The days are growing fewer and fewer until the Big Ten men's basketball tournament gets underway. Now is as good of a time as any to take a snapshot of the conference and to evaluate which teams fall where in the grand scheme of things. Let's start at the top and work our way down.
1. Michigan State (23-5, 12-3 Big Ten)
Tom Izzo has the Spartans firing on all cylinders at exactly the right time. Not only is Michigan State ranked second in Ratings Percentage Index, but it is also the only team that has beaten Ohio State at the Schottenstein Center. After back-to-back losses to North Carolina and Duke to open the season, the Spartans rattled off 15 straight wins and now take a six-game winning streak into the weekend contest against Nebraska. The team's only questionable blemish is a road loss to Northwestern.
2. Ohio State (23-5, 11-4 Big Ten)
Of course, the Buckeyes are still prime contenders for a Big Ten title and are positioned well heading down the stretch. Ohio State has demonstrated that any number of players can step up and contribute points and rebounds, from Jared Sullinger to Aaron Craft and William Buford. The main concern for the Buckeyes is their inability to win the big game on the road. Once tournament time comes around, there will not be any more home court advantage for Ohio State, even if the Columbus faithful travel with the team. The home loss to Michigan State is not as disturbing as road losses to four of the five ranked Big Ten opponents the Buckeyes have visited. They have a shot at redemption in the season finale against Michigan State March 4.
3. Michigan (21-7, 11-4 Big Ten)
The arch-rival Wolverines have struggled in similar ways that the Buckeyes have struggled. Road losses have kept Michigan in the middle of the top 25 inside of floating to the top. The home loss to Duke is not a very large blemish, but the dropped road game against Iowa is more troubling. But Michigan has won its last four contests and will not play any ranked foes until tournament time.
4. Indiana (21-7, 8-7 Big Ten)
The Hoosiers started the year off extremely well before fading lately. Home wins against Kentucky, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Michigan showed that Indiana is the real deal, but it is also a team subject to flaws. Take, for example, the home loss to Minnesota that began the Hoosiers' downward spiral. They have not been as impressive down the stretch, but they sure know how to put points on the board.
5. Wisconsin (20-7, 9-5 Big Ten)
The Badgers might have a better conference record than the Hoosiers, but their offensive is almost non-existent. Wisconsin's defense is strong enough to keep it in almost any contest, but the offense has to come through in order to win in the postseason. And the fact that the Badgers have lost three home games to ranked opponents is not too comforting either.
6. Purdue (18-10, 8-7 Big Ten)
There really is nothing that stands out about the Boilermakers. They have won just about every game they were supposed to and lost the rest. Perhaps their signature win is a road victory at Illinois. A quality win, but nothing noteworthy in this league.
7. Northwestern (16-11, 6-9 Big Ten)
The Wildcats have the Big Ten's best scorer in John Shurna, but the fireworks pretty much end there. Northwestern is 325th in Division I in rebounding, which does not help matters, either. A hoem win against then-No. 7 Michigan State will define the Wildcats season, because they will not do much once the tournament begins.
8. Iowa (14-13, 6-8 Big Ten)
All of the Hawkeyes' non-conference losses came against good opponents, but Iowa did not compete well in any of them. Add in five losses during a six-game stretch in Big Ten play, and it's safe to say Iowa has little to look forward to in March.
9. Minnesota (17-11, 5-10 Big Ten)
The rather cheesy non-conference schedule did not prepare the Golden Gophers for the rigor of Big Ten competition. A road win at Indiana makes one wonder what this team could have been like if it had played some good teams early on the schedule.
10. Illinois (16-12, 5-10 Big Ten)
The Fighting Illini ran out of steam around Martin Luther King Jr. Day. A road loss to Penn State began a stretch of nine losses in 10 games, including six straight defeats. Ironically, the lone win came against Michigan State. Go figure.
11. Nebraska (12-14, 4-11 Big Ten)
The Cornhuskers had an unfair welcoming party to the conference by opening the schedule against Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State. Since then, things haven't gotten much better.
12. Penn State (12-16, 4-11 Big Ten)
Quite frankly, the Nittany Lions can't shoot and can't pass. That makes for an ugly combination … and the second-worst attendance in the conference. Only Northwestern, a private school on the edge of Chicago Bulls territory, draws fewer fans than this Penn State squad.
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