Big Ten power rankings

Playing without injured big man Adreian Payne, who remains day-to-day, MSU has found a way to keep winning. This Spartan club is starting to develop the trademark toughness of vintage Tom Izzo teams despite the fact it has rarely been fully healthy and intact this season. Next three games are Indiana, Michigan and at Iowa, and three wins would put Michigan State squarely in the catbird seat for the Big Ten title.

2. IOWA HAWKEYES (15-3, 4-1)
There’s a growing sense of confidence in Iowa City that makes these Hawkeyes very dangerous. Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White have stepped up their games, and brought their teammates with them. Pick a stat, and Iowa is near the top of the Big Ten — field goal percentage defense (1st), scoring offense (1st), rebounding margin (2nd), blocked shots (2nd), assists (2nd) and field goal percentage (3rd), to name a few.

This is the surprise team of the conference so far. After stumbling through the early going of the season, Michigan has won seven straight, most recently posting a win at Wisconsin. It’s the three sophomore amigos of Nik Stauskas (18 ppg, 4 apg, 4 rpg), Glenn Robinson III (13.9 ppg, 4 rpg) and Caris Levert (12 ppg, 4 rpg) who are leading the way for the Wolverines, who lead the conference in field goal percentage and are second in 3-point percentage and 3-pointers made.

4. WISCONSIN BADGERS (16-2, 3-2)
A week ago, the Badgers looked to be arguably be the best team in the conference and possibly the nation. Consecutive losses at Indiana and home to Michigan have tempered that enthusiasm, and the Wisconsin defense has been exposed in allowing 51 percent and 60 percent shooting, respectively. That takes the luster off the fact the Badgers have scored 70 or more points in nine consecutive games. Winning shootouts isn’t really Wisconsin’s thing.

5. OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (15-4, 2-4)
Like Wisconsin, after an unbeaten start, the Buckeyes have tumbled back to earth with four consecutive losses, the latest at Nebraska Monday night. Now Ohio State will be at home for four of the next six in an attempt to get back on track. Buckeyes hoisted 55 3-pointers in the three losses prior to Nebraska, making just 17, and neither of those numbers are likely to add up to victory.

Richard Pitino has Minnesota pointed in the right direction in his first season, falling in overtime at Michigan State, beating Ohio State and hanging in at Iowa for about 35 minutes before fading. The Golden Gophers are tied for second in the league in 3-pointers made, but they’re getting solid production inside from 6-foot-11 junior center Elliott Eliason (7 ppg, 9 rpg, 3 blks) to keep them from becoming one-dimensional.

There’s not a lot separating the bottom half of the Big Ten, but the Boilermakers might have the decisive factor in 7-foot center A.J. Hammons. His mere presence makes his teammates better, regardless of production, and Purdue has produced three straight wins to boot, including a road win at Illinois. Trips to Northwestern and Michigan sandwiched around a home date with Wisconsin will test Purdue’s ability to maintain momentum.

The Illini are the perfect example of how fast fortunes can change, as they’ve gone from the top 25 to four straight losses in the blink of an eye. With road trips to Ohio State and Indiana looming, things aren’t getting any easier. Illinois has no inside game right now, and big man Nnanna Egwu isn’t hitting the outside shot either. Defenses are able to focus on guards Rayvonte Rice and Traci Abrams, a big reason why the Illini are averaging just 58 points per game in the losing streak.

9. INDIANA HOOSIERS (12-6, 2-3)
IU had some momentum until Saturday’s toe-stubbing loss to Northwestern. Hot and cold may be the refrain all season for this team, though it’s clearly a lot better when Yogi Ferrell is hot. It’s easy to say Indiana goes as Ferrell goes, but the more players the Hoosiers get involved, the better both they and Ferrell are. IU alternates home and away games for the next month, which may make consistency more difficult to find.

The Wildcats haven’t scored more than 67 points in a game since Dec. 16, and that’s just fine with them. They’ve found a tempo and defensive mindset that allows them to be competitive, something they weren’t in seven double-digit losses capped with a 93-67 shellacking at Iowa on Jan. 9. Since, Northwestern has beaten Illinois and Indiana, stayed close with Michigan State, and become a team none of the contenders want to see coming.

Five straight losses took the starch out of the Cornhuskers’ season, but a one-point loss at home to Michigan and a six-point loss at Purdue have provided glimmers of hope before Monday’s upset of Ohio State. Nebraska is no doubt better in Tim Miles’ second season and likely just needs a little success to pick up steam. Upcoming games at Penn State and home to Minnesota and Indiana may be just the ticket.

Four of the Lions’ Big Ten losses have been by 10 points or less, but their inability to close games has been the big problem. That doesn’t exactly breed confidence, and Penn State is likely battling the mental demons as much as the physical ones at this point. With Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill in the backcourt, this remains a dangerous team and one desperate to break through.