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Emma's Big Ten Power Rankings: Spartans Rising Up

By Chris Emma-

(CBS) Tom Izzo was in a zone Sunday following his Spartans' 84-77 overtime escape of the Northwestern Wildcats. It was a win, but not one he was pleased with one bit. His postgame press conference became a 20-minute rant about how the Wildcats deserved to win the game, about why his Spartans aren't good enough just yet.

Yet, weeks ago, Michigan State appeared to be a flawed team. It lost to Texas Southern (yes, that's a real school) in its own Breslin Center. That shouldn't have been a worry, though, because trends with Izzo teams proves they can't be judged until March.

Izzo has an incredible knack of building his teams throughout the season, of getting the most of his players by tournament time. There are early season struggles and some bad losses in Big Ten play. In this case, it was a win the Spartans didn't deserve that had Izzo in a tizzy.

But Michigan State keeps getting better, and Izzo will have it ready for the postseason.

1.) Wisconsin (15-2, 3-1) — The Badgers lost to Rutgers. Wait, the Badgers lost to Rutgers? This is one that we'll look back on with a laugh come Selection Sunday, when Wisconsin is poised for a one- or two-seed in the NCAA Tournament. What we can take away is that the absence of Frank Kaminsky is something the Badgers can't afford.

2.) Maryland (15-2, 3-1) — A loss in Champaign gave the Terps their second setback of the season, but they can be better defined by a win against Purdue in which they matched the Boilermakers' physical play admirably.

3.) Michigan State (12-5, 3-1) — Down and seemingly out in Iowa City, the Spartans pulled a comeback to win by 14 points, then followed it Sunday with a win over Northwestern. Watch out for Michigan State, which is a red-hot team.

4.) Iowa (11-5, 2-1) — The Hawkeyes will wish they could get their second half back against Michigan State, but Aaron White is the kind of leader needed to keep this team rolling.

5.) Indiana (12-4, 2-1) — A win over Ohio State pushed the Hoosiers up a peg in these power rankings. Credit coach Tom Crean, who has gotten a lot out of a team that didn't seem destined for much.

6.) Ohio State (13-4, 2-2) — Sitting at the firm dividing line of the upper- and lower-middle class of the Big Ten, the Buckeyes are a dangerous team that hasn't made enough noise this season.

7.) Michigan (10-6, 3-1) — Wins over Penn State and Minnesota — each winless in Big Ten play — are noteworthy because it shows the Wolverines can pull out close wins. It's a young team that seems to be making improvements.

8.) Nebraska (10-6, 2-2) — Sunday's win over Illinois showed Nebraska can win with tough defense, holding the Fighting Illini to just 43 points. Tim Miles still has a long way to go to make the Cornhuskers a tournament team, though.

9.) Purdue (10-7, 2-2) — What a tough week it was for the Boilermakers, losing to Wisconsin and Maryland. But Matt Painter can use these games as a learning tool. Now, Purdue must win the games it's supposed to win.

10.) Illinois (11-6, 1-3) — No Rayvonte Race, no problem against Maryland. OK, that was a surprise. But then the Illini followed with a loss to Nebraska in what seemed to be a toss-up. This remains a team that's consistently inconsistent.

11.) Minnesota (11-6, 0-4) — C'mon, Gophers. You're better than this. You're a tournament-caliber team that has blown games that should've been won. Get it together -- and fast!

12.) Rutgers (10-7, 2-2) — A date with Wisconsin is supposed to expose every facet of a team's game. The only thing it exposed is that the Scarlet Knights need work on rushing the court.

13.) Northwestern (10-6, 1-2) — Chris Collins harped it several times after Sunday's loss in East Lansing: The Wildcats lost a game they deserved to win. Even Tom Izzo agreed. So close, yet not enough.

14.) Penn State (12-4, 0-3) — Once again, the Nittany Lions appear to be the Big Ten's bottom dwellers, playing poor basketball. There's not much more to say.

Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.

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