After yet-another weird Big Ten basketball week, here's what we know: everyone is kind of bad. I don't feel like writing a lede. Let's just get to the rankings:
PROBABLY THE CHAMPIONS UNTIL PROVEN OTHERWISE
1. Wisconsin 18-2 (6-1)
You'd be hard pressed to find an argument that Wisconsin isn't the Big Ten's best team. They're certainly the far-and-away favorite to take the regular season title & Bo Ryan has the Badgers poised for a top seed in the tournament. But this team is hardly without flaws. Bronson Koenig has filled in more than admirably, but the Badgers desperately miss Traevon Jackson's backcourt leadership on the road in the conference. The stumble in Piscataway was followed up by a near-miss on national television against a LeVert-less Michigan squad. Can they hold off the rest through the regular season until his return in March? They'll get tested again in Iowa City on Saturday.
THE TEAMS THAT COULD POSSIBLY PROVE OTHERWISE
2. Indiana 15-5 (5-2)
I can't believe I'm typing this. Right now, Indiana is the Big Ten's second best team. Will that hold out long term? I don't know. The Hoosiers desperately miss Hanner Perea down low defensively. Without his presence, opponents are shooting 61% from inside the arc -- many of makes those coming at or near the rim. The Hoosiers have shot nearly lights-out without him, even in Sunday's loss at Ohio State, but it's a feast-or-famine situation for the Hoosiers offensively. When they're on, they can beat anyone in the country. If not? RIP Tom Crean's twitter mentions. Wednesday's matchup at Purdue should shed some light on whether or not this is a hot-shooting team on a streak -- or a championship contender in the Big Ten.
3. Maryland 6-2 (18-3)
For as hot as the Hoosiers might be, the Terps are trending in the opposite direction. Mark Turgeon's squad needed a last-second putback from Dez Wells to prevent a disastrous home loss to Northwestern last night. Melo Trimble has looked like, well, a freshman. Ultimately, Maryland have a more complete team than Indiana -- but the Hoosiers get the nod based on Thursday's drubbing in Bloomington. The Terps get another stiff road test on national television Thursday night in Value City Arena against Ohio State. Expect Jake Layman and company to bounce back.
4. Ohio State 16-5 (5-3)
D'Angelo Russell. D'Angelo Russell. D'Angelo Russell. What else needs to be said? Ohio State will go as far as the Big Ten's best freshman can carry them. Still, this is a team that has only one signature win on the resume -- at home against, yep, you guessed it, Indiana. This isn't a team with one singular strength, a team that's very much still looking for an identity in late January -- at least one that just isn't "D'Angelo Russell." Can Marc Loving, Sam Thompson, and Shannon Scott provide enough support for Russell to contend at the top of the conference? Thursday's matchup with the Terps should reveal quite a bit.
A GIANT, GARBLED BUBBLE-AT-BEST MESS
5. Michigan State 13-7 (4-3)
How much of this ranking is #brand power? Probably quite a bit. The Spartans have certainly been underwhelming as of late, but a loss in Lincoln on a night when Terran Petteway drops 32 is hardly something to shake a stick at. Still, this is a Tom Izzo-coached team that ran a now Top-25 Indiana team out of the gym in East Lansing, opened the Big Ten slate with a road win in Iowa City, and, outside of a visit from Ohio State February 14, won't play another team in the top half of these power rankings until March. Look for the Spartans to join the above group, soon.
6. Iowa 13-7 (4-3)
I tried to place Iowa somewhere lower than six. They're coming off back-to-back losses, a drubbing in Madison, and another close loss at the hands of the Boilers in West Lafayette. I just can't reasonably do it. Iowa still has good pieces and good players at good positions in Aaron White, Jarrod Uthoff, Adam Woodbury, and Mike Gesell. They should be good, and likely should be a member of the above group. And in all likelihood -- the Hawks are about to play their way out of this group. With Wisconsin and Maryland coming to town sandwiched by a trip to Ann Arbor, two weeks from now we'll likely be talking about Fran McCaffery's squad as a Big Ten title contender -- or one looking at the field of 68 from the outside.
7. Nebraska 12-7 (4-3)
After that what-in-the-hell start to the season, the Huskers seem to be playing back closer to the level most expected when Tim Miles' squad was a trendy pick to challenge Wisconsin for the conference title. Still, this team has become almost wholly dependent on Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields. The duo scored 53 of Nebraska's 79 points in a much needed home win over Michigan State Saturday. Miles can't expect to get 32 from Petteway every night in the conference and needs production from Walter Pitchford, among others, if they'd like to get back to tournament consideration. But there's an opportunity for growth and to add to the tournament resume -- they'll have three very manageable road trips out of the next four games (at Michigan, at Minnesota, Northwestern, at Penn State) before Wisconsin comes to town February 10. The Huskers certainly have the schedule to play their way back into the discussion at the top of the conference.
NOT YET COMPLETELY DEAD, STILL KIND OF ALIVE, MAYBE, I GUESS
8. Purdue 12-8 (4-3)
All eyes will be on West Lafayette midweek -- and it should be an opportunity for Matt Painter's squad to show the rest of the conference that they will be a force to be reckoned with through conference play. With the weird, early-season losses behind them, the Boilers have shown a spark as of late behind the play of Jon Octeus and Kendall Stephens, especially. Purdue's size down low with A.J. Hammons and Isacc Haas should be a problem for every Big Ten opponent -- especially the hot-shooting, guard-driven Hoosiers on Wednesday night.
9. Michigan 12-8 (5-3)
Yes, sure, Michigan's 5-3 in the conference and coming off and near-win at home against a possible national title contender in Wisconsin. But the Wolverines are yet to beat a team with a winning record in conference play, are without Caris LeVert for the rest of the year, and are saddled with a stretch of ugly preseason losses that aren't going away any time soon. Play has improved as of late behind Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin -- but depth is an issue -- and one that will only continue to reveal itself as conference play progresses.
10. Illinois 13-8 (3-5)
The Rayvonte Rice injury may have been all but a death knell for this team -- but John Groce's club still has some good power conference wins on the year -- over Maryland, Missouri (?) , and Baylor. They can play an attractive style of basketball and have a yet to be truly blown this season. With no bad losses and a manageable schedule down the stretch, the Illini could play their way back into the bubble discussion -- but they're certainly far on the outside looking in for now.
11. Minnesota 13-8 (2-6)
After a slew of close losses to start the year, has YUNG RICK finally righted the ship in Minneapolis? A softened schedule the rest of the way could let the Gophers get back to .500 and in the tournament discussion. They'll also have two cracks at the Badgers -- and at a signature win for the tournament resume.
12. Penn State 13-7 (1-6)
Penn State beat Rutgers and finally won a conference game. They are now sitting comfortably atop the dumpster because of this, whereas they still can recieve sunlight and not grow mold and other fungi.
13. Rutgers 10-11 (2-6)
Rutgers beat Wisconsin once, because sports are dumb and nothing in life makes sense.
14. Northwestern 10-10 (1-6)
The 'Cats have lost six straight, all by less than five points (in regulation). But they're led in scoring by Greensburg's Bryant McIntosh -- who was kinda, maybe, kinda overlooked by some out of high school. I learned last night that you should not say this on twitter or recruiting people will YELL AT YOU. Good for Bryant, and good for y'all that closely worship the every move of 15-18 year old boys. I stand corrected, kinda.