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Big Ten Power Rankings: Conference Play Week 1 edition

Big Ten basketball teams are finally squaring off against each other. What did we learn last week?

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

1. Wisconsin (15-0, 2-0) W @ Northwestern 76-49, W v Iowa 75-71

I like that frosh big Nigel Hayes is stepping up off the bench, but the Badgers got a bit lucky in the second half against Iowa. The Hawkeyes were looking like the better team, pure and simple, but Wisky's threes started falling and Iowa's offense went into a lull, and then Fran McCaffrey blew up and gave them all the free throws the Badgers would need to win. The only weakness here that I see is a dearth of athletic wings (unless you count Sam Dekker, whose minutes are pretty much exclusively at the four-spot). But the team defense has been good enough that this hasn't been anything that anyone else has been able to exploit yet.

2. Ohio State (15-0, 2-0) W @ Purdue 78-69, W v Nebraska 84-53

The Buckeyes are still undefeated and hold the top spot in KenPom's ratings, although just #3 in the APand coaches' polls. There can be no arguing that they've got a great defense, but is the offense good enough to merit title national contention? Leading scorer LaQuinton Ross has been mercurial to say the least, and didn't have a great outing at home against Nebraska. However, he hit 3 of his 4 three-point attempts, and it was a 30-point laugher, so the real measure of his improvement comes tonight, if he cause the sort of problems for Izzo's team the way  Christian Watford did, the Sparties will be in real trouble. I'm also very curious to see Matta's bench tonight. Is there anything really there outside of one-man dunk-contest Sam Thompson?

3. Michigan State (13-1, 2-0) W @ Penn State 79-63, W @ Indiana 73-56

Maybe it's IU just crapping it up at home, but MSU looks impressive when they are actually healthy. The home stand tonight with the Buyckeyes should clarify a lot about both teams... should. The starting five looks final four material, but outside of Travis Trice, the bench seems pretty iffy. Redshirt freshman Kenny Kaminski might alleviate some concerns about interior depth with his recent play, and if true freshman Alvin Ellis starts providing some production on the wing, I'll once again be on the Sparty bandwagon come March. For now, though, they've got something to prove against OSU.

4. Iowa (12-3, 1-1) W v. Nebraska 67-57, L @ Wisconsin 71-75

Fran McCaffrey's had Bo Ryan's number as much as anyone the last couple of years, but his meltdown in the second half was the deciding margin in this game.  Still, the Hawkeyes proved they can hang with the best, even on the road. It looks like they do ....maybe... have the stuff to threaten for a conference title. It's still a slight longshot, but seriously, look out.

5. Michigan (10-4, 2-0) W v Northwestern 74-51, W @ Minnesota 63-60

The loss of McGary will likely hurt the Wolverines down the road, but with vets Al Horford and (three-year starter) Jordan Morgan on hand and Glenn Robinson III healthy, Beilien's club is still probably on course for a top-half conference finish, and a NCAA bid. Caris LeVert is cooling off, but with frosh Walton and Irvin figuring out their roles and Nik Stauskas still playing like a superstar, it's not a point of concern yet.

6. Illinois (13-2, 2-0) W v Indiana 83-80 (OT), W v PSU 75-55

The two home wins are nice, and the Illini are building steam towards a NCAA berth. However, the next month's worth of games looks pretty rough. Once again, Illini fans might be complaining of a slide by the time the end of the conference season rolls around. If Groce can pull off the expected split in this week's trips to Madison and Evanston, his club should be fine.

7. Minnesota (12-3, 1-1) L v. Michigan 60-63, W v Purdue 82-79

A split in the two opening home games definitely meets my expectations for this club, but my expectations are probably lower for this team than most Gopher fans (to be clear... NIT at best). There's not too much surprising here, except the fact that Austin Hollins is averaging 7 rebounds per game. That's frankly impressive for a rail-thin 6-4 guard who averaged 3.2rpg last season.

8. Purdue (10-5, 0-2) L v OSU 69-78, L @ Minnesota 79-82

At least PU is fighting back to make games competitive. AJ Hammons really has gotten savaged around some blogs for his lack of production or apparent improvement, but I'd like to point out not only his he shooting 56.2% from the field (49.5% last season) but that boosting your defensive rebounding percentages at the same time as significantly raising your block percentage is the sort of rare individual improvement that generally keys an outstanding team defense. However, PU's defense isn't outstanding, though, as KenPom ranks it at 143rd (the Boiler offense comes in at #70). Purdue's hitting threes pretty well, keyed by Ronnie Johnson's improvement and newcomers Errick Peck, Bryson Scott (four of five attempts, tho), and Kendall Stephens. Terone's hitting 41.2% from beyond the arc, but he's only hitting 60% of his frees. As a team, the Boilers are shooting 35% from the three and 65.8% from the stripe. This just seems like a team that is going to cause some chaos in the Big Ten race - they'll likely beat a couple of the top teams, and likely lose to some of the worst teams the conference has to offer.

9. Indiana (10-5, 0-2) L @ Illinois 80-83 (OT), L v MSU 56-73

It's not exactly panic time, but I was expecting at least a split out of the last two games. The Hoosiers have to start notching some actual wins. I remember Brian Evans' senior year in which  the Hoosiers didn't win any of the games they needed to until a home victory over Ohio State, and that triggered a jump start which led to them rising to 12-6 in the conference, which was good enough for a tie for 2nd and a NCAA tourney berth. This squad isn't quite in need of that sort of turnaround, but it's getting close.

10. Penn State (9-6, 0-2) L v MSU 63-79, L @ Illinois 55-75

Granted, it was on the road, but a 20 point loss to the Illini is not encouraging. On the bright side, sophomore 7-footer Jordan Dickerson put in 15 minutes in the blowout, making his first field goal, grabbing three rebounds, blocking two shots and getting a steal. He also turned the ball over three times, but maybe he can start giving the Nittany Lion a small boost on the defensive end. With five guys averaging double figures, the offense seems to have options. But stops are not a specialty here, and that's trouble. 

11. Nebraska (8-6, 0-2) L @ OSU, 53-84, L @ Iowa 57-67

No one should've expected the Huskers to pick up any early wins. They've got some fight, but they're still pretty young at some key spots (notably Tai Webster is considerably better than the other options, but too callow to be the steady playmaker that they need) and don't have a lot of depth. They'll get a couple of upsets, but I'm still not looking for any real progress in terms of conference wins here.

12. Northwestern (7-8, 0-2) L v. Wisconsin 48-76, L @ Michigan 51-74

Chris Collins job now is to catch somebody napping on the Wildcats, get that first conference victory, and give his guys a reason to start playing again before they get totally demoralized. I can't Dave Sobolewski is still leading the team in assists. One, Sobocop has been playing so terribly that I'm pretty surprised that Tre Demps isn't starting (Demps ain't great either, but that's another story).  He's hit just two of his last eighteen threes, only three of his last fourteen two-point field goal attempts.  At least he's not coughing the ball up five times a game, like he did against Brown and DePaul.