1. Michigan State Spartans 15-1 (4-0 Big 10)
Michigan State has finally reached its stride: they’re pounding the far worse teams they play, and they’re pulling out tough victories against the best. The Spartans beat Indiana by 17 points at Assembly Hall Jan. 4, and then eked out two overtime victories at home last week against Ohio State and Minnesota. MSU’s Keith Appling, Adreian Payne and Gary Harris are all averaging at least 16 points per game, and the Spartans still produce the third most assists in the country at 18.5 per game. MSU is a high-scoring and extremely offensively efficient team that passes the ball like they’ve all been playing together since the first grade. Not even the number one defense in the country (according to Ken Pomeroy) in Ohio State could stop them.
This week: at Northwestern Jan. 15, at Illinois Jan. 18
2. Wisconsin Badgers 16-0 (3-0 Big 10)
This year’s Badgers are playing pretty much the opposite style of every Wisconsin team we’ve ever seen. They’re athletic, they’re fast-paced, they love to score and they’re still undefeated. Say what you will about Wisconsin’s non-conference schedule, they come into this week beating 22–ranked Iowa and 23–ranked Illinois. They have yet to face a true road game, their players’ stats aren’t that impressive (Frank Kaminsky has cooled down quite a bit to a consistent 13 points per game). But they keep winning, and they continue to look like an incredibly strong team doing so.
This week: at Indiana Jan. 14, vs. Michigan Jan. 18
3. Iowa Hawkeyes 14-3 (3-1 Big 10)
Iowa is one of the top 10 teams in country in terms of points (86.4), rebounds (44.8) and assists (17.4) per game. Those numbers are astonishing, and so is the Hawkeyes' climb up the Big 10 ladder. Their only three losses are against teams now ranked in the top ten. Their loss to Wisconsin Jan. 5 catalyzed a transformation from the Iowa that struggled to beat Nebraska to the Iowa that demolished Northwestern and won by 10 at Ohio State. Iowa hasn’t reached its full potential yet, which is why they’re not higher up. A visit to Michigan State on Jan. 28 will show if the Hawkeyes can keep up in the Big 10 title race.
This week: vs. Minnesota Jan. 19
4. Ohio State Buckeyes 15-2 (2-2 Big 10)
I can’t believe Aaron Craft is still playing college basketball. I swear he’s been at OSU for eight years at least. But there he stays, an integral part of kenpom.com’s calculated most efficient defense in the country. Two weeks ago, the Buckeyes beat Nebraska by a whopping 31 points. This past week, they lost a close overtime game to Michigan State, but I can’t fault them much for losing to a better team. In fact, the loss showed off the tenacity of the team. But I will fault them for letting the MSU loss get in their heads and losing to Iowa at home on Sunday. Percentage–wise, Iowa and OSU played strangely equal, but Ohio State couldn’t get the momentum or shots when it needed them.
This week: at Minnesota Jan 16
Middle of the Pack
5. Michigan Wolverines 11-4 (3-0 Big 10)
The good news is that Michigan started off its conference play with three straight wins, even without Mitch McGary, who’s out for the season for back surgery. The not-as-good news is those wins were over some of the worse teams in the Big 10. Nick Stauskas and Glen Robinson III are continuing to play and score well. We’ll have to see if they can carry the Wolverines when the team gets to the heart of Big 10 play.
This week: vs. Penn State Jan. 14, at Wisconsin Jan. 18
6. Minnesota Golden Gophers 13-4 (2-2 Big 10)
For a middle–of–the–pack team, the Golden Gophers are on the rise. Last week they managed to send a game at Michigan State to overtime, and their only other conference loss was by three points to Michigan. You’ve got to respect how Andre and Austin Hollins are playing, a brother duo that accounts for most of Minnesota’s points this season. The next three games (taking on No. 11 Ohio State, No. 14 Iowa and No. 3 Wisconsin) for the Gophers are going to be rough. If they can pull out at least one win, they’ll still be in good shape.
This week: vs. Ohio State Jan. 16, at Iowa Jan. 19
7. Illinois Illini 13-4 (2-2 Big 10)
“They’re Illinois. They’re due for an inexplicable loss right about now” was /u/stormstopper’s reasoning as he described to me why Illinois was going to lose to Northwestern this past Sunday. He was right. There’s no better explanation for what happened. But it seems typical of this Illini team that has won five of its games by four points or less. But wins are wins. Rayvonte Rice is averaging 18 points and six rebounds a game, and the team has consistent depth. Consistently low scoring depth, but depth nonetheless.
This week: vs. Purdue Jan. 15, vs. Michigan State Jan. 18
8. Indiana Hoosiers 11-5 (1-2 Big 10)
These Hoosiers pale in comparison to last year’s team. Their only conference win was by three points over Penn State, one of the worst teams in the conference. Right now, it’s a mental game for Indiana. If they’re tough, they might survive the Big 10 storm, beating the teams they should and cling on for a victory or two over a ranked opponent. If not, they’ll sink.
This week: vs. Wisconsin Jan. 14, vs. Northwestern Jan. 18
The Bottom Four
9. Purdue Boilermakers 11-5 (1-2 Big 10)
The Boilermakers are less than impressive this year. No one on their team averages more than 14 points per game, and most of their wins come over teams with a compass direction in their name. Even without the toughest Big 10 schedule, Purdue will probably end up under .500 in conference play.
This week: at Illinois Jan. 15, vs. Penn St. Jan. 18
10. Northwestern Wildcats 8-9 (1-3 Big 10)
“But they just beat Illinois! They should be ranked way higher!” Wrong. Is scoring less than 50 points a good game? No. Northwestern shot a mediocre 37 percent from the field against Illinois, and hit an abysmal 58 percent of their free throws. That’s almost as bad as Shaq’s career free throw percentage. They’ve also lost all of their other Big 10 games by at least 23 points. The win showed signs of life, but they have to continue winning to prove anything.
This week: vs. Michigan State Jan. 15, at Indiana Jan. 19
11. Nebraska Cornhuskers 8-8 (0-4 Big 10)
The only reason Nebraska is ranked higher than Penn State is because the Cornhuskers’ four Big 10 losses have come against better teams. Shavon Shields showed great promise early in the season, but has been averaging only 10.9 points a game, while Terran Petteway has been averaging 17.3 points per game.
This week: No games
12. Penn State Nittany Lions 9-8 (0-4 Big 10)
There’s not much to say really. They have two players, D.J. Newbill and Tim Frazier, averaging over 15 points per game, and three other starters averaging at least 10. Yet the Nittany Lions have still managed to find a way to lose all four of their Big 10 games. That’s honestly astounding. They won’t play a ranked opponent until Jan. 29, and hopefully they can get some wins.
This week: at Michigan Jan. 14, at Purdue Jan. 18