Big Ten Power Rankings: Maryland, Northwestern moving on up

Some people will stress the logjam in the Big Ten. Every team has shown inconsistency, which is likely to keep the league tightly bunched.

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But patterns are emerging.

Bottom line: Nobody’s that good. But just about anybody—well, maybe not Rutgers—can win, especially at home. And especially when it’s coming off a bad loss.

Biggest winners so far: Maryland and Northwestern, which are showing the ingredients to have surprisingly good seasons. Actually, an unprecedented season at Northwestern. The Wildcats have never, ever played in the NCAA tournament.

Honorable mention: Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa and Penn State have had some good moments.

Biggest loser: Indiana. A home loss to Nebraska and a road loss at Maryland exposed the Hoosiers. IU no longer looks like a serious championship threat. But I suspect there’s too much talent for the troubles to keep mounting.

Dishonorable mention: Illinois, Michigan and Ohio State. At least the football powers had fun in the fall. John Groce, tracking for Illinois’ fourth straight March without NCAA Madness, is skating on increasingly thin ice in Central Illinois.

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BIG TEN POWER POWER RANKINGS

HEAVYWEIGHT CONTENDER

1, WISCONSIN (No. 2 in last ranking), 14-3, 3-1: First in Big Ten defense (60.2), fifth in scoring 76.8). And the best bet to be on top at the end.

WELTER-WEIGHT AND SEE.

2, MICHIGAN STATE (No. 3), 12-7, 4-2: Guards could be better. But freshman bigs Miles Bridges and Nick Ward are the real deal.

3, PURDUE (No. 1), 14-4, 3-2: Like Sparty, guard play leaves Boiler Pete vulnerable. But Caleb Swanigan is knocking on the first-team All-America door. And 7-2 Isaac Haas is a big dude.

4, MARYLAND (No. 9), 16-2, 4-1: A lot to like here. Junior standout Melo Trimble leads a cast of freshman winners. Expect Terps to have staying power.

5, NORTHWESTERN (No. 6), 15-4, 4-2: Despite four of first six on road, really good start. Don’t want to jinx ‘em, but tracking for their first NCAA bid.

SPARRING PARTNERS

6, MINNESOTA (No. 4), 15-4, 3-3: Two ugly road losses last week. Drilled at Wisconsin, and let 14-point lead get away at Penn State. Time to regroup before home rematch with Badgers on Saturday.

7, PENN STATE (No. 12), 11-7, 3-2: For years, Penn State has been like the Chicago Skyway, a perpetual construction project. But two good wins (MIchigan State and Minnesota) are promising for young Lions. Home date vs. struggling Indiana will tell a lot.

8, NEBRASKA (No. 8), 9-8, 3-2: Plucky Cornhuskers have had a good start. Question is, will they keep finding ways to win?

9, INDIANA (No. 5), 12-6, 2-3: Can a team that beat Kansas and North Carolina be in danger of a serious meltdown? Trip to pesky Penn State will tell a lot.

10, IOWA (No. 7), 11-8, 3-3: Drilled at Northwestern after exciting win vs. Purdue? Yup. Talented freshmen, plus Big Ten scoring leader Peter Jok (21.9), still a promising combo.

SHADOW BOXING

11, MICHIGAN (No. 10), 12-6, 2-3: With that 2013 Final Four appearance fading into rear-view mirror, Wolverines fans are getting restless. This listless season won’t help. But John Beilein can coach ‘em up when he has ‘em.

12, OHIO STATE (No. 13), 11-7. 1-4: Much-needed win vs. Michigan State gets Buckeyes off the schneid. Big question: Will Thad Matta, who wore a tie for first time in two years, keep up the neckwear?

PUNCHING BAGS

13, ILLINOIS (No. 11), 12-6, 2-3: Are the wheels about to come off? Illini built nine-point lead late in first half, had no pulse in second half of 62-56 home loss to Maryland. And now three of next four on road.

14, RUTGERS (No. 14), 11-8, 0-6: ``We’re doing good things. It’s going to come together,’’ coach Steve Pikiell said after Knights dropped to 0-22 on road in Big Ten at Indiana. It may not show for a while, but he seems like the right guy to give this impossible project a shot.[/membership]

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