College Basketball: Week 11 Big Ten Power Rankings

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Michigan Wolverines Return To Top Of Poll

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Not sure if the Michigan Wolverines are the best team in the Big Ten considering how wild conference play has been up to this point, but for this week, I'm putting the Wolverines back on top.

Michigan has just one loss, a setback to Ohio State, and it's ranked second in the nation this week.

Without question, the Wolverines have the talent to win a Big Ten title, but we have learned during the first month of conference play that it's way too early to say that one team is a lock to win the title.

Michigan State, Indiana and Wisconsin have all earned big wins, as has Minnesota and Ohio State. Heck, even Iowa has a huge win as it knocked off the Badgers.

The reality of the Big Ten is that the conference is balanced. There are a lot of very good teams, but you would be hard pressed to find a team that is head and shoulders above everyone else.

I can point to five or six teams at the moment that are capable of winning the conference championship. What it will come down to is which team can steal the big road wins and win the meaningful games at home down the stretch.

I know Indiana came into the season as the team to beat in the conference and in the country, but it would be foolish for anyone to believe that guarantees the Hoosiers anything. Indiana is certainly good enough to live up to the hype, but in a conference where there is clearly a lot of parity, it's going to take mental toughness and all-out effort on top of talent to prevail in the Big Ten this year.

So take a look at my rankings and feel free to share your thoughts. As always, follow me on Twitter @BLester1993 or send me an email at collegehoopswriter@hotmail.com.

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No. 12 - Penn State Nittany Lions

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It could turn out to be a very long year for Penn State. The Nittany Lions lost to Nebraska over the weekend and they will be hard-pressed to find a win in conference play this year.

Of course, Penn State (8-10, 0-6) will probably surprise someone at some point. It just won't happen too often. The Nittany Lions lack the offensive firepower to compete in the league, averaging just 62.2 points per outing. They play hard but unless they can start scoring more, it will be a long year.

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No. 11 - Nebraska Cornhuskers

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Hey, the good news for Nebraska (10-10, 1-6) is that it finally won a game in the Big Ten, knocking off Penn State, winning 68-64. The bad news is wins going forward are going to be tough to come by.

Nebraska has struggled to score points in conference play, and in a league where the best teams can get it done on both ends of the floor, the Cornhuskers are in a tough spot.

They average 58.2 points per outing, and while they don't have bad balance with players such as Dylan Talley, Ray Gallegos and Brandon Ubel stepping up and Shavon Shields emerging as a decent player, they just don't score enough to consistently win in the Big Ten.

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No. 10 - Northwestern Wildcats

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Northwestern managed to get at least one good win in conference play as it was able to knock off Illinois on the road.

But the Wildcats (11-8, 2-4) have a long way to go if they want to prove they deserve consideration for an NCAA tournament berth.

The problem for Northwestern is that against the top teams in the league, it has struggled, especially on offense, and it will be tough for the Wildcats to do any better than middle of the pack in the league.

Defensively, the Wildcats aren't bad, but from an offensive standpoint, they have to improve big time going forward.

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No. 9 - Illinois Fighting Illini

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Well, it was a good run while it lasted for Illinois. The success the Fighting Illini (15-5, 2-4) had early in the year was great but it was crazy to expect this team to be a top-tier team in the Big Ten in John Groce's first season at the helm.

Three straight losses derailed the momentum of Illinois, and it only got a shred of it back by knocking off Nebraska last week.

Illinois has played hard and Brandon Paul continues to lead the way, but the NCAA tourney may be out of reach for this team. Its focus has to be on finishing strong and hoping it can at least earn an NIT bid.

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No. 8 - Iowa Hawkeyes

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You have to give a lot of credit to Iowa. The Hawkeyes took on Wisconsin and nailed down an impressive 70-66 win. It's a good win for a team that seems to have a lot of promise.

Iowa (13-6, 2-4) has an opportunity to position itself for a winning season in league play. The Hawkeyes seem to be fine offensively, averaging just over 73 points per game, and they have been solid on the defensive end of the floor, with the exception of the 95 points it allowed against Michigan earlier this year.

If Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White can continue to step up consistently, the Hawkeyes will end up having a decent year in the conference.

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No. 7 - Purdue Boilermakers

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I said earlier this year that Purdue would eventually get on track and the Boilermakers can't complain too much after winning three consecutive games.

The Boilermakers (10-8, 3-2) lost a lot of close games early in the season and now they have figured out how to win games and it's made a world of difference.

Terone Johnson continues to play well and D.J. Byrd has shown he can step up on any given night as well. The Boilermakers have also been solid on defense lately, but they will have to be even better on that end of the floor down the stretch if they are going to finish in the upper half of the league standings.

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No. 6 - Ohio State Buckeyes

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You could easily make a case that the Ohio State Buckeyes should be higher up in the rankings this week, but I'm not sure if they are as good as the other top teams in the league. It's too early to tell.

What I will say, though, is that the Buckeyes (14-4, 4-2) are just as capable of winning the conference as anyone else. With Deshaun Thomas still a big-time scorer and Aaron Craft setting the tone on defense, the Buckeyes will be in the mix for the title until the end of the year.

One thing that could benefit them down the stretch is their understanding of what it takes to be a top team. Remember, this Ohio State team went to the Final Four last season.

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No. 5 Minnesota Golden Gophers

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Minnesota can't be ruled out as a contender. The Golden Gophers (15-3, 3-2) have one of the more balanced offenses in the conference and they have been a good defensive team as well.

What I am waiting to see out of Minnesota is a quality win over a big-time opponent. It stumbled against Indiana and Michigan and that makes me wonder if the Golden Gophers are good enough to be the Big Ten champions. Of course, they do have a win over Michigan State, so maybe they do have what it takes.

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No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers

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Last week, I had Wisconsin on top of my power poll, but it did go on the road and beat Indiana. The Badgers deserved the rise to the top.

Even after a tough loss to Michigan State, I still think the Badgers (13-6, 4-2) are good enough to win a conference title, even if they are a contender no one is really talking about.

Bo Ryan is one of the best coaches in the game and the Badgers do a phenomenal job of taking care of the basketball, averaging just 9.1 turnovers per game. When you have those two things going for you, on top of a defense that brings it every night, it's tough to count out the Badgers.

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No. 3 - Indiana Hoosiers

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Some will say Indiana is a little over-hyped. I'll just say the Hoosiers are in a league that is extremely tough to win night in and night out.

Indiana (16-2, 4-1) has lost two games by a total of seven points, so it's worth remembering that it's going to take a tremendous effort to beat the Hoosiers on any given night.

The Hoosiers are still scoring over 84 points per game and their balance and depth is among the best in the nation. Indiana continues to play well defensively, too, and I'm sure you could make a strong case that it belongs at the top of the poll this week. For now, the Hoosiers stay at No. 3, but they could easily be No. 1 next week depending on how they play.

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No. 2 Michigan State Spartans

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Winning at Wisconsin is never easy, but Michigan State found a way to grind out a two-point win over the Badgers Tuesday night and you better believe the Spartans have what it takes to win a conference title.

The Spartans (17-3, 6-1) are a blue-collar team that not only have several scoring options, such as Keith Appling, Gary Harris and Branden Dawson, but defensively, they are as tough to crack as any team in the country. It's why they have rattled off six consecutive wins.

The Spartans have the pieces in place to win a title. They also have one of the best coaches in the business in Tom Izzo. It's why I always say you can never count out the Spartans.

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No. 1 - Michigan Wolverines

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The Michigan Wolverines have returned to the top of my poll. They are also the No. 2 team in the nation this week.

Michigan (17-1, 4-1) bounced back from its close road loss to Ohio State by knocking off Minnesota on the road. That is the sign of a very good basketball team because winning on the road in any conference is difficult to say the least.

The Wolverines are balanced offensively and are shooting 51 percent from the field. And with Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. performing the way they have all season, you better believe Michigan isn't going anywhere in the battle for the Big Ten title.

You have to be impressed with the way that the Wolverines have played defensively as well. They are holding opponents to 59.5 points per game and that kind of effort will be good enough to give you a chance to win games on most nights.

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