Glanced at the sports department TV the other night during work, and noticed Purdue was losing to Alabama. By 18. Then I check 24 hours later (since, you know, who keeps close tabs on college basketball in December on Sundays?) and I see the Boilers won by 8. Even when it's ugly, it's pretty. They're the favorite, hands down.
2) Illinois (8-2); LR, 8
Yeah, yeah, they were a complete no-show in Vegas. My guess is the Illini were too busy doing their best impression of "The Hangover" and were less interested in playing Utah or Bradley. But what a stirring comeback that was at Vanderbilt. An absolute catalyst in helping the Big Ten finally come up for air in that ACC Challenge.
3) Ohio State (7-2); LR, 2
Not a huge fan of Matta's Men losing at Thad's previous employer, Butler. However, the Buckeyes took care of business against Florida State to ice the Challenge; and did you see how many points Ohio State scored in the games before and after FSU? 110 and 111. Was it against St. Francis (Pa.) and Eastern Michigan? Yes, of course it was. But still. The status of Evan Turner missing two months has no good in it for OSU.
4) Wisconsin (7-2); LR, 5
UW-Green Bay? Seriously? I guess there's your one real head-scratching loss the Badgers seem to roll out each year ... does that mean we shouldn't expect one in Big Ten season? Whatever, say you fans of Bucky. Bo's Boys just beat Marquette, and that's all that matters in non-conference play. That, and the Duke win still reverberates.
5) Northwestern (7-1); LR, 4
I don't have a real reason for moving Carmody's Crew down a spot, besides Wisconsin's knockdown of the Dukies. Six straight wins, including a three-pack of respectable programs in Notre Dame, Iowa State and North Carolina State (combined record of 23-3 when not playing NU), have the anonymous Wildcats looking up.
6) Michigan State (8-2); LR, 3
Anybody take a look at top-ranked Kansas' schedule so far? Those aren't just cupcakes; we're talking full sheets of 6,000-calorie wedding cake. Beating Memphis (still recovering from Coach Cal's path of destruction) by two has been the highlight, along with setting down suddenly-stinky UCLA. Then you've got such powerhouses as Hofstra, Oakland, Alcorn State, Radford and La Salle. I DON'T KNOW WHERE ANY OF THOSE COLLEGES ARE!!! (And, no, objectors, Oakland University is not in Northern California. It's actually in Michigan. Look it up.) I can tell you that the Jayhawks' two other opponents, Central Arkansas and Tennessee Tech, are in, uh, Central Arkansas and Tennessee.
Why do I bring all this up? Sparty has won all three games since that 2-out-of-3 skid decorated by losses to Florida and North Carolina. Those three opponents Wofford, the Citadel and the aforementioned Oakland Golden Grizzlies. For this reason, the Spartans are ranked sixth here. You wanna earn respect, Michigan State? Do it against some real opponents.
Thank you. I feel liberated.
7) Minnesota (7-3); LR, 6
Can't ignore the three-game losing streak, which is quite a stain on the early-season hoops resume. But it's worth noting that Butler has knocked off Ohio State and Northwestern, while the Gophers beat the Bulldogs 82-73 Thanksgiving weekend in Anaheim.
8) Indiana (4-5); LR, 10
Tom Crean's finest moment as a Hoosier – besides the introductory news conference – had to have been last Tuesday in Madison Square Garden, when Indiana thwarted Pittsburgh, an Elite Eight team from a season ago. Baby steps just became a walking toddler.
9) Penn State (6-3); LR, 9
I actually feel kind of bad that the Nittany Lions are this low, since beating Virginia 69-66 on the road set the tone for that Big Ten/ACC Challenge victory. If you hadn't figured it out yet, I'm a big fan of this conference getting back a huge amount of respect two weeks ago.
10) Michigan (5-4); LR, 7
In Manny and DeShawn I trust ... I think. Eventually, maybe? Michigan doesn't have a single win to be proud of to this point, and beating Kansas next Saturday seems a stretch.
11) Iowa (2-4); LR, 11
Keep coach Todd Lickliter, who has stepped away from the sidelines for a few games recuperating from surgery, in your thoughts. But on the basketball side of things, the Hawkeyes might not win eight games this year.