Time to check back on where each Big Ten team ranks just about half of the way through conference play. This is by far the hardest Power Rankings I've ever done. Besides Wisconsin at the top and Rutgers/Northwestern at the bottom, you can make the case for a wide range of teams in a wide range of positions. Without further ado, here are my thoughts.
1. Wisconsin (20-2 [8-1]/AP #5/KP 5)
Next up: February 7, vs. Northwestern
Besides Kentucky in the SEC, there isn't a more clear top team in their respective conference. They've somehow gotten better with starting point guard Traevon Jackson hurt. KenPom has three Badgers in his All-B1G team. This is a death machine that might not lose another game until the NCAA Tournament.
2. Ohio State (17-6 [6-4]/AP #20/KP 17)
Next up: February 8, at Rutgers
I know they just lost at Purdue, but that was without Mark Loving and I think a full strength OSU team is the second best in the conference. Now, if Loving is going to miss extended time, this is a very one-dimensional offensive team. Luckily for the Buckeyes, that one-dimension's name is D'Angelo Russell and he's possibly the best offensive player in the country. If we were giving out the award now, he'd be my Big Ten Player of the Year.
3. Maryland (19-4 [7-3]/AP #17/KP 32)
Next up: February 8, at Iowa
The Terps haven't played their best basketball over the last two weeks but they've still managed to go 2-2 and have yet to lose at home in conference. I still think this team has done enough at this point in the season to get the benefit of the doubt. This also goes for star freshman Melo Trimble, who had been a brilliant scorer until the last two games that have seen him hit a crisp zero percent from the field. To his credit, Trimble's seven second-half assists against Penn State showed a facilitating ability not often seen in his first season. If he's able to do that consistently, as well as returning to the prolific scorer we'd seen in the other 20 games, he'll return to his place among the best lead guards in that nation and a potential All-B1G selection. The good news for Maryland is that Dez Wells finally seems fully back and showing why he's such an important player for them. A combination of *this* Wells plus the Trimble from earlier in the season should propel the Terps into the post season.
4. Purdue (15-8 [7-3]/KP 57)
Next up: February 7, vs. Minnesota
Man, that win at Mackey is starting to look great for Maryland, isn't it? The Boilermakers have knocked off three straight ranked teams and are playing as good as any team not named Wisconsin in the conference. Might want to add Matt Painter to the B1G Coach of the Year shortlist.
5. Michigan State (15-7 [6-3]/KP 23)
Next up: February 7, vs. Illinois
It looks like Sparty is finally starting to put all of their pieces together and should make the NCAA Tournament after a bid looked shaky earlier in the season. Brandon Dawson is playing like Brandon Dawson with four double-doubles in his last five games.
6. Indiana (16-7 [6-4]/KP 50)
Next up: February 8, vs. Michigan
It was just two weeks ago that the Hoosiers were blitzing Maryland and talked about as a threat to possibly win the Big Ten. Then they lost three of their next four games, including blowouts at Purdue and at Wisconsin. It looks like the offensive juggernaut we saw not miss against the Terps is a stationary piece of artillery that can't be moved from Bloomington.
7. Iowa (13-8 [4-4]/KP 45)
Next up: February 5, at Michigan
Let's get back in the two weeks ago time machine to when Iowa beat Ohio State for the second time of the season, looking like yet another threat at the top of the conference. Since then, they've one upped Indiana by losing three straight, finishing up with a not-as-close-as-the-final-score 11-point loss at home to Wisconsin. The next two games, at Michigan and hosting Maryland, are critical to determining if this is a tournament team or not.
8. Illinois (15-8 [5-5]/KP 73)
Next up: February 7, at Michigan State
I feel like I say this every time I talk about Illinois, but they really remind me of last year's Maryland team. There are a bunch of talented pieces that don't seem to fit at all, resulting in a ton of inconsistency. You'll watch one of their games and for five minutes they look like an explosive, dominant offense...but then they go cold and look like they've never practiced together. They're about to enter a monster stretch where they play at MSU, Michigan, at Wisconsin, MSU again and at Iowa. Going 3-2 there could get them on the right side of the bubble, otherwise this looks like another disappointing year in Champaign.
9. Michigan (13-9 [6-4]/KP 79)
Next up: February 7, vs. Iowa
The Wolverines have performed damn heroically since learning their star Caris LeVert would miss the rest of the season. They took Wisconsin to overtime before losing by five, beat Nebraska and again went to overtime at Michigan State. I attribute this almost entirely to the great coaching of John Beilein, but ultimately I think they simply don't have the depth with an injury ravaged roster to keep it up.
10. Minnesota (14-9 [3-7]/KP 47)
Next up: February 7, vs. Purdue
11. Nebraska (13-9 [3-7]/KP 108)
Next up: February 7, at Penn State
I don't have enough thoughts about Minnesota and Nebraska to fill this space. Sorry, there's only so much college basketball you can watch and the Gophers and Huskers have not been involved.
12. Penn State (14-9 [3-8]/KP 96)
Next up: February 7, vs Nebraska
Penn State has eight conference losses and six of them are by six points or less. I've watched a lot of these games because I'm fascinated by Penn State basketball, and they've been a combination of bad luck, bad coaching and just bad.
13. Northwestern (10-12 [1-8]/KP 136)
Next up: February 7, at Wisconsin
14. Rutgers (10-14 [2-9]/ KP 178)
Next up: February 8, vs. Ohio State
I'll give this space to the wonderful Tom Fornelli.
With both Rutgers and Northwestern in the league, every B1G fan base gets to feel really good about its team at least two times a season.— Tom Fornelli (@TomFornelli) February 4, 2015