As we stare down the stretch run of the season a few of us here at Maize n Brew have decided to take a crack at power ranking the Big Ten. Below are The White Tiger's, Holdin' the Rope's, and your humble author Zach's power rankings. Where we voted each team is included, and ties were broken by adding up each vote and taking the lowest total. Standard power ranking stuff.
On with the show...
#1 - Michigan State (Unanimous)
Holdin' the Rope - I vacillated between the Buckeyes and Spartans here; you could justify either one quite easily, but for now I have to give the nod to the Spartans in light of an enormous road win in Columbus and home wins against Michigan and Wisconsin within the last two weeks. The Buckeyes certainly have a better roster on paper, but it’s difficult to argue against the Spartan formula of rebounding, defense, and senior leadership in the form of Draymond "Dancing Bear" Green. For a team that wasn’t supposed to be one to write home about coming into the season, the Pony Express sure is putting in a lot of work this season.
The White Tiger - The Spartans have won seven of their last eight and are currently one game ahead of Michigan and OSU in the Big Ten standings. Getting an outright Big Ten title would be somewhat unexpected, but if anyone can do it, it's Draymond Green and MSU.
Zach - Agreed. This team is playing some solid basketball and not getting spooked. Yesterday against Purdue would have been the perfect time for a somewhat young MSU team to roll over on the road. Instead the Spartans came out at halftime and took control of the game for the final 20 minutes. That's what you have to do to be champions.
#2 - Ohio State (#2 - HTR, Zach; #3 - TWT)
HTR - Again, you could easily put them at the 1 spot. The Buckeyes are still a very dangerous team. The loss to the Spartans at home was a bit of an eye opener, but, in the grand scheme of things, this will be a team that makes a lot of noise come March. Buford had what has to have been one of his worst games as a Buckeye and Trey Burke held Craft in check, yet, the Buckeyes still only fell by 5 in Ann Arbor. They’ll be more than fine, although inconsistent perimeter shooting is an issue in a single-elimination tournament format.
TWT - The Buckeyes have been slipping lately, but this team still has more talent than anyone else in the country. Like Tim Hardaway, William Buford has been struggling lately and will need to step it up for the Buckeyes to make a deep run in March.
Zach - Despite losses to Michigan and MSU as of late, this is still the best team in the conference. No disrespect to Michigan, but if the two teams played ten times I would think OSU wins seven of them. Sullinger is too good and Buford isn't always going to go MIA (only about half the time).
#3 - Michigan (#2 TWT; #3 HTR, Zach)
HTR - Michigan has split four combined meetings with the Buckeyes and Spartans this season and currently sit at 10-4 in the conference portion of the schedule. I hate to be that guy, but imagine if Michigan hadn’t have gone full derp in Iowa City…even so, this team is without a doubt a legitimate contender for a regular season title (if some things go Michigan’s way) and possibly a Big Ten tourney title. Scan the roster right now and re-read the previous sentence. Even if the Wolverines come up empty re: conference titles, this will end up being arguably Beilein’s best team ever, let alone at Michigan. Hoke-Beilein 2012.
TWT - After winning against Ohio State this weekend, Michigan staked its claim as one of the best teams in the country. If Jordan Morgan can keep up the stellar play, this Michigan team's ceiling could possibly be the Final Four.
Zach - Some things still terrify me about this team (FT rate away from home, defensive rebounding, the constant wonder if Good Tim or Bad Tim will show up) but you can't argue with results. Against the other top teams in the conference (OSU, MSU, UW) Michigan is 3-2 and has the easiest schedule from here on out. If Michigan can win on the road --- no I'm not confident in that --- I think we are looking at a share of the Big Ten title. Unbelievable.
#4 - Wisconsin (#4 TWT, Zach; #5 HTR)
TWT - After a rough 1-3 start to Big Ten play, Wisconsin has put it together and remains in the discussion for a protected seed. At this point, it looks like they're a slight notch below the top three in the Big Ten though.
Zach - Do you start well or do you end well. Wisconsin stumbled out of the gates but has turned it around and rallied as the conference's solid number four team. Not quite consistent enough for the top level with UM, MSU, OSU, but still a dangerous team.
HTR - I don’t care what Kenpom says, Wisconsin falls here. Jordan Taylor has been fairly underwhelming at times, and the Badgers just don’t have the same cete* of quality 3-point-gunning lumberjacks that they’ve had in recent years. I’ve been a Wisconsin supporter when filling out my brackets in the recent past, but not this year. With that said, I would easily take them against any other conference’s #5.
*Fun fact of the day: a group of badgers is apparently called a "cete." The more you know.
#5 - Indiana (#4 HTR; #5 TWT, Zach)
HTR - There’s a bit of a dropoff here, but Indiana is still a very good basketball team in their own right. Defense is a concern, but I truly believe that their style of play is more conducive to tournament success than Wisconsin’s. Zeller and IU’s troupe of 3-point bombers round out a dynamic offensive attack that not many teams will want a part of come March.
TWT - The Hoosiers haven't been able to sustain their non-conference success in conference play, but should still finish with at least a .500 record in the Big Ten. If not for freshman phenom Cody Zeller, Trey Burke would run away with conference freshman player of the year honors.
Zach - If Bruce Weber wasn't currently producing his Ode To Ron Zook in Champaign, the Hoosiers would easily be my "what the hell" collapse of 2011-12. Still, they should finish with a solid record. Not "back" but not bad either.
#6 - Purdue (Unanimous)
HTR - Well, it’s been a rough year to say the least. Purdue’s notoriously officious defense has taken a bit of a hit, and the absence of any player that can even halfway replace Boston Celtic JaJuan Johnson’s production really limits this team. Purdue has won two in a row, and they still have Michigan State, Michigan, and IU left to play in an effort to make some hay and avoid missing the Big Dance. Unfortunately, the dismissal of Kelsey Barlow and the suspension of 3-point specialist DJ Byrd don’t make things any easier.
TWT - Despite the dismissal of Kelsey Barlow and the suspension of DJ Byrd, Purdue still has a solid team. Robbie Hummel hasn't looked too affected by his injury history and the Boilermakers look to be pretty safely in the tournament.
Zach - One thing we can all agree on: Purdue is decidedly average. Still a solid team but not quite good enough. They will make the tourney, but unless something clicks they will also make you look smart for picking them to lose in the first round.
#7 - Northwestern (#7 - TWT, Zach; #8 HTR)
TWT - The Wildcats are still on their quest for their first NCAA Tournament bid, and a win tomorrow against Michigan would be imperative for that to happen. It's not impossible either, Northwestern has plenty of star power with John Shurna and Drew Crawford.
Zach - Of all Michigan's final four games, this one scares me the most. I'm not entirely sure why, but I think it has something to do with Northwestern being the kind of team that can bury you if you have an off night. I for one am rooting for the Wildcats to make the tourney just so the country finally gets to see the wonder of John Shurna's jump shot.
HTR - I was tempted to put the Wildcats ahead of Illinois but refrained. As strange as it is to say, Michigan’s trip to Welsh-Ryan is without a doubt its toughest remaining game. Michigan has struggled there the last few seasons, and Shurna and Crawford will be bringing their best in an attempt to propel the Wildcats to the bubble, at the very least. This is not a team that Michigan can expect to handily beat, especially given the fact that Denard won’t be there to dance Michigan to victory like last time. Remember: we beat them in OT, at home.
#8 - Minnesota (#8 - TWT, Zach; #10 - HTR)
TWT - The easy narrative for Minnesota's season is what they could have done if Trevor Mbakwe hadn't gotten hurt. Losing a preseason All-Big Ten player is especially brutal when it could have been the difference between getting in the tournament and being left out.
Zach - There is a real logjam here around the number 8/9/10 spot. Minnesota gets the benefit of the doubt because it is overachieving relative to expectations. Losing Mbakwe was a massive blow and this team has done well to soldier on without him.
HTR - At 17-10 overall, the Gophers have actually acquitted themselves fairly well given the absence of Trevor Mbakwe. Beginning with the win in Bloomington, the Gophers went 5-2 for a stretch before losing their last 3. They do have two upcoming home games against MSU and IU to try to boost their resume, but winning one, let alone both, is about as likely as Brady Hoke giving up the Art of the Point.
T-#9 - Illinois (#7 -HTR; #10 - TWT, Zach)
HTR - In short: a complete and utter collapse of Brobdingnagian proportions. The Illini have lost 8 of their last 9, the most recent one being an absolute embarrassment of a loss in Lincoln. How a team with Brandon Paul and Meyers Leonard can struggle so mightily is a little mystifying. Unless some truly miraculous things happen, it appears that the Illini will have to dismiss another coach this year.
TWT - Bruce Weber is on his way out and the wheels have officially fallen off in Champaign; the Illini have lost eight of their last nine, capped off by a beating by Nebraska. They have so much talent across the board, but they're still bad.
Zach - Ron Zook isn't just a coach; the man is a communicable disease, and Bruce Weber is patient zero.
T-#9 - Iowa (Unanimous)
HTR - There’s not much to say here. Iowa started off the month with a pair of wins but then went on to lose their next 2, @Northwestern and @PSU (the latter being the more disappointing of the two). Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White are very solid underclassmen that could form the backbone of a potential tourney team down the road, but that time is not now.
TWT - Iowa beat Michigan a few weeks ago, and are still a very dangerous team. They won't contend for an NCAA Tournament bid, but the Hawkeyes are building a strong program under Fran McCaffery and should be back before too long.
Zach - Where as Minnesota is exceeding expectations given the circumstances, and Illinois is busy breaking in to expectation's house and taking a dump on the rug, Iowa is just kind of humming along. For Hawkeye fans this is quite alright. This team looks to be making positive strides for the future.
#11 - Nebraska (Unanimous)
HTR - The landscape is as bleak as the Great Plains at this point in the rankings. To Nebraska’s credit, they have shown the ability to ambush people at home (although one of those said teams is Illinois). I like Doc Sadler, but this is a team that is severely lacking in talent across the board.
TWT - It's been a rough first season in the Big Ten for the Cornhuskers; no one expected them to contend right away, but they haven't done well in the best conference in the country, even with their cast of experienced, veteran starters.
Zach - Nebraska wasn't any good in the Big XII. Now Nebraska isn't any good in the Big Ten. Move along, nothing to see here.
#12 - Penn State (Unanimous)
HTR - So, uh, Tim Frazier…he’s pretty good. PSU did split the season series with Nebraska and has a nearly identical record, so the final two spots are interchangeable. Michigan should be able to handle the Nittany Lions to end the season, but if this season has taught us anything, There Ain’t So Such Thing As A Free Win on the road in the Big Ten.
TWT - The loss of Talor Battle, Jeff Brooks, and other seniors was too much for new coach Pat Chambers to overcome; the Nittany Lions have shown flashes of potential but are still overmatched. Without Tim Frazier, it would be even worse.
Zach - At least the football team isn't a complete mess. Er, I mean.