The Nebraska Cornhuskers return to Big Ten action for the remainder of the 2021-22 men’s basketball regular season tomorrow night as the No. 13/12 Ohio State Buckeyes come to Lincoln. The Buckeyes enter the matchup at Pinnacle Bank Arena tomorrow night on a four game winning streak that begin with a home victory over then No. 1 Duke in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, but have been on a Covid pause for the past several weeks after beating then No. 22 Wisconsin 73-55 in Columbus on Dec. 11. In fact, the team has only recently been able to resume practice as evidenced by the program’s Twitter account earlier today.
The Huskers enter the game on a one game win streak following an 88-74 victory over Kennesaw State on Dec. 22 at Pinnacle Bank Arena, moving the team to 6-7 on the season (0-2 in Big Ten action). Ohio State currently ranks No. 13 in the AP and No. 12 in the Coaches polls and enters the game with an 8-2 record (2-0 Big Ten). The Huskers are 2-9 against teams ranked No. 13 in the AP Poll with the two wins coming against Texas A&M (2010-11) and Oklahoma (1990-91). UNL is riding an 18-game losing streak against ranked opponents that dates to the 2019 Big Ten Tournament.
The Buckeyes came out incredibly flat to start the season with just a two point win over Akron in the season opener and struggled mightily before finally winning by just 10 points over Akron in game two. However, since then OSU has had mostly positive results with wins over then No. 21 Seton Hall (neutral court), No. 1 Duke, and No. 22 Wisconsin. The Buckeyes also have losses at Xavier (71-65) and to then No. 23 Florida (71-68 on a neutral court).
The Buckeyes rank No. 16 in KenPom ratings with the No. 9 adjusted offense and No. 47 adjusted defense. KenPom rates OSU’s strength of schedule as No. 13 in the country. Offensively, Ohio State is averaging 75.7 points per game (103rd nationally) and giving up just 67.5 (167th nationally). By contrast, Nebraska rates No. 138 in KenPom with the No. 184 offense and No. 107 defense while facing the No. 205th most difficult schedule. The Huskers are scoring 75.0 ppg (115th nationall) and giving up 76.4 ppg (326th nationally).
Tomorrow night’s game marks the 24th all-time meeting between the two programs in a series that dates back to 1936. It will be the 18th meeting between the programs as members of the Big Ten. Ohio State leads the all-time series 19-4 (15-2 in Big Ten action), and is riding a five game winning streak in the series. Tomorrow night’s game also marks the 13th time in Big Ten matchups that Ohio State is ranked at time of meeting. In the only meeting between the two programs last season, No. 7 Ohio State won the Dec. 30, 2020 matchup in Columbus 90-54.
When: Sunday, Jan. 2 at 7:00 p.m. CST/8:00 p.m. EST
Where: Pinnacle Bank Arena (15,000) - Lincoln, Nebraska
TV: Big Ten Network
Streaming: FOXSports.com/FOX Sports App
Announcers: Jeff Levering (play-by-play), Nick Bahe (analyst)
Radio: Huskers Radio Network
Play-by-play: Kent Pavelka
Analyst: Jake Muhleisen
Broadcast Stations: KLIN (1400 AM) in Lincoln, KKCD (105.9 FM) in Omaha, KHYY (106.9 FM) in Scottsbluff, and KAMI (1580 AM) in Lexington
Also available on Huskers.com and the Huskers app.
Line: TallySight odds have Ohio State at -10.5.
The Buckeyes returned four starters for 2021-22 from a team that went 21-10 last season and reached the 2021 NCAA Tournament before falling 75-72 to Oral Roberts in the first round.
Among the returnees for OSU is junior forward E.J. Liddell, one of the top players in the Big Ten who earned first-team All-Big Ten honors last season. Liddell is fourth in the conference and leads OSU in scoring at 20.6 ppg while shooting 56 percent from the field. The 6-foot-7, 240-pound forward also leads Ohio State in rebounds (7.2 rpg) and blocked shots (3.0 bpg) as well.
Sophomore Zed Key is second on the team in scoring at 10.4 ppg and averages 62 percent shooting from the field. Meanwhile, Kyle Young comes off the bench and averages 10.0 ppg to round out players averaging double figures while adding 6.7 rpg, good for second on the team. Guard Jamari Wheeler helps run the offense while leading the team in helpers (4.3 apg) and steals (1.5 spg).
Head coach Chris Holtmann is in his fifth year at the helm, but after arriving in Columbus from Butler with much fanfare and a quick turnaround, his teams have failed to live up to the hype beyond tying for second place in the Big Ten in his first season. He has led OSU to three NCAA tournaments (the 2020 one being cancelled but otherwise would have earned an at-large bid), however, but have failed to advance out of the first weekend.
Nebraska enters the matchup with a lot of positives coming off the win over Kennesaw State. The issue will be bringing the positive results the lower level of competition saw into this matchup after a week long pause. The Huskers scored 15 three-pointers on 51.7 percent shooting from deep in that matchup, the most made threes since 1990 and tied for third most in a game in program history.
Alonzo Verge Jr’s 16.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg, and 5.9 apg is also second in the country right now among just four players nationally who average 15 points, five rebounds, and five assists per game. Verge trails Duke’s Wendell Moore and is ahead of Jordan Hall of St. Joe’s and Hunter Maldonado of Wyoming. If he can continue that production in Big Ten action then he will become just the fifth Big Ten player since 2010-11 to do so, joining D’Angelo Russell, 2014-15; Denzel Valentine, 2015-16; Marcus Carr, 2020-21; and Ayo Dosunmu, 2020-21.
Similarly, Bryce McGowans’s 15.6 ppg ranks third in scoring among freshman nationally, trailing Duke’s Paolo Banchero’s 17.1 ppg and Auburn’s Jabari Smith’s 16.2 ppg.
Overall, Nebraska has a good shot here to snap a number of bad streaks thanks in part to what should be a rusty Buckeye squad. Snapping a three game streak that averaged 18.0 turnovers per game after averaging just 11.2 over the first 10 games would be a great way to start. Taking advantage of home court and keeping shots falling like against the Owls is the other key.
Ohio State Buckeyes
2021-22 Record: 8-2
Head Coach: Chris Holtmann
Record at OSU: 95-46 (5th year)
Career Record: 209-131 (11th year)
2021-22 Record: 6-7 (0-2 Big Ten)
Head Coach: Fred Hoiberg
Record at Nebraska: 20-52 (3rd year)
Career Record: 135-108 (8th year)