Big Ten Basketball Power Rankings, Week 5: Wolverines are No. 1, now comes the hard part
Having said that, the Wolverines have only played two games against anyone in MLive's Top 6 (a tale-of-two-halves loss at No. 4 Ohio State and a beat down victory at No. 6 Minnesota).
Michigan may be the best, but now they have to play the best. The Wolverines' next four games are against Indiana, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State. And three of them are on the road. No one in the country will have a tougher 10-day stretch. And no one in the country has as good a chance to steamroll through it as the Maize and Blue.
Outside of Ann Arbor, the Hoosiers are picking up major steam after a home loss to Wisconsin two weeks ago, Illinois is in an absolute tailspin, and watch out for Michigan State - whose countdown clock is set for February 12 at 9:00 p.m. East Lansing time.
1. Michigan (20-1, 7-1):
"The Wolverines are No. 1 in the country for the first time since 1992. They've already hit the 20-win mark. They've beaten their last four opponents by an average of 14.8 points per game. Still No. 1 here -- but at Indiana on Saturday is the toughest matchup of the season, to date." -- MLive Michigan basketball beat writer Nick Baumgardner
2. ↑ Indiana (19-2, 7-1): The only thing that separates the Hoosiers from the Wolverines right now is non-conference, buzzer-beater loss to Butler. Both teams have a high-powered offense, solid defense and a deep bench. Saturday in Bloomington - much like this past Sunday in Bloomington - will have the feel of March.
"The Hoosiers got everything they wanted from Michigan State, and then completely embarrassed rival Purdue in Mackey Arena. The game of the year, so far, in this league tips Saturday at Assembly Hall when No. 3 Indiana hosts No. 1 Michigan. Should be fun." -- Baumgardner
3. ↓ Michigan State (17-4, 6-2): The upcoming showdown between the Wolverines and Hoosiers may be an incredible basketball game, but has big shoes to fill after the show Crean and Izzo put on this past Sunday. Now the Spartans get a welcomed reprieve from a week on the road. And with two winnable games against Illinois and Minnesota at Breslin over the next four days, watch out for MSU heading into week six.
"Looking good in a loss at Indiana actually helped its cause in being ranked here as one of the top three teams in the conference." -- MLive Spartan beat writer Diamond Leung
4. Ohio State (16-4, 6-2): The Buckeyes are a tough nut to crack. They got blown out by an Illinois team we now know to be Top 10 impostors. They're also the only team in the country that's beaten UM. The difference? Defense. The most points Ohio State has given up in their last five games, was 63, to Iowa. The Wolverines will be looking for rivalry redemption when the Buckeyes arrive in Ann Arbor on February 5, but they'll be doing it a mere three days after returning from Bloomington.
"The 15-0 run to seal a victory against Wisconsin showed how good the Buckeyes can be. Their defense is underrated and a key to their success." -- MLive writer Tim Martin
5. ↑ Wisconsin (14-7, 5-3):
"If nothing else, Bo Ryan's club is going to make you play ugly and be uncomfortable for 40 minutes. That much is clear. I still have no idea how this team won at Indiana." -- Baumgardner
I hear it was because they made Indiana play ugly and uncomfortable.
6. ↓ Minnesota (16-5, 4-4): Tubby Smith was so distraught after the Gophers lost to Northwestern, that he shaved off his mustache. Now I'm distraught. Thanks a lot Wildcats.
"The harsh reality of the Big Ten’s balance and strength have caught up with the Gophers. They lost four in a row before rebounding with a win over Nebraska. Tubby Smith said the Gophers “had just shot ourselves in the foot in every loss we've had.” Minnesota remains talented enough to beat any team in the conference." -- Martin
7. Purdue (11-10, 4-4): Purdue, Purdue, Purdue. What to make of ole Purdue? After suffering the worst home loss in school history to arch-rival Indiana on Wednesday, there may not be enough bottom-feeder teams left on the schedule for the Boilermakers to go to the NCAA Tournament, something Matt Painter has never experienced.
"Getting routed by Indiana didn't look good, but the Boilermakers have taken care of business and beaten up on lesser Big Ten teams." -- Leung
↑ Iowa (13-7, 2-5):
"Ah, the bridesmaid of the Big Ten this season. The Hawkeyes basically play everyone close (except Michigan) and almost always seem to barely lose. Close losses aren't something the committee pays attention to. Time's ticking for the Hawkeyes to score a quality win or two." -- Baumgardner
Nick is right. Iowa is totally the bridesmaid of the Big Ten. Which means the Hawkeyes, if they make it to the dance, will be way more fun to hang out with than the league's Bridezilla (which following Nick's logic would be the Wolverines).
9. ↓ Illinois (15-6, 2-5): If Illinois has any hope of regaining their early-season momentum, this is the week to do it. The Illini head to East Lansing tonight and then head back home for games against Wisconsin and Indiana. They'll need to win at least one, if not two of those three games in order to turn the ship around.
"The shooting percentage for the Illini has plummeted in conference play. Can Illinois adjust in time to salvage its Big Ten season?" -- Martin
10. Northwestern (12-10, 3-6):
"The Wildcats are going to close the season with a better record than most originally thought. But this has been a 'wait till next year' season since almost the very beginning."
11. Nebraska (11-11, 2-7):
"Tim Miles clearly has passion for Nebraska basketball. Now he needs to go find some players." -- Baumgardner
Can T-Magic play basketball?
12. Penn State (8-12, 0-8): If Iowa is the bridesmaid of the Big Ten, what's Penn State? I think it makes them that cousin you don't really hang out with but feel the need to invite because they invited you to theirs and you don't want to make Christmas awkward.
"Most of the slots in this power ranking are debatable and subjective – but not when it comes to Penn State, the only team without a conference win." -- Martin