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Long Beach St Michigan St Basketball

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo talks to his team during a game against Long Beach State on Dec. 21.

1. MICHIGAN STATE (14-1, 2-0 Big Ten)

It wouldn’t shock a lot of folks if the Spartans don’t lose a game in league play. They’re that good. All 14 of their wins have come by double digits, even a lousy performance at Rutgers that ended with Michigan State winning by 10. If Sparty stays healthy, there isn’t a Big Ten team that can catch them.

2. PURDUE (13-2, 2-0)

Perhaps the only team in the Big Ten that can challenge Michigan State. The Boilermakers have the inside muscle to bang with just about anyone in the country, and the shooters outside to keep defenses honest. Purdue brings a nine-game winning streak into conference play, and its two losses came by three and four points.

3. MARYLAND (12-3, 1-1)

The Terps’ frontcourt depth took a major hit at the end of 2017, when leading rebounder Justin Jackson (shoulder) and key reserve Ivan Bender (knee) were both lost for the season. There’s still plenty of talent for Mark Turgeon to work with, but Maryland can’t afford to lose many more bodies.

4. OHIO STATE (11-4, 2-0)

The job Chris Holtmann has done since taking over for Thad Matta has been tremendous. Save for a stretch of three losses in four games over six days in late November, the Buckeyes have been steady. Keita Bates-Diop is playing at an all-conference level, averaging 19 points and nine rebounds per game.

5. MICHIGAN (12-3, 1-1)

It seems like a very quiet 12-3 for the Wolverines, who led LSU by nine with five minutes left before losing 77-75, and led Ohio State by 20 in the first half before melting down in a 71-62 defeat. Michigan plays Purdue, Michigan State and Maryland in a span of six days before coming to Lincoln on Jan. 18.

6. NEBRASKA (10-5, 1-1)

The optimist would say the Huskers are a couple of possessions away from being 12-3 with a pair of top-25 wins. The pessimist would point to ugly losses to St. John’s and Central Florida, and a closer-than-expected win over Stetson, and say NU has a long way to go. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but it at least appears Nebraska has the horses to make a run in the league.

7. MINNESOTA (12-3, 1-1)

The Gophers have a ton of talent, but it’s mostly in their starting five. Richard Pitino needs to develop some depth if Minnesota is to make a run in conference play.

8. NORTHWESTERN (10-5, 1-1)

It’s all fun and games until you’re not the underdog anymore. The Wildcats have looked completely overmatched in blowout losses to Texas Tech and Oklahoma. They have next to zero home-court advantage playing at Allstate Arena this season while their on-campus venue is renovated. Now, point guard Bryant McIntosh has a sore knee.

9. WISCONSIN (8-7, 1-1)

A bear of an early-season schedule has put the Badgers in an early hole. On the other hand, Wisconsin’s only win over a power conference team is a 64-63 win at Penn State. Junior forward Ethan Happ is great, but he isn’t getting much help.

10. PENN STATE (11-4, 1-1)

This is Pat Chambers’ best team in his six seasons in State College, but the pressure is on to produce results. A 71-70 home loss to Rider doesn’t help the embattled coach’s case, nor does a 64-63 home loss to a down Wisconsin team.

11. INDIANA (8-6, 1-1)

Blowout losses to Indiana State (90-69) and Fort Wayne (92-72). A win over then-No. 18 Notre Dame right before the Fort Wayne loss. Playing Duke tough at home before falling. Weird team. Archie Miller’s got a lot of work to do. The Hoosiers can’t shoot the three or defend it, which probably sounds familiar to Nebraska fans.

12. IOWA (9-6, 0-2)

The Hawkeyes’ season is already on the verge of being off the rails. Iowa has exactly one win over a power conference team, with losses to Louisiana and South Dakota State. Something is off in Iowa City, where it looks like the loss of Peter Jok is bigger than anticipated.

13. ILLINOIS (10-5, 0-2)

The Illini have given people pretty much what they expected: not really beating anyone of substance other than Missouri, and losing to the toughest teams on their schedule so far. This team could be a pain in league play, with a four-point loss at Northwestern and a one-point loss to Maryland at home.

14. RUTGERS (10-5, 0-2)

The Scarlet Knights continue to improve under second-year coach Steve Pikiel, with a home win over then-No. 15 Seton Hall to prove it. But Rutgers followed up that upset with buy-game losses to Stony Brook and Hartford. The Scarlet Knights will beat a couple teams they shouldn’t in league play.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7436 or cbasnett@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraCB.

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Husker basketball reporter

A Ravenna native, Chris covers the University of Nebraska men's basketball team and assists with football coverage. He spent nearly 10 years covering sports at the Kearney Hub and nearly four years at the Springfield News-Leader in Springfield, Mo.

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