1. WISCONSIN BADGERS (15-0, 2-0)
Badgers are being Badgers, and that means racking up the wins regardless of style points. No reason to think that changes any time soon, as their next real test comes against Ohio State on Feb. 1. In addition to the veterans, freshman Nigel Hayes is coming on strong, winning the most recent Big Ten Freshman of the Week award.
2. MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS (14-1, 3-0)
It’s taken most of the season for the Spartans to find their stride, but they are as healthy as they’ve been since the season opener and are now playing better. Depth continues to be an issue, but the trio of Adreian Payne, Gary Harris and Keith Appling are a matchup nightmare.
3. OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (15-1, 2-1)
Buckeyes are the No. 1 team in the Big Ten in scoring defense and second in field goal percentage defense, and that’s their meal ticket. A solid nine-man rotation provides a worthy supporting cast for Aaron Craft, LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith. Despite the perfect mark, OSU’s best basketball may still lie ahead.
4. IOWA HAWKEYES (12-3, 1-1)
The Hawkeyes, and particularly the temper of coach Fran McCaffery, let a signature win get away in Madison over the weekend. Finding a way to stay composed and close out tight games is all that stands between Iowa and the breakout season that the school has been building toward.
5. MICHIGAN WOLVERINES (10-4, 2-0)
Wolverines are still a work in progress, not only from last year’s losses, but now the absence of Mitch McGary due to likely season-ending back surgery. So far, so good in league play with wins over Minnesota and Northwestern. Upcoming games with Nebraska and Penn State provide a chance to build momentum.
6. ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI (13-2, 2-0)
Illini are a good team, but just inconsistent enough to make me hesitant to rank them higher. Guard Rayvonte Rice is the real deal, and junior point guard Tracy Abrams is playing the best basketball of his career. The reliability of the players around them will determine just how far this team can go.
7. MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS (12-3, 1-1)
Gophers have been better than expected in Richard Pitino’s first season at the helm. They have a strange blend of athletic guards with newcomer Deandre Mathieu and veterans Andre and Austin Hollins to go with stodgy posts like Elliott Eliason and Maurice Walker. But it’s working more often than not for now.
8. PURDUE BOILERMAKERS (10-5, 0-2)
Close but no cigar for the Boilermakers to start the Big Ten campaign, but there are a number of positive signs. A.J. Hammons remains a bit up and down, but when he’s good, so is Purdue. The guard play is significantly better overall, which should start to pay off soon.
9. INDIANA HOOSIERS (10-5, 0-2)
After giving one away at Illinois, the Hoosiers were just no match for the Spartans last week. Everybody sees the potential in this Indiana team, but until it actually becomes reality, the struggles will continue. A win at Penn State Saturday is almost a must and would go a long way to making strides in the right direction.
10. PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS (9-6, 0-2)
Nittany Lions have been really good in the first half of each of their first two conference games, but have been blown out in the second half. It would seem they are on the verge of putting it all together, but are also struggling with the mental strength to overcome adversity when opponents make a run.
11. NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS (8-6, 0-2)
Currently riding a three-game losing streak, the Cornhuskers are certainly struggling, particularly on offense where they rank 244th in the nation in points per game. Nebraska needs something positive to happen soon before the season becomes a freefall.
12. NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS (7-8, 0-2)
Losses by 27 and 23 points in the first two conference games have the Wildcats off to a rough start. The next three games are Iowa, Illinois and Michigan State, so expect things to get worse before they get better in Chris Collins’ first year as head coach.
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