Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker dunks against Michigan in the Badgers' 75-62 victory at Crisler Center Sunday. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)
To say this season has been a bit of a roller coaster for Wisconsin would be an understatement.
On Jan. 8, the Badgers defeated Illinois to move to 16-0 on the season and the next week they were ranked No. 3 in the country. They were scoring points by the boatload, and it appeared Bo Ryan had one of his best teams in his 13 years at Wisconsin.
But the bottom fell out that next week as the Badgers lost at Indiana and at home against Michigan, starting stretch that saw them lose five out of six games and drop out of the national rankings.
What had looked so promising just weeks earlier appeared to be turning into a season where a Big Ten title had been lost, not to mention a top seeding in the NCAA Tournament.
However, just as quickly as things soured, Wisconsin has jumped back into the conference race, thanks to four straight victories and a bit of a skid by Michigan State and Michigan at the top of the standings.
With five games left, the Badgers now find themselves just two games out of first place behind the Spartans and Wolverines with Iowa alone in third place. It’s the type of finish many expected in a conference where nothing seems easy to predict.
“I’ve never seen it like this,” Ryan told the Wisconsin State Journal. “So I’m saying, ‘Who knows?’ ”
There is no doubt it won’t exactly be easy for Wisconsin to ascend to the top of the standings. It must travel to No. 15 Iowa on Saturday, and though the schedule eases up in the last four games, the Badgers will need some help from the three teams in front of them.
A win Saturday against Iowa would be a big first step, but both Michigan and Michigan State will have to lose twice in the final weeks to give Wisconsin a shot.
The Badgers’ recent run has included victories over both Michigan State and Michigan, and on Sunday in Ann Arbor, Frank Kaminsky was the hero, scoring 25 points and grabbing 11 rebounds while hitting 11 of his 16 field-goal attempts. He was named the Big Ten’s co-player of the week.
“He still is a developing big man,” Ryan said of Kaminsky. “I liked obviously what I saw (against Michigan) and I know his teammates did. Hopefully he has a lot more of that in him.”
If he does, the Badgers might still be on the rise in this up-and-down season.
Petteway is 'deserving'
You won’t have to convince anybody at Michigan State just how good Nebraska’s Terran Petteway is.
The sophomore transfer from Texas Tech was named co-player of the week in the Big Ten after scoring 23 points in a victory over the Spartans on Sunday. He made four 3-pointers, including two in the final five minutes to dash any comeback hopes from Michigan State.
“He is a deserving candidate, no doubt,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. “The guy is a warrior. Against Michigan State he guarded Gary Harris the entire time, and Harris is a wonderful player. But he did a good job and carried the offensive load for us. He’s continued to get better and is obviously a clutch player, too, hitting big shots. He’s got the dagger.”
And he’s got Nebraska in a position to start thinking NCAA Tournament, something it hasn’t attained since 1998. However, Miles wants the Cornhuskers to focus on what they can control.
“All we can control is winning games,” he said. “Outside of that is looking beyond the finish line, and the finish line is how we practice today. The finish line is how we prepare for Penn State (on Thursday), nothing more, nothing less. If we don’t keep the mindset of the old cliché ‘one game at a time,’ then you’re really hurting your team. We can talk about scenarios but none really exist until selection Sunday.”
Buckeyes find a cause
Another team that is trying to put a rough patch behind it is Ohio State.
The Buckeyes were a top-five team before losing five of six early in the conference season, but now they have won four of five and are starting to feel a lot better about themselves.
A conference championship is out of reach and after a loss at home last week to Michigan, Ohio State is trying to narrow its focus and take nothing for granted.
“Now that we no longer control our destiny, we have to play for another cause,” junior forward Sam Thompson told the Columbus Dispatch. “We don’t feel we’ve done enough to really put ourselves in (the NCAA Tournament). So we want to get to the tournament, we don’t want to play Thursday in the Big Ten tournament, and we obviously want to win the Big Ten tournament.”
After the loss to Michigan, Ohio State bounced back with a win at Illinois, giving coach Thad Matta his 14th straight 20-win season as a head coach.