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Big Ten Power Rankings: End of Year Edition

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As we kick off Big Ten season let's look at where everyone in the conference is.

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Think of these rankings as the final non-conference wrap as we lead into conference play even though the first two league games occurred last night. Today we get a full slate of games across the league to the point where everyone will have played one conference game by the end of the day. Here is your full slate for later today:

Indiana at Rutgers, 1pm ESPN2

Michigan at Illinois, 3pm ESPN2

Northwestern at Nebraska, 4pm ESPNU

Penn State at Maryland, 5pm ESPN2

Minnesota at Ohio State, 7pm Big Ten Network

Now, onto the power rankings

Championship Contenders

1. Michigan State (13-1, 0-1) - The Spartans are clearly a different team with Denzel Valentine, but he may not have mattered with the way that Iowa played last night. Depending on how long Valentine is out it could cost Sparty the Big Ten title though. They are already 0-1 without him, but the next three games (at Minnesota, Illinois, at Penn State) should be manageable. There are a lot of teams that will lose in Iowa City this year, so there is no shame in dropping that game regardless.

2. Purdue (13-1, 1-0) - Even a hampered Wisconsin team is dangerous in the Kohl Center. The Boilers haven't played well or shot the ball well for large sections of their last two games, but A.J. Hammons is playing out of his mind, especially in the second half. The Purdue-Iowa game on Saturday should be incredibly interesting.

3. Maryland (11-1, 0-0) - The Terrapins haven't really been challenged since the loss at North Carolina and probably won't be challenged until they go to Michigan on January 12th. A Saturday trip to Northwestern could be interesting though, but the loss of Alex Olah is probably enough for Maryland to get through that game. Too bad, too. The Wildcats could use that game.

4. Iowa (10-3, 1-0) - I am moving the Hawkeyes into this tier because of last night's victory. They knocked off the number 1 team in the country without Jarrod Uthoff even playing that well. They have an excellent chance to contend because they play Michigan State, Purdue, and Maryland a total of four times in their first eight conference games. With one victory already in the bank they have a chance to jump out to an early lead and go for their first Big Ten title in 37 years.

NCAA Contenders

5. Indiana (10-3, 0-0) - Indiana is going to be in the Big Ten title race for a good portion of the season because the schedule gods blessed them with about as easy of a league schedule as you can ask for. Their first three road games are at Rutgers, Nebraska, and Minnesota, which is laughably easy. They don't have a really tough game until February 2 at Michigan. The Hoosiers could and probably should start 9-0 in league play, but they have Iowa twice, Purdue, Maryland, and at Michigan State in the last nine.

6. Michigan (10-3, 0-0) - The Wolverines get a test later today at Illinois, who is probably not as bad as we originally thought. I think the Illini could push them quite a bit later today, mostly because Michigan is similar to Indiana. Both teams are going to shoot a lot of threes and hope they are hitting. It is also the first real game Michigan has played since at SMU on December 8.

7. Northwestern (12-1, 0-0) - Yes, for now I am keeping the Wildcats here as an NCAA contender. I really hope Alex Olah can come back at some point, too. They have a golden opportunity to end the NCAA drought even though they played a non-conference schedule whose best win is at DePaul. There is so little there that Northwestern likely needs to go, at minimum, 10-8 in the B1G and at least win one game in the B1G tournament. They can do it, too. They can get halfway there just by not losing to Rutgers, Minnesota, and Nebraska. They also only play the top 4 of Michigan State, Iowa, Purdue, and Maryland a total of five times (they get Maryland twice). If it is going to happen, this is the year.

Could they be 2014 Nebraska or 2015 Purdue?

A special explanation of this category: Purdue in 2015 and Nebraska in 2014 were both DOA coming into those respective Big Ten seasons but made a stunning run to the NCAA Tournament. Right now there are a few teams that look the same. They struggled so far, but they have the ability to make a run in a Big Ten that is a little bit down and they can take advantage of that.

8. Ohio State (8-5, 0-0) - The Buckeyes have taken their lumps, but Texas-Arlington (even without Johnny Hill) and Louisiana Tech are respectable losses at the moment. They also have that excellent win over Kentucky, showing they can compete with anyone. You can't ask for a much easier opener than Minnesota at home.

9. Illinois (8-5, 0-0) - I am high on the Illini right now. Their overall profile is much like Purdue's in 2014-15. The losses to Chattanooga and North Florida are almost identical to Purdue's losses to Gardner Webb and, well, North Florida. See, Illinois! You can recover from this! What's another very similar loss you can recover from? Notre Dame! Iowa State and Providence are far better losses than Kansas State and Vanderbilt last year, so the Illini might be okay. Sure, they have had some close calls (a lot, actually), but wins are wins. If they beat Michigan today it can start a run.

Soon to take a fall

10. Penn State (9-4, 0-0) - The good news is that Penn State survived the non-conference with just two bad losses to Radford and Duquesne. They get Maryland, Michigan State, and Purdue all in their first five games, however. The home game on January 10 against Michigan State could be interesting if Denzel Valentine isn't back.

11. Wisconsin (8-6, 0-1) - The Badgers will be tough at home, but are too offensively challenged to expect a massive turnaround this year. After Rutgers they have Indiana and Maryland in consecutive games too.

Pretty much locked into Wednesday of the Big Ten Tournament

12. Nebraska (8-5, 0-0) - The Cornhuskers are a team that just can't finish. They now have a bad loss at home to Samford too. They will probably pull off an upset or two of an NCAA caliber team in Nebraska, but there is not enough consistency there to expect much else.

13. Minnesota (6-6, 0-0) - Milwaukee is not 2-0 against the Big Ten after beating Minnesota to pull of the Minnesota-Wisconsin double. This is just not a good team at all. I do thank them for beating Clemson in the B1G/ACC Challenge.

Special Rutgers Category

14. Rutgers (6-7, 0-0) - Rutgers is an embarrassment to the Big Ten and does not belong in the conference. I am actually upset that they beat Howard because it poisons our RPI even more than just playing them. How bad are they? They lost to the same Clemson team that Minnesota beat. By 21. They also lost to St. John's, who is awful. That said, if they upset Indiana this afternoon I will move them out of the basement.