IOWA CITY, Iowa - I procrastinated on this exercise because of lacking time and clarity. Today, I found both.
That's not to say these rankings won't change. They will. And that probably happens this week.
I feel pretty comfortable with the top of this list, however, and have a better handle on the Big Ten as a whole as we neat the halfway point. Again, the outlook will likely change throughout the league with time.
Here's where things sit in my head on Jan. 18, 2021:
1. Iowa (12-2 overall, 6-1 Big Ten)- The Hawkeyes destroyed Northwestern Sunday in Evanston, their only game of the week. It moved them into a first-place tie with Michigan, which was blown out at Minnesota Saturday.
Iowa has looked better on defense and continued to dominate on offense. Since allowing 102 points in an overtime loss at Minnesota on Christmas Day, it's yielded an average of 71.6 during a 5-game winning streak. It's not allowed more than 75 (at Rutgers) in any contest during the stretch.
With Ken Pom's No. 1-ranked adjusted offense in the country, good luck knocking off the Hawkeyes if they D-Up like that.
2. Michigan (11-1, 6-1) - The setback in Minneapolis was the Wolverines first of the campaign. They've enjoyed a favorable schedule to date, but to their credit have taken advantage and impressed while doing so.
Michigan next plays host to Maryland, a team that's won at Wisconsin and Illinois. It's at Purdue on Friday.
3. Illinois (9-5, 5-3) - I'm sure plenty of folks will disagree with me placing the Illini here, but I would pick them to beat any squad below them in these rankings on a neutral court. They do need to figure it out, though. They're at risk of being the league's biggest underachiever.
4. Wisconsin (11-3, 5-2) - The Badgers have won at Rutgers and Michigan State but were blown out at Michigan and suffered the bad home loss to Maryland. They also needed two overtimes to beat Indiana in Madison.
5. Ohio State (11-3, 5-3) - The Buckeyes are one of the more surprising outfits in the Big Ten. They won at Illinois and Rutgers, and are scheduled to play at Purdue on Tuesday.
6. Purdue (10-5, 5-3) - While Illinois is doing less with more, Matt Painter is once again working magic in West Lafayette. It's a big week for the Boilers with contests against OSU and Michigan.
7. Minnesota (11-4, 4-4) - The Gophers own home wins against the top two teams in these rankings and fell to both of them on the road.
8. Michigan State (8-4, 2-4) - The Spartans showing up here is more based on Tom Izzo's history of developing teams than how they've performed to date.
9. Rutgers (7-5, 3-5) - The Knights started 2-0 in league play but have dropped four in a row, including three at home.
10. Indiana (8-6, 3-4) - Archie Miller has guided the Hoosiers to sixth-, ninth- and 10th-place finishes during his three seasons in Bloomington.
11. Maryland (8-6, 2-5) - The Terps have not won at home in conference competition but have emerged victorious at Illinois and Wisconsin. Makes sense.
12. Northwestern (6-6, 3-5) - The Wildcats have lost five contests in a row, all to teams ranked at the time. They're at No. 9 Wisconsin on Wednesday.
13. Penn State (3-5, 0-4) - There's a clear demarcation line between Northwestern and the last two teams in these rankings.
14. Nebraska (4-8, 0-5) - The Huskers are in quarantine and scheduled to emerge from it for a game against Penn State on Jan. 30. That should be fun.