1. MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS (20-4, 9-2)
Maybe it’s not fair to simply put the Spartans first based on the potential of a fully healthy lineup, because they haven’t played with one in weeks. But they’re doing enough with what they have — the latest revolving door sees Adreian Payne re-enter and Keith Appling exit — to stay on top, including a narrow loss to Wisconsin where Appling’s absence was acutely felt.
2. MICHIGAN WOLVERINES (17-6, 9-2)
The Wolverines looked like their old conference-contending selves in dismantling Nebraska at home, then hit the road and were destroyed by Iowa. In a way, you knew this was coming for Michigan. It’s come for everybody in the Big Ten this season. But the next three games are Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State, which could leave the Wolverines as king of the hill or middle of the pack.
3. IOWA HAWKEYES (18-6, 7-4)
There was an almost visible chip on the Hawkeyes’ shoulder as they blasted Michigan on Saturday. That’s the toughness and intensity that has been occasionally absent in big games this season. I wouldn’t call Iowa soft, but it’s a team that needs to keep developing a harder edge in order to make a run both at the Big Ten title and deep into the postseason.
4. OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (19-5, 6-5)
Aaron Craft turned his play up a notch in wins over Iowa and Purdue, earning Big Ten Player of the Week honors. Expect that to continue as the senior eyes his final games in a Buckeye uniform, but his teammates will have to follow that lead with greater consistency to sustain success. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have the best scoring defense in the league.
5. WISCONSIN BADGERS (19-5, 6-5)
Two wins and the Badgers are back, maybe. Knocking off Illinois was to be expected, and Wisconsin certainly took advantage of a wounded Michigan State club. But most important is the return of the Wisconsin defense, which has allowed just 60.6 points per game over the last five games after allowing 70-plus in the previous five.
6. MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS (16-8, 5-6)
A potentially crushing triple overtime defeat at Purdue was followed by a critical comeback win over Indiana, leaving Minnesota squarely on the bubble still. The return of veteran guard Dre Hollins portends good things for the Gophers, who still have work to do.
7. NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS (12-12, 5-6)
A home loss to Nebraska last week was a big letdown and a bit of an air out of the balloon, but the Wildcats had been winning close games at a rate that just couldn’t be sustained. Still, Northwestern is a threat to beat almost anybody anywhere at any time, a notion that will be well-tested this week in East Lansing.
8. INDIANA HOOSIERS (14-9, 4-6)
The inability to put together back to back successes continues to plague the Hoosiers, who haven’t won consecutive games since Jan. 11 and 14 against Penn State and Wisconsin. That’s going to have to change if Indiana wants to make a run at an NCAA Tournament berth with just eight games remaining. Four of those are on the road, where IU has won just once all season.
9. NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS (12-10, 4-6)
Despite being dismanted in Ann Arbor, it was still a breakthrough week for the Cornhuskers after winning at Northwestern, their first Big Ten road win of the season. Terran Petteway continues to make a case for himself as being among the league’s elite talents as the fourth-leading scorer in the conference and is playing with a confidence that his teammates share.
10. PURDUE BOILERMAKERS (14-10, 4-7)
A triple overtime win against Minnesota provided a brief respite from the continuing struggles in Boilermaker land, which re-emerged with a loss at Ohio State over the weekend. Five losses in six games have Purdue thinking about just trying to make the NIT instead of dreaming about the NCAA. Indiana comes to town this Saturday in what could be a season-defining game.
12. ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI (14-10, 3-8)
Illinois coach John Groce seems to have gone all-in with the youth movement, and it paid off with a win on the road against Penn State Sunday. The veterans aren’t merely forgotten, but the Illini’s fortunes now ride with rookies Kendrick Nunn, Malcolm Hill, Austin Colbert, Maverick Morgan and Jaylen Tate.
12. PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS (12-12, 3-8)
Outclassed at Michigan State, then a narrow home loss to Illinois takes some of the wind out of the Nittany Lions’ sails. They go to Indiana, then host Iowa this week as keeping their heads up above .500 becomes increasingly difficult. D.J. Newbill and Tim Frazier need teammates to step up in order to stop the slide.