Basketball Preview: Nebraska at Ohio State

By Tim Shoemaker on February 26, 2015 at 8:35 am
D'Angelo Russell launches a 3-pointer vs. Maryland

Ohio State has probably never believed more in the phrase, "There's no place like home."

Since routing Maryland, 80-56, back on Jan. 29 the Buckeyes have played at the Schottenstein Center just once: a 75-55 win over Penn State on Feb. 11. That equates to just one home game in the last 27 days. Eight of their last 12 overall have been on the road.

Nebraska (13-14, 5-10) Schottenstein Center 7 p.m. ESPN

Sure, Ohio State has struggled of late, losing back-to-back games at Michigan State and Michigan. But the Buckeyes may deserve some slack for what they've had to go through — such a stretch in the middle of a Big Ten season is farm from the norm.

"I knew in July when the Big Ten schedule game out, I said, ‘My God, coming out of Ann Arbor if our heads are above water and we’ve got a decent mojo about us, we’ve got a shot,’" Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said Wednesday. "It’s been difficult with eight of (12) games on the road and now we get it coming up here with three out of four at home, but I think that’s the biggest thing that I’m at right now is we’re OK."

Needless to say, the Buckeyes are happy to be home and will try to get back on the right track tonight against Nebraska.

Opponent Breakdown

It's safe to say this season has been a disappointment for Nebraska.

A year after the Cornhuskers made the NCAA tournament, they returned nearly every player to this season's team. They came into the year with high expectations, but currently sit at just 13-14.

Nebraska's most recent performance, a 74-46 home loss to Iowa, finally set off head coach Tim Miles. In an act of frustration, Miles has locked his players out of the team's home locker room trying to motivate them in any way he can. Whether it works or not remains to be seen.

"From that perspective, as a coach you’re doing everything you can and at times you almost feel like you’re begging guys at a certain point of the season to do their best and you’re constantly looking to create environment, motivation, tactics, whatever it is," Matta said.

Despite their record, the Cornhuskers still have some talented players.

Junior wing Terran Petteway was a preseason first-team All-Big Ten selection and is currently third in the league in scoring at 18.2 points per game. His teammate, Shavon Shields is eighth in the conference at 15.3 points per game, giving Nebraska a potent 1-2 punch.

But overall as a team, the Cornhuskers have struggled to score much outside of those two. They average just 61.7 points per game, which ranks 13th in the Big Ten.

"They’re a rough, tough, physical team that’s smashmouth on defense so we’ve gotta execute our offense, move them and defensively we’ve seen this firsthand that can go for 35 on you if you’re not ready to defend,” Matta said.

Buckeye Breakdown

After it appeared Ohio State had turned a corner, the Buckeyes lost back-to-back game for the first time all season.

Ohio State played well in its loss to Michigan State, but Sunday against Michigan was probably its worst performance of the season. The Buckeyes fell behind by as many as 20 in the first half before ultimately losing by seven.

“We obviously have a great opportunity with three out of the last four at home. We’ve really got to lace them up and get after it.”– Sam Thompson

Star freshman guard D'Angelo Russell has struggled over the last three games — going just 14 for 41 from the field — and Matta has even contemplated shaking up his starting lineup for the second time this season, potentially going to a small-ball unit.

"I have confidence in any group of five guys that we put out on the court," senior forward Sam Thompson said. "I think that any group of five that we put out can be effective both offensively and defensively if we have the right mindset, if we come ready to play."

One guy who could sneak into that starting five is Keita Bates-Diop, who has shown some solid flashes of late with increased playing time. Bates-Diop scored 12 points Sunday against the Wolverines.

“I want to continue that, but the big goal is winning games," Bates-Diop said. "So as much positive stuff as people are saying about me or how I’m playing, I just want to win games in the end.”

How It'll Play Out

Both teams need to win this game for very different reasons.

As a team hoping to solidify itself as an NCAA tournament squad, Ohio State can't afford to lose at home to a struggling Nebraska team. The Cornhuskers are simply trying earn back the trust of their coach and get back into their own locker room.

The Buckeyes are a much different team at home. They play better at both ends of the floor. After suffering those back-to-back losses, you'd certainly believe they will have a sense of urgency.

Nebraska has struggled all year to score points and Ohio State scores a lot more at home than it does on the road. The Buckeyes have a huge advantage in this one and should earn a comfortable win that hopefully can propel them to a strong finish in the regular season.

"Obviously it feels different being on the road than it does being at home, but that in no way justifies the way we came out to play in some of these road games that we had. No matter where we are playing, no matter who we are playing our goal is to come out and play our best basketball," Thompson said. "Like Coach Matta said, we obviously have a great opportunity with three out of the last four at home. We’ve really got to lace them up and get after it.”

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