It's really frustrating to put this list together yesterday, open up my rss reader this morning and see a link to Brent Yarina posting the exact same order on his B1G power poll. On the other hand, I went back over my (well, our) picks, and it's all pretty intuitive. We are at a point in the season where there's not a lot of controversy to be had. It's gotten pretty easy to sort these teams out now, with Wisconsin's victory over Minnesota and Purdue OT win over Iowa, etc. Northwestern's resurgence might've caused some difficulty until they went out and lost by 15 at Nebraska. Particularly outstanding in the rankings, Michigan has looked so dominant that they're now evidently favored in every game, including Saturday's game at Indiana. The Only Colors ran a numbers scenario that has the Wolverines favored to take the title outright in 69% of the time, with Indiana trailing with a 7.9% mark. Now, this model had Minnesota as the favorite two weeks ago, but only at a 33.5% rate, which had Michigan just behind them at 19.3% and Indiana third at 13.4%. It gets worse when they integrate margin of victory, as Michigan's chances of an outright title rise to 79.9%, and Indiana's fall to 6.3%, but IU is the only other team with a statistically significant chance of nabbing the outright regular season conference title. Michigan looks very, very good right now, befitting the profile of the nation's top team.
1. Michigan (19-1 / 6-1) W v. Purdue 68-53, W @ Illinois 74-60
In a key road game at Illinois, the Wolverines once demonstrated that they have "it." They've got a killer instinct, a willingness to put their foot on the throat of an opponent through a defensive effort that doesn't let up combined with a stone-cold offensive execution. They're far and away the best team in the conference due to their unbelievable 1.2 points per possession mark on offense. The defense is good, but not otherworldly. I think it's the consistency of effort and execution that has me most impressed, and I think that's what is carrying over in their margin of victory. Check this BSD post for the stats and a nice tempo-free ariel. The biggest game of the year to date for Michigan will be their visit to Assembly Hall, so expect them to come out strong. It should be a great game on Saturday night.
2. Indiana (18-2 / 6-1) W v. PSU 72-49, W v. Michigan State 75-70
I was very impressed with the way that Indiana looked fresh down the stretch against the Spartans. It's nice to see the bench starting to produce a little bit again, and having Sheehey to provide some scoring punch off the bench will hopefully take some pressure off of Ferrell to feel like he has to shoot 8-9 times a game. Speaking of Ferrell, I do think one of the key plays of the entire game against Michigan State didn't even show up in the box score. With the 5:17 left and the Hoosiers clinging to 68-65 lead, Ferrell took the ball up the floor against three Spartans, and spotted Oladipo making a back cut. Yogi threaded the needle on a pretty amazing bounce pass that had Victor all alone for a sure dunk, but to stop it, Keith Appling had to commit his fifth foul. Appling is the guy, even if he's had a bad night, that Izzo has relied on to make clutch plays down the stretch this year. Sure enough, MSU only had two field goals down the stretch, one of which was a fast-break dunk. Referring back to the tempo-free stats that BSD ran, the Hoosier defense is now actually second only to Wisconsin and Ohio State on a per-possession basis. I'm taking this as good news for Hoosier post-season hopes.
3. Michigan State (17-4 / 6-2) W @ Wisconsin 49-47, L @ Indiana 70-75
I mentioned last week somewhere about how many future professionals Izzo has on this team, and every week someone else looks NBA ready. I thought Gary Harris was being overlooked for B1G FOY before the IU game, and now I think I was underestimating him. Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix had pretty great games, and Brandon Dawson had some memorable moments, too. One of the problems that may keep MSU out of the Final Four is that the Sparties just don't have a lot of depth. With Valentine hitting a freshman wall, and none of the bench bigs really stepping up, the only guy Izzo has to turn to off the bench right now is Travis Trice, who's been a mixed bag this season. Still, I've got to think MSU will have a good postseason run with this starting five.
4. Ohio State (15-4 / 5-2) W vs. Iowa 72-63, W @ PSU 65-51
The Buckeyes avoided the upset bug last week, handling two inferior foes rather well. Still, Matta's got to be concerned that his guys basically handed the ball to Iowa for the last 10 minutes of the game and said "see if you can make up a 20-point deficit. Go ahead." You knew Michigan was going to come back in Columbus, but Iowa trimming the lead to four with 1:30 left? Not great. Although they own the conference's only victory over Michigan, if the Buckeyes want to stay in the conference race, they simply must beat Wisconsin at home tonight. The Badgers are struggling offensively, so while I would expect a Buckeye win, we might also see one of the ugliest games to ever grace the screen of ESPN. The first team north of 30 points probably wins this one.
5. Wisconsin (14-6 / 5-2) L v. Michigan 47-49, W v. Minnesota 45-44
Not the best week for the Badger offense. Still, they avoided total disaster with a Traevon Jackson jumper that might've come after the shot clock expired, but stood up for a home win over Minnesota. I'm sure Badger fans will always bitterly remember the two free-throws that George Marshall missed at the end of the game (and perhaps the 7-of-18 mark overall from the stripe) . To me, although they shot miserably against the Spartans (8-for-27 on threes AND on twos), that stretch from 7:44 where Mike Bruesewitz made a tip-shot to the desparation three that Ryan Evans hit with 17 seconds left was brutal. In that same period of time against the Gophers, UW hit just three jumpers. It's looking like this team just can't get anything going to the basket, let alone score points, down the key ending stretch of the game. I've seen a fair amount of talk about the frontline scoring drying up here (Berggren, Evans, Bruesewitz) but to me, I've been mildly surprised at how little Ben Brust has been producing. He's broken double-figures in scoring once since December 4th, and that was a home game against Penn State. That was also the only game where he shot the ball more than 8 times, whereas in the first month of the season he was averaging 11.5 shots/game. When the offense is clearly struggling, why isn't Ryan getting his shooter some shots?
6. Minnesota (15-5 / 3-4) L@ Northwestern 48-55, L @ Wisconsin 44-45
Minnesota has now seen four straight losses, and can pretty much say goodbye to any hopes of winning a share of the conference title. Now, they'll probably have a nice stretch run, as the only games from there that I see as definite losses are when they visit Ohio State and Michigan State, but a loss to Northwestern where the Wildcats frankly just looked like the better team sure creates a lot of doubt. Their offense is just MIA right now, and Tubby needs his guys to just start winning a couple of games before the season gets out of hand. Trevor Mbakwe's still bringing it, though, shooting 62% from the floor and averaging 12ppg and 11.5rpg and an astounding 3 blocks per game in those four losses.
7. Purdue (11-9 / 4-3) L @ MIchigan 53-68, W v. Iowa 65-62 OT
This should actually be considered a pretty decent week for the Boilers. They played Michigan tough in Ann Arbor until midway through the second half, and then gutted out an ugly OT win over the Hawkeyes to get above .500 in conference play. It looks like the rotation is tightening into the Hammons plus four guards lineup, with Donnie Hale and Anthony Johnson coming off the bench. The Boilers still aren't shooting well, but they're starting to look better on defense despite playing smaller, and the turnovers are coming under control. And I love that Painter tried trapping Trey Burke on the sidelines to negate the pick-and-rolls that have just killed everyone else.
8. Iowa (13-7 / 2-5) L @ Ohio State 63-72, L @ Purdue 62-65 OT
This team is starting to remind me of the 2010-2011 Hoosiers. They've got some talent, and the understanding is developing, but they are just not quite ready to win the tough games. They just are clearly having a hard time understanding how to play wire-to-wire with focus and execution, getting off to terrible starts for both games before storming back late. They actually led Purdue by three points late before letting the Boilers come back to tie it. I'll say this, though, they've got talent and promise for the future. I've harped on them having three freshmen starters and how that will (and has) hurt them, but the flip side of this is that there's only one senior in the rotation, reserve Eric May. The future is bright for the Hawkeyes, but this year looks to be rather frustrating for Iowa fans, with more games like the Purdue loss likely await them.
9. Northwestern (12-9 / 3-5) W vs. Minnesota 55-48, L @ Nebraska 49-64
The surprising home win against the Gophers begs an interesting question: how many more wins can the Wildcats eke out? The road loss at Nebraska effectively quelled any NCAA tourney talk just as it was beginning to show some "green shoots." A trip to Ann Arbor on Wednesday should also help downgrade expectations. Still, if Carmody can somehow carve out four more wins (and it looks possible, with home games against Purdue, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Penn State still left) they've got a decent shot at getting back to the NIT.
10. Illinois (15-6 / 2-5) W @ Nebraska 71-51, L v. Michigan74-60
It's hard to fault the Illini for losing by double -digits to the Wolverines, even if it was at home. Michigan has been on a tear in conference play, other than that 15 terrible minutes in Columbus, noone's been able to touch them. And Illinois did halt the careening drop with a nice 20-point win in Lincoln, so there's that. I don't think anyone expects them to beat MSU in East Lansing on Thursday, but Coach Groce has got to pick up the W at home against Wisconsin this Sunday to stop another tailspin from beginning.
11. Nebraska (11-10 / 2-6) L v. Illinois 51-71, W v. Northwestern 64-49
Putting Benny Parker on the bench gave the Huskers five productive starters against Northwestern, even without center Andre Almeida. David Rivers and Shavon Shields have now joined Brandon Ubel, Ray Gallegos, and a reinvigorated Dylan Talley, who dropped 20 points and 8 rebounds on the Wildcats. The Northwestern win was particularly nice after a rather humbling home loss to the Illini, who just made the Huskers look bad at everything. Nebraska is still quite definitely in the bottom two of this conference, but at least they have two wins.
12. Penn State (8-12 / 0-8) L @ Indiana 49-72, L v. OSU 51-65
There's not much to say. Some of their starters have been playing terribly in B1G games. For example, Ross Travis fouled out in 22 minutes against the Buckeyes while shooting 0-for-3, and Brandon Taylor has shot 14 for 61 from the field (22.9%) in conference games. Coach Chambers is turning to Nick Colella to play major minutes now, as Colella posted 35 minutes against OSU. That's not good. On the plus side, after the 8-turnover debacle in Assembly Hall, DJ Newbill notched 6 assists to only one turnover against the fearsome Ohio State backcourt. I still think these guys don't go "defeated" although the possibility increases with every game.