World-Herald staff writer Lee Barfknecht ranks the Big Ten men's basketball teams as published in The World-Herald on Feb. 23.
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1. Michigan State (22-5, 9-5, No. 16 RPI)
This week: at Ohio State, Penn State. After a not-so-unusual midseason lull, the Spartans are back in the hunt for a high NCAA seed and in the conversation as a Final Four contender.
2. Iowa (20-6, 11-3, No. 13)
This week: Wisconsin, at Ohio State. The Hawkeyes can hardly coast home. Their last four opponents have a combined conference record of 40-19 (.678). Maybe that came up at the players-only meeting over the weekend.
3. Indiana (22-6, 12-3, No. 29)
This week: at Illinois. Next week is the final week of the Big Ten regular season. The Hoosiers, with a half-game lead in the conference race, will get to prove their worth by facing Iowa and Maryland.
4. Maryland (23-5, 11-4, No. 9)
This week: at Purdue. Is this the most talented roster in the Big Ten? Yes, by far. Are the Terps the best team? Not by a long shot. The team’s chemistry grade is barely passing.
5. Wisconsin (17-10, 9-5, No. 45)
This week: at Iowa, Michigan. Interim coach Greg Gard makes a stronger case every week to be named the permanent successor to Bo Ryan, all while facing the nation’s fifth-toughest schedule.
6. Purdue (21-7, 9-6, No. 23)
This week: Maryland. About the only thing consistent about the Boilermakers is their inconsistency, and not just game to game but often from half to half.
7. Michigan (19-9, 9-6, No. 57)
This week: Northwestern, at Wisconsin. When you shoot a lot of 3s, there are a lot of long rebounds. That’s partly why Michigan’s leading rebounder is 6-foot-1 guard Derrick Walton at 5.7 a game.
8. Ohio State (18-10, 10-5, No. 76)
This week: Michigan State, Iowa. Only one Big Ten team with 10 conference wins has ever missed the NCAA tourney. But the Buckeyes are hardly home free since the only quality wins are over Kentucky and Michigan.
9. Penn State (14-13, 5-9, No. 101)
This week: Nebraska, at Michigan State. Wins over Iowa and Indiana give the Nittany Lions a big boost in most tiebreaking situations for league tourney seeding.
10. Nebraska (14-14, 6-9, No. 161)
This week: at Penn State. The Huskers’ No. 1 goal now is to avoid finishing in the bottom four, so as not to get sent to Wednesday play-in day of the Big Ten tourney. Beating Penn State on Thursday is a must.
11. Northwestern (17-10, 5-9, No. 108)
This week: at Michigan, Rutgers. After a strong start, it looks like the Wildcats’ streak of never having played in the NCAA tournament will stay intact.
12. Illinois (12-15, 4-10, No. 153)
This week: Indiana, Minnesota. Three of Illinois’ four Big Ten wins are against Rutgers and Minnesota. No more needs to be said about the season coach John Groce is enduring.
13. Minnesota (7-19, 1-13, No. 222)
This week: Rutgers, at Illinois. The Gophers are on a one-game winning streak. Could they win out with two games against Rutgers, one at Illinois and home with Wisconsin?
14. Rutgers (6-21, 0-14, No. 275)
This week: at Minnesota, at Northwestern. The Scarlet Knights have the worst RPI of any Power Five team by 53 slots. Next closest is Minnesota, the opponent Tuesday night.