1. MICHIGAN (19-1, 6-1)
The newly minted No. 1 Wolverines continue to look like the class of the conference, but Jordan Morgan’s sprained ankle could loom large this week with Saturday’s showdown at Indiana on the horizon. But Mitch McGary has been solid as a freshman, and a healthy Jon Horford has helped Michigan build interior depth that will benefit it in the long run.
2. INDIANA (18-2, 6-1)
The Hoosiers affirmed their status as title contenders with a home win over Michigan State Sunday, despite the offensive struggles of Cody Zeller. While Indiana hasn’t always looked as dominant or impressive as expected, it also might have more room for improvement than any of the other top tier teams in the Big Ten, or even the country.
3. MICHIGAN STATE (17-4, 6-2)
A loss in Bloomington did nothing to hurt the Spartans’ standing as the team most likely to steal the league crown away from the top two. And while freshman Gary Harris provided a big lift at IU, and Branden Dawson set career highs last week at Wisconsin, it still seems that MSU goes as point guard Keith Appling goes. His absence was keenly felt vs. Indiana.
4. OHIO STATE (16-4, 6-2)
After upsetting Michigan a week and a half ago, the Buckeyes further cemented their upper tier status with Tuesday night’s win over Wisconsin. Ohio State did the job with defense, shutting out the Badgers’ Jared Berggren in the second half and allowing just 31.5 percent shooting overall. Also, Deshaun Thomas knows how to put the biscuit in the basket.
5. WISCONSIN (14-7, 5-3)
Reality seems to have set in for the Badgers now, with three losses in the last four games, not to mention the lone win was a one-point escape against Minnesota on Saturday. And that reality is that offense is a serious liability for Wisconsin, which has scored 49 points or less in three straight games. Winning sub-50 games isn’t something to hang your hat on.
6. MINNESOTA (16-5, 4-4)
In what can only be the worst sort of deja vu for Gopher fans, Minnesota has once again hit a mid-season swoon that has taken it from the top 10 to a conference also-ran. But there’s still enough talent for these Gophers to dig out a strong finish, starting with Tuesday night’s win over Nebraska. A little confidence could go a long way.
7. PURDUE (11-9, 4-3)
Four weeks ago, the Boilermakers’ win over Illinois seemed an aberration. Now that game might have simply foreshadowed Purdue’s rise and the Illini’s fall. The Boilermakers are learning how to blend the newcomers and veterans, both showing the patience necessary to find success. Playing Indiana at home will be a good measuring stick.
8. ILLINOIS (15-6, 2-5)
Call it a regression to the mean or simply bringing balance to the force, but the Illini’s 12-0 start seems very long ago and far away at this point. Illinois is averaging just over 60 points per game in the last five, a number that drops to 58 ppg if you take out the lone win at Nebraska. That leaves the Illini squarely on the bubble already.
9. IOWA (13-7, 2-5)
Just when you think the Hawkeyes might be on the verge of turning the corner, they fade down the stretch and in overtime at Purdue. Iowa’s inability to shoot the 3 — just 30.3 percent as a team this season — and inconsistent interior play, Aaron White not withstanding, is a big reason for the disappointing results so far.
10. NORTHWESTERN (12-9, 3-5)
The Wildcats have shown plenty of moxie, but as their loss at Nebraska over the weekend showed that even moxie can’t overcome a lack of firepower. Expect a few more upsets, like last week’s win over Minnesota, but expect some serious letdowns from this crew as well, especially on the road.
11. NEBRASKA (11-11, 2-7)
With three of their next four games against top 25 teams, the Cornhuskers may well struggle to build on their recent momentum. But the return of senior big man Brandon Ubel has definitely had a positive effect, making Nebraska more dangerous than you would think, particularly in Lincoln.
12. PENN STATE (8-12, 0-8)
In order to crack the win column in conference play, the Nittany Lions are going to need to be hitting on all cylinders offensively. That hasn’t happened yet though. Upcoming games include Purdue, Nebraska and two with Iowa, marking the best stretch on the schedule to find a win.