Big Ten Power Ranking: On-the-bubble Spartans, Wolverines need to be on their games

The league race is sorting itself out. The bigger question, though—the Big Dance—remains up in the air.

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Five teams are in good shape. Barring major collapses, Purdue, Wisconsin, Maryland, Minnesota and Northwestern are mainly concerned about seeding. It won’t be a great year in that area; whether the Big Ten cracks the top 16 seeds is an open question.

The big NCAA questions are with bubble teams Michigan and Michigan State, who both need strong finishes. The Wolverines will need to play well on the road, where they have struggled. And the Spartans will need to soldier on after losing another player to a knee injury.

CBSsports.com bracketologist Jerry Palm’s latest Big Ten seeding predictions (as of Monday, Feb. 20): Purdue 4, Wisconsin 5, Maryland 6, Minnesota 6, Northwestern 7, Michigan 9, Michigan State 10.

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had it like this: Purdue 4, Wisconsin 5, Maryland 6, Minnesota 8, Northwestern 8, Michigan 9, Michigan State 10.

In the league race, I’d give a slight edge to Wisconsin, based on schedule. But I would give a more significant edge to Purdue, based on the way the teams are playing.

Maryland is lurking, especially if it can halt Minnesota’s five-game winning streak. At two games back with four to go, Northwestern is not in the hunt for the Big Ten. But its first-ever NCAA bid is more than enough of a prize.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

BIG TEN POWER POWER RANKINGS

HEAVYWEIGHT CONTENDERS

1, PURDUE (No. 2 in last ranking), 22-5, 11-3: With three of last four on the road (Penn State, Michigan, Northwestern), the Big Ten’s best bet faces some serious challenges if it isn’t packing its A-game.

2, WISCONSIN (No. 1), 22-5, 11-3: Bronson Koenig (calf) returned, and Nigel Hayes showed up strong in much-needed win vs. Maryland, halting two-game skid. Badgers need to stay track or risk continued slide down NCAA bracket.

FLOAT LIKE A BUTTERFLY, STING LIKE A BEE

3, MARYLAND (No. 4), 22-5, 10-4: Nothing wrong with a split on the road, winning at Northwestern and losing at Wisconsin. Terps will need to be on guard in home return vs. hot Minnesota.

4, NORTHWESTERN (No. 3), 20-7, 9-5: Scottie Lindsey (mono) was back, but NU needed late rally to avoid a potentially devastating loss to Rutgers. Tracking well for first NCAA bid, but must play better at Illinois, which pulled off upset in first meeting in Evanston.

BOBBING AND WEAVING

5, MINNESOTA (No. 7), 20-7, 8-6: Have won five in a row since five-game losing streak. ``We're becoming a tough basketball team right in front of everyone's eyes," coach Richard Pitino says. And we believe him.

6, MICHIGAN STATE (No. 5), 16-11, 8-6: Season-ending knee injury to senior guard Eron Harris adds to the angst for Michigan State, which already has lost Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter to early major knee injuries. Spartans’ 19-year NCAA tournament streak is in peril.

7, MICHIGAN (No. 6), 17-10, 7-7: Big win vs. Wisconsin eases path to NCAA tournament, and never mind that Bronson Koenig (calf) didn’t play. With three of final four on road, where Michigan is 1-7, Wolverines need to man up, beginning with essential trip to Rutgers.

8, NEBRASKA (No. 12), 12-14, 6-8: Halted 1-8 slide with pair of football-division wins vs. Ohio State and Penn State. Two of Big Ten’s top 12 scorers. Tai Webster, 17.7 ppg, third, and Glynn Watson Jr., 14.0, t-11th.

9, PENN STATE (No. 8), 14-13, 6-8: Rough trip to Nebraska halted modest two-game winning streak. Games with Purdue and at Minnesota this week look ominous, but provide opportunity.

PUNCHING BAGS

With the exception of Illinois, which went on the ventilator early, Iowa (0-3), Indiana (0-4), Ohio State (0-3) and Rutgers (0-4) are on a combined 14-game losing streak.

10, IOWA (No. 9), 14-13, 6-8: In nine games since going off for 29 vs. Purdue on Jan. 12, Big Ten scoring leader Peter Jok (20.4 ppg) has cracked 20 points just once due to back problem. Young Hawkeyes needed him to put them on that aching back.

11, INDIANA (No. 10), 15-12, 5-9: Between the injuries and Tom Crean throwing his players under the bus, this is shaping up as a disastrous finish to a season that started with great promise.

12, ILLINOIS (No. 13), 15-12, 5-9: Kudos to Illini for winning two of their last three, even if they once again are saying Hello When It’s Time to Say Goodbye. Can salvage some more pride vs. Northwestern on Tuesday.

13, OHIO STATE (No. 11), 15-13, 5-10: Once again, it was Goodbye, Columbus, in final minute vs. Nebraska.

14, RUTGERS (No. 14), 13-15, 2-13: Good effort before tumbling at Northwestern. . . Hmm. With three home games left, be careful, Michigan, Maryland, Illinois.[/membership]

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