Pinnacle Bank Arena
After starting off the season 15-0 and sitting as high as the third-ranked team in the nation, Ohio State has dropped three straight games. This marks the first time since the 2008-09 season that the Buckeyes have lost three straight games. Turnovers have plagued the Buckeyes of late, totaling 51 giveaways over the last three games. Against Minnesota, Ohio State turned it over 13 times (10 of those coming in the second half), with the normally sure-handed Aaron Craft committing five of those 13 giveaways.
Turnovers haven't been the only issue that Thad Matta's team has faced lately. Another problem that Ohio State hasn't solved yet is who can be counted on to supplement LaQuinton Ross in the scoring column. After struggling mightily against Michigan State with five points on 1-7 shooting, Ross has rebounded with 22 points in each of his last two games. Ross hasn't gotten much support though, with Sam Thompson being the only other Buckeye to hit double figures in the last game, scoring 12 points in the 63-53 loss to Minnesota last Thursday night.
The final glaring weakness that the Buckeyes have shown lately is their lack of an interior presence on both the offensive and defensive ends after Amir Williams. Minnesota out-rebounded the Buckeyes 39-24 in Minneapolis, and Golden Gopher big man Elliott Eliason registered a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds. Previous to that Iowa was able to secure a 40-31 edge on the glass against Ohio State.
Luckily for the Buckeyes, Nebraska doesn't have too much of an interior game. The tallest player for Nebraska is 6-10 Walter Pitchford, who sees a little more than 21 minutes per game for the Cornhuskers. The key concern for Ohio State in the game should be sophomore Terran Petteway. After starting 11 games for Texas Tech in 2011-12, Petteway transferred to Nebraska and has paid dividends in his first season of play in Lincoln, leading the Cornhuskers in scoring the last six games.
It seems like it has been an eternity since Nebraska was last in action, with their most recent game resulting in a 70-64 loss at Purdue last Sunday. The loss made it five straight defeats in a row for the Cornhuskers, but they shouldn't be too ashamed by that stretch. While the worst loss of the five came in the 84-53 defeat to the Buckeyes in Columbus on January 4th, Nebraska also lost tough foes like Cincinnati, Iowa, and Michigan. Four of the five losses have been on the road, with the only home defeat, their first at Pinnacle Bank Arena, coming by only one-point to Michigan.
With the hiring of head coach Tim Miles last year, and the opening of Pinnacle Bank Arena this year, the Cornhuskers have been doing their best to change the basketball culture in Lincoln. One thing Nebraska has going for them is that they're a young basketball team, so they can build for the future. There are only two seniors on the Nebraska roster, with Ray Gallegos being the only one of the seniors to see significant minutes. The Cornhuskers haven't gotten quite as much out of Gallegos this year though, but he also has seen a dent in his playing time. After averaging 37 minutes per game last year, Gallegos has only averaged 28 minutes per game this year. In turn, Gallegos has seen his scoring average dip by four points per game this year. If Nebraska has any designs on an upset they'll need solid minutes from Gallegos against the Buckeyes perimeter defense of Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott.
Numbers to Know
The loss against Minnesota on Thursday night meant an end to a streak of 41 straight games that the Buckeyes have won against unranked opponents. The last time the Buckeyes had lost to an unranked opponent was in January 2012 to Illinois. Ohio State will get a chance to start a new streak tonight.
The Buckeyes have won 9 straight against Nebraska, with Thad Matta posting a perfect 6-0 record since Big Red joined the Big Ten. Not only did the Buckeyes win the only meeting this season, but they swept the three matchups last year.
While the Buckeyes have had problems lately, their three-point defense hasn't been one of them. At 26.6%, they sit third in the country in three-point field goal defense. They'll have to keep Nebraska, who has three shooters averaging better than 36% from behind the arc, quiet if they have designs on leaving Lincoln with a win.
Cast of Characters
Lenzelle Smith Jr.
The Buckeyes need more out of the senior if they want to get back in the Big Ten race. Smith has only reached double figures in scoring in one of his last four Big Ten games. If he finds his early season scoring touch he could take some of the scoring pressure of LaQuinton Ross.
Much like Smith, Scott could really use a big game. Scott has only gone 1-8 from the field in his last two games, but the bigger issue lately has been with his turnovers. Scott has committed 11 turnovers over the last three games and the Buckeyes can't afford to have both him and Craft struggling to hold on to the basketball.
The sophomore Texas Tech transfer has taken control of the Nebraska offense this year, leading the team with 17.3 points per game this year. Petteway currently stands in a tie for fifth in the Big Ten in scoring.
Like the Buckeyes, Nebraska lacks a true second scorer. If statistically you were going to name a second option in scoring for the Cornhuskers, it would be Shields and his 10.9 points per game. Shields is looking to break out of a funk, scoring five points or less in the last three games.