Basketball Preview: Nebraska at Ohio State

By James Grega on January 22, 2018 at 10:10 am
Jae'Sean Tate

Ohio State's fourth game in eight days comes at home against a Nebraska team coming off its biggest win of the season. 

The Cornhuskers travel to Columbus fresh off of their 20-point win over No. 23 ranked Michigan on Thursday, and had the entire weekend to prepare for the Buckeyes, a team that is as hot as anyone in the country. 

Who Where When TV
Nebraska (14-7, 5-3) Value City Arena 8 p.m. BTN

The main concern for Ohio State, however, has to be fatigue. The first three games of the Buckeyes' current four-game stretch came on the road, as Chris Holtmann's squad has been on six flights to Piscataway, N.J., Rosemont, Ill., and New York City and back to Columbus over the last eight days. 

Holtmann said following a 67-49 win over Minnesota on Saturday that the Ohio State coaching staff is trying to monitor the minutes of certain Buckeyes, but also knows his team isn't as deep as others. 

"Our strength coach (Quadrian Banks) is taking some time (Sunday) with our high-minute guys and doing some extensive rehab and consultation with some doctors," Holtmann said. "We are keeping a close eye on some things. It is a concern for me, the number of minutes and number of games our guys have played."

Ohio State's top three scorers – Keita Bates-Diop, C.J. Jackson and Jae'Sean Tate – average 31.8, 29.8 and 29.2 minutes per game respectively, and make them the most likely candidates to receive rest before tip against Nebraska on Monday night. 

Opponent Breakdown

Tim Miles' squad has already surpassed its win total from last season with more than half of the Big Ten season still to play. The Cornhuskers have dropped seven games, although four of them have come to teams that have been or are currently ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 this season (Michigan State, Purdue, Creighton, Kansas). 

As mentioned earlier, the Cornhuskers are coming off of a 72-52 win over Michigan on Thursday, in which Nebraska got an efficient performance from its leading scorer, James Palmer, Jr. Palmer averages 15.8 points per game, but dropped in 19 on 5-of-8 shooting against the Wolverines, as the junior guard got to the free throw line 11 times, making seven. 

While Palmer is Nebraska's most consistent scorer, the Cornhuskers have also been getting increased production from sophomore Isaiah Roby. The forward scored a career-high 14 points in the win over Michigan on 6-of-7 shooting, and showed his versatility, dishing out three assists and swatting a pair of blocks on defense. 

Roby has replaced senior Evan Taylor in Nebraska's starting lineup over the Cornhusker's last two games. Both Roby and Taylor average 7.4 points per game, while Taylor has become Miles' sixth man off the bench. 

Point guard Glynn Watson runs the show offensively for Nebraska, and averages just more than three assists per game while chipping in 11.7 points per contest. Junior forward Issac Copeland anchors the post for the Cornhuskers, averaging 6.2 boards and 12.3 points per game, and is second on the team in blocks with 26 rejections on the year.  Senior guard Anton Gill leads Nebraska in three-point shooting, connecting on an impressive 46.6 percent clip from long range this year. 

Buckeye Breakdown

The main storyline for Ohio State over the last two games has been the bulk of the Buckeye roster picking up the offensive slack with Bates-Diop struggling to find his shot. 

In games against Northwestern and Minnesota, Bates-Diop is shooting a combined 11-for-33, yet when the rest of Ohio State's supporting cast has needed to step up on the road trip, the Buckeyes have done so, especially in the post.

Against the Wildcats, it was Micah Potter, pouring in 13 points on a perfect 5-for-5 shooting off the bench. Against the Golden Gophers, Kaleb Wesson converted on 7-of-9 shot attempts en route to a 15-point, eight-rebound performance that was arguably his most productive of the season. 

Also against Minnesota, Ohio State got a first-half boost from Jackson, who scored all 11 of his points in the opening frame, despite collecting his second foul with 7:36 remaining in the first 20 minutes. 

With Ohio State's limited depth, Holtmann said he doesn't have the luxury of setting certain players on the bench, even if they have two fouls in the first half. 

"I don't have a rule on two fouls in the first half. I know some coaches do," Holtmann said. "I don't know that we have the kind of depth to be able to do that. Maybe on another team we might, (but) we need C.J."

How It Plays Out

Nebraska's last win of the 2016-17 season came in Columbus, when the Cornhuskers stole a win late on an old-fashioned three-point play from Watson. Miles' squad is much improved from a year ago, but so are the Buckeyes. 

Ohio State is ranked in the AP Poll and No. 11 in Ken Pomeroy's advanced statistical rating system, its highest appearance of the year. In the same rankings, Nebraska checked in at No. 67 as of Sunday night. 

The Cornhuskers will come in with fresher legs, but Ohio State still has the best player on the floor in Bates-Diop, who has shot the ball lights out at home this year. The Buckeyes' fatigue will show at times Monday, but it shouldn't hamper them enough to snap the winning streak. 

Prediction: Ohio State 76, Nebraska 68

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