Instead of ranking the top 12 teams in the country, Badger Nation's weekly feature will rank the 11 teams of the Big Ten Conference, giving you our opinions as to who is rising, who is falling and the key matchup to watch for in our favorite conference.
With six of 11 teams ranked in the top 35, the Big Ten is the No. 2 rated conference in the latest RPI and tied for first in strength of schedule, which makes our job all that more challenging and fun.
Each contributor ranks the 11 teams from one to 11 with one being the weakest and 11 being the strongest. Sixty-six points this week is a perfect score, which we have in this edition, and six is the lowest score, which we also have.
This week's contributors include Aaron Brenner from the Janesville Gazette/Captial Times/Badger Nation, Bryan Camp from the Grateful Red, Adam Hoge from the Chicago Tribune, Ben Voelkel from Sportsbubbler.com, Badgermaniac and Benjamin Worgull from the Nation.
Badger Nation's Power 11
1) Michigan State (13-2, 3-0) (66)
2) Purdue (12-4, 1-2) (55)
3) Minnesota (15-1, 3-1) (54)
4) Wisconsin (12-4, 3-1) (48)
5) Illinois (14-2, 2-1) (44)
6) Michigan (13-3, 3-1) (38)
7) Ohio State (11-3, 1-2) (28)
8) Penn State (13-4, 2-2) (27)
9) Iowa (11-6, 1-3) (16)
10) Northwestern (8-5, 0-3) (14)
11) Indiana (5-10, 0-3) (6)
first number in parentheses is overall record, followed by conference record and then total number of points
Featured Matchup of the Week
No.25 Michigan at Illinois, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Big Ten Network
The Wolverines, led by Manny Harris' 16.8 points per game, are looking for their ninth win in their last 10 games and their fourth straight conference win, a win streak that includes a 10-point home win over Illinois.
Since their lost to Michigan snapped their seven-game win streak, the Fighting Illini dismantled rival Indiana, shooting 51 percent from the floor and 52 percent from three-point range.
If Illinois wants to split the season series, its going to need a better defensive performance, as the Illini allowed five Michigan players to score in double figures.
No.18 Minnesota at Wisconsin, 8:00 p.m. Thursday, Big Ten Network
Both teams sit at 3-1 in conference, a half game behind Michigan State, and needing to keep pace. Minnesota is fresh off a 20-point dismantling of Penn State, but has played only two true road games this season and won by one and three points, respectively.
Wisconsin is coming off one of its worst shooting performances of the season and return to the friendly confines of the Kohl Center, where UW hasn't dropped a game to its border rivals since 1994.
Aaron Brenner's Poll
1) Michigan State
Drew who? Tom Izzo must have stolen Bo Ryan's copy of the book "How to Lose a Bona Fide All-American and Still Put Together a Final Four-Caliber Team" from a year ago. Raymar Morgan and Kalin Lucas have won the last two Big Ten Player of the Week awards, and like UW did last year with not traveling to East Lansing, MSU benefits from hosting Wisconsin and not having to make the trek to Madison.
Tubby Smith hasn't needed much time to rebrand the Gophers as an extremely tough out for anybody in the Big Ten – and if this balanced team led by Lawrence Westbrook (the only Gopher in the top 30 scoring) and Al Nolen (5.8 assists a game, second in the Big Ten) continues to improve, Minnesota could be lurking as even tougher in the tournament as well.
They're baaaaaaack. You just knew that Robbie Hummel and Chris Kramer, who haven't shut up in the past year about how they beat Wisconsin twice and then had to watch the Badgers walk off with both conference titles, weren't going to miss Sunday's game for the world. Don't let the overtime loss to Illinois or the humiliation at Penn State fool you – as Joe Krabbenhoft said Sunday, "there's no way they're not going to be there at the end of the season."
The Badgers have done well to start 3-0 in conference play, to not have a particularly bad loss through 16 games, and to have seen nice strides from role guys like Jon Leuer, Tim Jarmusz and Robert Wilson. But something doesn't seem right about this team, which has the fourth-worst offense in the Big Ten. Is Marcus Landry not doing quite enough on the offensive end? Should Trevon Hughes be even more assertive? Has Jason Bohannon found his shot yet, for sure? It just seems like if the Badgers don't click it up a notch (and soon), defending their Big Ten crown might be out of reach.
Any time you have Manny Harris playing like arguably the Big Ten's most talented player, and DeShawn Sims playing beastly under the rim, you're going to have trouble beating the Wolverines. Duke and UCLA can attest to that. But they got simply undressed at home by the Badgers – we'll see how they fare in an upcoming stretch that includes four of the next six on the road.
Talk about riding momentum into next year. The Illini made it to the Big Ten championship game last year, and sprinted out to a 13-1 start whose only blemish was a two-point loss to undefeated Clemson. Illinois is extremely balanced – four guys score either 11 or 12 points a game – and have a chance to exact revenge on Michigan at Assembly Hall on Wednesday.
7) Ohio State
Anybody seen B.J. Mullens lately? Evan Turner (top five in the conference in scoring and rebounding) is carrying the Buckeyes in David Lighty's absence, but an embarrassing 28-point loss at home to West Virginia triggered a three-out-of-four losing slide.
8) Penn State
Do you realize that Jamelle Cornley scores 14 points a game, ranks tenth in the Big Ten in that category … and is getting sloppy thirds for the Nittany Lions? Talor Battle (Big Ten-best 18.9 ppg) and Stanley Pringle (14.6 ppg) team with Cornley to form an exciting Penn State team that not only gave the Badgers a scare last week in the Kohl Center, but will try to help the Big Ten score an amazing eight entrants in the Big Dance this March.
Craig Moore, Kevin Coble and Michael Thompson are going to keep the Wildcats interesting all year – along with that pesky defense. But if they don't get at least one of their next three games – Purdue and Minnesota, both at home, followed by a trip to Michigan State – any tournament hopes might be dashed in mid-January.
Not really sure what to make of the Hawkeyes yet – it seems like they're just the clear-cut No. 10 team in the conference behind some other much-improved teams. But Iowa does boast the top defense in the league. Of course, you do have to score the basketball too. That usually helps.
Can we just etch this team's name in stone right here next to No. 11? Should we even bother writing an explanation each week? Please, by all means, be shocked if the Hoosiers get four Big Ten victories this year. Shoot, even two Ws might be a success story.
Bryan Camp's Poll
1) Michigan State
7) Penn State
8) Ohio State
Adam Hoge's Poll
1) Michigan State
7) Ohio State
8) Penn State
In beating Wisconsin Sunday, the Boilermakers looked like the team we thought they were for the first time in a long time. Robbie Hummel and Chris Kramer came back and suddenly it was a different team. The 0-2 hole will be tough to overcome, but if the Boilers play like they did against Wisconsin, they still have a shot at winning the Big Ten.
Minnesota still has its doubters, but the reality is that the Gophers are 15-1 with a great chance of making a run at the Big Ten title. Lawrence Westbrook asked a great question this week, "Why not us?"
The middle of the conference is up for grabs, but Wisconsin has the edge in coaching and home court advantage over everyone else. Michigan has one of the best 1-2 punches in the nation with Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims, plus they beat Illinois head-to-head pretty solidly.
Northwestern picked a bad year to be better. The depth of the Big Ten will keep the Wildcats out of the postseason once again.
Ben Voekel's Poll
1) Michigan State — Sparty is undefeated in league play and hasn't lost since Goran Suton came back from a knee injury. Michigan State's won its three league games by nearly 11 points a contest.
2) Purdue — I don't care what Purdue's record is. I know what I saw Sunday.
3) Illinois — Winning in West Lafayette to open the conference season was huge for the Illini. Only losses so far are by two to undefeated Clemson and at Ann Arbor.
4) Minnesota — Gophers' lone loss so far is to Michigan State in Minneapolis. We'll see how good Tubby's boys are in the next two weeks, with games in Madison and home against Purdue.
5) Wisconsin — Lockdown defense just isn't there for the Badgers this year. That's one of the main reasons they are good, but not great, and helps explain why they haven't been able to get over the hump in losses to Connecticut, Marquette, Texas and Purdue.
6) Michigan — Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims can score and rebound all they like, but if Michigan doesn't start defending better, it won't matter.
7) Penn State — Win over Purdue and close loss on the road in Madison was a good way to start the conference schedule, but the Nittany Lions followed that by getting throttled in Minneapolis Sunday.
8) Ohio State — Still looking for identity after losing David Lighty to a broken foot. Only wins since Christmas are a home squeaker against Iowa and a blowout of one-win Houston Baptist.
9) Iowa — Just 1-3 to open the conference season, the only win being a five-pointer at home against Indiana. But for the most part, the Hawkeyes have been competitive, with three-point losses to Ohio State and Minnesota.
10) Northwestern — Disappointing start for the Wildcats. After elevated preseason expectations, they are 0-3 to start the conference season. The schedule doesn't get any easier, either. Next four games: home contests against Purdue and Minnesota and roadies at Michigan State and Michigan.
11) Indiana — The Hoosiers are like a five year old shooting at a 10-foot hoop. They're trying and it's cute, but it just ain't happenin'.
1) Michigan State - The best overall profile in the conference to this point. The Spartans have already played 7 top 50 games, going 5-2. They are the odds on favorite to win the Big Ten at this point.
2) Purdue - Yes, they have four losses, but they have battled some injuries and their convincing win over Wisconsin on Sunday edges them ahead of the Badgers and the Illini.
3) Wisconsin - Wisconsin and Illinois are close. The big difference is that Wisconsin has played a tougher schedule. Still, I wouldn't argue too hard if someone wanted to put Illinois ahead of the Badgers at this point.
4) Illinois - The highest Pomeroy ranking in the Big Ten to this point. Their defense has been tremendous this year.
5) Minnesota - The Gophers and Buckeyes have very similar resumes to this point. Minnesota has a better record, but against a much easier schedule. I give the edge to the Gophers based on OSU scuffling a bit lately with all of their issues.
6) Ohio State - The West Virginia game was not pretty.
7) Michigan - The two quality non-conference wins are going to be huge for them, as right now, they look like a possible 6th-7th team when it comes to NCAA bids. Arguably the best offensive team in the league, but also the worst defensively. If they improve there, they could be dangerous.
8) Penn State - Iowa and PSU are basically toss ups. I like the Lions a bit going forward, so they get the edge this week.
9) Iowa - Very competitive and will beat some people this year. This is a good as the #9 Big Ten team has been in a while.
10) Northwestern - Much improved this year, but with the rest of the conference much better, it doesn't really show in the rankings. Defense is much improved but they are getting killed on the glass.
11) Indiana - Playing competitive on the defensive end of the court, but simply have no weapons , which cost them a sure win over the Wolverines this week.
Benjamin Worgull's Poll
1) Michigan State
7) Penn State
8) Ohio State