World-Herald staff writer Lee Barfknecht ranks the Big Ten men’s basketball teams as published in The World-Herald on Tuesday, Feb. 18. National ranking from NCAA.com.
1. Indiana (23-3, 11-2, 12th): This week: at Michigan State. How competitive is Tom Crean? On Monday’s coaches call, he grilled the moderator on the criteria for voting on Big Ten player of the week, particularly how important winning games is.
2. Michigan State (22-4, 11-2, 5th): This week: Indiana, at Ohio State. Point guard Keith Appling is the runaway choice for most underrated player in the league. His skill and steady hand in controlling a game are why the Spartans are in the title hunt.
3. Michigan (22-4, 9-4, 8th): This week: Illinois. Questions about the Wolverines’ overall toughness and “want to” on defense have intensified after wayward-shooting Penn State produced 71 points in UM’s home arena.
4. Wisconsin (18-8, 9-4, 26th): This week: at Northwestern. The Badgers have finished in the top four of the Big Ten in each of Bo Ryan’s first 11 seasons. It looks like they will get there again, even after losing PG Josh Gasser (knee) and a woeful start.
5. Illinois (19-8, 6-7, 29th): This week: Penn State, at Michigan. Four straight wins have transformed the Illini’s season. With two of the next three games against Penn State and Nebraska, hopes for an NCAA bid are rising rapidly.
6. Ohio State (18-7, 8-5, 28th): This week: Minnesota, Michigan State. It’s easy to figure out how the Buckeyes have lost three of the past four — poor defense. Those four foes have shot 49.5 percent from the field, including 44.8 percent on 3-pointers.
7. Iowa (17-9, 6-7, 80th): This week: at Nebraska. The Hawkeyes have almost cornered the market on close games. Nine of 13 Big Ten games they have played have been decided by single-digit margins.
8. Minnesota (18-8, 6-7, 15th): This week: at Ohio State. The Gophers have games left with Nebraska and Penn State. But they better not count on getting an NCAA bid just because they get to 8-10 in the league. Too many ugly losses are a concern.
9. Purdue (12-14, 5-8, 126th): This week: Northwestern. The Boilermakers committed 35 turnovers in two games last week, leaving coach Matt Painter disturbed, especially after being No. 1 nationally last year in fewest miscues.
10. Nebraska (12-14, 3-10, 106th): This week: Iowa. Tim Miles hates the moral victory talk, but the short-handed Huskers have made an impression around the league by battling deep into games against ranked teams better than most expected.
11. Northwestern (13-13, 4-9, 118th): This week: Wisconsin, at Purdue. The Wildcats gave up 26 consecutive points to Illinois on Sunday to fall behind by 30 in their own building. And things might get worse before they get better.
12. Penn State (8-17, 0-13, 197th): This week: at Illinois. Coach Pat Chambers said one of these days his team would finally make some shots. The Nittany Lions hit 43.9 percent from the field and 88.2 percent from the line at Michigan but still fell short.