We took last week off to focus on our coverage of National Football Signing Day, but we're back today with another edition of Big Ten Power Rankings. Keep in mind, the rankings are not based on record, but rather who this author seems as the conference's strongest teams.
Without further ado, here's this week's rankings.
1. Michigan State (20-4, 9-2) ... The Spartans fell on the road at Wisconsin on Sunday, but they still belong in the top spot because they are the best team in the conference, and maybe the nation when healthy. Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson are still out, but Michigan State earned a tough win at Iowa last week and beat Penn State at home after falling to Georgetown. Gary Harris continues to get better and better as the season goes along, making Michigan State a tough out in March.
2. Iowa (18-6, 7-4) ... The Hawkeyes faltered in their first two big tests of the conference season, falling to Michigan State at home and overtime and again at home to Ohio State on Tuesday. Some wondered if they were truly ready for the big stage. But Iowa opened some eyes with its 85-67 beatdown of Michigan on Saturday, and the Hawkeyes have everything they need to make the Final Four. Now, it just comes down to execution.
3. Michigan (17-6, 9-2) ... They've dropped two of their last three, but the Wolverines were bound to lose sometime after an 8-0 start. They have another tough game at Ohio State on Tuesday before returning home for challenges against Wisconsin and Michigan State. How they emerge for this upcoming three-game stretch will tell us a lot about how good Michigan really is.
4. Ohio State (19-5, 6-5) ... Three games ago, it was fair to wonder whether Ohio State was going to fold and end up an NIT team this season. But the Buckeyes have turned it around in a hurry, winning three straight against Wisconsin, Iowa and Purdue, with the first two coming away from home. Lenzelle Smith Jr. is starting to shoot the ball better from the perimeter, something an offensively-challenged Ohio State team desperately needs the rest of the way.
5. Wisconsin (19-5, 6-5) ... The Badgers have won back-to-back games after dropping two straight at home to Northwestern and Ohio State. Their win over Michigan State on Sunday was a big one going forward. Wisconsin has Minnesota at home before going on the road to play Michigan and Iowa. Yes, this league is a grueling one.
6. Minnesota (16-8, 5-6) ... Indiana let a golden opportunity slip away in Minneapolis on Saturday when Minnesota overcame a double-figure deficit to win in the second half. Andre Hollins is still not fully healthy, and when he is, the Gophers will be an even more dangerous team.
7. Indiana (14-9, 4-6)... The Hoosiers have led in the second half of each of their four Big Ten road losses this season, losing those games by a combined 19 points. That's rough. Come March, there's a good chance IU will look back at losses to Northwestern, Nebraska and Minnesota and think about the opportunities missed. But the Hoosiers have some winnable games coming up, beginning with Wednesday night against Penn State.
8. Northwestern (12-12, 5-6) ... It's hard to figure out this Northwestern team. The Wildcats won at Indiana, at Wisconsin and at Minnesota, but lost at home to Nebraska most recently.
9. Nebraska (12-10, 4-6) ... The Cornhuskers' win at Northwestern on Saturday was their third victory in the last four. They have another winnable game against Illinois coming up on Wednesday before heading to Michigan State.
10. Illinois (14-10, 3-8) ... The Illini got their first win in the last nine games on Sunday at Penn State. They are struggling, but now that they've won again, can they right the ship?
11. Penn State (12-12, 3-8) ... Even after last week's loss at Michigan State, the Nittany Lions have won three of their last four games and are playing better. They should beat Illinois at home this week.
12. Purdue (14-10, 4-7) ... Give the Boilermakers credit: They are hanging in there. They earned an ugly three-overtime win over Minnesota at home before losing by 18 at Ohio State. Indiana will see Purdue next weekend in West Lafayette.