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Headed into a week chock full of big games, here's a look at the conference pecking order
With huge games like Wisconsin versus Ohio State and Michigan versus Indiana coming up this week, these rankings won't stay like this for long, so get 'em while they're hot!
Oops! I meant to put Michigan here. NOPE. Honestly, though, I'm not trying to be cute. I think Indiana is a slightly better team than Michigan, and I believe they will win on Saturday in a clash of B1G titans. The Hoosiers are a more experienced, deeper team than Michigan and their two best players might be the two best players in the country. Is Victor Oladipo actually better than Cody Zeller? Jay Bilas and Chad Ford had a great debate about it (subscription required)
I guess now I automatically hate Michigan since I don't think its even the best team in the conference. I love watching them play, and it's not just because I love imagining what Trey Burke could have done at Penn State (NIT!). Tim Hardaway Jr. is a much better shooter than last season, Mitch McGary can run the floor like a gazelle, and Nik Stauskas can drive to the hoop if defenders get too aggressive guarding his three-point shot.
The only bad thing about this Saturday's Michigan vs. Indiana game is that it will have a tough time living up to the game played by Indiana and Michigan State on Sunday. The Spartans, despite losing, gained brownie points in my eyes by showing they could keep pace with the Hoosiers after a couple of wins that, while impressive, could only be classified as defensive struggles. Against Indiana, Gary Harris showed that he could dominate a game, and Adreian Payne showed that his jumper is for real.
They've lost two of their last three games, and I was a doubter back in December, but the Badgers have a win in Bloomington that proves they are a contender for the conference title. This team got a lot better between December and January, and the best might be yet to come, as young guards Traevon Jackson and George Marshall continue to get comfortable. Down the stretch versus Minnesota, Jackson hit a pair of clutch jump shots (no, I did not think he got the last one off in time) that showed he is maturing as a scorer.
I have the Buckeyes just below the Badgers because I'm discouraged at the lack of scoring out of players not named Deshaun Thomas. That said, Sam Thompson was very impressive against Penn State on Saturday. If he continues to contribute like that, Ohio State should be able to take care of Wisconsin tonight. If not, Ohio State could be in for a frustrating evening. It would also help if Aaron Craft was a little more aggressive while looking for his own shot.
So much talent! So many consecutive losses! Minnesota SHOULD be able to end its four-game losing streak tonight against Nebraska (warning: the Huskers just upended Northwestern on Saturday), but the Gophers won't get another chance to prove they are "for real" until they visit East Lansing on February 6. It's true that three of Minnesota's four straight defeats were to teams in the top four of this ranking, but teams that are "for real" figure out ways to beat good teams. They also don't lose to Northwestern in a game in which Northwestern scores 55 freaking points. Bleh.
That loss to Purdue was a killer, but I still love Iowa's talent too much to rank them any lower (was I thinking about putting them above the Gophers? You bet!). The problem with Iowa is that it doesn't have any terrific shooters right now, and that will make it difficult for them to upset the solid teams in the conference. Sophomore Josh Oglesby leads the team in three-point attempts with 83, but he's only connected on 28 percent of those tries. I suspect him and Mike Gesell will develop into good shooters down the road, but the production isn't there yet.
Just when it looked like the Wildcats were putting it all together, they go an lose a clunker to Nebraska. That is painful, and it leaves Northwestern very little room for error if it hopes to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. There are some winnable games coming up after a visit to Ann Arbor this week, so fans in Evanston will keep their fingers crossed. If Bill Carmody could get Dave Sobolewski, Reggie Hearn, and Jared Swopshire all clicking at the same time, we might have something here, but that doesn't happen often enough.
Jeez Illinois, not again. Bruce Weber is probably yucking it up in Manhattan, Kansas, because this Illini squad is going through the motions without him. I actually guessed that Illinois would come up with a stunning upset of Michigan last weekend and rope their fans into believing again, but that did not come to fruition. Thanks to terrific non-conference wins over Butler and Gonzaga, there's still hope for the Illini, but the upcoming schedule is at Michigan State, versus Wisconsin, versus Indiana, at Minnesota. I'd say Illinois needs to split those to get back in the tourney conversation.
Slowly, but surely, the Boilers are improving under Matt Painter. However, Purdue hasn't proven itself against too many quality opponents, so it still stands in the bottom quarter of the conference pecking order. At least the Illini have that win over Ohio State to point to. Purdue's best win was on Sunday against Iowa. Ronnie Johnson had 15 points and four assists in that game, and if you use your imagination, you can see him leading Purdue back to the NCAA Tournament within the next two years if fellow freshman A.J. Hammons becomes more consistent.
How about those Huskers? They're winners of two of their last three, and one of those wins was against a team that's not Penn State. Sure, Saturday's win over Northwestern was more about the Wildcats choking than anything else, but it was nice to see Tim Miles get a nice B1G win on the old home court. Unfortunately for Miles, two of his top players -- Dylan Talley and Brandon Ubel -- will be graduating after this season, but freshman Shavon Shields sure has shown potential.
Oh boy are my Lions bad. And I've followed this team long enough to know a good deal about bad basketball. Against the Buckeyes on Saturday, Penn State actually played pretty good defense and held Deshaun Thomas to just 4-for-13 field goal shooting. However, the Lions were done in by some all-too-familiar shooting slumps. The good news for PSU is that it doesn't have any seniors playing significant roles. D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall certainly know how to score, and next season they'll probably be joined by Tim Frazier, who is looking for another year of eligibility after tearing an Achilles tendon in November.
Different viewpoints! Here's what other OTE writers have to say about the rankings.
Graham: Michigan over Indiana. We know so little right now, because neither team has played its biggest games. But I am taking Michigan because of Trey Burke. Barring injury, Michigan will enter every game this year with the best point guard in the nation. Triggerman, leader, scorer, clever defensively. Plus, losing to Wisconsin? In Bloomington? Not great.
zipsofakron: Maybe I'm just bitter about losing to Bucky and Northwestern but I think you have those two a little high. After what I saw on Saturday there's no way Wisconsin is the fourth best team in this conference.
Feel free to let us know your own rankings (or just rip these ones to shreds) in the comments section.