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Big Ten Power Rankings 2017-2018: Edition 1

Carsen Edwards, Purdue
1. Purdue Boilermakers (17-2 overall, 6-0 conference)
Despite losing Big Ten Player of the Year Caleb Swanigan, Purdue has not missed beat so far in '17-'18 and appear to be the most balanced team in the conference. Head coach Matt Painter has gotten good guard play from Carsen Edwards (leading the team with 16.7 PPG) and P.J. Thompson, but the Boilermakers' real strength is their imposing frontline. Handling massive big men Isaac Haas (7'2" senior) and Matt Haarms (7'3" freshman) is a chore for any defense, and quietly, swingman Vince Edwards has evolved into one of the Big Ten's most consistent offensive weapons. Purdue has ran through a relatively breezy early non-conference slate, but the upcoming schedule should really test whether this is the conference's best team. A meeting with Ohio State, as well as road trips to Michigan State and Wisconsin in early February should be critical.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes (15-4 overall, 6-0 conference)
Ohio State has been the surprise of the Big Ten so far this year, as first-year head coach Chris Holtmann has the Buckeyes 6-0 in the conference, with wins over Michigan State and Iowa on the road to boot. The key to Ohio State's success on the year has not been a group of newcomers, but improved play from this veteran-laden lineup. Junior forward Keita Bates-Diop has dealt with injuries his entire career, but now finally healthy, is averaging 20.9 PPG and 8.8 RPG, while building the case to the Big Ten Player of the Year. Senior Jae'Sean Tate and junior C.J. Jackson have also had breakthrough seasons, helping engineer one of the Big Ten's deadliest offenses. Ohio State has a very favorable schedule upcoming schedule, which could help OSU overtake Purdue for the top spot.
3. Michigan Wolverines (16-4 overall, 5-2 conference)
While Purdue and Ohio State are the lone undefeated teams remaining in the Big Ten, it may be Michigan who is playing the best basketball right now. The Wolverines went on the road and outplayed Michigan State in a 82-72 win and then held on to win a thriller over a motivated Maryland  team last night. Before that, they had handled Iowa and Illinois and pushed Purdue to the brink, losing by one point. Big man Mo Wagner has developed into a legitimate star, putting up 14.9 PPG while hitting on 56 percent of his shots from the field. The improvement of guards Charles Matthews, a Kentucky transfer, and underrated Muhammed-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (10.8 PPG) has been pivotal in Michigan's great play as of late. A road trip to Nebraska and a meeting with Rutgers should be a great tuneup before Purdue, who should give us further indication on what this UM team could be.
4. Michigan State Spartans (16-2 overall, 4-2 conference)
A popular preseason National Title pick who went 12-1 in the non-conference, Michigan State has opened up conference play struggling. In their last three games, the Spartans have gotten dominated by Ohio State, barely beat Rutgers and lost by ten at home to Michigan. It has been a worrying stretch for the Spartans, but not too surprising. Tom Izzo-led teams tend to struggle early in conference play before finding their groove, which could be the case with this team. Swingman Miles Bridges is still one of the elite talents in the sport, and fellow sophomores Nick Ward and Cassius Winston continue to make strides. The play from true frosh Jaren Jackson has also been huge for MSU, as the young forward can dominate down low and stretch the floor with his shooting ability. Michigan State may be trending down slightly, but this is still one of the most talented and deepest teams in the conference, led by probably the best coach in the conference. They should be just fine, especially with a favorable upcoming schedule.
5. Maryland Terrapins (14-6 overall, 3-4 conference)
Maryland lost last night to Michigan in a heartbreaking thriller, which dropped them to sub-.500 in the conference. Certainly it isn't the ideal start for this Terrapins team, but closer examination of this team tells a different tale. All four of Maryland's losses have come to the teams ahead of them in the standings (Purdue, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State) and three have been on the road. It does hurt that the Terps will be without star forward Justin Jackson, but they still have the talent to be in the forefront of the Big Ten race and make another NCAA Tournament bid. Guards Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter will have to continue to play well as the team enters a very winnable stretch of games, starting with a home game against Minnesota this Thursday.
6. Nebraska Cornhuskers (13-7 overall, 4-3 conference)
Quietly, Nebraska has played very good basketball since the start of conference play, and are still very much in the postseason mix. Junior guard James Palmer Jr. has been the big-time playmakers for Nebraska early on in the season, putting up 15.7 PPG, but veteran guards Anton Gill and Glynn Watson Jr. are really what make the 'Huskers a tough team to play. Neither are going to lead the team in scoring, but the two experienced guards help pace the team, and make smart decisions. The 'Huskers aren't beating teams by much (their last two wins are by a total of five points) but they are building a solid resume. Meetings with Michigan and Ohio State loom, but if they can beat one of those teams, it could set them up for a big end of January.
7. Indiana Hoosiers (11-7 overall, 4-2 conference)
After a rough non-conference schedule that included losses to inferior in-state teams Indiana State and IPFW, Indiana has played significantly better since Big Ten play began. The Hoosiers, who are guided by first-year head coach Archie Miller, have won three straight to improve to 4-2 in the conference. Granted, none of the three victories have been against the Big Ten's elite, but it is still a good place to start for a team still in a transition stage. Forward Juwan Morgan and guard Robert Johnson have been Indiana's best options all season long and should continue to play well, but the Hoosiers need more contributions from big man De'Ron Davis and the bench in order to be considered serious threats in a well-balanced Big Ten.
8. Minnesota Gophers (14-6 overall, 3-4 conference)
Minnesota got a huge win last night over Penn State to stop the bleeding of a team that had lost three straight conference games, which included a 23-point loss to Northwestern and 34-point loss to Purdue. It isn't difficult to realize why the team has struggled lately; center Reggie Lynch has been involved in numerous sexual misconduct incidents and could be done in a Minnesota uniform, and star guard Amir Coffey has missed time with shoulder problems. Even with those issues, guard Nate Mason and forward Jordan Murphy (18 double-doubles this season) have played well and will have to continue playing well. It would be nice to get better production from true freshman Isaiah Washington (shooting just 32% from the field) and sophomore big man Michael Hurt, who has been pushed into a larger role. An important stretch that includes Maryland, Ohio State and Northwestern again will decide whether this team is still a threat in the Big Ten, or whether it could be a frustrating finish to the year in Minneapolis.
9. Penn State Nittany Lions (13-7 overall, 3-4 conference)
Penn State basketball never gets much attention, especially compared to their football but this year's team is a dark horse threat. They have a good amount of experience and some real talent, namely guard Tony Carr (19.6 PPG, 45% from three-point) and forward Mike Watkins (averaging a double-double). A loss in overtime last night to Minnesota stopped Penn State from breaking into the upper-half of the conference, but this is still a team that could make some noise. They play sound, smart basketball and have a number of options that can hurt defenses. Two straight road trips to against Northwestern and Ohio State will be tough, but don't count out the Nittany Lions yet.
10. Northwestern Wildcats (11-8 overall, 2-4 conference)
One year removed from their first NCAA Tournament appearance in school history, Northwestern has been a pretty big disappointment. Despite having most of their roster back from last year's group, the Wildcats have struggled, and are still recovering from a 20-point loss to Indiana. The big issue has been an offense that has had issues all year long, and lacks any consistency. The Wildcats will need some member of their veteran lineup to really step up to get the team moving in the right direction. Scottie Lindsey, Vic Law and Bryant McIntosh are all very talented, but need to step up before any postseason bid is completely impossible.
11. Wisconsin Badgers (9-9 overall, 2-3 conference)
The last time Wisconsin missed the NCAA Tournament was 1998, but this team could be in jeopardy of changing that. Injuries and overall inexperience have the Badgers sitting at just .500 overall and already with three losses in league play. Things could get even tougher going on as they square off against Purdue and go on the road against Iowa and Michigan State in a week. Ethan Happ continues to be a difference-maker and Wisconsin has some impressive young talent in guard Brad Davison and forward Nate Ruevers, but unless they grow up fast, the Badgers could be fighting to simply stay respectable in the conference.
12. Iowa Hawkeyes (10-9 overall, 1-5 conference)
Despite having one of the most explosive offenses in the conference (81.9 points per game, 38th nationally) Iowa has struggled since Big Ten play, losing to a number of beatable teams, with their only win coming against Illinois, who is 0-6 in the conference. This is still a very young Hawkeyes' team, but they have to play better defense and cut down on turnovers to have any shot at rising up the ranks in the conference. A road trip to Rutgers is a good shot for Iowa to add another win to their resume, but a brutal early February schedule is daunting.
13. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (11-8 overall, 1-5 conference)
Since joining the Big Ten, Rutgers has been a punching bag on the basketball court, consistently finish at the bottom of the standings. This year's team isn't going to change that, but there is no denying head coach Steve Pikiell has made progress. Guard Corey Sanders and senior forward Deshawn Freeman have given the offense some punch for much of the season, but this team is still short on depth and experience. Even so, this team could still move up in the standings, particularly if they can take advantage of a schedule that is pretty favorable in the near future, with the exception of a road trip to Ann Arbor.
14. Illinois Fighting Illini (10-9 overall, 0-6 conference)
Former Stephen F. Austin head coach Brad Underwood engineered a quick turnaround last season at Oklahoma State, leading the Cowboys back to the NCAA Tournament and having one of the nation's most efficient offenses. He isn't going to be doing that in his first year at Illinois, as the Illini have begun conference play 0-6. It isn't the way Illinois wanted to start off obviously, but they have lost two games by just one point and are still very competitive. A pair of junior forwards, Leron Black and Michael Finke, will be key to getting the Illini back on track. A road trip to Wisconsin is never easy but with the way the Badgers are playing, it could be the game that finally gets Illinois going.

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