World-Herald staff writer Lee Barfknecht ranks the Big Ten men’s basketball teams. RPI from rpiratings.com
1. Michigan (19-7, 11-3, 13th)
This week: at Purdue, Minnesota. The Wolverines have the inside track toward a league title. No one would have guessed this with Mitch McGary (back surgery) out and Glenn Robinson III leveling off.
2. Wisconsin (22-5, 9-5, 5th)
This week: Indiana, at Penn State. This is the other Big Ten team besides Nebraska with a five-game winning streak. After a six-game lull in January, the Badgers are on track for another top-four league finish.
3. Michigan State (22-6, 11-4, 19th)
This week: Illinois. The multiple injuries the Spartans have dealt with led to a tired effort against Michigan. Time is growing short for getting the banged-up back in shape and in the rotation.
4. Ohio State (22-6, 9-6, 17th)
This week: at Penn State, at Indiana. Point guard Aaron Craft has been named the national academic All-American of the year in men’s basketball for the second straight season.
5. Iowa (19-7, 8-5, 28th)
This week: at Minnesota, at Indiana, Purdue. With three games jammed into this week, it’s a critical time for the Hawkeyes to figure out how to close out games and boost their NCAA résumé — and hold off Nebraska.
6. Nebraska (16-10, 8-6, 48th)
This week: at Illinois, Northwestern. Both opponents this week will have had a full week to prepare for the Huskers. Not always a plus because many would prefer games over practice this time of year.
7. Minnesota (17-11, 6-9, 46th)
This week: Iowa, at Michigan. The Gophers need to reignite their offense, and fast, if they want to preserve NCAA tourney hopes. The past three games, they have scored 54, 49 and 46.
8. Indiana (15-11, 5-8, 97th)
This week: at Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio State. Because of the Assembly Hall roof being unsafe last week — a hunk of steel fell in the seats — the Hoosiers get to play three games in seven days this week.
9. Illinois (15-12, 4-10, 85th)
This week: Nebraska, at Michigan State. The Illini’s 13-point road thumping of Minnesota has injected some life back into this season. Freshman Kendrick Nunn is a key to an improved outlook.
10. Purdue (15-12, 5-9, 121st)
This week: Michigan, at Iowa. Coach Matt Painter is not pleased with his team, calling the players out Monday for selfishness and failing to follow game plans.
11. Northwestern (12-16, 5-10, 116th)
This week: at Nebraska. JerShon Cobb, the Wildcats’ second-leading scorer (12.2), is still hampered by foot and knee injuries. His status for Nebraska remains in doubt.
12. Penn State (13-14, 4-10, 119th)
This week: Ohio State, Wisconsin. Here’s a salute to fifth-year senior guard Tim Frazier, who stayed an extra year after a nasty Achilles tear to play on with his teammates. A class guy and gutty player.