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OSU To Open Big Ten Play vs Huskers

In an early tip-off time (6:30 p.m.; Big Ten Network) Ohio State will host Nebraska in the Big Ten opener for both teams on Wednesday.

Ohio State center Amir Williams blocks a shot against Nebraska last season.

The No. 8 Buckeyes (10-2) lost their only two big games of their non-conference schedule and will be looking to get off on the right foot in conference play against a decent Cornhuskers (9-4) squad.

The oddsmakers aren’t giving Nebraska much of a chance as OSU is listed as a 21-point favorite. The ‘Huskers have a first-year head coach in Tim Miles, who spent the previous five seasons as the head man at Colorado State where he did a fine job, including a 20-12 season and a win in the NCAA Tournament last year.

Nebraska also has a handful of quality, veteran players in 6-foot-5 senior guard Dylan Talley (13.9 points per game, 5.8 rebounds per game, 2.4 assists per game), 6-10 senior forward Brandon Ubel (13.2 ppg, 6.5 rpg), 6-2 junior guard Ray Gallegos (13 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1 apg) and 6-11 senior center Andre Almeida (7.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.4 blocks per game).

Ohio State made a big change – literally and figuratively – in its last game when 6-11 sophomore center Amir Williams replaced 6-8 senior Evan Ravenel in the starting lineup. Williams – who was a McDonald’s All-American in high school – still has a long way to go to reach his potential. He’s averaging 4.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.3 blocks, and clearly more was expected out of him by this point in his career. That said, he’s been improving and has earned additional minutes.

“He had practiced really well and Evan hadn’t,” OSU head coach Thad Matta said after the Chicago State game. “Evan is the only senior on the team. There is a certain standard I want him to practice at and abide by. I loved the energy he brought off the bench. I thought he played better than he had practiced. And I thought Amir was good as well.”

The Buckeyes now have a very-solid bench, led by Ravenel, sophomore forward LaQuinton Ross and one of the most-improved players in all of college basketball, sophomore point guard Shannon Scott.

In past seasons, having a “deep bench” would mean next-to-nothing for Ohio State because Matta usually only uses one or two players regularly off the pine. However, perhaps assistant coach Chris Jent’s pleading has paid off because Matta is using more guys this season. We’ll see if it continues during Big Ten play, but even the “ninth and 10th” members of the rotation – freshman shooting guard Amedeo Della Valle and sophomore center Trey McDonald – have played well in spurts.

As for the straw that stirs the drink for Ohio State, junior Deshaun Thomas has seen his scoring average dip under 20 for the first time this season (he’s sitting at 19.8 ppg). The 6-7 forward is one of those guys that will likely see his scoring average actually go up during conference play because he’s going to be relied on to take a ton of shots – even more than the 15.2-per-game that he’s currently hoisting. Also, there won’t be nearly as many blowouts the rest of the season – like the one against Chicago State where Thomas sat out for much of the second half.

Thomas is shooting the ball relatively well this season, although there’s no doubt he’d like to improve on his numbers just a bit. He’s shooting 45.9 percent from the field, including 39.7 percent from three-point range. He’s also shooting 79.2 percent from the foul line.

A big concern entering the season for the Buckeyes was perimeter shooting, but they’re hitting 37.7 percent of their three-pointers as a team. The second-leading scorer on the squad – 6-4 junior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr., is shooting 40.8 percent from long distance and is averaging 11.2 points. Smith is also a good rebounder for his size as he’s third on the team in boards at 5 per game, trailing only Thomas and Ravenel (5.2).

Notes (courtesy of OSU Athletics Communications)

** Ohio State has won three-consecutive Big Ten regular-season championships.

** Ohio State celebrates 101 years as a member of the Big Ten Conference in men's basketball in 2013. The Buckeyes finished in the No. 6 spot in the 1913 conference standings, the first season of league play. Over the 100 previous seasons, Ohio State has earned 20 Big Ten regular-season titles with 24 NCAA tournament appearances, one national championship (1960) and 10 trips to the Final Four. Eight former coaches and players are members of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame while nearly 50 student-athletes have been drafted by National Basketball Association teams, including 23 in the first round.

** This season among Big Ten teams, The Buckeyes are No. 2 in scoring defense (57.5 ppg.), No. 3 in scoring offense (78.2 ppg.) and scoring margin (+20.8). The Buckeyes are in the No. 1 spot in turnover margin (+4.8). Individually, Thomas leads the conference in scoring with 19.8 points per game. He is No. 2 in made 3s per game (2.6). Aaron Craft (4.8) and Scott (4.6) rate No. 3 and No. 4, respectively in assists per game. Scott also is No. 2 in steals per game (2.3) and No. 1 in assist to turnover ratio (+5.0). Craft is No. 4 in the league (+3.2).

** The Buckeyes own an overall record of 739-668 against current league members. Matta, in 13 seasons as a head coach owns an overall record of 117-45 vs. league members, including a mark of 113-45 record while coaching the Buckeyes. Ohio State is 6-2 overall vs. Nebraska with Matta owning a 2-0 record vs. the Huskers.

** The Big Ten opener against Nebraska marks the second season Ohio State and the Cornhuskers have met in Big Ten play. Overall, the Buckeyes are 6-2 in the series. Ohio State has won the last five meetings, including both last year in Nebraska’s inaugural Big Ten season. The Buckeyes are 4-0 in Columbus vs. the Huskers. Ohio State won 71-40 at Value City Arena last year on Jan. 3, 2012. Ohio State is 3-0 as a ranked team in the series. The Buckeyes were ranked No. 6 in the Associated Press poll in both games last year. Thomas leads Ohio State in the Nebraska series with an average of 15 points a game. He also is Ohio State's top rebounder with 5 boards a game in the series. In two games last year, Thomas connected on 12 of 18 shots from the field (.667) versus the Huskers. Ravenel averaged six points and 3.5 rebounds. He made 5 of 7 shots vs. the Huskers (.714).

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