No. 6/7 Ohio State (13-2, 1-1) looks to rebound from the New Year’s Eve debacle in Bloomington, in which a perfect storm of iffy calls, forcing stars to hit the bench; bad late-game possessions; and holiday gift giving (in the form of 17 turnovers) led to a four-point road loss to the Hoosiers. Enter Nebrasketball. The Cornhuskers (8-5, 0-2) are still looking for their first ever B1G victory, after consecutive double-digit home losses to Wisconsin and Michigan State. The game can be seen at 6:30 (note the early start time) on BTN. Dave Revsine and Jim Jackson have the call.
The Buckeyes are 4-2 all-time against Nebraska, in a series that began back in 1936. The Huskers won that day, 32-23. Ohio State has won the last three meetings and is 3-0 at home in the series. This includes wins in the last two outings, an 85-74 victory in March of 1989, and a 103-76 mauling in December of 1988. The 1989 win came in the NIT tournament, and was led by Grady Mateen’s 20 points and Perry Carter’s double-double (13 points, 12 assists). Four of Ohio State’s starters that day reached double figures. The only one that didn’t was current OSU assistant coach Chris Jent, who had four. The teams will be meeting for the first time as conference foes, so it’s important that Ohio State destroy all Husker hope early and with extreme prejudice.
Nebrasketball is a bit banged up, missing two of its top four scorers. Junior center Jorge Brian Diaz, the Huskers’ second-leading scorer (10.9 PPG) and second-leading rebounder (4.9 RPG), is out with a lingering foot injury and junior guard Dylan Talley (9.1 PPG) is dealing with a thigh injury. Nebrasky is led by senior guard Bo Spencer (#23) and his 15.1 points per game. Spencer’s offensive game is based largely on getting to the free-throw line, where he’s 49-56 on the season (87.5%). He’s only shooting 38.3% from the field (31.9% outside the arc). Spencer is a good distributor, with 54 assists against 37 turnovers. He also has 20 steals on the season. He has started all but one game this season, that being the most recent outing against Michigan State. Freshman guard Josiah Moore (#5) started that game but played only nine scoreless minutes.
Senior guard Toney McCray (#0) gives the Huskers some size on the perimeter, at 6-6, and some scoring punch, with 10.2 points per game. He’s their most consistently accurate three-point shooter (13-30, 43.3%), and posted 14 points against Sparty in his last start. Seniors Caleb Walker (#25) and Brandon Richardson (#3) complete Nebraska’s four-guard look, with 6-10 junior Brandon Ubel (#13), the conference’s ninth-leading rebounder (6.1 RPG) in the pivot. Walker, Richardson and Ubel are all scoring around seven points per outing.
Ohio State wins if: it returns to the basics—getting the ball inside to Sully early and often and letting him do his thing. He’s the team’s most consistent scorer and also a great distributor when the defense collapses. His presence opens up his teammates for easier shots and as such he needs to be the focal point of the offense. This did not happen in the last 4-5 trips down the floor in Bloomington, even though Cody Zeller was on the bench, and you saw what happened. William Buford needs to continue to work both on the perimeter and moving to the basket, and to stay involved in the game. Tank Thomas should be himself, grabbing offensive rebounds for putbacks and hitting mid-range jumpers. Aaron Craft should distribute and play defense. Lenzelle Smith should defend and rebound. Just a routine game should result in a Buckeye win, and probably in lopsided fashion.
Nebraska wins if: Ohio State does stupid things, shoots poorly and turns the ball over repeatedly, but even with all that, I think the Huskers only win if they shoot above their average from the perimeter and have an unexpectedly big rebounding night. From the games I’ve seen, outside shooting has hurt Nebraska often this season. Team Corn is 11th in the B1G in field goal percentage. The Huskers also can do some damage from the line. They are the league’s top free-throw shooting team (76.6%), so they’ll be looking to draw some fouls, especially after seeing how tentatively Ohio State played on defense in the second half at Indiana with Sully, Buford and Thomas all in foul trouble. Not being a terribly deep team, Nebraska will also have to avoid foul trouble to stay in the game and give itself a chance.
The tale of the tape says this should not be a close game. Ohio State has the No. 2 scoring offense and scoring defense in the conference. Nebrasky ranks 11th and 8th in those categories, respectively. The Buckeyes are first in scoring margin, while the Huskers are 11th. The game may provide the Buckeyes’ three-point shooting to get well, since Nebraska is last in the league in defending the arc. The Huskers are also last in the league in turnover margin. All signs point to an angry and determined Ohio State team jumping all over the Huskers tonight.
Notes: Sitting on 1,665 career points, William Buford is 91 shy of tying Jay Burson for seventh in OSU history…Sullinger (5th), Buford (6th) and Thomas (9th) give Ohio State three starters in the top 10 in conference scoring average…Sullinger is also tied with Michigan State’s Draymond Green as the league’s top rebounder (9.5 RPG).