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Posts Tagged ‘Power Rankings’

Big Ten power rankings: Week 9

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014


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East Division
1. Michigan State (7-1, 4-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Michigan 35-11 This Week: Bye (Nov. 11 vs #16 Ohio State)

Michigan State played a below-average game against their in-state rival Wolverines this weekend, but a late score helped the conference favorite cover the spread and stay undefeated in the league.

2. Ohio State (6-1, 3-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Penn State 31-24 (2OT) This Week: Sat vs Illinois (4-4, 1-3), 8pm, ABC

In a near disaster, the Buckeyes let Penn State force overtime after leading by 17 points for much of the game. But a defensive stand in double overtime gave new life to what could be a top-10 matchup for the division crown in East Lansing on Nov. 8.

3. Maryland (5-3, 2-2) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Wisconsin 7-52 This Week: Sat at Penn State (4-3, 1-3), 12pm, ESPN2

It says a lot about the strength of the East Division after MSU and OSU that Maryland, who got waxed in Madison 52-7 Saturday, falls in at No. 3. The Terrapins didn’t carry any momentum from upsetting Iowa into Wisconsin as they got pounded from the start.

4. Penn State (4-3, 1-3) – Up 2
Last Week: Lost to #13 Ohio State 24-31 (2OT) This Week: Sat vs Maryland (5-3, 2-2), 12pm, ESPN2

October has turned into a total disaster for Penn State, as an upset bid fell just short Saturday night during Happy Valley’s signature white out game. Three straight losses have eliminated the Nittany Lions from any hope of staying relevant.

5. Rutgers (5-3, 1-3) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to #16 Nebraska 24-42 This Week: Sat vs Wisconsin (5-2, 2-1), 12pm, ESPN

Rutgers got another taste of the Big Ten’s heavy hitters Saturday as Nebraska welcomed the Scarlett Knights to Lincoln and crushed them by 18. They’ve allowed 98 points in their past two games.

6. Michigan (3-5, 1-3) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to #8 Michigan State 11-35 This Week: Sat vs Indiana (3-4, 0-3), 3:30pm, Big Ten Network

Nobody expected Michigan to come out of East Lansing with a win, but it was shocking how easily the Spartans handled the Devin Gardner-led offense. Now the Wolverines can only hope to salvage three wins in the final four weeks to earn a bowl invitation.

7. Indiana (3-4, 0-3) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat at Michigan (3-5, 1-3), 3:30pm, Big Ten Network

Indiana took a bye week to prepare for Michigan in the Big House this weekend, but Illinois’ upset win over Minnesota left the Hoosiers as the only winless team in the Big Ten.

B1G East Week 9

West Division
1. Nebraska (7-1, 3-1) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Rutgers 42-24 This Week: Sat vs Purdue (3-5, 1-3), 3:30pm, ABC/ESPN2

Nebraska has silently put together a nice 7-1 record in the shadow of Michigan State, the Big Ten’s most talented team. The Cornhuskers are more than capable of winning the rest of their games and setting up a potential rematch in Indianapolis.

2. Wisconsin (5-2, 2-1) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Maryland 52-7 This Week: Sat at Rutgers (5-3, 1-3), 12pm, ESPN

It took three weeks for Wisconsin to put together a complete performance in the Big Ten, but a 52-7 win over Maryland has the Badgers in great position with two winnable road games coming up. If Melvin Gordon can lead his team over Nebraska on Nov. 15, the Badgers will become the West Division favorites again.

3. Minnesota (6-2, 3-1) – Down 2
Last Week: Lost to Illinois 24-28 This Week: Bye (Nov. 8 vs Iowa)

It was only a matter of time before Minnesota surrendered a slim lead in the West Division, but few thought it would come at the hands of the winless Fighting Illini. Iowa comes to town after the bye.

4. Iowa (5-2, 2-1) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat vs Northwestern (3-4, 2-2), 12pm, Big Ten Network

Iowa had a bye week this weekend after a tough loss to Maryland ended a modest winning streak. The next three games are winnable for the Hawkeyes before Wisconsin and Nebraksa round out the season.

5. Illinois (4-4, 1-3) – Up 2
Last Week: Beat Minnesota 28-24 This Week: Sat at #16 Ohio State (6-1, 3-0), 8pm, ABC

Illinois finally got its first Big Ten win Saturday, knocking off the first-place Gophers 28-24. The last four games will be difficult for Tim Beckman.

6. Northwestern (3-4, 2-2) – Down 1
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat at Iowa (5-2, 2-1), 12pm, Big Ten Network

The Wildcats got a much-needed week off after losing two straight conference games. Now a tough road matchup in Iowa City is looming.

7. Purdue (3-4, 0-3) – Down 1
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat at #15 Nebraska (7-1, 3-1), 3:30pm, ABC/ESPN2

Purdue is tied for last place in the West Division, and upcoming games against Nebraska and Wisconsin should keep the Boilermakers near the bottom in the future.

B1G West Week 9

Big Ten power rankings: Preseason

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014


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Three days from now we’ll be settling into our seats at the Big House or our favorite couch or chair getting ready to watch the Maize and Blue run out of the tunnel, leap up and touch the banner, and begin their quest toward a Big Ten championship. The bad news is that we all still have to make it through three more days. Welcome to our first Big Ten Power Rankings of the season, where we rank each team in the conference. Since no games have been played yet, this week’s power rankings are essentially predictions of where each team should be ranked. Beginning next week, and continuing throughout the season, the power rankings will be reflective of each team’s performance in the game(s) they have played.

As the dawn of college football season draws ever nearer, the Big Ten finds itself facing low expectations once again. Largely considered a three-team league, the Big Ten suffered a huge blow with the news that Heisman Trophy candidate Braxton Miller would miss the entire 2014 campaign.

Now, teams on the brink of breaking through have to step up and help the Big Ten resurface as a power conference. Gone are the days when the automatic bid to the Rose Bowl would give the Big Ten a chance to shine on the national stage, because now the four-team playoff will act as the means by which conference strength is measured. Teams like Iowa, Nebraska and Michigan have to take that next step and give the conference the boost it needs to send a representative into that playoff.

If the Big Ten gets left out of the playoff this season, it will set the tone for a format that figures to rule the sport for the foreseeable future. At least six teams have a realistic shot at winning the Big Ten, and the conference needs each of them to perform in 2014.

East Division
1. Michigan State
Last Week: N/A This Week: Friday vs Jacksonville State, 7:30pm, BTN

The defending Big Ten champions became heavy favorites to repeat in 2014 after Ohio State’s Braxton Miller went down for the season. Michigan State lost plenty of talent to the NFL, but that defense still figures to be the best in the league.

2. Ohio State
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday vs Navy, 12pm, CBS Sports Network

Miller’s season-ending injury put a damper on Ohio State’s championship aspirations, but Urban Meyer’s team is still strong enough to compete for the first Big Ten East Division championship. The Nov. 8 game in East Lansing is the biggest speed bump on the Buckeyes’ road to Indianapolis.

3. Michigan
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday vs. Appalachian State, 12pm, ESPN2

If Michigan finishes outside the top three in the division, then things need to change in Ann Arbor. Four straight years of strong recruiting has left Brady Hoke with a talented enough roster to win nine or more games. An underrated defense should give Michigan a chance in all 12 games.

4. Penn State
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday vs UCF, 8:30am, ESPN2

The Nittany Lions still can’t play in a bowl game this season, but new head coach James Franklin managed to hang on to talented quarterback Christian Hackenberg and a team that won seven games last year. Penn State could make a big splash in the standings on Oct. 25 when Ohio State visits Happy Valley, one of the hardest places for visiting teams to win at night.

5. Indiana
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday vs Indiana State, 12pm, ESPNews

Much like they were last year, the Hoosiers are expected to be a group led by an elite offense. Unfortunately, the Big Ten is a difficult conference to win without a strong defense, and the Hoosiers gave up 38.8 points per game last season, good for 117th in college football.

6. Maryland
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday vs James Madison, 3:30pm, BTN

Maryland joins the Big Ten after a mediocre 7-6 record in the ACC last year. The Terrapins’ 85th-ranked offense will have a tough time scoring enough points in the Big Ten against defenses like that of Michigan State and Michigan, so don’t expect Maryland to compete for a division title in year one.

7. Rutgers
Last Week: N/A This Week: Thursday at Washington State, 10pm, FoxSports1

A 2-6 finish to the 2013 season will set the tone for Rutgers’ first season in the Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights lost six games by double digits last year during an average year in the ACC, so the powerful Big Ten East could be a rude awakening in 2014.

West Division
1. Wisconsin
Last Week: This Week: Saturday vs LSU, 9pm, ESPN

With Ohio State moving over to the East Division, Wisconsin sits firmly in the driver’s seat to represent the West in Indy this year. Melvin Gordon became the top Heisman candidate in the Big Ten after Miller’s injury and should lead a prototypical Wisconsin running attack that will tear apart opposing defenses.

2. Iowa
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday vs Northern Iowa, 12pm, BTN

Iowa played good enough defense in 2013 to win the Big Ten and play in the Rose Bowl, but an inconsistent offense held the team to an 8-5 overall record. If the Hawkeyes post another top-10 defensive effort this season, they could find themselves matching up with Michigan State in Indianapolis in a low-scoring game.

3. Northwestern
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday vs Cal, 3:30pm, ABC

Every season Northwestern looks primed for a breakout, but this year their talent is nowhere near the level of teams like Wisconsin or Iowa. The Wildcats lost four games by one possession last season, so they were close to living up to the preseason hype. But the loss of Venric Mark and a tough conference schedule will make things tough on Northwestern this year.

4. Nebraska
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday vs Florida Atlantic, 3:30pm, BTN

The nation is expecting big things out of Nebraska after finishing a disappointing finish to the conference season last year. If this offense can rush for over 200 yards per game again this season, it has a chance to put the Cornhuskers in the hunt for the title.

5. Minnesota
Last Week: N/A This Week: Thursday vs Eastern Illinois, 7pm, BTN

Minnesota was one of the quietest surprises in the country last season, starting 8-2 before three hard-fought losses to end the year. This season will be a real test for the Gophers as they try to build off of what they started in 2013 and break a decade-long streak of irrelevance.

6. Illinois
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday at Youngstown State, 12:05pm, BTN

It could be another tough year for Illinois after finishing 4-8 with just one conference win last season. After a nonconference schedule that features three easy wins, the Fighting Illini will only be favored in one conference game: at home against the Purdue team they beat in 2013.

7. Purdue
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday vs Western Michigan, 12pm, ESPNU

2013 was an abomination for Purdue, as it went 1-11 with a six-point victory over a division 1-AA opponent. Illinois was the only team that Purdue was within 10 points of beating. It won’t get any easier for the Boilermakers in conference this year.

Big Ten hoops power rankings: Week 3

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014


1. Michigan State (17-1, 6-0) Even
Last week: Jan. 7 W at Northwestern 54-40, Jan. 18 W at Illinois 78-62
This week: Tuesday vs Indiana 7pm ESPN, Saturday vs #21 Michigan 7pm

The most impressive number that demonstrates what the Spartans have done in Big Ten play is four. Tom Izzo’s team has already won four road games in the conference, something that most teams will be lucky to accomplish throughout the entire 18-game slate.

2. Michigan (13-4, 5-0) • Up 2
Last week: Jan. 14 W vs Penn State 80-67, Jan. 18 W at #3 Wisconsin 77-70
This week: Wednesday vs #10 Iowa 7pm BTN, Saturday at #3 Michigan State 7pm

Four non-conference losses and back surgery for Mitch McGary means the Wolverines must be done right? Wrong. The loss of the preseason All-American has rallied the Michigan big men and the combination of Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan has been consistent enough to lead the Maize and Blue to a huge win in Madison.

3. Iowa (15-3, 4-1) • Even
Last week: Jan. 19 W vs Minnesota 94-73
This week: Wednesday at #21 Michigan 7pm BTN, Saturday at Northwestern 12pm

Iowa has impressed the country with a 4-1 conference start that includes a win in Columbus over the then-third-ranked Buckeyes. A trip to Ann Arbor Wednesday will give the Hawkeyes a chance to prove that game wasn’t just a fluke.

4. Wisconsin (16-2, 3-2) • Down 2
Last week: Jan. 14 L at Indiana 72-75, Jan. 18 L vs Michigan 70-77
This week: Wednesday at Minnesota 9pm BTN, Saturday at Purdue 5pm

Nobody expected Wisconsin to lose back-to-back games after starting the season 16-0, but the Badgers still sit inside the top 10 in the country. Wisconsin is one of the most difficult teams in the country to guard, as players like Josh Gasser and Frank Kaminsky stretch the floor with dangerous outside shooting.

5. Minnesota (14-5, 3-3) • Up 1
Last week: Jan. 16 W vs #11 Ohio State 63-53, Jan. 19 L at #14 Iowa 94-73
This week: Wednesday vs #9 Wisconsin 9pm BTN, Sunday at Nebraska 6pm

Minnesota has had one of the more difficult conference schedules through six games. Although the Gophers have lost to the top three teams in the conference, wins over Ohio State and Purdue could end up being critical tie-breakers for the middle seeds of the Big Ten tournament.

6. Purdue (13-5, 3-2) • Up 1
Last week: Jan. 15 W at Illinois 66-58, Jan. 18 W vs Penn State 65-64
This week: Tuesday at Northwestern 9pm BTN, Saturday vs #9 Wisconsin 5pm

Matt Painter’s team has yet to play a team with a winning Big Ten record. Purdue appears to be the definition of a middle-of-the-pack conference team, as all five games have been decided by single digits thus far.

7. Northwestern (9-10, 2-4) • Even
Last week: Jan. 15 L vs #4 Michigan State 40-54, Jan. 18 W at Indiana 54-47
This week: Tuesday vs Purdue 9pm BTN, Saturday vs #10 Iowa 12pm

Chris Collins is coming off the most surprising week in the Big Ten this season. The Wildcats got their first conference win against No. 23 Illinois last Sunday, hung with Michigan State on Wednesday and beat Indiana on the road Saturday.

8. Indiana (12-6, 2-3) • Up 2
Last week: Jan. 14 W vs #3 Wisconsin 75-72, Jan. 18 L vs Northwestern 47-54
This week: Tuesday at #3 Michigan State 7pm ESPN, Sunday vs Illinois 3pm

Indiana appeared to be turning things around after an 0-2 conference start with a win at Penn State and upset over No. 3 Wisconsin. Then, the streak came to an abrupt halt in Evanston, where Northwestern shocked the streaking Hoosiers, 54-47.

9. Nebraska (9-8, 1-4) • Up 2
Last week: Jan. 12 L at Purdue 64-70
This week: Monday W vs #17 Ohio State 68-62, Thursday at Penn State 8pm, Sunday vs Minnesota 6pm

After missing three layups to lose to Michigan by one point and falling at Purdue by six, Nebraska finally broke through to get its first Big Ten win Monday night against No. 17 Ohio State. Remember, power rankings demonstrate how teams are playing right now, and Nebraska has definitely looked better than Ohio State and Illinois, which are currently on a combined eight-game losing streak.

10. Ohio State (15-4, 2-4) • Down 5
Last week: Jan. 12 L vs #20 Iowa 74-84, Jan. 16 L at Minnesota 53-63
This week: Monday L at Nebraska 62-68, Thursday vs Illinois 7pm ESPN

The Buckeyes’ four-game losing streak has covered every side of the Big Ten spectrum. They have lost on the road (Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska) and at home (Iowa). They’ve lost to an undefeated conference opponent (Michigan State) and a previously-winless one (Nebraska). Thad Matta’s team will almost surely get things back on track soon, but right now Ohio State is absolutely reeling.

11. Illinois (13-6, 2-4) • Down 2
Last week: Jan. 12 L at Northwestern 43-49, Jan. 15 L vs Purdue 58-66, Jan. 18 L vs #4 MSU 62-78
This week: Thursday at #17 Ohio State 7pm ESPN, Sunday at Indiana 3pm

The difference between Ohio State’s four-game losing streak and that of Illinois is simple: the Buckeyes’ streak will likely end on Thursday. The Fighting Illini have shown no signs of being able to come out of Columbus with a victory, and the losing streak will likely reach at least eight before they visit Penn State on February 9th.

12. Penn State (9-10, 0-6) • Even
Last week: Jan. 14 L at Michigan 67-80, Jan. 18 L at Purdue 64-65
This week: Thursday vs Nebraska 8pm ESPNU

Pat Chambers’ team missed a real opportunity to get off the schneid on Saturday. Penn State held a lead late on the road and allowed Purdue to steal away a chance at a valuable Big Ten road win in the final seconds.

Big Ten contender power rankings

Saturday, January 12th, 2013


The 2013 Big Ten season started just two weeks ago, but we have already learned so much about a number of teams in college basketball’s indisputable king of conferences. With as many as eight or nine teams looking to make a push for the Big Dance at the end of the year, it certainly has the makings of a special year. Here is a special Big Ten preview edition looking at the conference championship contenders. These power rankings will be occasionally updated throughout the remainder of the season.

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1. Michigan Wolverines: 16-0 (3-0)

Projected Record in Conference Play: 16-2
Best Win: vs. Pittsburgh
Worst Loss: None
Star: Trey Burke, 18.2 ppg, 7.3 apg, 53.3 FG%, 39.2 3p%
X-Factor: Nik Stauskas, 13.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 52.3 3p%

Ranking Reasoning: While I am writing this preview post with a Michigan basketball shirt on, it is simply impossible to rank any Big Ten team higher than Michigan so far, and I think they will continue to prove their superiority by taking home their second straight Big Ten title, this time individually. Trey Burke is indisputably the best point guard in the country right now, Mitch McGary and Jordan Morgan have been solid in the post and controlling on the glass, and the team shoots 41.1 percent from behind the arc, where five guys demand significant attention. In three Big Ten games so far (Iowa, Northwestern, Nebraska), Michigan has not been significantly challenged, winning by an average of almost 24 points per game. A huge week looms, however, as Michigan travels to Columbus on Sunday and Minneapolis on Thursday in two games that will say a lot about how the Big Ten will shake out.

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2. Indiana Hoosiers: 14-1 (2-0)

Projected Record in Conference Play: 14-4
Best Win: @ Iowa
Worst Loss: vs. Butler
Star: Cody Zeller, 16.5 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 62.7 FG%
X-Factor: Will Sheehey, 12.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 39.4 3p%

Ranking Reasoning: Indiana came into the season ranked in just about everyone’s top two in the country, and they have hardly disappointed up until now. Yes, they lost to Butler in overtime, but the Bulldogs have a very solid squad that will win its fair share of games this year and probably earn a 4-seed or so in the NCAA Tournament. Like Michigan, Indiana is incredibly scary because of their dynamite offense that boasts five double digit scorers and a handful of secondary players that can step up on any given night as well. Zeller is still one of the best big men in the country, Victor Oladipo is using his athleticism to help him shoot 67.2 percent from the floor (including a ridiculous 47.8 percent from downtown), and Christian Watford is a matchup nightmare for opposing fours. Taking a quick glance at their stats is not advised for anyone who is not an Indiana fan, as the Hoosiers average the most points in the country (87), are the sixth best shooting team in the land (51.1 percent), and have four players that shoot better than 45 percent from three-point land on at least 20 attempts, including Jordan Hulls at 52 percent and Remy Abell at 60 percent. The only way to beat IU right now is to outscore them, and that is no easy task. The Hoosiers welcome a solid Minnesota team to Bloomington today in what will be a high-powered matchup.

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3. Minnesota Golden Gophers: 15-1 (3-0)

Projected Finish in Conference Play: 13-5
Best Win: @ #12 Illinois
Worst Loss: vs. #5 Duke
Star: Trevor Mbakwe, 9.3 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 58.6 FG%
X-Factor: Austin Hollins, 10.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.8 apg, 2.1 spg, 38 3p%, 81.1 FT%

Ranking Reasoning: Tubby Smith has disappointed a little bit in his tenure in Minneapolis, but after a solid run in the NIT last season he was given a questionable contract extension. This year’s edition of the Golden Gophers has made that move look brilliant so far. Trevor Mbakwe is a terror down low coming off a season-ending injury last season and slowly but surely working his way back into the 30 minutes per game range (he is averaging just over 20 right now). Mbakwe and senior 6’7″ forward Rodney Williams play as if they both have invisible springs attached to the soles of their shoes, and put that athleticism to good use in combining to average nearly 14 boards per game. The one area that holds Minnesota back slightly is their distance shooting – Andre Hollins is the only Gopher shooting better than 40 percent behind the arc and only two or three others are worth challenging from deep. Tubby’s inside play has been great thus far, though, and should keep them in the discussion for a Big Ten championship until the last couple games.

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4. Ohio State: 12-3 (2-1)

Projected Record in Conference Play: 12-6
Best Win: @ Purdue
Worst Loss: @ #11 Illinois
Star: Deshaun Thomas, 20.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 40.4 3p%
X-Factor: LaQuinton Ross, 8.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 77.1 FT%

Ranking Reasoning: The Buckeyes entered the season looking to win at least a share of a fourth straight Big Ten title, but their opening game against Marquette perhaps proved to be an omen so far after it was cancelled because of a wet court (I’ll never understand playing real games outside). Thad Matta’s team has largely beaten the teams they were supposed to beat and has lost to those they were supposed to lose to, but that is precisely the problem. If a team is to live up to lofty preseason billings, it must turn heads at some point. Losses to Duke, Illinois, and Kansas are explainable, but wins over the likes of Winthrop, Purdue, Washington, and a handful of no-names are not turning any heads. Thomas has been outstanding for the Scarlet and Gray, pouring in points from all over the floor, but he has yet to find a Robin to take some pressure off. Lenzelle Smith, Jr. is the only other Buckeye to average double digits in the scoring column (with only 10.7 per night), and his inconsistent shooting has plagued the team thus far, though his 43.5 percent mark from deep leads the team. Junior point guard and leader Aaron Craft continues to play lock-down D, but he has really struggled to put the ball in the hoop. Matta needs to find someone to provide a legitimate scoring threat if they are going to come close to keeping their streak alive.

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5. Michigan State: 13-3 (2-1)

Projected Record in Conference Play: 12-6
Best Win: vs. #7 Kansas
Worst Loss: vs. #23 Connecticut
Star: Keith Appling, 14.2 ppg, 4.4 apg, 3.4 rpg, 1.7 spg
X-Factor: Derrick Nix, 8.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 50.5 FG%

Ranking Reasoning: Tom Izzo’s squads are notoriously slow-starting, and this season has been no exception after an opening game loss to Connecticut followed by a loss at Miami in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge a few weeks later. The Spartans did manage to beat Kansas, who has really come on lately, in their second game and have shown some good signs since then. Turnovers and shooting have hampered Michigan State though, and they appear to be problems that Izzo is going to have a hard time solving. Appling, Branden Dawson, and freshman Denzel Valentine have all turned the ball over nearly two and a half times per game and five others cough it up at least once a night to combine for 15 per game. Sophomore Travis Trice has shot well from deep (44.7 percent), but freshman Gary Harris is the only other Spartan who makes more than 35 percent of his downtown looks. Depth has also been a bit of an issue thus far, and Brandan Kearney’s surprising departure has not helped in that department. Michigan State’s defense will keep them in a lot of games, but Izzo needs to find a way to cut down on the turnovers and squeeze out some points to make a run in March.

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6. Illinois: 14-3 (1-2)

Projected Record in Conference Play: 9-9
Best Win: @ #10 Gonzaga
Worst Loss: @ Purdue
Star: Brandon Paul, 18.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.4 spg, 36.5 3p%
X-Factor: Tyler Griffey, 8.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 40.0 3p%

Ranking Reasoning: Illinois was easily the biggest mystery to me entering the 2012-13 season, and the mystery has not died yet. John Groce left Ohio after leading his 2011-12 edition of the Bobcats to a first (or second depending on how you look at it) round upset of Michigan in the NCAA Tournament to replace Bruce Weber as head man in Champaign. The Fighting Illini have responded to Groce’s fiery leadership with some huge wins over Butler, Ohio State, and at Gonzaga but have also taken two big losses at Purdue and at home against Minnesota. Brandon Paul is still the high-volume shooter he has always been, but he’s making threes at a respectable 36.5 percent clip and is always the man to keep an eye on. Senior sidekick D.J. Richardson is another guard capable of putting the ball in the hoop, but he is really struggling this year, making just 30.9 percent of his threes and 34.3 percent of his total looks while averaging just over 10 points a game. Sophomore Tracy Abrams is coming into his own this year, scoring 12.2 points per game while dishing out 3.4 assists and grabbing 3.9 rebounds, but his 29.8 percent shooting from deep needs to improve if Illinois is to contend. Griffey has been up and down this year after developing a nice outside shot, but his inconsistency and Illinois’s overall lack of a strong post presence will keep them from cracking the upper echelon of the league. There are simply too many “buts” for Groce to win the Big Ten in his first season.