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Big Ten Basketball Power Rankings: Jan. 5

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Michigan has proven to be the best team in the conference thus far.

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Conference play is in full swing as college basketball shifts into the second half of the season. The Big Ten is looking like one of, if not the best conference this season, and is led by two top 10 teams. Here are our initial league power rankings:

14. Illinois (4-10, 0-3)

It’s been a really rough go this season for the Illini. They’ve played a tough schedule, but ending the non-conference slate with losses to Missouri and Florida Atlantic isn’t going to cut it.

13. Rutgers (7-5, 0-2)

It’s a rare instance when Rutgers isn’t ranked last in any sort of power rankings, but here it is at 13. The ceiling for this team isn’t much higher.

12. Penn State (7-7, 0-3)

The Nittany Lions gave Michigan a fight this week, but still ended up losing by 13. Lamar Stevens is a great player, but it’s tough sledding after that.

11. Northwestern (9-5, 0-3)

Northwestern has given both Michigan and Indiana close calls, but hasn’t been able to finish the upsets. Michigan State embarrassed the Wildcats this week.

10. Iowa (11-3, 0-3)

Despite entering the week in the AP Top 25, Iowa has shown that it just can’t compete with the big boys, losing badly to Michigan State and Purdue, while dropping a closer game against Wisconsin. Beating Oregon was a nice win early in the season, but I haven’t seen enough recently to rank the Hawkeyes higher. The fact that they are this low and still considered a quality team should tell you how stacked the Big Ten is.

9. Purdue (9-5, 2-1)

The Boilermakers dismantled Iowa on Thursday to pick up their second Big Ten win. The record is poor, but PU has played a tougher schedule than most. The only problem is that Purdue has lost nearly all of those games against good teams.

8. Nebraska (11-3, 1-2)

James Palmer Jr. is an outstanding player that could carry Nebraska to the NCAA Tournament all by himself. A close road loss to Maryland keeps the Huskers behind the Terps.

7. Maryland (11-3, 2-1)

The Terrapins have quietly gone under the radar so far this season, but have posted a quality record with a win over Nebraska. Maryland will need to pick up another few quality wins along the way, as it doesn’t have much from the non-conference schedule, but the opportunities will be there.

6. Wisconsin (10-4, 2-1)

What’s going on with the Badgers? They have the star power and quality wins to stay near the top of the league, yet have lost their last two games to Western Kentucky and Minnesota. Look for them to bounce back over the next three games against Penn State, Purdue and Maryland.

5. Minnesota (12-2, 2-1)

Minnesota is the surprise of the conference so far. Beating Wisconsin on the road is a very good win to go along with its earlier win over Nebraska. With home games against Maryland, Rutgers and Penn State paired with a road game at Illinois in the team’s next four games, there’s a chance the Gophers improve to 16-2.

4. Ohio State (12-1, 2-0)

The Buckeyes have only lost to Syracuse this season, which is hardly a bad loss. However, outside of a home win against Minnesota, there’s nothing special about OSU’s resume. That could change this weekend, when it takes on Michigan State in Columbus.

3. Indiana (12-2, 3-0)

Ever since its blow-out road loss to Duke, the Hoosiers have been red hot, winning seven straight games, including victories over Louisville and Butler. IU probably won’t be blowing many teams out, but it has shown it can grind out wins in close games, something essential in Big Ten play. Keep an eye on freshman Romeo Langford, who scored a career high 28 points Thursday against Illinois.

2. Michigan State (12-2, 3-0)

It’s no surprise, but Michigan State is once again viewed as a top team in the country heading into January. Close losses to Kansas and Louisville are the only blemishes this season for the Spartans, who have wins over Texas, Iowa and Florida. They’ve won each of their last four games by more than 20 points.

1. Michigan (14-0, 3-0)

John Beilein’s squad is not only the best team in the Big Ten, but may be the best team in the country. Michigan has beaten down three good teams in Villanova, North Carolina and Purdue and seem to match-up well with any team in the conference. Sunday’s showdown against Indiana should be a good one.