As the calendar hits February, and the second half of the Big Ten season, there’s been mild separation at the top, as Michigan has taken a lead in the league.

But the Wolverines are idle right now. When they come back, however, it might be a mad dash to the finish, with a half dozen teams jockeying for position in the top half of the conference. Where do we rank them? Let’s take a look at our Week 11 power rankings.

1. Michigan

(Previous week: 1)
Record: 13-1 overall, 8-1 Big Ten

Although the athletes have stated their desire to return to play, Michigan remains on a 2-week pause due to a COVID-19 outbreak. It means the Wolverines won’t play, at least as it stands now, until Feb. 11 vs. Illinois. When they come back, they’ll have at least a 2-game edge in the loss column on the rest of the Big Ten. There had been speculation that perhaps Juwan Howard’s team could get back sooner, as long as it stayed virus-free (unlike other UM programs), but the school president rejected that notion over the weekend.

2. Ohio State

(Previous week: 3)
Record: 14-4, 8-4

The Buckeyes are rolling, having won 6 of their last 7 games, with the only loss being a 2-pointer to Purdue. And in that game, Ohio State led with less than 2 minutes to go. What’s working? Just about everything. The Buckeyes have a great inside-outside combination in E.J. Liddell and Duane Washington Jr., and C.J. Walker has been solid at the point since his return. Add in a deep bench — the Buckeyes will go as many as 11 deep — and Chris Holtmann has plenty of options to turn to.

3. Illinois

(Previous week: 6)
Record: 11-5, 7-3

After a mid-January dip, Illinois has recovered with 2 consecutive wins, the last its biggest victory of the season. In what might be the best current Big Ten rivalry, the Fighting Illini bested Iowa on Friday. For most of the season, Illinois has been searching for a consistent third scorer, to go with Ayo Dosunmo and Kofi Cockburn. Maybe veteran point guard Trent Frazier can step into the role, after he had 24 points on 8-of-13 shooting vs. the Hawkeyes. The insertion of Jacob Grandison into the starting lineup the last 2 games has been a boost because it gives the Illini more of a traditional 4 man, rather than its 4-guard lineup.

4. Iowa

(Previous week: 2)
Record: 12-4, 6-3

The Hawkeyes are clearly missing C.J. Fredrick. The Iowa guard, who has missed the last game-and-a-half with a lower-leg injury, is probably more important to Iowa than his stats — 9.1 points, 2.4 assists and 1.1 rebounds per game — indicate. Iowa could have used Fredrick’s shooting ability in the loss at Illinois, but also his defense, likely being Iowa’s best perimeter defender. Monday, Coach Fran McCaffery said Fredrick could get back by Tuesday’s game vs. Michigan State.

5. Purdue

(Previous week: 5)
Record: 12-6, 7-4

The Boilermakers might be the best second-half team in the entire country, which is hard to rationalize considering Purdue has one of the nation’s youngest teams. But the results are the results; the Boilermakers keep coming back after sub-par first halves. They did so against Minnesota Saturday, rallying from down 5 at the break to pummel the Gophers. It’s a credit to the veterans — Trevion Williams and Eric Hunter Jr., as Sasha Stefanovic sits due to a positive COVID test — but also the maturity of the freshmen, like Brandon Newman, who had 29 points in the win.

6. Wisconsin

(Previous week: 4)
Record: 13-5, 7-4

Wisconsin is concerned about its defense. Long considered one of the best in slowing the game and making each possession matter, the Badgers feel like they can be better. Well, maybe. But the numbers are pretty darn good: Wisconsin is No. 1 in the Big Ten in points allowed, only 62.8, and second in field goal defense, at 40.5. So why Greg Gard’s concern? The Badgers gave up 81 in a loss to the Nittany Lions, including 50 in the second half. In a loss 2 games earlier, they allowed 42 after halftime to Ohio State.

7. Rutgers

(Previous week: 8)
Record: 10-6, 6-6

Rutgers is back on the upswing again, winners of 3 straight. The Scarlet Knights seemingly have it figured out — after squeaking by Indiana in Bloomington, they’ve nuked Michigan State and Northwestern — after a bizarre stretch in which they seemed to not want to be in the gym. Jacob Young has found a nice groove again coming off the bench, with consecutive double-figure scoring games, including 19 in the win over NU on Sunday. Center Myles Johnson has taken his game to another level as well, affecting games on the defensive and offensive sides.

8. Minnesota

(Previous week: 7)
Record: 11-6, 4-6

Yes, Minnesota is 0-5 on the road, but here are the opponents: Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa and Purdue. What do they have in common? All are in the top half of the Big Ten standings. Yet, there’s a feeling that the Gophers are going to have to win on the road if they want to feel better about their NCAA chances. Maybe it comes at surging Rutgers on Thursday. After that, it has scheduled road games at Maryland, Indiana and Penn State.

9. Indiana

(Previous week: 9)
Record: 9-7, 4-5

Indiana was idle this week, not because of its own virus issues, but because of the shutdown in Ann Arbor. It means the Hoosiers have had plenty of time to stew about the home loss to Rutgers on Jan. 24, before they finally host Illinois Tuesday night. This week is going to be telling for the Hoosiers, considering IU gets 2 home games but against 2 of the best in the Big Ten, in Illinois and Iowa. A 1-1 week likely keeps Indiana in the NCAA Tournament picture. But what if the Hoosiers lose both? Indiana fans would start grumbling more than they already are.

10. Penn State

(Previous week: 12)
Record: 6-7, 3-6

There are a lot of teams that nobody wants to play in the Big Ten right now, and Penn State might be at the top of the list. The Nittany Lions have won three of their last four, with the only loss being by four at Ohio State. Could PSU build an NCAA résumé? Yes, but they’ll need wins, regardless of who they are against. Penn State has a favorable remaining schedule of nine games. Perhaps 6-3 gets the Nittany Lions at least into the conversation, and not many would have expected that only a few weeks ago.

11. Maryland

(Previous: 10)
Record: 9-8, 3-7

Maryland gets a rematch for its Christmas Day loss at Purdue, a game that the Terps lost by 3 after going only 10-of-21 from the free-throw line. It would have been another of the Terrapins’ big victories on the road. Now, they’ll look for one of those at home. Maryland still hasn’t won a Big Ten home game in 4 chances, although those 4 teams (Rutgers, Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin) were ranked in the top 20 at the time of tip.

12. Michigan State

(Previous week: 11)
Record: 8-6, 2-6

Michigan State is in danger of missing its first NCAA Tournament since 1997, when Tom Izzo was in Year 2. For the Spartans to make a move, Izzo has to find a bunch of answers. But in all likelihood, there are way too many questions, with a lack of quality post and point guard, and too few shooters. But after losing a big lead to Purdue 3 weeks ago, the Spartans have also lost their will to fight. The season is slipping away.

13. Northwestern

(Previous week: 13)
Record: 6-9, 3-8

Remember when Northwestern had won 3 in a row to start Big Ten play? Seems like ages ago now, considering the Wildcats have run the losing streak to 8 straight. What a story it’d be, and not a good one, if NU starts the season 3-0 only to finish 3-17. It might happen. Chris Collins’ team is too young and too inconsistent, literally in every single aspect of the game, to put anything together, especially now that teams are on alert about the potential of being upset.

14. Nebraska

(Previous week: 14)
Record: 4-8, 0-5

Good news: Nebraska is back practicing after its long COVID-caused layoff that has cost the Cornhuskers six games. Coach Fred Hoiberg, who himself battled the disease, told media that 15 of Nebraska’s 30 Tier One personnel contracted the virus, and even upon returning to practice this week, two players were still out. And 2 others were out with non-COVID illnesses. It’s been a trying time, to say the least. Nebraska is next scheduled to play Saturday at Michigan State.