Big Ten Power Rankings: Week TenPosted by Deepak Jayanti on January 11th, 2013
This is the tenth installment of our weekly Big Ten Power Rankings which we will publish each Friday. This week’s voters were Deepak Jayanti, Joey Nowak and Kevin Trahan of the Big Ten Microsite.
1) Michigan (Last week #1): The Wolverines are one of the hottest teams in the nation right now, and after cruising against Northwestern last week, they did the same against Iowa. John Beilein’s squad struggled with Nebraska but they got the win and a game like that may be a good gut-check for a young team. Ultimately, Michigan is in this spot because it passes the “eye test” and has one of the best teams from a shooting perspective in the country. A game at Ohio State this weekend looms, followed by a trip to Minnesota, so we’ll soon find out what this Michigan team is made of on the road, especially with so many young players contributing, such as Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III.
Player Stepping Up: Trey Burke would be the obvious choice here, but Nik Stauskas (13.5 PPG) has also emerged to give Michigan yet another top scoring option. He’s one of the best pure shooters in the league even though he’s just a freshman, and has stepped up huge from the start. His long-range shooting is off the charts and he will continue to be effective with all the open looks he will continue to receive in John Beilein’s offense.
2) Minnesota (Last week #3): We have seen enough from the Gophers so far to move them slightly above the Hoosiers. Indiana’s road win at Iowa was impressive but that was against a young Hawkeyes team, while the Gophers’ road win in Champaign was even more noteworthy because they were able to hold the Illini guards to 13% shooting from beyond the arc. Trevor Mbakwe is back in the starting lineup and Tubby Smith has his team playing an excellent brand of disciplined basketball this season.
Player Stepping Up: Dre Hollins (13.7 PPG) is the leading scorer for Smith but Joe Coleman came to play in Champaign as he torched the Illini with 29 points. He was 2-of-3 from beyond the arc and was very active in transition to push the tempo in the huge road win. He may end up being a nice complement to Hollins if he continues to come up big in key games.
3) Indiana (Last week #2): Indiana drops a spot in the power rankings, not so much because of what it has (or hasn’t) done, but more because of how impressive Minnesota has been to this point. The Hoosiers got by Iowa on the road and took care of Penn State, but lack a “wow” conference win because of who they have played. They’ll get the opportunity for such a win with Minnesota visiting Assembly Hall this weekend. It will be an impressive match-up of frontcourts, and Cody Zeller needs to step up after a good-but-not-great start.
Player Stepping Up: Many people expected Zeller to be the star of this team, but so far, that title belongs to Victor Oladipo (13.3 PPG), who has dazzled teams in just about every phase of the game. He’s especially deadly with his pressure defense and effectiveness on the break. He’s improved a lot from last season and could be the key for IU to be successful against Minnesota next week.
4) Ohio State (Last week #4): Now we can see what the Buckeyes are really made of. Michigan has proven itself, and so has Minnesota. That’s why they sit No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the rankings. Indiana and Ohio State entered the season as favorites, but haven’t soared in non-conference and early Big Ten play. But with games upcoming against Michigan and Michigan State, the Buckeyes have the opportunity to solidify themselves as a legitimate contender or confirm suspicions that they’re not on that level.
Player Stepping Up: This is not an easy question to answer for a team that could, probably more than any other in the conference, stand to have a few unanticipated players improve. But if you had to pick one, a good choice would be sophomore Sam Thompson (7.1 PPG), whose minutes and points per game have more than doubled since his freshman campaign. And with the spotlight on Deshaun Thomas this season, the more help at the forward position, the better.
5) Michigan State (Last week #6): It’s hard to say if the way the Spartans faded down the stretch and lost at Minnesota in the Big Ten opener is more or less frustrating to accept given the success the Gophers have had, but Michigan State can put it in the rear view mirror and turn the page. They can’t afford to lose games to Purdue or Iowa this season, and they’ve done their due diligence. The schedule is kind to them for a while before things really heat up, but they’d do well to keep their foot on the gas pedal and build some momentum heading into February.
Player Stepping Up: There was a buzz surrounding Denzel Valentine (5.9 PPG and 4.3 RPG) in East Lansing as he entered his freshman season, but few expected the young guard to be as vital to the offense as he has been. When Valentine can slow the game down and limit his turnovers, he sees the floor like a veteran and could be a valuable double-double player down the stretch. His minutes will be instrumental in Big Ten play.
6) Illinois (Last week #6): It has been feast or famine so far for the Illini in conference play. After thumping the Buckeyes at home, they were completely outplayed by the Gophers in a 17-point loss at home. That loss continues to anchor them in the rankings as they try to avoid their first losing skid against Wisconsin on the road this weekend. It will be interesting to see how John Groce motivates his team to bounce back from tough losses.
Player Stepping Up: Everybody is aware that the Illini lacks depth in the frontcourt but they certainly don’t lack for effort as forward Nnanna Egwu is a hard-working player who has tried to do whatever it takes to keep his team competitive. Egwu has averaged 4.5 RPG this season and pulled down eight boards against Ohio State and nine against the Gophers in Champaign.
7)Iowa (Last week #7): Youth and inexperience are catching up to the Hawkeyes very quickly after a tough loss to Michigan State at home on Thursday night. Despite two losses during the last week, we are not ready to move them into the eighth spot yet because of their brutal schedule to this point. If they lose to Northwestern in Evanston on Sunday, then Fran McCaffery’s team will be in a lot of trouble.
Player Stepping Up: Even though he doesn’t start, Melsahn Basabe (6.8 PPG) was supposed to have a big impact off the bench this season. His game against Michigan State – 14 points in just 17 minutes – is a great sign for McCaffery because the experienced forward needs to pick up the slack especially if freshman Adam Woodbury gets into foul trouble guarding quality big men such as Derrick Nix or Cody Zeller.
8) Wisconsin (Last week #8): Two up and two down so far for Bo Ryan. The Badgers muscled out a win on the road against Nebraska but they eagerly await the Illini at the Kohl Center on Saturday. Win that game and the Badgers may be rounding into form during conference play. They are very similar to the Hawkeyes in these rankings but they need to beat a tough opponent in order to leap past the Hawkeyes into the seventh spot.
Player Stepping Up: Tough to pick any particular Badger because they are still trying to figure out who their go-to scorer will be this season, but Ben Brust has done his part so far by averaging 11.3 PPG and 6.3 RPG. His rebounding has been very impressive for a guard and he will continue to play a key role on the defensive end as the Badgers begin to play teams with more potent guard lineups.
9) Purdue (Last week #9): Reality has sunk in for the still-growing Boilermakers after the biggest surprise of the conference season — their upset of Illinois. Since then, Purdue has dropped two straight — in a closer game than the final score indicated at Michigan State, and against Ohio State — to fall back to earth. This team has not yet turned the corner, and the Big Ten is a tough place to sort things out, but when this team clicks on all cylinders, Purdue can still be dangerous at home.
Player Stepping Up: There is really no other way to put it, other than to say that A.J. Hammons (10.3 PPG and 6.1 RPG) could be a major force in this conference for years to come. He has the makings of a legitimate big man in a league that has its fair share of good ones, and he’s still growing as a freshman. No one has benefited more from the learning curve this team has been on, and the Boilermakers have benefited just as much from having him in the rotation.
10) Northwestern (Last week #10): Blowout losses were to be expected for Northwestern against Michigan and Minnesota, but the first half of the Minnesota game actually provided some optimism. Still, the Wildcats just have too many pieces out to be productive in this conference with so much youth. Thursday’s win at Penn State should be a good confidence-booster for the young guys, which will give the Wildcats confidence heading into a home game against Iowa.
Player Stepping Up: Northwestern plans to start slowing things down to keep itself in games, and that means the Wildcats will need solid outside shooters to emerge. Tre Demps (5.8 PPG) has done his part and is NU’s most dynamic scorer at this point. While Reggie Hearn would be the obvious choice for this selection, NU needed someone else to step up. Demps still has issues with his efficiency and shot selection, but his scoring abilities have helped the Wildcats considerably without Drew Crawford and JerShon Cobb in the lineup.
11) Nebraska (Last week #11): Tim Miles is trying to make a difference in Lincoln and it might be working because the Cornhuskers have been competitive over the last few days against Wisconsin and Michigan. They almost beat Wisconsin at home but lacked a closer to put the Badgers away. The same goes the Michigan game — despite a 15-point loss, the game was much closer than the final score indicated and it represents progress for a Nebraska team that will need to rely on moral victories this season.
Player Stepping Up: Nebraska is desperate for scoring, so the Huskers could certainly use a boost from Ray Gallegos (13.4 PPG), who answered the bill with 19 points against Michigan. He needs to be more consistent, but he has scoring potential that few of his teammates possess.
12) Penn State (Last week: #12): If there are no moral victories in sports, the Nittany Lions might find themselves sleeping through a lot of dreary nights this winter and spring. Victories are going to be few and far between, and their best hope is to steal an upset or two at home. Without their best player – Tim Frazier – on the floor, Pat Chambers can only hope to see improvement from the rest of the younger players as they try to gear up for next season when their star returns.
Player Stepping Up: No unexpected force in the conference has been more instrumental to his team’s success — or in this case, maybe just staying afloat — than D.J. Newbill at Penn State. He was thrust into the spotlight with the injury of Frazier and has thrived, leading the team in assists (3.8 APG) while standing second in rebounds (6.3) and points per game (14.9, behind only Frazier). Next year could finally be an exciting year in State College with those two players on the floor simultaneously.