Basketball Preview: Ohio State Brings Big Ten-Basement-Dwelling Nebraska To Columbus

By Colin Hass-Hill on December 30, 2020 at 10:30 am
CJ Walker
Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Life in the Big Ten these days is a challenge.

Nine of the conference's 14 teams currently appear in the Associated Press top-25 – No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 10 Iowa, No. 14 Rutgers, No. 15 Illinois, No. 16 Michigan, No. 17 Michigan State, No. 19 Northwestern, No. 12 Minnesota and No. 25 Ohio State – with several others lingering on the outside. Thirteen of them are within the top-55 on KenPom, and no other conference has more than nine teams ranked that highlight.

Game after game within the conference is expected to be a knock-down, drag-out brawl...except when Nebraska – the nation's No. 116 team, per KenPom, sandwiched between Louisiana Tech and Buffalo – is on the schedule.

Who Where When TV
Nebraska (4-5, 0-2) Columbus, Ohio (Schottenstein Center) 6:30 p.m. BTN

The Cornhuskers are the Big Ten's only sub-.500 team, having started the season with a 4-5 record and opened conference play with back-to-back double-digit-point defeats at the hands of Wisconsin and Michigan. On Wednesday night, the Buckeyes intend to hand Fred Hoiberg's team a third straight loss when they welcome Nebraska to the Schottenstein Center for a 6:30 p.m. tip-off.

"We're back at it here with preparation for a Nebraska team that, as you'll see, looks a lot different than last year," head coach Chris Holtmann said. "A lot of new pieces. Terrific positional size. If you look at their starting lineup, they've got great size across the board. Older guys. Older bodies. I've always really respected the way Fred's groups have played and shared the ball and moved it, and defensively they really have done a really good job this year making it difficult for teams in a lot of ways, and certainly a lot of that is their length and their scheme."

Three Things To Watch

New Faces

Whatever you remember about last year's Nebraska team, you might as well forget.

This group features a nearly completely new cast of characters. The six top scorers so far this year are all in their first season playing for the Cornhuskers after transferring in to the program. Four of their five starters – everybody other than Icelandic guard Thorir Thorbjarnarson – are in their first season with Hoiberg. To get a gist of the roster construction, let's briefly run through some of the key newcomers and their backgrounds:

  • Teddy Allen (6-foot-6, 223-pound guard): The team's leading scorer at 18.2 points per game, Allen is hoisting nearly 15 shots per game in 26.6 minutes per game, and he's averaging more than six 3-point attempts per game as well. Needless to say, the West Virginia transfer will get his shots up one way or another. He dropped 25 points and 26 points in losses to Michigan and Creighton, respectively, so he's shown himself to be dangerous against quality competition.
  • Trey McGowens (6-foot-4, 191-pound guard): A Pitt transfer who averaged double figures in both of his two seasons with the Panthers, he's remained a quality scorer with Nebraska. He's putting up 11.1 points  while grabbing 4.2 boards per game. Notably, he's shooting 40.7 percent from 3-point range on a team that's hitting only 31.8 percent of 3s as a team.
  • Kobe Webster (6-foot, 172-pound guard): He'll be the shortest player on the court at any given time, but the guard managed 17 points per game in his last two seasons with Western Illinois before transferring to Nebraska where he's averaged 8.7 points in 20.2 minutes per game off of the bench. Like McGowens, he's a threat from the outside, making 37.8 percent of his triples.
  • Lat Mayen (6-foot-9, 205-pound forward): The TCU transfer and native of Australia is a first-time starter who's averaging 6.4 points and 5.1 rebounds in 24 minutes per game. Mayen has tried to be a deep threat as a big man attempting 4.7 3-pointers per game, but he's connecting on only 26.2 percent of them.

A 6-Foot-9 Lead Guard

Dalano Banton didn't exactly light up Western Kentucky in his only season as a Hilltopper, averaging 3.4 points, three rebounds and 2.1 assists in 15.1 minutes per game during his freshman season in 2018-19. Yet after a transfer that had him sit out last season, he's thriving as a rare 6-foot-9, 204-pound lead guard for Hoiberg.

In nine games, he's averaging 14.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.6 steals and one block in 30 minutes per game. Despite a relatively small sample size, he's done well enough thus far that he's already putting himself on the radar of NBA teams. ESPN included him in its 2022 mock draft, slotting him in at No. 37 overall and calling him "one of the most unique players in college basketball."

From ESPN's Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz: "He has shined with his ballhandling, court vision and defensive instincts under Fred Hoiberg. Although Nebraska is (4-5) and his numbers are partially a product of his role, Banton is one of only three players since 2007 to average at least 18 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and 1 block per 40 minutes, joining Ben Simmons (LSU) and John Konchar (Purdue Fort Wayne)."

No Musa Jallow

This would likely be a prime opportunity to unleash Musa Jallow defensively against a team that likes to get up and down – the Cornhuskers average 14.5-second-long possessions, making them the fastest team in the conference – with most of its scoring coming from guard and wings, but he won't be able play. Holtmann said on Tuesday that the 6-foot-5, 210-pound wing will be out due to contact tracing. He declined to disclose when Ohio State first learned Jallow would be out but said it's not expected to be a long-term absence.

Jallow has averaged 5.7 points and 3.7 rebounds in 22.4 minutes per game this season. Holtmann said this could lead to a tighter rotation on Wednesday.

"I think obviously Justin (Ahrens), Gene (Brown), those guys are going to have to continue to step into new roles and play for us maybe increased minutes, as well as Justice (Sueing) and Seth (Towns)," Holtmann said.

Prediction: Ohio State 79, Nebraska 69

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