1. INDIANA (20-2, 8-1)
We’ve got a new No. 1 nationally and in the Big Ten this week. The Hoosiers pounded rival Purdue into submission last week and followed that up with what was nearly a wire-to-wire win over previous No. 1 Michigan. Indiana’s balance on both offense and defense puts them in the conference driver’s seat heading into a two-game road trip this week.
2. MICHIGAN (20-2, 7-2)
The Wolverines’ youth was exposed a bit in the loss at Assembly Hall, and it’s fair to say they miss starting center Jordan Morgan, too. He played just two minutes against IU. But Michigan should see a template for success in the Hoosiers, finding a balance around Trey Burke is the ticket back to the top, which still isn’t far away.
3. MICHIGAN STATE (18-4, 7-2)
This past weekend was a well-timed bye for the battered and bruised Spartans, with Gary Harris (back spasms) and Travis Trice (head) the latest casualties in last week’s win over Illinois. MSU hasn’t done anything the easy way this season and don’t expect that to change this week against Minnesota and at Purdue. Then there’s that in-state rival on the horizon next week.
4. OHIO STATE (17-4, 7-2)
The Buckeyes just keep plugging along, continuing to ride a stingy defense that has held seven straight opponents to 64 points or less. This will week will test that defense though, with a trip to Michigan followed by a return home for Indiana — the Big Ten’s two top scoring teams. Just getting a split would be an impressive feat and resume enhancer.
5. WISCONSIN (15-7, 6-3)
What can you say about the Badgers that hasn’t already been said? They are low on style points but get the job done more often than not. After a tough loss to Ohio State, they bounced back with a win at Illinois. Now they get a rematch with Iowa, which handed Wisconsin its first Big Ten loss two weeks ago. Frank Kaminsky’s return could be a spark.
6. MINNESOTA (17-5, 5-4)
Late theatrics salvaged a win over Iowa Sunday, which came on the heels of a solid win against Nebraska. But the homestand is over, and a trip to East Lansing may be the Gophers’ last chance if they’re holding out any hope of contending for the conference crown. Sweeping the Spartans won’t be easy, but would be telling about Minnesota’s mindset.
7. PURDUE (11-11, 4-5)
From here on down, the Big Ten is a quagmire of inconsistency and disappointment. The Boilers remain at the top of the heap simply because no one was really worthy of moving up. As quickly as Purdue seemed like a sleeper on the rise, two lousy performances against IU and Northwestern brought that talk to a halt.
8. NORTHWESTERN (13-10, 4-6)
The good Wildcats resurfaced in Saturday’s roasting of Purdue, but one good performance every 10 days only goes so far. Like Iowa, Northwestern sees the schedule getting a little easier, but overcoming its own inconsistency will be just as tough as beating those Big Ten brethren.
9. ILLINOIS (15-8, 2-7)
If the Illini’s fast start was overachieving, then the six losses in the last seven games are the definition of underachieving. I think the truth regarding Illinois’ talent lies somewhere in the middle, but right now they lack confidence. There’s still time, and the schedule will lighten up, but they could use a win or two against this week’s opponents — Indiana and Minnesota.
10. IOWA (14-8, 3-6)
The Hawkeyes got off the schneid with a win over Penn State, but that almost doesn’t count at this point. Then they let a late lead slip away at Minnesota Sunday, reminiscent of last week’s loss at Purdue. With only two ranked foes in the final nine games, Iowa could still make eye, but it’s hard to have faith at this point.
11. NEBRASKA (11-12, 2-8)
The most winnable upcoming game for the Cornhuskers is this Saturday, when the Nittany Lions visit Lincoln. Nebraska already owns one win over the conference cellar dwellers and better take advantage of the opportunity for another, because Indiana and Michigan State are waiting with a dose of harsh reality.
12. PENN STATE (8-13, 0-9)
First comes slumping Purdue, so we’ll see what the Nittany Lions have at home. Then, while Nebraska may see a winnable game on the schedule, so do the Lions, who squandered chances against the Cornhuskers two weeks ago. This is a shot at redemption, and perhaps the last, best chance to get in the win column.