The Big Ten appeared to be taking shape last week, but with a few losses, the race for the title is still contested and the top spot changed hands once again. There are still a few weeks left of conference play, but there are still a lot of opportunities for teams to move up and drop. Let's look at the rankings this week:
Week 14 Power Rankings
#1 - Michigan State (Average - 1.46)
This week, the Spartans have moved up to #1 in the power rankings after splitting their two games last week between Iowa (road) and Georgetown (neutral court). MSU's win at Iowa is probably one of the most impressive wins of any team during conference play so far this year and is likely the main reason that the Spartans moved up this week. If they can get Payne and Dawson back in the next few weeks, they could be in the best position of any Big Ten team going forward. MSU gets Penn State at home and Wisconsin on the road this week.
#2 - Michigan (Average - 1.54)
Michigan narrowly moved down a spot after splitting against Purdue and Indiana this week. Despite a disappointing loss to Indiana on the road on Sunday, the Wolverines still lead the conference (tied with MSU) and are 5-0 against the Top 7 teams on this week's power rankings list. That could easily change in the future, but for now, it's the main reason that Michigan is at #2. Michigan gets Nebraska (home) and Iowa (road) this week.
#3 - Iowa (Average - 3.2)
The Hawkeyes have put themselves on an island in the rankings this week. They have been able to hang strong at #2 for awhile now, but have been unable to move up. They lost to MSU at home early in the week, but were able to turn around and get a road win over Illinois. Many of the "good" Big Ten teams have been unable to get through games against lower opponents, so coming away with these wins has been more important for Iowa than most anticipate. They still have slim hopes to win the Big Ten, but they still have a shot if they can pull off two big wins over OSU and Michigan this week.
#4 - Ohio State (Average - 4.6)
The Buckeyes moved up two spots this week and frankly, it seemed to be more about other teams struggling than OSU necessarily doing anything great. They did beat Wisconsin on the road (never easy), but they also fell at home to Penn State. However, they have been able to get enough wins to at least get back in the top half of the conference standings. They will get Iowa on the road and Purdue at home this week.
#5 - Northwestern (Average - 5.8)
Northwestern moved up an incredible 5(!!!) spots this week after beating Wisconsin and Minnesota on the road last week. If people thought the Wildcats were going to roll over, that discussion is more than dead now. Northwestern is 5-5 in conference play and have won 4 out of their last 5 games. At this point, nobody in the conference can have the luxury of overlooking Northwestern anymore. They are currently in position to get a bye(!!!) in the Big Ten Tournament and are probably pretty close to locking up an NIT bid if they have not already. They will get Nebraska at home this week.
#6 - Wisconsin (Average - 5.9)
Wisconsin did the opposite of Ohio State this week and replaced the Buckeyes at #6 this week. This has been an incredibly rough conference schedule for Wisconsin this year and the Badgers have lost 5 of their last 6 games. Outside of that lone win against Purdue, they have been very underwhelming and lost 3(!!) home games. In fact, Wisconsin's last home win came on January 8th, which is insane to say considering what Bo Ryan has done in Madison. They have a shot to turn things around this week with Illinois (road) and MSU (home.
#7 - Minnesota (Average - 6.5)
The Gophers have been an odd team this year and really appeared to be trending up before losing 3 of the team's last 4 games including dropping games against Nebraska and Northwestern last week. Minnesota still seems aimed for an NCAA Tournament bid, but what is perhaps more frustrating is that they could have come close to locking up a bid if they had won their last two games. Now they enter February firmly on the bubble. They get Purdue (road) and Indiana (home) this week.
#8 - Indiana (Average - 7.1)
The Hoosiers had a very bi-polar week. They started out with a devastating road loss to Nebraska, but followed it up by beating Michigan (formerly undefeated in the B1G) at home for what is probably the team's most impressive win of the season. If Indiana can get a little consistency and build on their strong defensive performance on Sunday, they have a shot at making it back to the NCAA Tournament. Indiana gets Minnesota this week.
#9 - Nebraska (Average - 9.2)
The Cornhuskers held strong at #9 although they dropped a tenth in the numbers this week. They only played one game last week, but were able to beat Indiana at home. They will go on the road to Michigan and Northwestern this week and pulling off either win would be a big boost for Nebraska.
#10 - Penn State (Average - 10.2)
The Nittany Lions actually jumped up two spots this week after beating Ohio State and Purdue. PSU still is not in great job for any postseason hopes, but they have won their last three games after starting 0-6 in the Big Ten. They will get MSU (road) and Illinois (home) this week.
#11 - Purdue (Average - 10.7)
Purdue has been one of the most disappointing teams in Big Ten play. After showing so much promise in the offseason and through non-conference play, they have fallen on their faces. They were 3-2 at one point in confernece play and have now fallen to 3-6. They get Minnesota (home) and OSU (road) this week.
#12 - Illinois (Average - 11.8)
The Illini are a complete trainwreck right now. What is amazing is that this team was ranked and was considered a darkhorse candidate for the Big Ten title just a few weeks ago. They have lost 7 straight games and considering some of those games were at home and against lower-tier Big Ten teams, it is hard to have high hopes for Illinois. If they can snag some wins, maybe they can get to the NIT, but things do not look good to say the least. Illinois gets Wisconsin (home) and PSU (road) this week.
The big storyline out of this week's power rankings is much the same as last week, the intense battle at the top of the polls. Michigan and MSU swapped places this week, but the gap is only .08 in the numbers. So far this season, this was the closest vote for the top spot. Both teams split this week. MSU may have had the worse loss (Georgetown), but they also probably had the most impressive win (Iowa). Last week, I talked at length about how I believed Michigan deserved the top spot, but it's pretty murky right now and both teams are tied at top of the B1G standings. Perhaps this week will create some separation.
Beyond Iowa, I'm just not sure how you sort those teams right now. It seems like the voters are basing it primarily on how their guts feel and frankly, it makes sense. These teams are beating up on each other and have lost a bunch of games to lower competition. Maybe we get some more separation this week, but for now at least, there are going to be a lot of switched positions.
How about Northwestern? Shooting up 5 spots this late in the season is just insane. Sure, they got some help to do it, but the Wildcats have been on a big run. If they can keep winning, who knows how far they can get. Chris Collins has definitely put together a season that might get him Big Ten Coach of the Year.
At the bottom, Purdue and Illinois now occupy the lowest spots. There is of course time to move up, but both teams had a lot of hope for this season and it's crazy to see how far they have fallen. Losing games is one thing, but both teams are losing games that they probably should be winning. If you are going to compete in the Big Ten, at some point, you just have to win. No explanations, just win. Until these teams do it, it's hard to see them going anywhere.