We're roughly midway through the conference season in college basketball, and the February grind is underway. But of course, the ever-changing Big Ten picture is as murky as ever. When we published our first edition of these rankings at the onset of conference play, there was neither consensus at the top nor in the middle, and there's still not.
Ironically, the one thing that everyone agreed upon a little over a month ago was the 12th spot in these rankings, then occupied by Northwestern. But oh how things have changed, and that's why these rankings have returned.
This time around, the voters were Kevin Trahan, Josh Rosenblat, Chris Johnson and Henry Bushnell. All of our individual rankings can be found in the table at the bottom the page.
Following each team are the average rank of the four voters and the change in rank from our first set of rankings back in January
1. Michigan State | average rank: 1.25 | change: - | -- "When they get healthy, they'll do this..." "When they get healthy, they'll be that..." The Spartans have been incessantly plagued by injuries all season. But with everybody on the court, they do possess the best combination of talent, experience and consistency in the Big Ten. This ranking is based on that potential -- and on the fact that none of the other teams that joined them at the top of the league entering January have taken the league by storm. However, at some point, those "whens" have to start becoming "ifs." There's no guarantee that this Michigan State team will ever reach its full potential.
2. Michigan | 1.75 | ↑4 | -- When Mitch McGary was lost for the season back in December, many thought the Wolverines might go into free-fall mode. But in reality, they've done exactly the opposite. Michigan stunned nearly everybody by opening Big Ten play 8-0, and beating Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan State in the process. What precludes full belief in this team is a void in the frontcourt created by McGary's absence. We'll learn a lot about how legitimate their Big Ten title challenge is over the next two weeks, when they'll take on the other four of the top five teams in the conference.
3. Ohio State | 3.25 | ↓2 | -- The Buckeyes' Big Ten title hopes were all but thrown out of the window during a six-game stretch that shockingly dealt the Buckeyes five losses, including Penn State's first win over them in 19 tries. But Thad Matta's team has responded with aplomb, going on the road to knock off Wisconsin and Iowa to climb back into a tie for fourth place in the conference. The Buckeyes struggle to score at times, which makes them susceptible to barren runs like the one in January, but they rank 4th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, and the past two wins say a lot about this team's character and intent.
4. Iowa | 3.5 | - | -- At times this season, the Hawkeyes have looked like the best team in the Big Ten, bar none. But they've also shown an inability to close out games in crunch time, and haven't been able to get over the hump against the conference's elite teams. The talent is clear for all to see, but perhaps the ten-man rotation actually has inhibited their progress a bit. A big opportunity for Iowa to establish its viability in the upper-echelon of the conference presents itself on Saturday in the form of a home date with Michigan.
5. Wisconsin | 4.5 | ↓4 | -- It's almost impossible to comprehend that the team that took down Florida, St. Louis, Virginia and Iowa on its way to a 16-0 record is the same one that lost at Assembly Hall and at home to Northwestern. The Badgers were ruthlessly efficient on offense earlier in the season, but have seriously regressed. Sam Decker hasn't yet developed into the player most thought he'd be, and when this team isn't fully functioning, it looks strikingly ordinary. However, there's nothing to suggest the Badgers can't regain their form.
6. Northwestern | 6.25 | ↑6 | -- Woah. Northwestern at six would've been incomprehensible a month ago, but Chris Collins and co. have turned their season around. Below the top five, the Big Ten is a mess, and the Wildcats have done more than anybody to stand out from the pack. A dreadful non-conference season still looms, and will impede much of Northwestern's progress from a postseason perspective, but the mere fact that arguments over the merits of their résumé have surfaced is remarkable.
7. Indiana | 7 | ↑1 | -- The Hoosiers are teetering on the edge of relevance. Upsets of Wisconsin and Michigan have counteracted losses to Illinois, Northwestern and Nebraska. The Hoosiers desperately need a third player to step up to complement the impressive duo of Yogi Farrell and Noah Vonleh. If nobody does, Indiana won't be able to climb out of this Big Ten jumble.
8. Minnesota | 8 | ↓1 | -- The Gophers are, by the estimations of many experts, still a tournament team despite dropping three straight to Nebraska, Northwestern and Purdue. But if current trends continue, they'll drop out of the conversation. Andre Hollins' short absence due to an ankle injury was the source of some of Minnesota's problems, but in his return Wednesday night against Purdue, he was nowhere near his normal self. Minnesota is talented, but they must regroup and get their season back on track.
9. Purdue | 9 | - | -- Just as the double-overtime game on Jan. 21 at Welsh-Ryan Arena galvanized the victors, Northwestern, it was a significant setback for the losers, Purdue. The Boilermakers went on to lose four straight, and any supposed potential that this team had before the season remains just that -- potential.
10. Nebraska | 10 | - | -- Nebraska is as good an example as any of the relative parity in the Big Ten. Especially at home, the Huskers are a dangerous team. But they're also nowhere near making any type of move towards the top half of the conference.
11. Illinois | 11.25 | ↓6 | -- This season has turned into a colossal disappointment for the Illini. Illinois was 13-2 and 2-0 in the conference back on Jan. 8, but has proceeded to lose its last eight games. Groce has a few nice players at his disposal, but watching this team play basketball can be excruciating, and there's a valid argument -- one that two of our voters agree with -- for the Illini being the worst team in the conference.
12. Penn State | 11.5 | ↓1 | -- There's really not much to say here. The Nittany Lions weren't a good team coming into conference play, and still aren't at present. The upset at Ohio State was an outlier. As evidenced Thursday night against Michigan State, this team just can't hang with the big boys of the Big Ten.
Here's how we voted: