By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – My fourth and final Big Ten men’s basketball power rankings are influenced more by momentum than overall records.
Or maybe I’m just a homer because the same Iowa team that is seeded seventh in the Big Ten Tournament is fourth in my power rankings and ranked ahead of three teams with more wins and two with an equal amount of wins, including Illinois, which swept Iowa this season.
But with exception to regular-season champion Purdue, name a Big Ten team that is playing better than Iowa right now.
You can’t because there isn’t one.
Maryland has six more wins than Iowa has overall, but Iowa has played at a higher level down the stretch, winning its final four regular-season games, including an 83-69 victory at Maryland on Feb. 25.
The Hawkeyes, who play Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday, probably still have to win two games in the conference tournament to make the NCAA Tournament. But there is more that influences these power rankings than just the Big Dance.
What a team has done lately also matters a great deal, and few, if any Big Ten teams, have done more than Iowa has down the stretch.
1. Purdue, 25-6 overall, 14-4 Big Ten – Though it wouldn’t surprise me if Purdue made an early exit from the NCAA Tournament, there is no denying its place on top. Led by the one-two punch of massive post players Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Hass and small forward Vince Edwards, the Boilermakers won the Big Ten regular-season title by two games.
2. Wisconsin, 23-8, 12-6 – I’m guessing that Barry Alvarez recently read an instructional manual on how to coach basketball and is ready to take over at any time if the situation doesn’t improve.
3. Minnesota, 23-8, 11-7 – In just one year, Richard Pitino has gone from being on the hot seat to a candidate for better jobs for which he isn’t qualified if he so chooses.
4. Iowa, 18-13, 10-8 – This has nothing to do with Iowa’s ranking, but try to imagine Peter Jok playing for Todd Lickliter? The current Hawk who once scored 42 points in a game and the former Hawk head coach whose three teams at Iowa combined to score in the 40s 17 times, including 40 twice.
5. Maryland, 24-7, 12-6 – Mark Turgeon likely would whine, complain and nag about this ranking, much like he does to the officials during a game.
6. Michigan, 20-11, 10-8 – I once watched a video of a Wolverine fighting off a pack of Wolves. That has to count for something.
7. Michigan State, 18-13, 10-8 – Maddeningly inconsistent throughout the season and losers of their final two regular-season games, the Spartans seem poised to make another run to the Final Four under Tom Izzo.
8. Illinois 18-13, 8-10 – It’s impossible to get lost in Champaign or Urbana if you just keep driving straight.
9. Northwestern, 21-10, 10-8 – No disrespect to the best feel-good story in the Big Ten with Northwestern almost certain to make its first NCAA Tournament appearance, but the Wildcats already have used their one miracle finish for the season.
10. Indiana, 17-14, 7-11 – Wouldn’t you like to see Tom Crean just once sit down during a game instead of pacing back and forth as if world peace rested on his shoulders?
11. Ohio State, 17-14, 7-11 – The closest Ohio State gets to elite status these days is having former All-America center Greg Oden on the bench as a graduate assistant.
12. Penn State, 14-17, 6-12 – Pat Chambers will return for a sixth season as head coach, which is good news for Pat Chambers and for the rest of the Big Ten if his previous five seasons of mediocrity are any indication.
13. Rutgers, 14-17, 3-15 – The Scarlet Knights finally are looking down at somebody in the Big Ten.
14. Nebraska, 12-18, 6-12 – It wouldn’t surprise me if 95 percent of Nebraska fans believe strongly that the Nebraska football team will win more games next season than the men’s basketball team has won this season.
My All-Big Ten team
Caleb Swanigan, 6-9, 250, soph., power forward, Purdue: A double-double machine with 25 during the regular season. He is without question the Big Ten’s Player of Year based on individual statistics and team success. What else is there?
Nate Mason, 6-1, 185, Jr., point guard, Minnesota: He doesn’t receive nearly as much attention as his namesake and fellow point guard from Kansas, Frank Mason. But Nate is also a dynamic point guard who can carry his team at times.
Miles Bridges, 6-7, 230, Fr., forward, Michigan State: The versatile lefty is probably a one-and-doner.
Peter Jok 6-6, 205, Sr., shooting guard, Iowa: The only senior on my first team and the best shooter. Jok is an average defender and ball handler, but he compensates by being one of the best shooters in the Big Ten, if not the country.
Melo Trimble, 6-3, 185, Jr., guard, Maryland: At times he seems too mellow, but when playing well, few in the country are better.
Coach of the Year
Richard Pitino, Minnesota – The Gophers have increased their win total from eight games last season to 23 this season. Enough said.
Runner-ups – Chris Collins, Northwestern, Fran McCaffery, Iowa