My vote for this week's Big Ten Power Poll.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes - Might be starting to show some chinks in the armor, struggling to single digits wins against Penn State, Michigan, Minnesota, and Iowa. Even more of a concern: in their five Big Ten games thus far they've been out-rebounded three times and allowed their opponent to shoot at least 50% three times. Those are the kind of trends that catch up to you eventually, especially since their conference schedule has been soft out of the gate.
2. Purdue Boilermakers. Starting to wonder a bit about this team, because although they don't have any bad losses, they don't really have any good wins, either. We'll find out more quickly, because their schedule is brutally tough for the rest of the month. One thing they'll need is for E'Twaun Moore to get his shot back, and get it back quickly: he's 15 for 57 (26%) in their last four games, and they aren't going to beat anybody if he isn't scoring.
3. Illinois Fighting Illini. Only their loss to Penn State last week keeps them out of the #2 spot for me, but I still think they're too shaky at the end of games and that McCamey isn't good down the stretch and that it will kill them in either the first or second round in March, but the fact that they were able to hold Michigan State off and get a big win on Tuesday is a step in the right direction.
4. Minnesota Gophers. Huge win over Purdue (and avoidance of a let-down game against Iowa) vault them back into the "top of the league" conversation. They've yet to go on the road against one of the bottom tier Big 10 teams, so this weekend's game against Michigan will be a major test. That's the kind of game you don't lose if you're a true Big 10 contender, something this team will still have to prove.
5. Wisconsin Badgers. Bounced back after a heart-breaking blown opportunity to snag a road win in East Lansing with a convincing 10 point win over the Illini back in Madison. Still, Badger backers can't feel too good about giving that game away to Sparty. Their team, the #1 team in the nation at avoiding turnovers, turned the ball over 3 times in the final 1:08 - more than they did in the entire game against Minnesota earlier in the year.
6. Michigan State Spartans. I know we're used to Michigan State teams starting slowly and peaking in March, but this year's team just doesn't have that same feel. They're losing their road games and just barely squeaking by with wins at home, and are very, very close to being 1-5 in Big Ten play rather than 4-2. Last night against Illinois they managed to keep their turnovers, their achilles' heel so far this year, under control, but couldn't shoot (just 39% from the floor) or play defense (Illinois shot 53%). I will be absolutely shocked if they do anything in March, because they look absolutely dreadful out there.
7. Penn State Nittany Lions. Well, they're certainly making a run, and an impressive one at that. They couldn't quite pull it off against Ohio State, losing by 3 in Columbus, but prior to that picked up nice wins two ranked teams; Illinois and Michigan State. If they had done anything, and I mean anything, in their non-conference run they'd be sitting in pretty good shape for an NCAA bid. As it stands, however, they're still going to have to be pretty flawless.
8. Northwestern Wildcats. Missed out on a huge opportunity to get the marquee win they lack when they lost to Michigan State in overtime, and now they have 3 Big Ten wins against bottom tier teams and are 0-4 against contenders. They still have some very tough games coming up, as does everybody in this conference, but they also have a really easy stretch in February where they could easily go 5-0. If they can beat some of the upper division squads, and soon, they could still end up on the NCAA Tournament bubble, but they need to start getting wins.
9. Michigan Wolverines. They've played three of the best teams in the country (Syracuse, Ohio State, and Kansas) and have played tough, losing by 3, losing in overtime, and losing by 4, but they are also 1-5 in Big Ten play which includes blowout losses to Indiana and Northwestern in the last week. Tough team to figure out, but it's clear they can beat anybody or lose to anybody in the conference on any given day.
10. Indiana Hoosiers. Playing better of late, getting their first Big Ten victory with a blow-out against Michigan, but they just aren't a good team. It sounds like Maurice Creek may be done for the season, which is for the best because he's clearly not healthy. Best case is he rests up, gets near his freshman form, Cody Zeller sticks with the Hoosiers and Christian Watford doesn't go pro - then you might have something here.
11. Iowa Hawkeyes. It seems like there are some nice pieces in place for the future, especially Melsahn Basabe who could become Iowa's version of Trevor Mbakwe in a couple of years, but they certainly aren't there yet. They've scared Ohio State and Minnesota and will probably score an upset somewhere along the line but any more than 3 Big Ten wins would be a shocker.
Looking forward, this week in the Big Ten is pretty much a snoozefest now until the weekend, but there are a few solid barnburners: Ohio State at Illinois and Michigan State at Purdue on Saturday, and then Wisconsin at Northwestern on Sunday. Michigan State could really use a big win, but at Purdue is no easy feat, but the pressure is really on Northwestern. Their margin of error is tiny if they still want to grab an NCAA bid, and they have to hold server at Welsh-Ryan, which means beating the Badgers.