Preview: #6 Ohio State at Nebraska

By Joe Beale on January 21, 2012 at 6:00a
"Our t-shirts are whiter than yours!"Bo Spencer is really excited about beating IU.
Ohio State Buckeyes #6 Ohio State 16-3, 4-2 Big Ten Roster | Schedule 8:00 PM ET - BTN —— Bob Devaney Center Lincoln, NE Nebraska Cornhuskers Nebraska 10-8, 2-5 Big 12 Roster | Schedule

Tonight Ohio State athletics invades Lincoln NE for the 2nd time in the last 12 months, but hoping for better results than the school achieved on the last trip. Ironically, both basketball teams are coming off home wins over Indiana, with Nebraska having shocked IU 70-69 on Wednesday night. That game showed that the Big Red can be kind of spunky at home, and so the Buckeyes need to be on their guard tonight lest they drop yet another conference road game.

The Bob Devaney Sports Center is named after Nebraska's legendary football coach, but strangely enough the center has nothing to do with football. It is home to their basketball, swimming, diving, indoor track, and gymnastics teams. At a capacity of 13,595 the basketball arena is only a shade larger than OSU's venerable former home St. John Arena, and the cozy atmosphere can provide a big boost to the hoops squad when they take on a prominent opponent like Ohio State.

The Buckeyes will once again be trying to prove that they can win on the road in the Big Ten, and this should be a test similar to the game at Iowa a few weeks ago. After pummelling the Cornhuskers at the Schott back on 1/3, some fans might be tempted to take this game lightly, and in fact it probably will not be a close game. However, it pays not to be too cocky as an OSU fan when your team travels, because the road has been a scary place this season. It also pays to respect the basement.

4 A. Craft SO 6-2/190 8.1 3.2 5.3 G 3 B. Richardson SR 6-0/190 6.5 2.9 2.8
32 L. Smith Jr. SO 6-4/205 6.4 4.7 2.1 G 23 B. Spencer SR 6-2/193 15.2 3.3 3.7
44 W. Buford SR 6-6/220 15.2 4.6 3.5 F 25 C. Walker SR 6-4/205 6.7 4.4 1.2
1 D. Thomas SO 6-7/225 15.1 4.1 1.0 F 0 T. McCray SR 6-6/210 10.4 4.7 0.9
0 J. Sullinger SO 6-9/265 17.3 9.3 0.9 C 13 B. Ubel JR 6-10/240 6.3 5.3 1.1


Nebraska's mediocre record in their inaugural B1G season is deceptive until you consider the quality of the teams that have beaten them. Prior to Wednesday, the one thing that the Huskers had not achieved, either in the conference or in non-conference play, was a win over a quality team. That all changed when they beat the Hoosiers, and now the team is walking with a more confident stride than before. 

Leading the charge for Nebraska is senior guard Bo Spencer. Spencer is a transfer from LSU, where he averaged 14.5 points per game his junior season. He is a dangerous 3-point shooter, but also spreads the ball around effectively in the Huskers' 4-guard offense. However, he struggled in the first game against OSU, finishing with only 10 points on 5/15 shooting.

Statistically, Nebraska looks positively wretched on offense, averaging roughly 62 points per game on 43% shooting. They also are turning the ball over an average of 14 times per game, against roughly 12 assists per game. Spencer averages 15 points per game, but he's shooting less than 40% overall and 32% from distance. More dangerous, but also more hesitant to shoot, is fellow senior Toney McCray, who is shooting over 40% from distance but only attempts 3 triples per game on average. McCray and Spencer are also turnover machines, accounting for more than a third of their team's TO's all by themselves.

The Cornhuskers shoot over 75% from the free throw line, but they almost never get there due to their lack of any inside game. One wild card is reserve center Jorge Brian Diaz, who averages over 28 minutes and almost 10 points per game off the bench. Diaz is a big body, and he's much more aggressive in looking for his shot than starter Brandon Ubel. Diaz did not play in the first game against OSU, but he could be a factor in this one not only on offense but also on defense where he leads the team with 28 blocked shots. 

Nebraska is on a high right now after the win over Indiana, but they are facing an OSU team that is focused and determined. The Huskers will need to summon all of the mojo left over from Wednesday's upset to stay in the game with the Buckeyes. They also might have to ditch the 4-guard line-up for much of the night if they struggle to defend Ohio State's big men up front. Nebraska does not have the size to handle Sullinger or Thomas and they may have to play a lot of Diaz and Ubel in tandem just to keep the Buckeyes from dominating the paint.

Buckeye Breakdown:

Ohio State unveiled a new offensive weapon against IU on Sunday: Lenzelle Smith Jr. The sophomore had been shooting a high percentage all season long, but he seemed content to let the big guns take most of the shots and he concentrated on being the defensive stopper and extra rebounder that the team needed in the absence of long-time starter and team leader David Lighty. As a result, Smith is averaging only a little more than 4 shots per game. 

AP PHOTO - JAY LAPRETESmith's production helps offset Buford's blues.

But William Buford's extended shooting slump has hurt the team, and it was necessary for someone else on the team to step up and start hitting from outside in order to take the pressure off of the inside players. I am certain that Indiana game-planned for Buford much more than Smith and so the sudden outburst of points from Smith took them completely out of their defensive plan. Nebraska has undoubtedly seen the tape, and they will probably not grant as many open looks to the young shooting guard. 

Will the shift of attention over to Smith help Buford get some better looks? It seems likely, but lately he's had trouble hitting even when he's wide open. Last season teams not only had to reckon with Buford, but also the driving and slashing of Lighty and the long-distance threat of Jon Diebler. It may be necessary for the remainder of this season for not only Smith but also Aaron Craft to look more aggressively for shooting opportunities, especially driving in the paint. This will create more penetrate-and-dish opportunities for the big guys and also open up more space for Buford.

OSU should not need all of this to happen against the Cornhuskers tonight. A steady dose of Sullinger down low, combined with a lot of looks for Deshaun Thomas in the high-low game will give Nebraska fits as they try to match up with the two big men. If the Buckeyes play their normal clean game with lots of ball movement and action on the boards, it should be more than enough to get a win in Lincoln. 

Still, coach Thad Matta will undoubtedly be thinking about the tough stretch the team has coming up in late January/early February and trying to get the team to play a more balanced game on offense. We might see a bit of that tonight, along with some new line-up combinations as they try to continue the improvement. This is still a very young team compared to last year's OSU squad and further growth will probably yield a few more surprising contributions like what we saw from Smith on Sunday. 


  • Tonight's game will be Thad Matta's 400th as a head coach. His current overall record is 308-91, including 206-60 as OSU head coach. 
  • OSU is 5-2 all-time against Nebraska, including the win a few weeks ago in Columbus. They are 1-1 in Lincoln, but they have not played there since 1987. 
  • Buckeye legend Jim Jackson will join play-by-play man Eric Collins on the broadcast for Big Ten Network.

Comments Show All Comments

Abe Froman's picture

I - O


Smith has definitely been a surprise this year, as has the Tank's play (I thought he would be mainly throwing up 20 shots a game).  We knew Smith could play D, but his consistency, and as we have seen occasional scoring, is what the team needs to go far in the tourney.  If Sully is our only scoring option on a regular basis, the team would be lucky to make the sweet sixteen.

Basking in the wake of mediocrity.....

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater's picture

Good chance to gain some "road confidence".   Will be curious to see how Buford responds, as it seems everyone has been talking about his scoring issues now.   Will he show up or will he continue to struggle?   Will Smith continue to pick up the slack?   Can we win on the road in a game we should easliy take?   Will the bench continue to see meaningful minutes and contribute?  

This is why I love college hoops, you can say the season is "devalued" by a tournament, but I like that you can focus on getting better without the worry of losing a single game and being done for the year.   Lots of quesitons remain for this team on the 2012 journey, gonna be fun to watch it play out.

baddogmaine's picture

Buford is going to have to - HAVE TO - start playing like a senior, something he has not been doing enough of this season. Playing like a vet can be demonstrated in two diffferent ways. One is by deserving the spotlight he is claiming for himself - by hitting at least 50% of his shots if he is going to take a lot of shots, and by valuing the ball if he is going to hold on to it. The other way is recognizing that his game just isn't here and reducing his role in the offense. This is risky because it leads to the question coaches hate - where are the points coming from? We can not assume that they will come from Smith, one game does not a career make, but if he has game then we can afford to get less from Buford. But more generally fewer missed shots, fewer turnovers (because the ball is given to Craft rather than trying to run the offense himself) means fewer possessions for the opponent, meaning that we don't need as many points. Games can be won with 50 points, but only if everyone plays tough defense and reduced number of possessions still contribute scores. But it's now on Buford's shoulders.

As is his pro career. A recent mock draft has him still in the first round. No telling what a stupid pro team will do - Mullens went first round too - but based on his body and stats that is ridiculous. Evan Turner, an inch taller and a better ball handler, is having trouble getting playing time because while he's good at many things he's not quite good enoiugh at any one thing. Buford is too small to play forward in The League, can't handle well enough for point guard. Of what value is a shooting guard who isn't hitting? Based on value he's already slipped to the second round inmy opininion. If he turns thigs around he could go in the first 32. If not he is at real risk of getting a short contract that doesn't get renewed.

RBuck's picture

 Playing like a vet can be demonstrated in two diffferent ways. One is by deserving the spotlight he is claiming for himself 


I don't think WB is claiming anything for himself...the media and fans have the high expectations for him. WB has always seemed kind of humble and on the shy side to me.

edit/reply to baddogmaine

Long live the southend.

baddogmaine's picture

Taking a lot of shots is putting himself in a spotlight. Trying to win games by himself at the end is putting himself in a spotlight. It's not about off the court humility, it's about the role he takes on court. And since KY he has not been earning that role often enough.

VestedInterest's picture

He took 12 shots last game in 37 minutes. Twelve. Willy's a shooter, he's been off. The "leader" tag has been assigned him by fans and the media types. He certainly isn't assuming any kind of role chucking up 12 shots in 37.

Joe Beale's picture

The reason they assigned the "leader" role to him is because he's the only senior and the rest of the team is very young. He needs to be a leader, whether he wants to or not.

VestedInterest's picture

Yes, he's the only senior. Some guys are leaders, others are not. Willy seems to perform better when that pressure doesn't seem to land on his shoulders. Why does he need to be a leader? Just because he's a senior? As long as others step up in his stead as far as scoring I don't see it as a need but rather a benefit. As long as he's not going all free Willy style and chucking it up from all corners and clanging then I don't see the issue. Leadership is over rated when you have three that avg. 15+.

BuckeyeJim's picture

I see Craft as the leader on this team. He is vocal and he plays 100%. I believe he is respected by the staff and the players.

KE's picture

ESPN reporting Joe Paterno is in the hopital in serious condition. Health has deteriorated signfiicantly in the last few days. Just said he is "near death."

btalbert25's picture

I heard it on another channel too after that Texas and Kansas game ended. 


ih8rolltyde's picture

ESPN to be charged w voluntary manslaughter.

****igan smells like old water that hot dogs were boiled in.  FACT

VestedInterest's picture

This is really minor but...

Nebraska 10-8, 2-5 Big 12

Joe Beale's picture

Derp...that's an automatic feature of our preview generator.  I'm not sure how to fix it, but I think Jason can do it. Thanks for the tip.

the polesposition's picture

No one hates ESPN more than this guy.  However, one thing to consider:  while it would appear the B1G is competition for ESPN, ESPN still holds the primary rights for most of the B1G's games.  That's why you see Ohio State on ESPN or ABC pretty much every week (and why you see Purdue, Northwestern, et al. on B1G Network).  As such, does it really make sense to tear OSU down when they probably televise 8 OSU games per year?  They have it in for OSU IMO, but I can't figure out the source of it.