B1G rankings: Illinois keeps climbing
    Photo by Jenna Zitaner / North by Northwestern

    In the busiest conference in the country, no news is big news.

    Surprisingly, there wasn't much of a stir in the Big Ten pecking order last week after a month of mayhem. Indiana remains atop the AP polls while the Wildcats continue to skid. Yet on a four-game winning streak, the once-maligned Illinois looks to make moves as the home stretch of the season comes in.

    Check out this week's installment of NBN's Big Ten power rankings in preparation for another busy week of basketball. 

    Biggest Drop: Ohio State (-2)

    Biggest Improvement: Iowa (+2)

    1. Indiana Hoosiers (23-3, 11-2 Big Ten)

    Last week: 1

    The top-ranked Hoosiers stayed perfect last week with Ws against Purdue and Nebraska. Not the most impressive wins, but you don’t pick your schedule. Indiana won both games by over 25 points.

    The Hoosiers face Michigan State Tuesday night as dynamic guard Victor Oladipo is expected to return from an ankle injury. Whoever wins will be on top of the rankings next week.

    2. Michigan State Spartans (22-4, 11-2)

    Last week: 2

    Freshman guard Gary Harris and junior guard Keith Appling are quickly comprising of one of the nation’s best backcourts. The duo leads the team in scoring at 12.9 and 14.1 points per game, respectively.

    The No. 4 Spartans will most likely get a bump in their national ranking after Syracuse, Michigan and Duke all lost a game this week.

    Staying on top is going to be tough with the next four games against ranked opponents though. After Indiana, MSU faces Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin.

    3. Wisconsin Badgers (18-8, 9-4)

    Last week: 3

    The Badgers couldn’t find any love on Valentine’s Day, losing a tough game to Minnesota on the road. Three days later, Wisconsin bounced back and handed Ohio State an absolute beatdown. The Badgers lead or tied the Buckeyes in every major statistical category and got a double double from guard Ben Brust.

    The tough part of their schedule is over. In the Badgers’ next five games, they only face one ranked opponent in Michigan State. Wisco’s other four opponents have the worst records in the B1G. Get a good look at No. 19 Wisconsin Wednesday, when they take on the 'Cats at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

    4. Michigan Wolverines (22-4, 9-4)

    Last week: 4

    The Spartans showed the Wolverines who the best basketball team in Michigan is Tuesday with a 23-point demolition.

    No. 7 Michigan’s lack of size is becoming a problem against physical teams like Michigan State. The Spartans snagged 12 more rebounds than the Wolverines – eight more on the offensive glass. Second-chance scoring helped Michigan State maintain a comfortable lead the entire game.

    During their last two games, guard Tim Hardaway Jr. has shot an appalling 18 percent from the floor.

    Next week the Wolverines are facing much-improved Illinois and lackluster Penn State.

    5. Illinois Fighting Illini (19-8, 6-7)

    Last week: 6

    The Illini are hot. Really hot.

    Winners of their last four, Illinois needs to make sure they don’t regress to January form, when they went 2-6 and fell from the AP rankings.

    Illinois has an easy matchup against Penn State Thursday before a statement game with Michigan Sunday. Last time, the Wolverines handled Illinois by 14 points, but the Illini are a completely different team with momentum swinging their way.

    Leading scorer Brandon Paul hasn’t been too productive during Illinois’ win streak, aside from the Indiana upset. Illinois might be capable of a lot more if Paul starts to play with more consistensy.

    6. Iowa Hawkeyes (17-9, 6-7)

    Last week: 8

    Beating Minnesota on Sunday made it three in a row for Iowa.

    The team’s leading scorer, junior Roy Devyn Marble, has made some necessary improvements to help his team. Over the Hawkeyes' three-game winning streak, he has been getting to the free-throw line more and taking more efficient shots. Playing like this, Iowa is certainly capable of pulling off an upset or two in the Big Ten Tournament.

    This week the Hawkeyes should gain some more momentum with a winnable game at Nebraska.

    7. Ohio State Buckeyes (18-7, 8-5)

    Last Week: 5

    No. 18 Ohio State’s loss to Wisconsin on Sunday leaves the Buckeyes 1-7 against ranked teams this year.

    Come on, even Northwestern has had more success against the Top 25.

    Can forward Deshaun Thomas get a little help? The team’s leading scorer has tried to put the team on his back, but the weight is proving to be too heavy.

    Junior guards Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. need to step up. Both have only reached double-digit scoring once in the last three games.

    Minnesota will be a tough test for the Buckeyes next week. Senior center Trevor Mbakwe is capable of containing Deshaun Thomas.

    8. Minnesota Golden Gophers (18-8, 6-7)

    Last week: 7

    After an impressive win at home over Wisconsin, the Golden Gophers lost to Iowa by 21 on the road. In fact, Minnesota hasn’t won a road game since Jan. 9.

    On Wednesday, the Gophers travel to Columbus to take on Ohio State. The way both teams are playing, this one could go either way.

    Senior forward Rodney Williams still isn’t 100 percent from a bruised left shoulder. The Gophers really need his presence down low if they have a shot at staying competitive in a physical Big Ten.

    9. Purdue Boilermakers (12-14, 5-8)

    Last week: 9

    Losing both of last week’s games by an average of 24 points probably wasn’t the game plan head coach Matt Painter drew up to get Purdue out of their recent funk.

    Riding a three-game losing streak, Purdue is heading south pretty quickly in the Big Ten.

    Purdue only has one away game next week, against Northwestern. Assuming A.J. Hammons isn’t late for the bus again, he will start at center. Northwestern had some real struggles containing the freshman in their last matchup.

    10. Northwestern Wildcats (13-13, 4-9)

    Last week: 10

    Northwestern is slowing down at the wrong time of the year, losing five of their last six games. The 'Cats fought valiantly against the Buckeyes on Thursday, but they got handed a whooping from Illinois on Sunday night.

    The Wildcats shot a season-low 25 percent from the field on Sunday. With the exception of their two games against Michigan, Sunday’s loss to Illinois was their worst game of the season. You can't blame Northwestern though, as three of the team's preseason starters are now done for the season.

    11. Nebraska Cornhuskers (12-14, 3-10)

    Last week: 11

    Two games. Two loses.

    Nebraska wasn’t expected to beat Indiana or Michigan State, but both games were pretty sloppy. Indiana blew out Nebraska, and the State game was only close because the Spartans played way below their potential.

    12. Penn State Nittany Lions (8-17,0-13)

    Last week: 12

    It’s almost a little painful to keep talking about Penn State.

    The last time a team went without a conference win in the Big Ten was the 1999-2000 season. Guess who? It was Northwestern.

    While the Nittany Lions did play competitively against Iowa and Michigan last week, the rest of their schedule is looking pretty tough. At this point, their only shot to get a win is against the Wildcats themselves.


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