1. INDIANA (24-3, 12-2)
The more things change, the more they stay the same for the Hoosiers. A loss at Michigan State last week wouldn’t have really changed the way anybody felt about IU, but the Spartans would’ve had a case for the top spot. Instead, Indiana’s win left little doubt about which team belongs at No. 1 and the Big Ten title to prove it is in the Hoosiers’ sites.
2. MICHIGAN STATE (22-6, 11-4)
It was a tough week for the Spartans, who went from having a chance to control their own destiny to all but eliminated from conference title contention. More troubling is the steady decline by point guard Keith Appling, whose absentee ways are leaving a leadership vacuum for MSU, one that it seems only freshman Gary Harris is attempting to fill.
3. MICHIGAN (23-4, 10-4)
Don’t sleep on the Wolverines, who seem to be finding their collective second wind. The return of big man Jordan Morgan is a big part of that, as evidenced by the plus-25 margin when he was on the floor against Illinois on Sunday. If Indiana slips up, Michigan could well take advantage of hosting the regular-season finale against the Hoosiers.
4. WISCONSIN (19-8, 10-4)
With Nebraska, Purdue and Penn State making up three-quarters of the Badgers’ remaining schedule, they could well be a player in the outcome of the conference race with a win over the lone ranked team left on the docket, Michigan State. That game could be the difference between a No. 2 seed and No. 5 seed in the Big Ten tourney for Wisconsin, too.
5. OHIO STATE (20-7, 10-5)
The weekend’s win over Michigan State was a real resume builder for the Buckeyes, improving them to 4-6 against RPI top 25 teams. Although it will be difficult for Ohio State to escape the four-five matchup in the Big Ten Tourney, they could earn a comparable NCAA seed, especially with a road win at Indiana next week. OSU is just 3-5 on the road this season.
6. ILLINOIS (20-9, 7-8)
Michigan finally put a stop to the Illini’s five-game winning streak on Sunday, but barring another extended slump down the stretch, Illinois has successfully escaped the quagmire in which it was once stuck. The Illini cap their bye week by hosting Nebraska, which should be a momentum-builder entering the final week of the regular season.
7. MINNESOTA (18-9, 6-8)
The Gophers have an NCAA Tournament-quality resume littered with quality opponents and enough quality wins to catch the eye. But if the last 10 games are critical in the committee’s eyes, Minnesota is in trouble. With eight losses in the last 11 games, beating Indiana, the lone quality opponent remaining, is almost a must.
8. IOWA (17-10, 6-8)
Whatever good will and momentum the Hawkeyes had with a three-game winning streak was officially flushed down proverbial toilet with a loss at Nebraska. This just hasn’t been the breakout year Iowa had hoped for, with more upset losses than wins making a return trip to the NIT virtually assured now.
9. PURDUE (13-14, 6-8)
The Boilermakers finally stopped the bleeding with a bloodletting of Northwestern on Sunday. It was a good reminder of the potential that Purdue possesses for the future, although the rest of the schedule will make building momentum difficult with games at Iowa and Wisconsin, followed by home tilts with Michigan and Minnesota.
10. NEBRASKA (13-14, 4-10)
Strange as it may seem to say, the Cornhuskers have maximized their potential in securing four Big Ten victories this season, the latest a 64-60 surprise of visiting Iowa in Lincoln, which is fast becoming one of the conference’s least favorite road trips. With a slight uptick in talent, Nebraska could be a regular spoiler in the league for years to come.
11. NORTHWESTERN (13-15, 4-11)
The latest injury to Jared Swopshire seems to be the straw that broke the camel’s back as far as the Wildcats are concerned. Northwestern has lost five straight overall, each by double digits, and his averaging less than 42 points per game in the last three. And there are still games with Ohio State and Michigan State to go.
12. PENN STATE (8-18, 0-14)
Well, the one thing you can’t say about the Nittany Lions is that they don’t have fight. In a pair of games where they had no business even coming close to winning, Penn State pushed Michigan and Illinois to the final minutes on the road. Taking that fight and experience into next season will be the key to not repeating this miserable experience.