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Michigan's are the best, Rutgers has the worst: Ranking the Big Ten's basketball uniforms

The Big Ten men’s basketball tournament checks into the United Center this week, and with it come 14 distinct styles.

The players and coaches can decide who has the best teams. We’ll decide who has the best threads.

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Because each school wears several uniforms in a season (can you say merchandise sales?), we limited the field to home whites and the regular road uniform. We evaluated based on letters, numbers, accents and overall impact.

Who are we to judge? We love college basketball and sports fashion and we all pick out our own clothes.

Who is on the the style council? Jeremy Mikula, Shannon Ryan, Cindy Dampier, David Syrek, Phil Thompson, Will Larkin, Phil Rosenthal and Tim Bannon.

Each judge ranked the uniforms from 1 to 14, and we tallied the votes to determine the order. Each judge also included comments, many of which are included here.

If you disagree — or, better yet, agree — let us know. And pick your favorite in the poll at the bottom of the story.

1. Michigan
Michigan's home (left) and away uniforms.
Michigan's home (left) and away uniforms. (Associated Press)

Letters, numbers: Love the way the letters pop on home and away jerseys. The lighter color on the edges makes the blue jump. The “M” on the shorts is perfect, a lesson for other schools. One quibble: The “Michigan” and jersey number do feel a bit crowded.

Accents: Textbook use of striped piping on the hems of the shorts, the collar and arms. It’s just enough to brighten the uniforms without overpowering them. V detail in the shorts is a nice touch.

Overall impact: A solid, traditional look. Understated and classic. Light touches work as a perfect complement to the bold lettering and strong colors. One of the best looks in the nation.

2. Indiana
Indiana's home (left) and away uniforms.
Indiana's home (left) and away uniforms. (Associated Press)

Letters, numbers: Easy to see from way up in the rafters of Assembly Hall — and the block font remains a timeless choice. Good size balance between “Indiana” lettering and number.

Accents: Interlocked “IU” on the shorts is cleanly stated, and the thick white-and-red trim is just enough. The alternating stripes look great on the home uniforms — but a little tacky on the road ones.

Overall impact: Easily recognizable, historic uniform. Kudos to Indiana for keeping the design clean. Among the best not only in the Big Ten, but also in all of college basketball.

3. Iowa
Iowa's home (left) and away uniforms.
Iowa's home (left) and away uniforms. (Associated Press)

Letters, numbers: The big, aggressive font works with such a small name. But the road uniforms would be more legible with white letters outlined in yellow. Letters and numbers are bold and funky without being obnoxious and clunky.

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Accents: The gold collar on the black uniforms looks especially sharp. The split on the piping around the Hawkeyes on the shorts frames the logo nicely. Love the placement of the Hawkeyes logo on the waistband and sides of the shorts and digging the colored collar.

Overall impact: A touch of modernity and a tasteful use of yellow makes these stand out. Pretty much everything here works: the colors, fonts, logo, even the piping on the inside of the collar with plain arm holes and the modern shorts stripes. A good example of a set that looks modern without trying too hard to impress.

4. Illinois
Illinois home (left) and away uniforms.
Illinois home (left) and away uniforms. (Left: Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune | Right: Darron Cummings/AP)

Letters, numbers: The blue or white numbers outlined in orange is a nice touch. We like the orange-and-blue “Illinois” but would like to see it larger. Not sold on the typeface, though. The I’s look like 1’s or sawed-off 7’s, but it and the numbers are distinctive.

Accents: The thin orange line running vertically down the side of the jersey and shorts is a nice touch, especially on the blue uniforms. The “I” at the bottom of the shorts would be nicer moved to the side of that line instead of on top of it.

Overall impact: The orange throwbacks are fan favorites, but the blue away jerseys are a strong choice too. The Illini get credit for trying something bold. Few uniforms look more camera-ready.

5. Penn State
Penn State's home (left) and away uniforms.
Penn State's home (left) and away uniforms. (Associated Press)

Letters, numbers: The arched “Penn State” lacks a certain crispness that a plain uniform like this should require. Extremely basic but solid.

Accents: Again, it’s about what the uniform doesn’t have. On camera, it gives the uniforms a monochrome effect that just works.

Overall impact: Clean, crisp and very dapper. The navy is really sharp and we like the round neckline tank-top look. Some might say these are plain, but there is beauty in simplicity. Marie Kondo would approve of this level of cleanliness.

6. Wisconsin
Wisconsin's home (left) and away uniforms.
Wisconsin's home (left) and away uniforms. (Associated Press)

Letters, numbers: “Wisconsin” could be just a smidge larger, but the font is easy enough to read. Plays it down to let the double piping and other accents do the talking.

Accents: The ticks on the neck add great subtlety to the design. But the high stripes that go down the sides and onto the front of the shorts are heavy-handed. The trademark “W” on the side of the shorts should stay forever.

Overall impact: The Badgers don’t mess around and keep it simple with their red and white colors only. Kudos for keeping it classic. Some might say boring as a buzz cut, but that fits for this no-nonsense program.

7. Michigan State
Michigan State's home (left) and away uniforms.
Michigan State's home (left) and away uniforms. (Associated Press)

Letters, numbers: The letters in “Spartans” have pointed angles that pick up on the shape of the Spartan helmet. The numbers outlined in a goldish hue add a hint of a highlight that doesn’t distract from the rest of the uniform. The strange font seems to be popular, as high schools across the country use it.

Accents: No embellishments are needed around the collar or arms. The Spartan logo is clean and simple. They should pick whether they want side piping (shorts) or not (shirts). Shrink those stripes on the shorts and you would have a solid uniform.

Overall impact: It ties together nicely, keeping a clean look that hints at ancient Sparta. As the conference’s only green team, they’re at their best when they stick to green and white.

8. Maryland
Maryland's home (left) and away uniforms.
Maryland's home (left) and away uniforms. (Associated Press)

Letters, numbers: “Maryland” looks as if it were applied at a 1970s sporting goods store. The decision to go gold on red, however, was inspired. The two-color edging for the numbers works on both jerseys.

Accents: With all the other gaudy trim, the Terrapins are smart to keep the letters and numbers understated. They have tried with varying degrees of success to incorporate the best-looking state flag in the nation into their uniforms. The piping along the bottom of the shorts is a perfect place for it.

Overall impact: These uniforms aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. But if you’re going for flash, go all the way. Like it or not, Maryland’s uniforms are the most recognizable and most talked about. No other team in the Big Ten makes better use of state imagery.

9. Ohio State
Ohio State's home (left) and away uniforms.
Ohio State's home (left) and away uniforms. (Associated Press)

Letters, numbers: How would a script “Ohio State” look? The uniforms need something more to make a statement. “Ohio State” is a little cramped, but otherwise it’s fine. Good use of gray.

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Accents: The flair on the top of the shoulders is unnecessary. The gray stripes on the red uniform are nice in that they are reminiscent of the football uniforms. These would look a lot better if the shorts had stripes going straight down the sides.

Overall impact: A solid, modern look, but some tweaks could really help these stand out more. Very little gray in uniforms for a school whose colors are scarlet and gray. There’s not much to distinguish it.

10. Northwestern
Northwestern's home (left) and away uniforms.
Northwestern's home (left) and away uniforms. (Left: Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune | Right: Andy Manis/AP)

Letters, numbers: The letters are a bit too thin, but it’s better than the larger font they previously wore. Nothing special about these — but nothing terrible either. It’s too bad the school name couldn’t be arched and bigger to jump out a little more. Props for the alternate uniforms that use the McKinlock Gate calligraphy.

Accents: The purple belt with an “N” buckle shape on the white uniforms (or white belt on the purple ones) needs to go away. The jersey and shorts stripes with edging at the hem, shoulders and collars are a nice touch.

Overall impact: Wish the alternate black uniforms with purple trim were their regular away jerseys instead of purple. But simply by virtue of the purple-and-white color scheme, the Wildcats uniforms stand out in the Big Ten.

11. Purdue
Purdue's home (left) and away uniforms.
Purdue's home (left) and away uniforms. (Associated Press)

Letters, numbers: The most interesting thing about the Boilermakers jerseys is the decision to arrange “Purdue” in a slightly curved, reverse pyramid so it resembles a train’s cowcatcher, an allusion to the boilers being made by the Boilermakers. Best-looking nameplate in the league. Outta the way! Train coming through!

Accents: Could do without the patches of color on top of the shoulders. The “P” on the front thigh of the shorts is too much as well. The gold and black stripes on the side of the shorts would be enough. The thick shoulder straps are outdated, and the shorts piping misses the mark.

Overall impact: The design reference to locomotives is brilliant and understated. But a great color scheme gets lost in a design that doesn’t showcase its potential. You were working with house money from the waist up, but then you go and get goofy with the shorts.

12. Minnesota
Minnesota's home (left) and away uniforms.
Minnesota's home (left) and away uniforms. (Associated Press)

Letters, numbers: The yellow outline around the maroon on the white jerseys is unnecessary. The block font and numbers are solid choices. Straightforward, no surprises.

Accents: Why the swoop to the side panels? Better question: Why the black sections on the away uniforms? Piping on the collars is anything but extraordinary.

Overall impact: The uniforms have a balance of classic and flash. The road jerseys are better than the home effort, but both could be improved upon.

13. Nebraska
Nebraska's home (left) and away uniforms.
Nebraska's home (left) and away uniforms. (Associated Press)

Letters, numbers: Well, it says “Nebraska” and the numbers are set off with a black border, so there’s that. But the lettering looks skinny and is too dull for such a plain uniform.

Accents: The white uniforms need something — anything — as an accent. Love the shade of red for the away uniforms, but the white panels are distracting. That jumbo elastic waistband feels very “Depends.”

Overall impact: This looks like a high school uniform. Did they just slap an “N” on some red shorts and call it a day? A good color scheme that doesn’t quite get the canvas it deserves. The stripped-down home whites look like high school gym class hand-me-downs, although probably cleaner.

14. Rutgers
Rutgers' home (left) and away uniforms.
Rutgers' home (left) and away uniforms. (Associated Press)

Letters, numbers: The red letters outlined in black is a nice, bold choice. The white lettering on the red uniforms, though, isn’t as sharp. The lettering is too small compared with the numbers, and the fonts don’t match.

Accents: The thick black stripe at the bottom of the shorts looks like a mistake, as if the players are wearing two pairs of shorts. Messy, messy, messy. And again with the shoulder straps, which are even thicker than Purdue’s. Ugh.

Overall impact: The Scarlet Knights uniforms miss the mark, looking like they should be in the bargain bin of a sporting goods store. Give them credit for trying to go against the grain, but these just don’t cut it. As one of the Big Ten’s seven red-hued teams, they would be wise to change their secondary color from boring black to something that would set them apart. Gold? Royal blue? Sky blue maybe?

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