It may be early in the college basketball season, but the Big Ten pecking order has already begun to take shape.
Star-laden Purdue is no surprise at the top of the pile, but they are joined by a Wisconsin squad that is better than anyone expected. Northwestern, after losing senior star Kevin Coble and sixth man Jeff Ryan for the season, has been impressive in victories over Notre Dame, Iowa State, and NC State.
The entire conference got a huge prestige boost last week by winning the Big Ten/ACC Challenge 6-5 for the Big Ten's first victory in the decade-old series. Wisconsin and Illinois clinched the win with inspiring efforts against Duke and Clemson.
These power rankings are based on the votes of eight Bleacher Report featured columnists. Thanks to Dan Karell, Tim Cary, Scott Henry, Nick Mordowanec, Kevin Lindsey, Aaron Morse, and Jameson Fleming for contributing votes and commentary! If you are interested in voting, please send me a message.
Here are the rankings. Numbers in parentheses reflect a team's ranking in the B/R Top 25 , Pomeroy Index rating (go to www.kenpom.com for more—a great site for basketball fans!), and record.
1. Purdue (No. 5 B/R, No. 8 Pomeroy, 7-0)
Scott Henry: The Boilermakers passed their second quality non-conference test of the season, knocking off Wake Forest to help the Big Ten finally win the annual challenge with the ACC.
Following that win, the second in a row where they survived on their defense, Purdue gave a frightening example of what they can do when the shots fall, thrashing Buffalo 101-65. Provided they can shoot like that in games against competitive opponents, Purdue could set a brutal pace for the rest of the Big Ten.
Mark Fodor: Purdue has lived up to the hype with big wins against Tennessee and Wake Forest headlining an unbeaten start. An upcoming road game at Alabama is the Boilermakers' sole remaining test before the start of conference play, although West Virginia comes to West Lafayette on New Years Day for what should be a great match-up.
Veterans E'Twaun Moore, JaJuan Johnson, Robbie Hummel, and Chris Kramer have been playing together for years and have their sights set on a Big Ten title.
2. Wisconsin (No. 21, No. 37, 6-1)
Nick Mordowanec: Wisconsin had a nice win against Duke in the Challenge, although I think the Blue Devils weren't that great to begin with.
MF: Predicted to finish ninth in the Big Ten before the season began, the Badgers have taught us all an important lesson; you can never count out a Bo Ryan team. Do-everything guard Jason Bohannon and senior Trevon Hughes have paced Wisconsin to a strong start including quality wins against Duke, Maryland, and Arizona.
3. Ohio State (No. 13, No. 6, 7-1)
MF: An upcoming road game against No. 20 Butler (Saturday, noon) will tell us exactly how much Thad Matta is going to miss Evan Turner this season.
Kevin Lindsey: The loss of Turner to a broken back will undoubtedly hurt, but the Buckeyes stay high on the list as the cupboard in Columbus is not bare. Jon Diebler will lead the way, and three other players are averaging over ten points a game.
4. Michigan State (No. 11, No. 44, 7-2)
NM: The Spartans drop to number four after playing poorly against North Carolina.
MF: For a team that wants to return to the Final Four, Michigan State has not looked good early. Their best win was a close one against Gonzaga in East Lansing, and that young UNC team dominated most of the way against a more experienced Spartans squad.
SH: One should never bet against Tom Izzo, but Michigan State just doesn't look like they've quite gotten it together yet.
5. Northwestern (No. 32, No. 77, 6-1)
MF: The Wildcats are the surprise of the Big Ten season thus far. After battling their way to an NIT berth last year, Northwestern expected to play well, led by star forward Kevin Coble.
It didn't quite work out that way. Coble was lost to a season ending foot injury in practice, but the 'Cats haven't even thought about folding in his absence.
Senior point guard Michael "Juice" Thompson has stepped up big time, averaging over 17 points a game and pacing a feisty group of no-name Wildcats to a strong start, including wins against three major-conference opponents and the Chicago Invitational Tournament title.
6. Illinois (No. 26, No. 75, 7-2)
KL: The Illini's 23 point comeback against Clemson in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge was epic and historic. Freshmen D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul have shown maturity beyond their years.
MF: Despite an epic fail in the Las Vegas Invitational where Illinois fell to Utah and Bradley, those freshmen and double-double machine Mike Davis are giving this team some fight. Good size and a veteran point guard in Demetri McCamey make this a squad that will contend in Big Ten play.
7. Minnesota (No. 33, No. 12, 6-3)
KL: Nice comeback with a blowout of Brown at home. C Ralph Sampson III had his best game of the season, and Gophers fans hope it is a sign of good things to come.
MF: Tubby Smith's Minnesota squad may have been overhyped in the preseason when they were ranked in the top 20. A win over Butler in the 76 Classic gives them an out of conference victory to hang their hats on, but their next three games against decent opponents (Portland, Texas A&M, Miami) resulted in losses.
With four in a row against soft opponents at home (starting with a win tonight against Morgan State), Minnesota has a good chance to get it together heading into conference play.
8. Penn State (N/R, No. 143, 6-3)
SH: Just when things seemed to be looking up with the Challenge win over Virginia, PSU drops one to Temple in a game that could kindly be called "bowling-shoe ugly."
A team that can only rely on seven players, as the Lions did against Temple, will be ground to jelly by the end of this Big Ten season.
MF: Penn State and G Talor Battle finished last year with an NIT title. That's the bright side. They also lost a ton of scoring as seniors Jamelle Cornley, Stanley Pringle, and Danny Morrissey all graduated. That's the not-so-bright side.
The Nittany Lions will go exactly as far as Battle can carry them.
9. Michigan (N/R, No. 121, 4-3)
MF: The Wolverines were ranked No. 15 by ESPN in the preseason. Manny Harris is a great player, and Michigan has some good talent around him. But after a few early wins against weak opposition, Harris and Co. got crushed by Marquette in the Old Spice Classic, starting a three-game losing streak that included narrow losses to Alabama and Boston College.
They play Utah tomorrow and go on the road to Lawrence, Kansas to face the nation's No. 1 team on Dec. 19. Utah is a must-win, and just avoiding a blowout against the potent Jayhawks may be a moral victory.
10. Indiana (N/R, No. 173, 4-4)
MF: Tom Crean's Hoosiers are stacked with young talent and got a huge 74-64 win tonight against Pittsburgh in the Jimmy V Classic.
Freshmen Christian Watford and Maurice Creek have legitimate major-conference skills, and junior Georgetown transfer Jeremiah Rivers looks like the real deal as a big, smart, physical point guard. Indiana also benefits from a deep bench—there are at least ten players who can contribute, and possibly more.
The key for them is going to be hanging tough both in games where they tend to lose focus late, and in the lengthy conference season. Can Rivers and senior guard Devan Dumes emerge as vocal leaders for this team? If they can, and the young fellas can keep scoring, Indiana may surprise some people.
11. Iowa (N/R, No. 151, 3-6)
KL: The Hawkeyes haven't had two consecutive wins this season. They face both Northern Iowa and Iowa State this week.
MF: Iowa just got blown out by Northern Iowa 67-50. UNI is a good team, but you never want to lose state bragging rights to a directional school. On the upside, coach Todd Lickliter is out of the hospital after surgery yesterday. He might have wanted to stay in there, the way this team is playing. You can pencil in the Hawks for the No. 11 spot all season long.
There you have it. Thanks again to everybody that voted and sent in comments! We'll do it again before Christmas.
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