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Big Ten power rankings: Purdue and the Michigan teams lead the way at the conference halfway point

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With just over a month of conference play left, here’s where the Big Ten teams stand.

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Purdue Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

14. Penn State (8-14, 1-10)

The Nittany Lions got off the Big Ten schneid and finally won a conference game last night, a 59-52 victory over Northwestern. Though PSU is no longer winless in the conference, the job security of Pat Chambers may still be in jeopardy. Penn State is one of the toughest Big Ten jobs — football-crazed campus with less than ideal fan support, giant mausoleum of an arena, no real legacy of success — so whoever does take over the job will be in for an uphill climb.

13. Northwestern (12-10, 3-8)

12. Illinois (7-15, 3-8)

After a dreadful start, the Illini have won two of their last three, including a win at home over Nebraska and a surprising win over Maryland in the Big Apple, in which the Illini limited the Terps to 10 points in the final 10 minutes. It may not be enough to get Illinois out of the conference cellar, but at least this cools Brad Underwood’s seat a bit, as Chicago freshman Ayo Dosunmu could be a great building block for the future.

11. Nebraska (13-9, 3-8)

The Huskers have cratered since their win over Indiana in mid-January, and have now lost 5 straight. With Maryland and Purdue coming up, Nebraska still has serious work to do if they want to reach the tourney. This team’s metrics (28th AdjO, 34th AdjD) are good enough to make the field, but they need to find ways to close games out.

10. Indiana (13-9, 4-7)

What a difference one win can make. As of Wednesday night after a terrible loss at Rutgers, this season looked to be practically over. But after Saturday’s overtime win at Michigan State, the Hoosiers have new life. Six of Indiana’s last nine games are at home (including Purdue and an MSU rematch), and if the Hoosiers finish .500 or better down the stretch, they’ll probably squeak into the field. This team still has some shooting and injury issues and getting to that point is easier said than done, but remarkably, despite 7 straight losses prior to Saturday, there does seem to be a path.

9. Rutger(s) (11-0, 4-7)

“Folks, should we give them the S back? What do you think? Do you want to see Rutger get the S back? You hear it more and more that they deserve it again, folks.”

(crowd groans)

8. Ohio State (14-7, 4-6)

Other than Indiana, Ohio State probably had the most disappointing January in the B1G. The Buckeyes didn’t get a win for almost a month before finally beating Nebraska on the road on January 26th. Meanwhile, Kaleb Wesson starred in a win over Rutgers last weekend, scoring 27 points. The Buckeyes have plenty of winnable games left this month and could easily turn the ship around.

7. Minnesota (16-6, 6-5)

Minnesota has some quality wins over Wisconsin and Iowa, and some strange losses against Illinois and Boston College. The Gophers are most likely a tourney team, and they had a huge opportunity for a statement win at Mackey on Sunday, but blew a double-digit second-half lead to the Boilers.

6. Iowa (17-5, 6-5)

Iowa had a huge win last Friday over Michigan, and they did it on the strength of their defense, a rarity for this Hawkeyes team. Next they head to Assembly Hall, where Indiana-Iowa games have been hugely entertaining under Fran McCaffery (excluding that 2015 clunker that almost singlehandedly knocked the Hoosiers out of March Madness).

5. Maryland (17-6, 8-4)

Maryland’s twin towers of Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith have been a nightmare matchup for opponents. But the Terps have lost three of their last four, and still have two games against Michigan and one with Purdue to come, so their window for competing for the conference title is narrowing.

4. Wisconsin (16-6, 8-3)

The Badgers have rolled to 5 straight wins since defeating Michigan, and are playing very Wisconsin basketball right now. With games against Michigan and Michigan State in the span of 4 days, the Badgers have a chance to catapult themselves to the top of the conference standings.

3. Michigan State (18-4, 9-2)

The home loss to Indiana stung, and the Spartans never really contended in a loss at Purdue before that, and suddenly MSU is on a losing streak. Sparty doesn’t play Michigan until the 24th, so they’ve got a chance to regain some ground, starting tonight with a game at Illinois. And as long as Cassius Winston is playing well, Michigan State should contend for the crown.

2. Michigan (20-2, 9-2)

The Wolverine defense is still ranked #1 in the nation thanks to the work of assistant coach Luke Yaklich, but MIchigan’s offense needs to get itself right heading into a stretch run of Maryland (twice), Wisconsin, and Michigan State (twice).

1. Purdue (16-6, 9-2)

Yes, right now I have Purdue at #1, on the heels of a seven-game winning streak. Carsen Edwards is getting every shot he wants, Trevion Williams is a big-bodied freshman who can control the paint, and 12th-year senior Ryan Cline is still hitting three after three. Purdue has a manageable schedule down the stretch, with no Michigan or MSU in sight, so the path to a conference title is pretty clear.

No way Purdue could screw this up, right? Right?