B1G rankings: Buckeyes climb to top before conference tourney

    A week of close games shifted the power rankings like never before.

    Despite clinching the regular season conference title with a thrilling 72-71 win over Michigan Sunday, Indiana was knocked off their throne as the best team in the power rankings with a loss to Ohio State last Tuesday.

    The Big Ten Tournament schedule is set and the Buckeyes have the easiest road to the finals.

    Biggest improvement: Iowa Hawkeyes (+2)

    Biggest drop: Illinois: (-2)

    1. Ohio State Buckeyes (23-7, 13-5 Big Ten, AP No. 14)

    Last week: 2

    The Buckeyes beat the best to become the best in Bloomington Tuesday.

    After going 1-7 in January against ranked opponents, Ohio State beat No. 4 Michigan State on Feb. 24 and No. 2 Indiana on March 5.

    The five-game winning streak the Buckeyes ride going into the Big Ten Tournament is the best in the conference. Ohio State will play the winner of Purdue and Nebraska in the first round on Friday. Defensive dynamo Aaron Craft and big man Deshaun Thomas make for a tough out in this weekend's Tourney.

    2. Indiana Hoosiers (26-5, 14-4, AP No. 2)

    Last week: 1

    For the first time in these power rankings, the Hoosiers fall from their top spot.

    Sunday’s 72-71 conference title-clinching victory against Michigan Sunday was a great way to rebound from a disappointing loss to Ohio State at home.

    Facing the winner of Illinois and Minnesota, Indiana shouldn’t feel too comfortable going into the Big Ten Tournament. The Hoosiers have dropped a game to both teams this season.

    3. Michigan Wolverines (25-6, 12-6, AP No. 7)

    Last week: 3

    The Wolverines showed why they are vulnerable to taller teams Sunday against Indiana. Michigan only has one starter taller than 6'6", and that’s 6'8” junior forward Jordan Morgan. The Wolverines were outrebounded 47-26, snagging nine fewer offensive rebounds than the Hoosiers.

    Morgan’s last-second put-back layup attempt was centimeters away from giving the Wolverines an upset win Sunday.

    Don’t think Michigan forgot about its loss to Penn State two weeks ago; the Wolverines will blow out Penn State in their first-round game Thursday.

    4. Michigan State Spartans (24-7, 13-5, AP No. 10)

    Last week: 5

    Thanks to a great 19 point performance from junior guard Keith Appling, the Spartans were able to defeat Wisconsin for the second time this season.

    A stingy and physical defense has been a key to Michigan State’s performance the entire season. The Spartans have only allowed their opponents to reach the 70-point mark six times in 31 games.

    Either Northwestern or Iowa lies ahead for Michigan State on Friday.

    5. Wisconsin Badgers (21-10, 12-6, AP No. 22)

    Last week: 4

    A 15-point loss to Michigan State was arguably as bad as Wisconsin’s 3-point win over Penn State Sunday.

    The Badgers success is entirely based on how their defense plays. While Wisconsin is one of the best defensive teams in the Big Ten, their offense lacks a consistent point-scorer to rely on.

    Don’t be surprised if Michigan beats Penn State in the first round and goes on to top Wisconsin Friday.

    6. Purdue Boilermakers (15-16, 8-10)

    Last week: tied for 7

    The Boilermakers hung tough against Michigan thanks to a ridiculous 32 point, seven rebound performance from junior guard Terone Johnson. A win against Minnesota at home Saturday helped put Purdue tie for fifth in the conference.

    In order for the Boilermakers to beat Nebraska in the first round and maybe pull off a tremendous upset against Ohio State Friday, center A.J. Hammons needs to stop playing like a freshman. Since February, Hammons’s point average has slid about three points, averaging 8.3 per night over the last three games.

    7. Iowa Hawkeyes (20-11, 9-9)

    Last week: 9

    Although there are five teams in the Big Ten with better records because of ties, Iowa has the fourth-best record in the conference.

    Last week, Iowa won back-to-back games, defeating a solid Illinois squad and much-improved Nebraska.

    The Hawkeyes can handle Northwestern in the first round of the Tournament Thursday. Their expected matchup against Michigan State in the second round should be way more interesting. Iowa only lost their regular-season matchup against Michigan State by three points back on Jan. 10.

    8. Minnesota Golden Gophers (20-11, 8-10)

    Last week: 6

    For the past two months, Minnesota hasn’t won or lost more than two games in a row. The Golden Gophers change identities every other week.

    After upsetting then-No.1 Indiana and crushing Penn State two weeks ago, the Hoosiers dropped a pair to Nebraska and Purdue last week.

    If Minnesota follows the performance pattern it has established thus far, the Gophers could bounce back to beat Illinois and move on to play Indiana Friday.

    9. Illinois Fighting Illini (21-11, 8-10)

    Last week: tied for 7

    Lately, threes have been killing Illinois. They shot around 30 percent from behind the arc while dropping games to Iowa and Ohio State.

    John Groce’s squad makes the most threes in the conference at eight a game; however, they make only 33 percent of those attempts. 

    With both teams tied at 8-10 in the Big Ten, the Illinois/Minnesota game is the most intriguing of the first-round matchups in the Tournament. We know the Illini have the potential to drop Indiana after beating them 74-72 on Feb. 7.

    10. Nebraska Cornhuskers (14-17, 5-13)

    Last week: 10

    Nebraska was ranked as the worst team in our preseason power rankings. Terrible play from Penn State and Northwestern allowed the Huskers to improve to 10th in the final standings, a place higher than last year’s finish.

    Nebraska deserves some kudos for pulling off a win over Minnesota last week, and with A.J. Hammons’s recent struggles, the Cornhuskers might be able to catch Purdue sleeping on Thursday.

    Over the last three games, Purdue’s leading scorer Terone Johnson has averaged over 20 points.  Stop Johnson, beat Purdue.

    11. Penn State Nittany Lions (10-20, 2-16)

    Last week: 12

    For a last place team in the Big Ten, Penn State played some good basketball last week. The Nittany Lions dropped Northwestern on the road and battled Wisconsin in a 63-60 loss at home.

    Despite some improvements in shooting percentage and turnover margin the past couple week, Penn State doesn’t stand a chance against Michigan in the first round of the Tournament on Thursday.

    12. Northwestern Wildcats (13-17, 4-13)

    Last week: 11.99

    Northwestern’s season wrapped up with eight straight losses.

    The injury excuse can only last so long. Northwestern is just bad. The 'Cats' 11th place finish is their worst performance in the Big Ten since the 2007-08 season.

    While it might be hard for Iowa to beat Northwestern three times in football, it won't in basketball. The Wildcats are going to end a disappointing season with a loss against Iowa Thursday.


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