Chris Holtmann’s unpredictable start with Ohio State basketball continues to grow more and more impressive, as today’s AP rankings have the Buckeyes at No. 13 in the nation. Tonight, OSU will face a greater challenge than their last few contests, as they will take on a red hot Nebraska squad coming off a big win over Michigan. The game is scheduled to tip off at 8 p.m. at Value City Arena in Columbus.
The Buckeyes come into the contest sporting a 17-4 record. With 10 games still remaining on the schedule, Ohio State has already equalled their total wins from a season ago, while their eight conference wins have eclipsed their seven total conference victories last year. At 8-0 in conference, the Buckeyes are tied with Purdue atop the Big Ten. In Holtmann’s first season as head coach, junior forward Keita Bates-Diop has become an absolute force on the offensive end, averaging 19.7 points per game this season to go along with just under nine rebounds. His previous career-high average had been 11.8 points per game in 2015.
Ohio State is coming off a dominant performance against Minnesota on Saturday at Madison Square Garden, walking away with a 67-49 victory. After trailing by 10 points early in the first half, the Buckeyes went on a 24-2 outburst to take back the lead and never looked back. The OSU defense was lockdown in the second half, allowing the Golden Gophers to hit only six field goals and forcing 10 turnovers. Bates-Diop struggled with his shot a bit, but still managed to finish with 17 points and 12 boards. Forward Kaleb Wesson added his own 15 points and eight rebounds as the Buckeyes finished with four scorers in double digits.
At 14-7 on the year, Nebraska finds themselves at fifth in the Big Ten. However, the Cornhuskers have been especially hot of late, winning seven of their last nine including a 20-point beatdown of now 25th-ranked Michigan. It was the first time Nebraska had beaten Michigan since joining the Big Ten, avenging last year’s 93-57 loss to the Wolverines. The Cornhuskers led by 11 points at half and never took their foot off the pedal, locked in on both offense and defense. Nebraska held Michigan to just 37.5 percent shooting from the field and 22.2 percent from deep. Only one player on the Wolverines finished scoring in double digits, compared to four for the Huskers.
Nebraska is led by a trio of juniors: guards James Palmer and Glynn Watson Jr., and forward Isaac Copeland. Palmer, the team’s leading scorer against the Wolverines with 19, has averaged 15.8 points on 44 percent shooting. The 6-foot-5 guard spent his first two seasons with the Miami Hurricanes before transferring to Nebraska. Copeland has been the teams second leading scorer, averaging 12.3 points and 6.2 rebounds this year. Copeland, also a transfer, spent his last three seasons at Georgetown, medically redshirting his last season as a result of a back injury. Watson Jr. has been an important part of the Nebraska offense the last three seasons, averaging just under 11 points and three assists per game in his time with the Huskers.
The Buckeyes have been dominant at home this season, with an 11-1 record at Value City Arena. The only loss on their home court came to now 18th-ranked Clemson, a game in which Ohio State led by seven at half. While the Vegas odds have OSU as 11.5-point favorites tonight, the game will be much closer than that. Both teams are playing arguably their best basketball, Nebraska with a big win over a ranked opponent and Ohio State winning 12 of their last 13, holding their two of their last three opponents under 50 points.
After three consecutive road games, the Buckeyes will return home wanting to put on a show for the home crowd. Nebraska will be locked in as well, with tournament aspirations on the line as OSU may be the last ranked opponent the Huskers play this season. While Nebraska is long and talented, Ohio State is too hot and in the zone to fall on their home floor. The Cornhuskers will keep it very close, but in the end the Buckeyes will just out-coach their way to a win.