Can't deny them the top spot now. They managed to avoid the upset bug that struck a whole bunch of ranked teams last week, and are taking care of business against a less-than-formidable part of the schedule that continues tomorrow against the Hawkeyes. But then four of the next five are on the road, and those four are all against teams who have spent time in the rankings this season.
Next up: Wednesday vs. Iowa
2) No. 18 Wisconsin (14-4, 4-2); LW, 2
A lot of Badger teams would expect to take their whooping at Ohio State, and also would throw in an embarrassing loss to Northwestern. But this year's team holds off a suddenly-exciting NU team, and looks respectable at Ohio State. There are no doubts that Wisconsin is for real in 2010.
Next up: Wednesday vs. Michigan
3) No. 13 Purdue (14-3, 2-3); Last week's rank, 1
Last week: lost vs. Ohio State 70-66, lost at Northwestern 72-64
What a train wreck. (Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all week!) No, seriously. Three straight losses have all but ended the Boilers' hopes of a No. 1 seed in the tournament. That's not to say Purdue can't still recover and ensure a home-state Final Four in March. Ask the Spartans about bouncing back after being knocked to the canvas.
Next up: Tuesday at Illinois
4) No. 21 Ohio State (13-5, 3-3); LW, 6
Last week: won at then-No. 6 Purdue 70-66, won vs. then-No. 13 Wisconsin 60-51
Or the Boilermakers could ask Ohio State, too. Check out those Buckeyes, who got a shot in the arm with Evan Turner's return and reasserted themselves with a couple of big-fish wins. The key now, as it always is, involves not being satisfied with a nice week, because West Virginia is just around the corner on national television and plenty of bottom-feeding Big Ten teams would love a shot at The Ohio State University.
Next up: Tuesday vs. Northwestern
5) Michigan (10-7, 3-2); LW, 8
Well, hello there, immense potential. Michigan's glad you could show up. The Wolverines hike up in these rankings, but actually got a surprisingly small amount of love in the polls (receiving just 6 votes in the coaches' poll, and nothing in the AP). That record's still a little unseemly, and conference victories will resonate louder and longer.
Next up: Wednesday at No. 18 Wisconsin
6) Illinois (12-6, 4-1); LW, 5
Last week: won vs. Penn State 54-53, lost at then-No. 7 Michigan State 73-63
It's rivalry time for the Illini, who have got Purdue, Northwestern and Indiana in the immediate future. Guys like Demetri McCamey have the task of keeping teammates' heads in order and looking past the individual banter that gets thrown back and forth between Illinois faithful and fans of those other programs.
Next up: Tuesday vs. No. 13 Purdue
7) Northwestern (13-4, 2-3); LW, 7
Last week: lost vs. Wisconsin 60-50, won vs. then-No. 6 Purdue 72-64
Could the Wildcats be America's team? Sports Illustrated's Chris Ballard devoted a back-page column to the pain and suffering of Northwestern fans who have never seen their team dance in March. The funniest thing to me – like, ever – was watching NU students rush the court following the Purdue win. Let's just say it reminded me of a Star Wars convention where Carrie Fisher and Anthony Daniels have just made a surprise appearance. No offense.
Next up: Tuesday at No. 21 Ohio State
8) Minnesota (12-6, 3-3); LW, 4
Last week: lost at then-No. 7 Michigan State 60-53, lost at Indiana 81-78 OT
Succumbing in East Lansing was understandable. Blowing one in Bloomington was not, and the Gophers will pay for it for some time in the standings. Minnesota already had a three-game losing streak early this season, so it has shown a propensity to struggle with coming back strong after losses. Of course, it doesn't help when Sparty's on the other sideline twice in three games. At least the rematch is in the Barn.
Next up: Saturday vs. No. 6 Michigan State
9) Indiana (8-9, 2-3); LW, 9
Last week: lost at Michigan 69-45, won vs. Minnesota 81-78 OT
Good of them to hold off Goldy, but you can hardly be taken seriously as a Big Ten threat when you lose twice in nine days by 25 and 24 points. That's the demeaning fact facing the Hoosiers, who are under-talented but shouldn't be losing by those margins to Ohio State or Michigan. Maybe in football, but on the hardwood, anyway.
Next up: Thursday at Penn State
10) Iowa (7-11, 1-4); LW, 11
Last week: won vs. Tennessee State 67-62, won vs. Penn State 67-64
Hey, a promotion! That's what two wins get you. And in the bonus round, Iowa, you get … Michigan State. Yeah. Good luck with that. At least 10 wins is somewhat in the realm of reality now.
Next up: Wednesday at No. 6 Michigan State
11) Penn State (8-9, 0-5); LW, 10
Last week: lost at Illinois 54-53, lost at Iowa 67-64
Granted, the Nittany Lions lost a pair of tough road games by a combined four points. That's progress. But it's been said before and it shall be said again: no team with Talor Battle on it should be losing these types of games.
Next up: Thursday vs. Indiana