College Basketball: Week 7 Big Ten Power Rankings
Michigan Wolverines Remain Top Team In Big Ten
Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas, but now it's time to get back to ranking the teams in the Big Ten.
The final weekend of play before Christmas ended up forcing a couple of changes in the upper half of my rankings. Ohio State came up short against Kansas at home because it couldn't shoot the basketball to save its life and while I still think the Buckeyes are a contender in the conference, a loss at home to a fellow national power is reason enough to lower Ohio State in my poll.
Illinois had a chance to perhaps rise into the top three, but against Missouri, the 3-point shot didn't work in its favor and it came up a little short in a rivalry game against the Tigers.
For the Fighting Illini, who have been one of the feel-good stories of the early season, the game against Missouri was a huge test for them, and for now, Illinois isn't quite there yet as a force to be reckoned with. Still, Illinois should recover from the loss and be in the upper half of the conference all season.
It was a no-brainer to leave Michigan at the top. The Wolverines have been consistent at winning and appear to be a team that has all of the pieces in place to win a conference title.
Indiana still has a lot of potential as well and the Hoosiers are in no way being ruled out as a contender. It's just that, at the moment, Michigan hasn't lost and it deserves to be ranked at the top.
We all knew coming into this season that the Big Ten was going to be one of the toughest conferences in the nation, and while sometimes that hype is undeserved, in this case the Big Ten has lived up to it. My guess is the rankings are going to change quite a bit from week to week once conference play begins.
So take a look at my rankings and feel free to share your thoughts. You can follow me on Twitter @BLester1993 or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
No. 12 - Purdue Boilermakers
Purdue is the only team in the conference without a winning record. The Boilermakers are still searching for consistency as they gear up for Big Ten play, and the game against William and Mary could go a long way in helping them find it. It's a game they need to win.
If Purdue (5-6) can play more consistent and get a big lift from Terone Johnson night in and night out, it will have a chance to be a decent team in the league. Only time will tell.
No. 11 - Penn State Nittany Lions
Behind three consecutive wins, Penn State (6-4) has put itself above the .500 mark, which isn't bad considering it has been playing without its best player, Tim Frazier, most of the season.
The Nittany Lions knocked off New Hampshire 72-45 on Dec. 23 and Jermaine Marshall came through with 15 points in the victory.
Marshall is averaging 15.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game, and it's no secret that for Penn State to be competitive in the Big Ten, Marshall needs a big year. But others will have to step up as well because a scoring average of 63.7 points per outing isn't going to cut it for Penn State in conference play.
No. 10 - Nebraska Cornhuskers
Nebraska has shown some promise this season, but a 68-52 loss on the road to UTEP makes you wonder just how competitive the Cornhuskers are going to be in league play this season.
To have any kind of success in any league, a team has to be able to steal a few wins on the road, and that could be a problem for Nebraska (8-3), which is just 1-2 away from home.
Ray Gallegos has played well. He scored 22 against UTEP and is clicking for 13.3 points per outing. Nebraska will need him to perform at a high level all year.
The Cornhuskers still need to be more productive as a team on offense as they average only 61.2 points per outing. Unless that average rises significantly, it's probably going to be a long year for Nebraska.
No. 9 - Northwestern Wildcats
After a 70-68 loss to Stanford, the Wildcats (8-4) bounced back with a 63-42 beat down of Brown.
But a lot of questions still remain about Northwestern, which has yet to consistently show it can be a team worthy of earning a trip to the NCAA tournament for the first time ever.
I like the way David Sobolewski has played as of late. He has led the Wildcats in scoring in three of the last four games, dropping in 14 against Brown, and his emergence as a consistent scoring threat will give Northwestern a chance to be in every game it plays.
If he begins to struggle, though, or if he doesn't get enough help, there is no way the Wildcats are going to be an NCAA tourney contender. It's going to be interesting watching this team going forward.
No. 8 - Wisconsin Badgers
Wisconsin waxed Wisconsin-Milwaukee 74-53 in its last game and has won four of its last six.
The interesting thing to note during the stretch is that the Badgers (8-4) have played solid defense. Even in the losses to Virginia and Marquette, neither opponent scored more than 60.
The Badgers are going to be tough defensively night in and night out. The key for them is to find enough offense to pull out wins in the knock-down, drag-out fights they tend to force opponents to play.
Ryan Evans will play a role in making sure that happens. He is averaging 11.3 points per outing and will be expected to be one of the Badgers' top scorers all season.
No. 7 - Iowa Hawkeyes
Iowa has been impressive offensively during its six-game win streak, scoring 80 or more in each game, and the Hawkeyes (11-2) should be poised to carry that over into conference play.
Roy Devyn Marble has played up to the level many expected him to this season as he is clicking for 15.7 points per outing. Marble has knocked down 20 treys as well and also stepped up on defense with 12 steals.
Aaron White has also played well, averaging 13.6 points per game, and if he and Marble can maintain their consistency, the Hawkeyes are going to have a shot to be one of the better teams in the Big Ten.
No. 6 - Illinois Fighting Illini
It doesn't surprise that Illinois lost to Missouri in the Braggin' Rights game over the weekend. The Fighting Illini were facing one of their toughest tests of the season, and while they had opportunities to win, they reminded us that it's way too soon to consider this team a Big Ten contender.
Illinois (12-1) still has a good team, though, and it shouldn't fall into the same pit it did last year where it flat out collapsed after a promising start.
John Groce has his team playing hard and that will continue. In the end, for the Fighting Illini to be one of the better teams in the league, Brandon Paul has to play at a high level and the Illini have to play hard on the defensive end of the floor.
No. 5 - Michigan State Spartans
If there is one thing you can never do in college basketball, it's count out the Michigan State Spartans as contenders for the Big Ten title.
Tom Izzo is one of the best coaches in the business and his Spartans (11-2) have been on a roll lately, winning their last six games, including a 67-56 victory over Texas.
Gary Harris and Keith Appling have been vital to the success of Michigan State, but Derrick Nix could be on the verge of becoming a big-time scorer for the Spartans. He is only averaging 8.8 points per outing, but he poured in 25 against the Longhorns. If performance becomes a sign of things to come, Michigan State is going to be in the Big Ten title picture this season.
No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State had already lost to one national power this season, falling to Duke on the road last month. Its game against Kansas was a shot at redemption, but once again, the Buckeyes (9-2) came up short in a big-time game.
It was surprising to see the Buckeyes struggle so badly shooting the ball and that is something they will need to correct if they are going to be in the mix for a Big Ten championship.
Ohio State has too much talent to let this loss define its season. Deshaun Thomas is doing his part to pace the Buckeyes, but players like Lenzelle Smith Jr., LaQuinton Ross, Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott need to provide some consistent help with scoring if the Buckeyes are going to play up to their potential in the conference. Scott showed a lot of promise in the Kansas game and perhaps he can build on the effort going forward because the Buckeyes need someone else to rise to the occasion to be a contender. Thomas can't do it by himself.
No. 3 Minnesota Golden Gophers
The streak is at eight for Minnesota, which as been taking care of business since its loss to Duke last month. The Golden Gophers (12-1) deserve to move up in the poll this week and there is no question that they are a legit contender for the conference title.
Tubby Smith has this team playing hard on defense as the Golden Gophers are allowing only 59.5 points per outing. Defense wins games and Minnesota understands that as well as anyone in the conference.
The balance this team has shown has been equally impressive. Rodney Williams. Andre Hollins, Austin Hollins and Joe Coleman are all averaging 10 or more points per game Trevor Mbakwe is capable of a big game on any given night.
So while Indiana and Michigan are the favorites in the conference, don't rule out Minnesota.
No. 2 - Indiana Hoosiers
Indiana has played angry since its overtime loss to Butler, waxing Mount St. Mary's and Florida Atlantic by 30-plus points.
The loss to the Bulldogs has lit a fire under the Hoosiers (11-1) and I expect them to be at their best heading into conference play. Teams will need to bring their A-plus game to beat them.
Cody Zeller leads the team in scoring at 16.4 points per outing and if he maintains his current rate of success, the Hoosiers are going to be fine. The Hoosiers have, perhaps, the most balanced attack in the conference as Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford, Will Sheehey and Jordan Hulls are all averaging 11 or more points per outing.
Defensively, the Hoosiers are holding opponents to under 60 a game. All of the pieces are in place for them to win the Big Ten title. All that remains to be seen is if they can live up to the hype.
No. 1 Michigan Wolverines
At the beginning of the season, I question how good Michigan could be, but there is little doubt now that the Wolverines are hands down one of the top teams in the conference and in the country.
Michigan (12-0) has raced out to an unbeaten start and only three of its wins haven't been by more than 10 points. The Wolverines are the only undefeated team left in the conference.
Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III have all been phenomenal, and like Indiana and Minnesota, the Wolverines have a lot of balance within their offense.
The Wolverines force teams to pick their poison and they also get after it on defense, limiting opponents to 57.2 points per outing.
Michigan is going to lose at some point. No one is going to run the table in the conference. But the Wolverines will be a force to be reckoned with all season and it would not surprise me at all if they won the conference championship.