After a week where Indiana dropped games to the teams we had ranked No. 11 and No. 12 in last week's Big Ten Power Rankings, here is our latest edition with who this author believes are the conference's strongest teams.
1. Michigan State (21-5, 10-3) … The Spartans' star was tarnished a bit with Sunday's home loss to Nebraska but Michigan State still remains the Big Ten's strongest team, especially when at full strength. Adreian Payne is back and Branden Dawson remains out, and now comes word that Tom Izzo may shutdown Keith Appling for a while to let his injury heal. Once Michigan State gets healthy, the Spartans will be a team you don't want to play in March.
2. Iowa (19-6, 8-4) ... The Hawkeyes are third in the Big Ten but you could make an argument that they are the conference's strongest team especially when others are faltering around them. That said, this is a big week for Iowa. It goes to Indiana Tuesday night and then plays red-hot Wisconsin at home. A split will at least allow Iowa to stop among the top teams. If Iowa can pick up a sweep though, it will be right back in the hunt for a Big Ten title.
3. Michigan (18-7, 10-3) ...It was an interesting week for the Wolverines as they went on the road and beat Ohio State and then came home and lost to Michigan. Still, Michigan has a great opportunity ahead on Sunday when it plays its only game of the week against Michigan State in the Crisler Center. The Wolverines have already defeated Michigan State in East Lansing. A win and Michigan will be in the driver's seat to win the B1G title as it will have the tie-breaker edge with the Spartans.
4. Wisconsin (21-5, 8-5) ... The Badgers seem to have shaken off their mid-season slump and are establishing themselves as one of the Big Ten's best again. The 13-point win on Sunday at Michigan was particularly impressive. This week, Wisconsin has just one game but it's an equally important tilt at Iowa. A win there could trumpet the Badgers' return to the conference's elite.
5. Ohio State (20-6, 7-6) ... The Buckeyes remain one of the most difficult teams in the Big Ten to predict. In many ways, they're a lot like the Hoosiers. Last week, they dropped a 10-point loss at home to Michigan and then went on the road against the reeling Illini and held Illinois to 39 points in a 48-39 win. One would think this would be a get-well week for Ohio State as it plays Northwestern and Minnesota, both at home. But in the 2014 Big Ten nothing is a certainty.
6. Nebraska (14-10, 6-6) ... Look who is sitting at No. 6 in the power rankings this week? None other than Nebraska, the perennial cellar-dweller in the conference standings. Nebraska has won five of the last six including a huge road victory over Michigan State on Sunday. More than that, Nebraska is positioned well for an NCAA Tournament berth as long as it doesn't falter down the stretch. In the next four games, Nebraska plays Penn State and Purdue at home, at Illinois and then Northwestern at home. This could be one of the hottest teams in the Big Ten when it comes to Assembly Hall on Senior Night March 5.
7. Minnesota (17-9, 6-7) ...The road win over Northwestern at the end of last week put Minnesota back on the right track and the Golden Gophers have a good chance to get back to even in conference play when it plays host to Illinois at the beginning of this week. The road game against an up and down Ohio State team could be particularly big for Minnesota's postseason hopes.
8. Purdue (15-10, 5-7) ... The Boilermakers were 12th in our rankings last week but the win over Indiana has quickly moved Purdue back up in the mix. The Boilers still don't look at an NCAA team and games this week against Michigan State at home and Nebraska on the road could have Purdue sinking back in the rankings next week.
9. Indiana (14-11, 4-8)... Indiana has dropped three in a row and the big question is whether the Hoosiers can bounce back mentally from the one they gave away to Penn State last Wednesday, a game where IU squandered an 11-point lead in the final 3 minutes. Tom Crean alluded to that point on his radio show Monday that his team clearly didn't play with its usual spirit at Purdue. A win against Iowa could put a spring back into Indiana's step but the Hoosiers need to put an end to this losing skid very soon.
10. Penn State (13-13, 4-9) ... The win over the Hoosiers allowed Penn State to keep its record even on the season, which is why the Nittany Lions are ranked slightly ahead of Northwestern. Penn State has been playing better and only has one game this week, at Nebraska.
11. Northwestern (12-14, 5-8) ... The Wildcats' ship is spinning out of control. Two more losses last week has Northwestern under .500 for the year. It would be easy to rank Northwestern just ahead of IU because it beat the Hoosiers in the only game between the two teams to date, but it's hard to do so when Northwestern has a losing record on the year.
12. Illinois (14-12, 3-10) ... The Illini continue to struggle and occupy last place in the Big Ten standings. Losses last week to Nebraska and Ohio State cemented that position. Their only game this week is at Minnesota.