some run, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Parea at the 5 with Wat at the 4, alongside a taller and athletic 3 like Hollowell or Sheehey that can rebound.

    I didn’t think people would be interested in seeing my 2012-13 subbing combinations again. I threw them out about a month ago and it didn’t create much discussion…

  5. I enjoyed them. Not a sharp or knowledgeable enough of a fan to be able to forecast future lineups and measure their impact. When someone else does it, I pay attention and enjoy.

    By the way Geoff check your spelling for Hanner’s last name.

  6. Sorry… Perea. Wow do I look unusually stupid.

    By the way they are killing Gunner Kiel right now on PTI…

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