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Big Ten Power Rankings

Melo Trimble (2)
College football season is winding down to a final halt, and that means one great thing: college basketball is heating up, as conference play has opened. The Big Ten, notorious for it's strength and craziness the past couple seasons, once more will play an important role on the national stage (nearly half of the Elite Eight teams hailed from the conference). While Wisconsin appears head and shoulders above the rest of the conference at the moment, there are a number of teams who are poised to make runs. Although it is very early in both conference play and the season as a whole, here are my Big Ten Power Rankings.

1. Wisconsin Badgers 15-1 overall record (3-0 conference)
Other than a tough non-conference loss to Duke (which clearly is a great team this season), the Badgers have played flawlessly. Versatile center Frank Kaminsky continues to be a popular Big Ten POY candidate as well as the National Player of the Year. The senior has shown an improved strength around the basket, mixed in with his consistently smooth three-point shot. Along with Kaminsky, the Badgers have a ton of length and depth in their backcourt, with Sam Dekker, Nigel Hayes and Duje Dukan as reinforcements. Bo Ryan had a great team a season ago when the Badgers rose to the Final Four, but this one could be even better. They have the smarts and experience of a typical Bo Ryan team but with even more depth and versatility. With all the talent on this roster, they could roll through the Big Ten and position themselves as a No. 1 seed.

2. Ohio State Buckeyes 13-3 overall record (2-1 conference)
One thing is very, very clear to both the Buckeyes and the rest of the Big Ten, highly touted guard D'Angelo Russell is the real deal. The explosive guard from Louisville is averaging 18.3 points, 4.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game, while shooting nearly 46% from downtown. While Ohio State has always been a stout defensive team under head coach Thad Matta, they really lacked a go-to scorer last year. With Russell emerging as that and the defense of Shannon Scott and shot-blocking ability of Sam Thompson, the Buckeyes have enough talent to keep up with Wisconsin. If Russell can continue his hot start to his collegiate career, Ohio State could be very dangerous down the stretch in 2015.

3. Michigan State Spartans 11-5 overall record (2-1 conference)
This appears to be a typical Tom Izzo team in East Lansing. A team that lost so much when Keith Appling and Adreian Payne graduated the Spartans limped to a relatively pedestrian non-conference posting. But, with a healthy Branden Dawson leading the way in the frontcourt and Denzel Valentin continuing to hit shots, Michigan State will only grow and get hot in Big Ten play, something they seem to do every single season. Though, the real need for the Spartans is a threat down low, something Izzo has had on every successful Spartans team. Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling are just two of a long list, but once the Spartans find one they will have the pieces set to be very strong in Big Ten play, evidenced by an impressive win over Iowa in Iowa City this week.

4. Maryland Terrapins 14-2 overall record (2-1 conference)
One of the newest members of the conference, Maryland appears to be a legitimate threat this season. Although many will be quick to call their non-conference schedule soft, they did beat Iowa State and Oklahoma State and had a nice showing against Virginia, who is still undefeated. Do-it-all guard Melo Trimble leads an explosive Terps' offense that has more weapons than any Mark Turgeron team up to this point. While Trimble and dynamic wing Dez Wells have been great, the major reason for Maryland's resurgence has been Jake Layman. A three-point sniper who couldn't find his groove through much of 2013-2014, Layman has been superb this season and has added a number of different layers to his game. While Maryland will have to adjust to the new conference, they have a very comfortable January schedule, other than Michigan State and Ohio State every game appears to be a clear win, which would put them in contention early in Big Ten play.

5. Iowa Hawkeyes 11-5 overall record (2-1 conference)
Head coach Fran McCaffrey might well have his best team in Iowa City, despite a tough loss to Michigan State earlier this week that snapped their undefeated conference record. Aaron White is among the nation's most underrated forwards, a versatile veteran who can score in a variety of ways. If Iowa can find a consistent three-point scorer to replace Roy Devyn Marble's production and big man Adam Woodbury can become a dominant low post presence, the Hawkeyes could be a dark horse down the stretch, contrary to last season, when the wheels fell off during the Hawkeyes' last couple weeks of play.

6. Michigan Wolverines 9-6 overall record (2-1 conference)
Not surprising, considering their severe departures this offseason, the Wolverines had a rough start to the year, that included embarrassing losses to NJIT and Eastern Michigan. But, Michigan could still be a team to be reckoned with, especially if they can find a big man. Caris LaVert is going to rise up draft boards; the wing has incredible athleticism and if he is assertive, can carry Michigan's offense. Zak Irvin is a tremendous shooter and Spike Albrecht and Derrick Walton are veteran leaders at point guard. While those losses to NJIT and EMU and a 9-6 record entering conference play have been tough to swallow, this young team just needs some time, before they could be a major player on the national stage once more.

7. Indiana Hoosiers 11-4 overall record (1-1 conference)
Tom Crean is firmly on the hot seat in Bloomington, but don't sleep on this year's Indiana team, which played pretty well in their non-conference slate. Wins against Butler and SMU add quality victories to the Hoosier resume, and Indiana has a number of weapons in their backcourt. James Blackmon Jr. has shown the ability to take over games at times this year as a true freshman and point guard Yogi Ferrell has apparently found his shooting touch. Much like Michigan, this is a young team and there may be some bad performances as the season wears on. But, the talent is there and with a homecourt like Assembly Hall, the Hoosiers will also be a very dangerous team down the stretch and could be primed for a couple upsets.

8. Purdue Boilermakers 10-6 overall record (2-1 conference)
The Boilermakers have had a solid start to Big Ten play, taking down Minnesota and Michigan and giving Wisconsin a pretty nice showing, only losing by seven in a game they were in the whole time. Matt Painter's team will once more lean heavily on their defense, but they could struggle to really contend in the conference unless a legit scorer shows up on their roster. Big man A.J. Hammons has always had the talent but has lacked the aggressiveness and strength to become a consistent threat. Until Purdue finds one, they appear to be a mid-level Big Ten team.

9. Nebraska Cornhuskers 9-6 overall record (1-2 conference)
The start of this year has not gone the way Nebraska envisioned it at all. Hoping to follow up last year's surprising tournament appearance, the Cornhuskers have limped to a 9-6 record to this point, in a season that has seen Nebraska lose to teams like Incarnate Word, Hawaii and Rhode Island. But, there is still some hope this team can turn it around in a big way. Wing Terran Petteway is the Big Ten's best pure scorer, he is averaging 19 points a game. Shavon Shields adds some versatility to the lineup, but the main problem all year has been turnovers for Nebraska and lots of them. Tim Miles is a great coach and he will get his team to play smarter but they will need a lot of help to follow up 2014's success.

10. Illinois Fighting Illini 11-5 overall record (1-2 conference)
The Illini could be much higher on this list if not for the terrible news they received earlier this week. Their star guard. Rayvonte Rice, broke his left hand and will miss 4-6 weeks, putting major pressure on someone else to step up and fill his scoring void. Malcolm Hill had 28 points in the Illini's upset of Maryland but he will need to do that more consistently, something he has not proven yet this year. If Hill can fill Rice's scoring void somebody else to need to step up down low; John Groce has severely lacked a dominant big man since he arrived in Champaign. When Rice comes back, this Illinois team could be sneaky, but until then, they appear to be one of the conference's bottom feeders.

11. Penn State Nittany Lions 12-4 overall record (0-3 conference
A 12-1 non-conference record certainly was impressive for the Nittany Lions (even if it was against some very weak competition) but Penn State has slumped early in the Big Ten conference season. Even with guard D.J. Newbill averaging over 21 points per game, the Nittany Lions have dropped all three Big Ten games, including an embarrassing loss to Rutgers. Head coach Patrick Chambers has one heck of a talent in the lightning quick Newbill but he will face a challenge that might be tough to overcome: consisting a consistent second option on offense. Until he does (or if he does) Penn State will struggle to contend.

12. Minnesota Gophers 11-5 overall record (0-3 conference)
Following a NIT Championship in Richard Pitino's first year in Minneapolis, the Gophers have had a 2014-2015 full of struggles. While an 11-5 mark isn't terrible and the Gophers did play well against Ohio State this week, they have lacked three-point shooting. Austin Hollins was superb from deep last year along with Malik Smith (both have graduated), but Andre Hollins has slumped terribly as the go-to scorer this season. While explosive Carlos Morris has been a bright spot the Gophers don't have the size or strength to be too much of a factor in the Big Ten race, as of right now.

13. Northwestern Wildcats 10-5 overall record (1-1 conference)
While Chris Collins still has a ton of work to do to bring Northwestern to respectability, they have shown major signs of improvement. Although their season has been devoid of any major wins, the Wildcats have played pretty well all season, and have found a pretty dangerous scorer in Tre Demps, who put up great numbers in the loss to Wisconsin. The Wildcats have a pretty tough January but if they can play relatively well in the month, they can avoid the cellar of the conference.

14. Rutgers Scarlet Knights 9-7 overall record (1-2 conference)
The Scarlet Knights have struggled to be competitive at all for years in the Big East and the American Athletic, so it is no surprise they will have their work cut out for them in the Big Ten. Now with some experience, talented guard Myles Mack has played well this season and given Rutgers a pretty dangerous weapon on both defense and offense, but the cupboard is pretty bare after that. Rutgers managed just 26 points against Virginia and unless they can improve their offensive efficiency, they will really struggle to stay out of the bottom of their new conference.

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