World-Herald staff writer Lee Barfknecht ranks the Big Ten men’s basketball teams. RPI from RPIratings.com
1. Michigan State (20-4, 9-2, 10th)
This week: Northwestern, Nebraska. Even with all the injuries — now point guard Keith Appling is out for two weeks with a bad wrist — the Spartans win the most and play the best.
2. Michigan (17-6, 9-2, 17th)
This week: at Ohio State, Wisconsin. This is a critical week for the Wolverines to stay in the title hunt. Getting swept is quite possible, but they can’t afford it.
3. Iowa (18-6, 7-4, 23rd)
This week: at Penn State. Tough break for the Hawkeyes. Coming off their strongest performance of the year — a thrashing of Michigan — the schedule-makers gave them a week between games.
4. Ohio State (19-5, 6-5, 16th)
This week: Michigan, at Illinois. After a 15-0 start and then four straight losses, the Buckeyes have regained their balance. The current 4-1 stretch includes back-to-back road wins over Wisconsin and Iowa.
5. Wisconsin (19-5, 6-5, 7th)
This week: Minnesota, at Michigan. Forward Nigel Hayes won his third freshman of the week award from the Big Ten. That’s the most by a Wisconsin player in school history.
6. Minnesota (16-8, 5-6, 41st)
This week: at Wisconsin, at Northwestern. This is a monster week for the Gophers. They really need a split of the two road games to stay on track for a good NCAA seed. A sweep would be golden.
7. Nebraska (12-10, 4-6, 69th)
This week: Illinois, at Michigan State. A program trying to build always faces new challenges. For the Huskers, with five of their final eight at home, it’s dealing with expectations to win and get to postseason play.
8. Northwestern (12-12, 5-6, 98th)
This week: at Michigan State, Minnesota. In the last four weeks, the Wildcats have played in games decided by 6, 7, 3, 9, 1 and 4 points. They won five of those six.
9. Indiana (14-9, 4-6, 78th)
This week: Penn State, at Purdue. The Hoosiers haven’t shown enough progress with their young players to look like an NCAA tournament team. Scoring punch is far too inconsistent.
10. Purdue (14-10, 4-7, 107th)
This week: Indiana. In the Boilermakers’ win over Minnesota, they were called for a season-low 14 fouls even though the game went an extra 15 minutes because of triple overtime.
11. Illinois (14-10, 3-8, 70th)
This week: at Nebraska, Ohio State. The Illini broke an eight-game losing streak by beating Penn State on Sunday. Their previous victory was Jan. 4 over Penn State.
12. Penn State (12-12, 3-8, 114th)
This week: at Indiana, Iowa. The Nittany Lions were riding a three-game winning streak — the longest in the Big Ten — but two losses last week dropped them back to the bottom of the standings and the RPI.