Big Ten Power Rankings: March 8 EditionPosted by jnowak on March 8th, 2013
In this week’s power rankings, we consider each team’s ceiling in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament. This week’s voters were Deepak Jayanti, Joey Nowak and Kevin Trahan.
- Indiana — Despite their flaws, including two home losses during Big Ten play, the Hoosiers remain in this top spot mostly because no one has made a real good case to claim it from them. Ohio State is the hottest team in the conference right now but doesn’t have the same body of work or depth of talent that the Hoosiers have. If Indiana can beat Michigan this weekend, they’ll leave no doubt that they were the best team in the conference during one of the Big Ten’s all-time best seasons. If they lose, they won’t really have much that makes them stand out above the rest. Ceiling for the Big Ten Tournament: The Hoosiers are built for tournament success. They’re the deepest team in the Big Ten, which makes playing three games in three days much easier to handle. They match up well enough with everybody in the conference and have two of the best players in the Big Ten. Anything but a championship next weekend in Chicago will be a disappointment.
- Michigan — It wasn’t pretty, but a win is a win on the road in the Big Ten and that’s exactly what Michigan pulled out this week at Purdue. Now the Wolverines can refocus on their new biggest game of the season, this weekend against Indiana. Both teams are vulnerable, and the Wolverines have the benefit of playing on their home floor, where they have not lost this season. One last chance for Trey Burke to prove he deserves the Big Ten (and/or National) Player of the Year. Ceiling in the Big Ten Tournament: Some of the things that have made the Wolverines great — their three-point shooting and their talented freshmen — are things that can come back to bite you in tournament play. When you rely so heavily on the long ball or inexperienced players, those things can falter when you’re playing every day on a quick turnaround. But Michigan has been steady all season in both departments, and there’s no reason they can’t ride that wave to the championship.
- Ohio State – Look at where the Buckeyes have suddenly ended up. After seemingly playing their way out of the conference race with three losses in four games, we’ve come to realize that basically every team in the conference has at least one of those stretches this season and it’s not going to determine the fate of their season. So after huge wins against Minnesota and Michigan State and a terrific performance at Assembly Hall against Indiana, the Buckeyes have catapulted themselves back into the mix and shaken things up in the standings. All of a sudden, the tiebreakers indicate the Buckeyes could enter the Big Ten Tournament as the #2 seed. And with the way Aaron Craft is playing, the Buckeyes are defending, and they’re playing even with a subpar Deshaun Thomas, who says they can’t win it? Ceiling in the Big Ten Tournament: Like I said, with things clicking the way they are (the Buckeyes have to be the hottest team in the conference right now), who says they can’t win the whole thing? Of course they could be one-and-done (it’s hard to believe they’ll continue to roll with Thomas not reaching his average), particularly with such little depth, but they have the pieces. It may not be likely, but that’s their ceiling.
- Michigan State – Welcome back, Keith Appling. Wisconsin got a good look on Thursday night again at how tough Michigan State figures to be the rest of the way if the junior guard can bounce back from a few bad games during this daunting four-game stretch the Spartans just finished. They’ve got a chance to share the Big Ten title, and the Spartans still don’t really have a bad loss this season. Ceiling in the Big Ten Tournament: This team, like the others it could share the conference title with, has a legitimate shot at winning the whole thing (to say nothing of its NCAA Tournament possibilities). They defend, score inside and out, rebound and can shoot from all parts of the floor. Three-point shooting isn’t an issue with Gary Harris and Travis Trice fully healthy, and Appling might be back to being the closer again. And who would doubt Tom Izzo? For a group that has never thrived in the conference tournament, the Spartans could make it back-to-back titles.
- Wisconsin – The Badgers better be careful because after two losses to Purdue and Michigan State, they may not be a shoe-in against a Penn State team that has won two games over the past 10 days. Looking back, there was no excuse for Bo Ryan’s team to let one slip away on Senior Day in Madison against the Boilermakers. That game was very uncharacteristic of a Ryan-coached team because the team came out flat in the second half and couldn’t make any adjustments. Ceiling in the Big Ten Tournament: No more than two wins because opposing teams understand that the Badgers play tight defense but they can struggle to score during certain stretches of the game. Unless Sam Dekker can chip in with 12 PPG during the tournament, it is tough to picture the Badgers playing in the finals, let alone winning the conference tournament.
- Illinois – After a scintillating five-game stretch, the Illini have struggled over the past few games as they are not moving the ball around on the offensive end. The loss to Iowa could have made a big difference for their seeding and it is unlikely that they can beat a suddenly hot Ohio State squad. Assuming they have trouble on the road in Columbus, the Illini need to win their first game of the Big Ten tournament unless they are fine with an #8 or a #9 seed in the NCAA tournament. Ceiling for the Big Ten Tournament: Lose their second game. When the the three-point shot falls, they can beat any team in the conference but with every team geared up for the postseason, they may not be able to sneak up on anyone to go deep. They could probably beat Purdue or Minnesota in the first game but John Groce’s team may be done after that; still, if they can somehow win three games, they could lock up a five seed in the postseason.
- Minnesota – The Gophers fall in a spot behind the Fighting Illini basically by virtue of who has had worse losses lately, and that honor goes to Minnesota. Nebraska is no longer a cupcake game, but it’s not a game Tubby Smith’s group had any business losing. Just as soon as we thought Minnesota was starting to get its act together, with that win against Indiana and a blowout of Penn State, the conference’s most befuddling team slips up again. Who knows what to expect come postseason time? Next up, they play a hot Purdue team which almost took down Michigan in West Lafayette. If Smith’s team loses that one, which is possible, then they may have a must-win situation in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. Worst case, they may still have enough juice to get an at-large bid but they would be reeling into the tourney with no momentum. Ceiling for the Big Ten Tournament: The Gophers have the talent to win at least two games in Chicago but it is unlikely. They will have enough motivation to win the first game but once again, beating the top five — IU, Michigan, MSU, OSU and Wisconsin — will be a tough challenge for a team that hasn’t been able to find any sort of consistency since mid-January.
- Iowa – Beating Illinois was huge not only because the Hawkeyes remain in the hunt for a postseason bid but Devyn Marble (21 points) played against a top team with confidence during the final minutes. Marble drove into the paint and drew the fouls while Josh Oglesby put them ahead with two clutch shots from beyond the arc. They should be able to take care of business against Nebraska which means that they need to win at least two games in the Big Ten Tournament to feel good on Selection Sunday. Ceiling in the Big Ten Tournament: 2-1 is their best case, even that may be pushing it because they haven’t beat any top teams in the conference except Wisconsin. But if Marble continues to assert himself on the offensive end and Oglesby can chip in with three shots from beyond the arc, they may be able to pull of a much needed upset in the second round.
- Purdue – This team, like Iowa (above) is sort in no-man’s land. Good enough to beat anybody on a good night, but weak enough to lose to a mediocre team at home on a bad night. It’s hard to make something of a group like that, but we didn’t expect much from the Boilermakers this year. There are good pieces, and plenty of talent on the horizon. But this just is not the year. That said, after a valiant effort against Michigan, don’t be surprised if Matt Painter’s group knocks off Minnesota this weekend. Ceiling in the Big Ten Tournament: There’s too much talent on this team to discount them from the potential of winning at least one game. Terone Johnson and A.J. Hammons on a good night alone have enough to beat half the teams in this conference.
- Nebraska — Life is all about the little victories, so let’s congratulate Tim Miles (who has done a great job in his short time in Lincoln, it should be noted) and his Cornhuskers on moving up into the #10 spot in our Power Rankings, largely thanks to Northwestern’s pathetic play of late and the Huskers’ upset of flaky Minnesota. This program is on the upswing, and they’re going to have to continue to grow to compete in this conference. But so far, so good. Bit by little bit. Ceiling for the Big Ten Tournament: We’ll give the Huskers the benefit of the doubt and say they could win one game, but that seems like quite a stretch. They’ll need another huge game out of Brandon Ubel alongside Dylan Talley and Ray Gallegos, and they’ll need a flop out of whichever opponent they draw in the first round.
- Penn State – After it looked like Penn State’s chances for getting a Big Ten win went out the window, the Nittany Lions suddenly end up with at least two! In all seriousness, Patrick Chambers has done a remarkable job continuously getting this team fired up to play each and every night, and the win against Michigan this week was potentially the biggest upset in college basketball this year. This team will certainly be one to keep an eye on next year. Congrats to the Nittany Lions on climbing out of the Power Rankings basement. Ceiling for the Big Ten Tournament: We know Penn State will be the #12 seed, which means they’ll draw the #5 seed in the first round. It looks like that’ll be Wisconsin, so let’s set the ceiling at one upset victory. If the Badgers shoot like they did Thursday, the Nittany Lions can definitely hang in there.
- Northwestern – It’s starting to feel like the Wildcats are even falling out of the realm of an upset team waiting to happen, which has been their M.O. for years in the Big Ten. They’ve turned in a Penn State-esque seven game losing streak and it’s not going to get any easier on Sunday at Michigan State. Talk about a slippery slope entering the Big Ten Tournament. Ceiling for the Big Ten Tournament: Northwestern will need everything to quickly turn around in order to pull off a win of any kind in the conference tournament. They don’t have the pieces to dictate pace the way they have in year’s past, and don’t have the talent to knock down big shots to pull off an upset. A win would be monumental.