When Ohio State ended Northwestern's five-game winning streak on Jan. 1, no one could have imagined Thursday night's rematch in Columbus, Ohio, would be a referendum on the Buckeyes' season.
That 73-57 win gave Ohio State a 10-3 record, but it has been a complete collapse since.
The Buckeyes (11-12, 3-9 Big Ten) have lost four straight and nine of 10. They've fallen from a No. 24 national ranking to 13th in the conference standings, ahead of only Minnesota, whose only Big Ten win was at Ohio State.
This is the latest in the season that Ohio State has been below .500 since the 2003-04 season.
"If you focus your thoughts too much on what has happened or what's ahead of us or what's next, I think that can be overwhelming for everybody," Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. "There's optimism if we focus on the work that ultimately, if we show improvement, that there'll be dividends that will be paid."
Northwestern (16-7, 7-5) has a 6-4 record since the loss to the Buckeyes.
The Wildcats' 54-52 win at Wisconsin on Sunday gave them a 4-2 record in a stretch of six games in 14 days due to having two games postponed last month because of COVID-19 issues in the program.
Northwestern coach Chris Collins is happy to have a few extra days of rest but knows facing Ohio State again will be a challenge.
"When you get to the second go-around, you see the scores go lower and lower because coaches are taking people's tendencies away," he said. "They're taking away your favorite plays and you really have to adjust as an offense to continue to be successful out there."
Meanwhile, Holtmann took the unusual step of having the Ohio State players vote again for captains and he announced Monday that freshman Bruce Thornton would join upperclassmen Zed Key, Isaac Likekele and Justice Sueing.
"I just wanted our guys to have a say in revoting for the leadership on the team. I thought it was a good time to do it," Holtmann said.