LINCOLN — Baptism by fire hardly begins to describe the heat Nebraska likely will feel in its Big Ten men’s basketball opener Wednesday at Ohio State.
The Buckeyes (10-2) are ranked No. 8 nationally. Their losses are to No. 1 Duke by five points and No. 6 Kansas by eight points.
The Huskers (9-4) are ranked 195th by kenpom.com. They have one win over a team ranked in the top 100 (No. 88 Valparaiso).
In four major statistical categories — scoring offense, scoring defense, field-goal defense and rebounding margin — OSU ranks 35th, 37th, 43rd and 51st. In those same categories, NU is 292nd, 76th, 209th and 164th.
Oh, and of the eight Nebraska players in the regular rotation, only three have ever played in a Big Ten game.
So why is first-year Husker coach Tim Miles smiling?
“We’re the underdog,” he said. “So we’ve got nothing to lose. Let’s go figure it out and try to find a way to win.”
That doesn’t mean Miles is without concerns.
“What I’m worried about is our ability to consistently score and be an offensive threat,” he said. “That’s a big deal. We’ve been solid defensively. But we also will lose our way. And that concerns me. Consistent defensive effort is what I want.”
How was that effort in Nebraska’s most recent game, a 68-59 win over 1-9 Nicholls State?
“Atrocious,” Miles said.
General confidence also is an issue. In two recent games, Nebraska has built second-half leads of 15 and 19 points against lesser opponents at home, and seen those margins shrink to one and four points.
“When we get punched in the nose,” Miles said, “sometimes we just take it.”
He has tried to nurture confidence by showing video of strong play, while praising good performance and pointing out ways to improve.
Against Nicholls State, Miles changed strategies. He substituted on big mistakes and chewed players out on the bench.
“I tried to light them up,” he said. “I did it in a democratic way, trying to do it with everybody. And that did not work well.”
Few will cut the Huskers any slack on Wednesday. A crowd of about 19,000 at Value City Arena is expected to cheer on Ohio State, which at No. 8 is just the fourth-highest ranked team in the Big Ten.
Senior Brandon Ubel said he has tried to school the Huskers’ true freshmen about what they are about to face.
“The guys coming out of high school talk about the speed and the quickness and the strength compared to college,” he said. “But there is another step in conference play.
“(Opponents) are a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger and a little bit faster. That’s what I’ve been preaching to them. We’ve got to take it up a notch.”
» NOTES: Nebraska has just two road victories in its history over Top 10 teams — 67-51 over No. 1 Missouri in 1982 and 74-69 in overtime over No. 7 Iowa State in 1997. ... NU backup point guard Mike Peltz (knee) isn’t expected to play. ... Ohio State’s eight home victories have been by an average of 30 points. ... OSU forward Deshaun Thomas leads the Big Ten in scoring at 19.8 points a game. ... Ohio State beat Nebraska by 31 and 34 points last season.
Contact the writer: