College Basketball: Week 15 Big Ten Power Rankings
Indiana Hoosiers Still On Top
As we head toward the end of February, the one thing we are learning is that the Indiana Hoosiers are proving that they are indeed the team to beat in the Big Ten.
The Hoosiers came through with an impressive road win over Michigan State on Tuesday night and they are all alone in first place in the conference. The title is Indiana's to lose, but if it keeps playing the way it has as of late, it won't have to worry about not winning the championship.
The separation in the conference continues from the top half and the bottom half. You can throw Michigan State, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State in the mix of potential conference tournament contenders. All four teams have shown they have the ability to win big games, but whether or not they make a run at the Big Ten tourney title depends on if they can play their best at the right time.
Minnesota continues to be the most disappointing team in the league and I'm not sure if the Golden Gophers have the confidence and ability to get themselves back on track. It's to the point where Minnesota is going to be lucky to get into the NCAA tournament, let alone make some noise in the postseason.
I'm looking forward to seeing how these final few weeks play out in the conference. I think as time rolls on, you will continue to see separation between the top and bottom of the league and have a pretty good idea of which teams are going to have a chance to make a run at the conference tournament title.
Enjoy the rankings this week and feel free to follow me on Twitter @BLester1993 or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
No. 12 - Penn State Nittany Lions
It continues to be a tough road to travel on for Penn State. The Nittany Lions (8-17, 0-13) are still winless in the conference, although they have competed a lot harder lately.
Penn State lost a two-point game to Iowa and only lost by eight to Michigan. Although both games are still losses at the end of the day, the Nittany Lions can build on those experiences and perhaps win a game or two before it's all said and done this season.
No. 11 - Nebraska Cornhuskers
Nebraska has lost its last two and probably won't be able to count on too many more wins this season. The Cornhuskers (12-14, 3-10) just aren't scoring enough to be more successful.
Nebraska is averaging 58.8 points per game and is shooting only 40.7 percent from the field. Dylan Talley continues to lead the team in scoring at 13.8 points per game, but unless Nebraska, which has defended well at times, can step it up a notch or two on offense, they won't have a lot of success going forward.
No. 10 - Northwestern Wildcats
Northwestern has stumbled in its last three games and unless the Wildcats (13-13, 4-9) can find a way to win the conference tournament, they are going to have to wait at least one more year for an NCAA berth.
The Wildcats just aren't doing enough offensively to win more games, although they did give Ohio State all it could handle in Columbus. Still, even in that loss they only managed 59 points.
Northwestern has been a decent defensive team, but unless it can bring up its 41.1 percent shooting percentage, success will be tough to come by for the Wildcats for the remainder of the year.
No. 9 - Purdue Boilermakers
It's a down year for Purdue, which has lost its last three games and has struggled to slow down the opposition in all three games.
The Boilermakers (12-14, 5-8) have given up 78 or more in their last three games and have managed to score more than 60 only once. That is not a recipe for success in the Big Ten.
I really thought Purdue would be a little bit better at this point, but unless it can get back on track offensively and shoot better than 41.3 percent from the floor, not much will change for the Boilermakers the rest of the way.
No. 8 - Minnesota Golden Gophers
This wasn't how the season was supposed to go down for Minnesota. The Golden Gophers entered the year as a Big Ten contender but have turned out to be a pretender.
The Golden Gophers (18-8, 6-7) have lost three of four and are fading fast. Pressure is rising on Tubby Smith and something has to change in a hurry for Minnesota to avoid a train wreck end to its season.
In their last five games, the Golden Gophers have scored more than 60 only once. It's a stunning trend for a team with so many weapons. Andre Hollins has to be the one that takes the lead and hope that others follow it if Minnesota is going to be capable of success in the postseason.
No. 7 - Iowa Hawkeyes
Iowa has been up-and-down this year, but lately the Hawkeyes (17-9, 6-7) are on the up swing, having won three consecutive games.
Their dominant win over Minnesota was impressive and if the Hawkeyes can build on that 72-51 win, they could be dangerous come conference tournament time.
Aaron White and Roy Devyn Marble both scored 15 points in the win and if those two can continue to step up in big moments, the Hawkeyes are going to be in good shape.
Iowa is averaging just over 72 points per outing and allowing a little over 63 per game. Without question, it has what it takes to be a tough team to deal with if it plays up to its potential.
No. 6 - Illinois Fighting Illini
Illinois has put together four consecutive wins, a streak that began with the surprising win over Indiana, and the Fighting Illini (19-8, 6-7) have positioned themselves to finish strong and make the NCAA tourney.
One of the keys to their success lately is the play of D.J. Richardson. He has become a very solid secondary scorer, pouring in 18 or more in three of the last four games. If Richardson maintains his current high level of play and Brandon Paul continues to be the leader that he has been all season, Illinois will be in good shape heading into the postseason.
No. 5 - Ohio State Buckeyes
I'm not sure what to think of Ohio State. The Buckeyes (18-7, 8-5) were blasted by Wisconsin on the road Sunday and just didn't seem to bring their usual intense effort.
It's clear Ohio State is not an explosive offensive team. Deshaun Thomas needs to be on top of his game night in and night out for the Buckeyes to thrive.
But the Buckeyes can control effort and intensity on defense, and if they can bring those two intangibles to the gym every night, they will be fine. If not, it's going to be a much shorter season than expected for one of the top programs in the conference and country.
No. 4 - Michigan Wolverines
Michigan has dropped two of its last three games, but the Wolverines certainly can't be counted out.
The Wolverines (22-4, 9-4) have one of the most talented casts of offensive players in the conference and need to get back to being an explosive team on offense and aggressive on defense.
Trey Burke, who is averaging 18.6 points per game, needs to continue to play at a high level as the the Wolverines will go as far as he can take them. The Wolverines also need to take their defensive play up a notch. They allowed 75 against Michigan State on the road. Michigan has to be better than that, especially if it wants to make a run for the national championship in March.
No. 3 - Wisconsin Badgers
Wisconsin looked really impressive in its win over Ohio State on Sunday, and there is no question that the Badgers (18-8, 9-4) are one of the top three or four teams in the league.
The Badgers have won four of five and while only the Ohio State game was decided by more than 10, it's clear Wisconsin knows how to get the job done with great defense.
The Badgers are giving up only 56.2 points per outing and teams are shooting 39.8 percent from the floor against them. As long as Wisconsin can play at a high level on the defensive end of the floor, it's going to have a shot at being a force to be reckoned with come tournament time.
No. 2 - Michigan State Spartans
Even tough Michigan State's five-game win streak came to an end in a tough loss to Indiana on Tuesday night, I still think the Spartans are the second-best team in the conference.
Tom Izzo has his team playing well and Michigan State (22-5, 11-3) is one of those hard-nosed teams that really grinds on the defensive end of the floor. The Spartans are allowing only 59.1 points per outing and are holding opponents to 38.8 percent shooting from the field. If Michigan State continues to play defense as well as it has lately, it won't lose too often, if at all, the rest of the way in the regular season.
No. 1 - Indiana Hoosiers
Indiana has control of its own destiny at this point, and with the way the Hoosiers have played most of the season, they should be able to maintain control of their destiny.
Cody Zeller continues to play like a national player of the year candidate, but it is the emergence of Victor Oladipo as a star that has the Hoosiers (24-3, 12-2) on the fast track to a Big Ten title.
Oladipo scored 19 against the Spartans and is averaging over 14 points per game. He is a tough matchup for teams and the impact he has on games cannot be overlooked.
Indiana could very well win the regular season and conference tournament titles, but regardless of what happens in the conference, the Hoosiers are no doubt good enough to make a run at the national title.