The eighth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes open their 101st year of Big Ten Conference competition on Wednesday evening, as they entertain the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Value City Arena in Columbus.
Under first-year head coach Tim Miles, Nebraska performed very well during the non-conference portion of its schedule, logging nine wins in 13 opportunities. What makes their start even more impressive is the fact that Miles needed to replace four starters and seven of the top nine scorers from last year's club which won a dozen games. The Cornhuskers enter this fray having won three of their last four outings, the most recent of which being a 68-59 decision at home over Nicholls State on Dec. 29. Beginning with this tilt, Nebraska is about to embark on a difficult stretch that will see it play three of its next four games on the road against teams currently ranked in the Top-25 (Michigan and Michigan State being the others).
The Huskers haven't beaten a top-10 team on the road since upsetting No. 7 Iowa State, 74-69, in Ames on Feb. 22, 1997. That's a span of 23 in a row outside of Lincoln against such foes.
Ohio State is 52-44 all-time in conference openers, and it is 66-30 in its first home game of the Big Ten slate. The Buckeyes, who come into this contest sporting a 10-2 overall record, begin their quest for their 21st Big Ten regular-season title. They have won eight of nine games played at home this year, and this bout wraps up the team's season-long, eight-game home stand. OSU bounced back from a 74-66 loss to visiting Kansas on Dec. 22 to whip Chicago State last Saturday, 87-44.
Following this clash, the Buckeyes will hit the road to battle both Illinois and Purdue before returning home to take on No. 2 Michigan on Jan. 13.
Ohio State owns a 6-2 advantage in the all-time series with Nebraska, although this is just the second season the two will square off as conference foes. The Buckeyes won both meetings last year, giving them five straight victories over the Cornhuskers. Nebraska has never won in Columbus.
The Cornhuskers nearly squandered a 19-point lead in their recent bout against Nicholls State, but converted all 10 of their free throws in the final minute to earn their ninth victory of the season. Brandon Ubel led four Huskers in double figures with 18 points, as he went 10-of-11 from the foul line, including 6-of-6 in the last minute. David Rivers and Dylan Talley scored 12 points apiece, and Ray Gallego chipped in with 10 for a Nebraska team that shot 45.8 percent from the field and committed only seven turnovers. For the season, Talley is averaging a team-high 13.9 ppg, but Ubel and Gallegos are hot on his heels with 13.2 and 13.0 ppg, respectively. Talley and Ubel combine to grab 12.3 of the team's 32.9 rpg, and despite the Huskers' favorable record at this point, they are averaging just 61.7 ppg while giving up 60.8 ppg. The 3-point shot hasn't been all that kind to coach Miles' club, as only 31.8 percent of its long-range attempts find the bottom of the net.
In last Saturday's 43-point rout of Chicago State. six Buckeyes scored in double figures, led by the 17-point showing from star forward Deshaun Thomas. LaQuinton Ross tallied 15 points, Lenzelle Smith, Jr. added 13, Amedeo Della Valle tacked on 11 and Aaron Craft chipped in with 10 for Ohio State, which shot 56.9 percent from the field while holding its overmatched opponent to 26.5 percent. About the only negative head coach Thad Matta could find with his team's effort was the fact that only 13-of-27 free throw attempts were converted successfully. Thomas continues to make his case for Big Ten Player of the Year honors as he is averaging 19.8 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, while knocking down nearly 40 percent of his team-high 78 3-point tries. Smith, Jr. (11.2 ppg) is the only other double-digit scorer for the Buckeyes, who not surprisingly own significant advantages in scoring (20.8), rebounding (7.8) and turnover margin (4.8). With that last figure in mind, OSU averages just over 10 giveaways per outing.