Two weeks ago, the Wisconsin Badgers were the No. 3 team in the country. The week before, Ohio State held the same distinction.
Weeks later both teams are in the midst of nightmarish tailspins that hit new lows Wednesday night.
The Badgers are losers of four of of their last five games. The Buckeyes are losers of five of their last six. And Wednesday night saw both teams losing to opponents that generally sit at the bottom of the Big Ten standings — Penn State and Northwestern — on home courts in Columbus and Madison.
“This game hurts the most out of any game since I’ve been at Ohio State,” Buckeyes senior Lenzelle Smith Jr. said after the loss to Penn State. “Hats off to them, they had a cause and they wanted this game. We have to get back to being a team and wanting a win. As a team, I don’t think we care enough.
“Toughness. Character. Camaraderie. Leadership. I take full responsibility for that. As a senior, I need to do a better job picking my team up and trying to do my best.”
The situations are grim at both programs, as two teams who looked prime for runs at a national championship look anything but at this point. Offensive droughts have struck both teams, with Ohio State shooting just 38 percent vs. Penn State and Wisconsin shooting a shockingly low 26 percent vs. Northwestern.
And you’d think it’d be the strength of the Big Ten that’s sent these teams reeling, brutal schedules that haven’t broke either’s way. That was once an applicable argument for Ohio State, but after losses to top-ranked teams in Michigan State and Iowa, the Buckeyes have lost to Minnesota, Nebraska and Penn State, the last two being the worst two teams record-wise in the conference. And the Badgers haven’t lost to a single ranked team during this skid, with a loss to Michigan coming before the Wolverines returned to the top 25.
And both losses meant program-boosting wins for the opponents. Ohio State had beat Penn State 18 times in a row until Wednesday night. Northwestern hadn’t won in Madison since 1996.
“Frustrated that we lost obviously,” Wisconsin junior Josh Gasser said after the game. “Couldn’t knock any shots down. Shooting percentage shows that. We lead most of the game it seems like and Northwestern is just hanging around and we couldn’t hit enough shots to stretch the lead. Before you know it, five, six possessions and they really attacked us on the offensive side and made a lot of plays. We still couldn’t knock any shots down and by then it was a double-digit lead. So it’s just frustrating. You play hard and shots don’t fall and we come out on the losing end.”
With the seasons spiraling out of control, these two teams are set to meet on Saturday. It’s Buckeyes-Badgers in the all-disappointment bowl. There’s plenty of time left to recuperate, and Saturday will be a step forward for one of these teams. After all, even this week, both teams are still ranked (though that will likely be different come next week’s top 25). Losses have yet to hit double digits, but they’ve happened to come all at once.
These coaches have both been around for a while. They’ve experienced losing streaks before. But these two are different.
“This feels different from past slumps because of the position we were previously in,” Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said. “We have to be tougher physically and mentally. It’s been stressing us out for weeks now. I don’t like this position, but it is the reality of where we’ve put ourselves.
“We have to come back.”