Editor's note: Each week, Yahoo! Sports college basketball writer Jason King will rank teams in each of the Big Six conferences plus the best of the rest. Wednesday's entry – The Big Ten Conference.
(Through games of Feb. 17)
The notion that Michigan State is a shoo-in to win the Big Ten conference is being challenged.
Tuesday's 72-54 setback at Purdue narrowed the Spartans' lead to just a single game over the Boilermakers and Illinois, both of whom are 9-4. Michigan State is 10-3.
"Tonight," Purdue guard Chris Kramer said after the game, "we showed we can play with the best in the country."
Especially when Purdue standout Robbie Hummel is in the lineup. Hummel, the Big Ten preseason player of the year, missed three games because of a hairline fracture in his lower back.
Hummel missed six of his nine field-goal attempts against the No. 6 Spartans Tuesday, but his presence alone helped the Boilermakers' cohesion. That fact didn't go unnoticed by Michigan State coach Tom Izzo.
"They're a pretty good team without him," Izzo said, "but they're a special team with him."
Special enough to win the Big Ten? Wait and see.
Now on to the rankings. Last week's rank in parenthesis.
Tuesday's victory over Michigan State finally gives the Boilermakers a win over a team ranked in the current top 25 poll. Purdue had chances earlier this season but lost to Duke and Oklahoma. (5)
The Spartans will get an opportunity to exact revenge on Purdue in the regular-season finale March 8. Before then, though, Michigan State has a tough home matchup with red-hot Wisconsin and a daunting road game at Illinois. (1)
Bruce Weber's squad is one of the most unselfish in the game. The Illini lead the country in assist-per-basket ratio (70.2 percent) and rank third in assists per game (18.1). (4)
Saturday's loss at Wisconsin snapped the Buckeyes' four-game win streak, but don't expect the defeat to be a momentum-killer. Ohio State plays at Northwestern on Wednesday and will certainly be juiced for Sunday's showdown with Illinois. (2)
The Gophers have lost three of their last four road games, with the lone win coming at Indiana. That's not good news heading into Thursday's game at Michigan. Forwards Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson – "Tubby's Twin Towers" – are combining to average just 9.5 points in their last four games. (3)
Forward Jon Leuer is averaging 10.3 points and 5.7 rebounds since joining the starting lineup on Feb. 5. The Badgers – winners of four straight – will need him more than ever in Sunday's game at No. 6 Michigan State. (6)
A victory over Minnesota on Thursday would be huge for a team that plays three of its final four games on the road. Sunday's win over Northwestern was the Wolverines' third overtime victory of the season. (7)
Valiant and surprising as their effort has been, the Nittany Lions probably need to win their remaining five games to receive an NCAA tournament berth. Considering they still have to play Ohio State and Illinois (twice) the chances of that happening are slim. (8)
A few breaks here and there, and the Wildcats could easily have a winning conference record. They've lost three straight games by a combined nine points. Six of their eight conference losses have come by single digits. (9)
The Hawkeyes suffered a 15-point blowout against Michigan last month, and things could get even uglier during Sunday's rematch considering the Hawkeyes could be without standouts Cyrus Tate (ankle) and Jeff Peterson (hamstring). (10)
Indiana (6-18, 1-11) – Hoosiers leading scorer Devan Dumes has missed two games after being suspended by coach Tom Crean for throwing elbows in a game against Michigan State. Don't be surprised if Dumes, who averages 13.8 points, is back in the rotation for Thursday's home game against Wisconsin. (11)