This is what the 2013-14 Buckeyes have done to their head coach. Thad Matta is a broken man.
The look in assistant coach Jake Diebler's eyes makes you wonder if he's more uncomfortable with Matta's outpouring of affection or watching the Ohio State offense over the past month. Regardless, a rare win in Wisconsin is a relief to coaches, players and fans. That sets up another tough road game, at Iowa, Tuesday.
Lately, Wisconsin hardly seems like itself in Madison. The Badgers have now lost three in a row at the Kohl Center, including to Northwestern. So, from what I've gathered about the Big Ten during the past week, this conference makes sense – if you don't think about it.
Eleven Warriors' player of week is Penn State's D.J. Newbill. I'm not trolling, he earned it. In addition to the 25 points, the game-tying three and game-winning jumper against Ohio State, he had 19 points in a win against Purdue. His Nittany Lions are on a three-game winning streak, making PSU and Northwestern the hottest teams in the conference (he said, non-sarcastically).
1. Michigan (16-5, 8-1)
Last week (1): 75-66 win vs Purdue, 63-52 loss at Indiana
This week: vs Nebraska, at Iowa
Not trolling here, either, although Michigan's loss to Indiana should've opened the door for two other teams to grab the top spot.
After absolutely dismantling a free-falling Purdue team by shooing 60.9 percent from the field, the Wolverines couldn't quite climb back into their game against the Big Ten's other Indiana team. Down the stretch, Michigan suffered from settling for too many threes and couldn't get enough stops at the other end.
Not to put too much weight on their loss to IU, but it does bring up an important question: if Nik Stauskas is having an off night, who can they rely on to get buckets? Glenn Robinson III might be the answer, but he hasn't exactly been aggressive when the Wolverines need it. That responsibility may fall on Pickerington's Caris LeVert, who has scored in double figures in four of his last five games.
2. Michigan State (19-3, 8-1)
Last week (3): 71-69 OT win at Iowa, 64-60 loss vs Georgetown (at Madison Square Garden)
This week: vs Penn State, at Wisconsin
With a gritty, overtime win in Iowa the Spartans were poised to jump to the top of the power rankings. That is, until they inexplicably lost to Georgetown, in a game that was inexplicably played in February.
In spite of their injuries, Michigan State is capable of playing high-quality defense, on par with the nation's top teams. They held Iowa – KenPom.com's seventh most efficient offense in the country – to almost 15 minutes without a field goal make. That wasn't just a sloppy start for the Hawkeyes, it happened late in the second half and in overtime.
On the opposite end of the court, they suffered from a lack of outside shooting this week. Kenny Kaminski and Travis Trice are capable of coming off the bench (which they both did, Saturday) and drilling threes, but they couldn't be relied on in the same game. Point guard Keith Appling has also returned to his maddeningly inconsistent ways.
One day, maybe, they'll return to full health and make a run at the Final Four.
3. iowa (17-5, 6-3)
Last week (2): 71-69 OT loss vs Michigan State, 81-74 win at Illinois
This week: vs Ohio State, vs Michigan
The result of missing every shot your team takes over a 15 minute span is what you see to the right.
Fran McCaffery would normally tee-off on a referee, but he got the benefit of several calls to keep Iowa in the game against MSU. They would eventually fall, after Mike Gesell missed a tough, game-tying lay-up at the buzzer.
The Hawkeyes regained form at the Illini, scoring 81 points. What they need to work on is their mentality, according to McCaffery.
"I just didn't think we were tough enough, we weren't tough at all," he said, after the loss to Michigan State. "I think they were being nice."
Nothing is tougher than a man who kicks an innocent folder.
4. ohio state (17-5, 4-5)
Last week (6): 71-70 OT loss vs Penn State, 59-58 win at Wisconsin
This week: at Iowa, vs Purdue
Rather than harping on the negative – an absolutely inexcusable loss to Penn State at home – how about we let the sweet relief of a win over a tournament-caliber team wash over us?
Regardless of how little fun it was to watch, the Buckeyes found a way to win in the face of the most amount of scrutiny a Matta-coached team has seen in years. Lenzelle Smith's late game heroics notwithstanding, they hit some clutch buckets and clamped down on Wisconsin's offense. Aaron Craft was particularly resourceful, scoring all seven of his points in the final four minutes and not giving Traevon Jackson a clean look on the Badgers' final shot.
The schedule presents a few more opportunities to add to the resume and the ability to safely secure a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Putting them at No. 4 in our rankings is probably a sign of over-confidence. Hopefully, the Buckeyes don't feel that way.
5. northwestern (12-11, 5-5)
Last week (7): 65-56 win at Wisconsin, 55-54 win at Minnesota
This week: vs Nebraska
Of the many unfathomable things to occur in the first month of conference play, Northwestern's existence in the upper half of these rankings is the strangest of them all.
With their win in Minneapolis, the Wildcats now have three straight road wins in Big Ten play – the first time they've accomplished that feat since 1960. I've previously described their offense as "Drew Crawford." If this were the Grammys, he's Kendrick Lamar and the rest of the team is Imagine Dragons.
Defensively, however, Northwestern is shaping into one of the best units in college basketball. According to KenPom.com, their adjusted defensive efficiency rating puts them in the top 10. They play at an excruciatingly slow pace, but it's a masterful job of head coach Chris Collins playing to the Wildcats' strengths.
6. indiana (14-8, 4-5)
Last week (8): 60-55 loss at Nebraska, 63-52 win vs Michigan
This week: at Minnesota
This Hoosiers team is the embodiment of the Big Ten. They're incredibly inconsistent – one game, good enough to beat anyone else in the conference, but lose to anyone else the next.
It's all a credit to the preparedness and intense focus on strategic game planning by head coach Tom Crean. To be fair to him, which I don't really want to do, it's a team that lacks a great deal of experience in road games. Then again, 22 games in, following trips to Syracuse and East Lansing, should give IU enough time to acquire the toughness it takes to close out Nebraska.
That didn't happen, as the Huskers erased a 16-point deficit and went on to beat the Hoosiers. Still, credit Indiana – by which I mean Yogi Ferrell – for returning home and taking out Michigan. Ferrell, once again, went unconscious:
7. minnesota (15-7, 4-5)
Last week (5): 55-54 loss vs Northwestern
This week: at Purdue, vs Indiana
Minnesota's charge up the conference rankings has been temporarily halted by back-to-back losses to Nebraska and Northwestern.
The Gophers had a week to prepare for their clash of contrasting styles against the Wildcats, but they couldn't force Northwestern to play at their pace. Minnesota could only force nine turnovers and score 54 points.
By Big Ten standards, their schedule sets up nicely. They don't have to play Michigan State again, play Michigan only once and get a home game against Iowa.
8. wisconsin (17-5, 4-5)
Last week (4): 65-56 loss vs Northwestern, 59-58 loss vs Ohio State
This week: at Illinois, vs Michigan State
Regardless of your intentionally spiteful dance, we're still laughing at you, Bo Ryan.
For the first time since 1998 (pre-Ryan era), the Badgers have lost three straight games at home. Their offense completely disappeared against Northwestern and Ohio State, but this Wisconsin team was supposedly built on the premise that they can win games under any circumstance. They couldn't overcome a 26-percent shooting performance versus the Widcats and got bailed out at the free throw line towards the end of the Buckeyes' game. I suppose that still makes them versatile on offense.
Lucky for them, Illinois is a complete mess and a cheap high for programs that are addicted to winning.
9. penn state (12-10, 3-6)
Last week (11): 71-70 OT win at Ohio State, 79-68 win vs Purdue
This week: at Michigan State, vs Illinois
Apparently, Penn State has finally gained the confidence to win close games.
All it took was an uncontested three by Newbill, their leading scorer, and a game-winning jumper over the best one-on-one defender in college basketball. With as talented as their backcourt is, it was only a matter of time before they started racking up victories. However, I don't think anyone predicted three-straight conference wins, including one in Columbus.
10. Nebraska (11-9, 3-5)
Last week (10): 60-55 win vs Indiana
This week: at Michigan, at Northwestern
Sold-out crowds at Pinnacle Bank Arena have been treated to three-straight Big Ten wins, as Nebraska climbs out of the Big Ten's cellar.
It took an extraordinary effort by Terran Petteway, but the Huskers were able to mount a comeback against the Hoosiers. In the second half, Petteway scored 13 of his 18 points and hit a dagger three with 2:07 left.
Nebraska has been solid on their home court, but Tim Miles continues to strengthen his game off of it. The social media legend recently assisted a Huskers fan with his marriage proposal.
11. purdue (13-9, 3-6)
Last week (9): 75-66 loss at Michigan, 79-68 loss at Penn State
This week: vs Minnesota, at Ohio State
With four straight losses, the Boilermakers are in a complete tailspin.
Indiana natives aren't necessarily patient when it comes to basketball, and their tolerance for poor play is now being tested in West Lafayette. Purdue's last three losses have been by a combined 11.3 points per game, as Matt Painter's teams continue to struggle in conference play:
— Tom Davis (@Tom101010) February 3, 2014
12. illinois (13-9, 2-7)
Last week (12): 81-74 loss vs Iowa
This week: vs Wisconsin, at Penn State
Above, I referred to the Boilermakers as being in " a complete tailspin." Compared to Ilinois, Purdue might as well be John Wooden's UCLA Bruins.
The Illini have now lost seven consecutive games, although they put together a solid effort against the Hawkeyes. Of course, as urban philosopher Shawn Carter once said, "moral victories are for minor league coaches."