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Ranking The B1G: An Unusual Top

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The top of the Big Ten is exactly as we all predicted three months ago.

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Penn State Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

There has been a ton of movement in the past week of Big Ten play. Sure things have now become questionable. Can Michigan State keep pace with Maryland, and Penn State? Will Rutgers actually win outside of the RAC? Will they lose their next three home games? Will Northwestern continue to build double digit leads only to see them evaporate in the second half? The latter part of February should be absolutely manic, and I’m here for it.

1) Maryland Terrapins (—)

Play Illinois on the road? Oh no biggie. They’ll just win by a larger margin than they did at home. You know, like we all knew would happen. Maryland is firing on all cylinders and, for the first time since they joined the Big Ten, look like they could win a share of the Big Ten title.

2) Penn State Nittany Lions (+3)

Apparently a top four spot in the conference isn’t necessarily what the Nittany Lions had in mind. They’re looking for that 1-seed. Penn State once again something they’d never done under Chambers. They went into the Breslin Center and won. No other Big Ten team has done this this year either. Something else they hadn’t done? Win six Big Ten games in a row.

3) Iowa Hawkeyes (-1)

In theory, Iowa held serve by Big Ten standards. They won their home game and lost their road game. But my, how they lost that road game is just brutal. Their schedule tightens up a bit, but it’s certainly not unmanageable down the stretch. If they can avoid their usual collapse in the last two weeks of the season, Iowa should be in prime position to finish in the top four.

4) Illinois Fighting Illini (—)

The Fighting Illini basically need a win against Michigan State this week. Otherwise, they could be staring at the barrel of a four-game losing streak. That a hard fall after being tied atop the conference in the past few weeks.

5) Wisconsin Badgers (+2)

Wisconsin is another benefactor of having a court they call home. They yet again split their games, and like Iowa, they let the game get away from them in Minneapolis, but at least they didn’t get run out of the building from start to finish. The Badgers are just a few wins away from feeling comfortable in their bubble status.

6) Purdue Boilermakers (+6)

The volatility of the Big Ten conference really manifests itself in a team like Purdue. They Boilermakers lost one at Rutgers, needed a Rutgers-like comeback against Northwestern, had a record performance against Iowa, and spoiled Indiana’s biggest night (get it?) in a long time, all in the span of two weeks. The Boilers can breathe a little, but they can’t lose much more. The unfortunate reality for the rest of the Big Ten is that Purdue doesn’t seem to want to lose anymore.

...oh.

7) Michigan State Spartans (-4)

Michigan State is tumbling right now. This is the time they would usually start turning it on and proving the kind of team they could be, but the schedule affords them zero opportunities. The Spartans, like Illinois and Rutgers, may have played too many of their easier games too early in the season. As it stands, they’ve lost three straight and still have to play at Illinois, Maryland twice, and at Penn State. Your preseason Big Ten Champions may not finish in the top four of the conference.

8) Michigan Wolverines (—)

Isaiah Livers is just what the doctor ordered for the Wolverines. He returned just in time to make their bitter rival’s life just a bit more miserable. That also helped Michigan keep pace with the middle of the conference, and their NCAA hopes alive.

9) Ohio State Buckeyes (—)

Another team that split the week and is looking to keep pace with the middle of the conference. The Buckeyes looked like they had it figured out in their wins, but then they ran against the immovable object that is the Badger defense (and their uncanny ability to use 31 seconds in a 30-second shot clock possession after possession), and they found themselves down 20 in the blink of an eye. Ironic, when you think about it.

10) Minnesota Golden Gophers (+1)

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: A team that hopes to keep its NCAA tournament hopes alive split the week by winning their home game and losing their road game. Unlike the teams above it, Minnesota already has too many losses and can’t really afford many more. In fact, two is the most they can afford to lose before they need to make the semifinals in the Big Ten tournament in order to have a prayer.

11) Rutgers Scarlet Knights (-5)

Purdue didn’t get a cookie for beating Northwestern on the road after being down big. Rutgers certainly doesn’t get one for doing the same thing at home. In fact, The Scarlet Knights have beaten Nebraska and Northwestern in the exact same fashion, a trend that should alarm the Rutgers faithful, because there are no more gimmie games left. Oh, and as a reminder, there are four road games and three home games left. And the three home games are against teams they’ve already lost to. Rutgers has a chance to prove they belong in the top half of the conference, especially this week, but I’m not holding my breath.

12) Indiana Hoosiers (-2)

Indiana always lived in the middle of the conference, but there was hope that they were turning things around after they beat Michigan State. As it turned out, that said more about the Spartans than it did the Hoosiers. Archie Miller’s crew now finds itself in the middle of a four-game losing streak and staring at the barrel of Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, and Penn State in their next four games. Indiana needs to win at least two of those just to avoid going off the rails, let alone keeping their bubble hopes alive.

13) Northwestern Wildcats (—)

Two games, two blown leads late. I almost feel bad for Northwestern. Almost.

14) Nebraska Cornhuskers (—)

Nebraksa is starting to play cohesively, but they still don’t have the kind of team Hoiberg wants to play at Nebraska. The good news is a number of those pieces are sitting out this year, so look for the Huskers to be next season’s Rutgers (hopefully sans the paper tiger part).