COACH: John Groce, second season at Ohio, first NCAA Tournament
HOW THEY GOT IN: Automatic bid (MAC) MATCHUP BREAKDOWN: The No. 14-seeded Bobcats will more than have their hands full with No. 3 seed Georgetown, which went 10-8 in the brutal Big East this season and came without a smidgen of winning the conference tournament. The Hoyas are athletic, skilled and relentless. Georgetown has one of the premier big men in the nation in 6-foot-11 center Greg Monroe — he will give Ohio serious problems inside, since he is a gifted scorer (16.1 points per game), rugged rebounder (9.5 rebounds per game) and can pass out of a double-team. Ohio C Kenneth van Kempen will draw the defensive assignment, but he has a tendency to get in foul trouble. In the backcourt, lightning quick point guard Chris Wright will challenge Ohio freshman D.J. Cooper every possession, while G Austin Freeman (16.7 points per game) will present Ohio with loads of defensive issues.
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GO-TO GUYS: Junior guard Armon Bassett came in with high expectations since he had played two seasons at Indiana before heading off to UAB, and then changing course and landing in Athens. Bassett showed flashes of his explosiveness during the season, but used the MAC tournament to steal the stage. Bassett had 38 points in the stunning upset of top seed Kent State, and won MVP honors after averaging 29 points in the tournament. Freshman D.J. Cooper led the league in assists and steals as Ohio’s point guard, and had 23 points on five three-pointers in the championship game. Junior G Tommy Freeman has the ability to catch fire from long range, especially when the defense is preoccupied with Bassett and Cooper.
THEY’LL KEEP WINNING IF: The Bobcats will need to sustain the premium performance level they displayed throughout the MAC Tournament, and do so against considerably tougher competition. Ohio thrived on good starts, solid outside shooting, and by minimizing turnovers. Any success Ohio achieves in the NCAA will be unexpected, and will have to come from the Bobcats feasting on turnovers their defense created.
STRENGTHS: The Bobcats thrive in an up-tempo environment, scoring better than 74 points per game. The faster the pace, the more Ohio is able to create opportunities in transition, and the Bobcats average 7.6 steals per game. Ohio is also in better shape than most when the game comes down to crunch time, since the Bobcats shoot 72.5 percent from the foul line. The explosive scoring ability of junior guard Armon Bassett is Ohio’s top weapon, while freshman D.J.Cooper has proven to be wise well beyond his years running the offense and leading the conference in steals and assists.
WEAKNESSES: Before its conference tournament run, Ohio’s intensity level had a tendency to fade in certain games, and that accounted for the surprising number of losses (4) the Bobcats suffered at home this season. Ohio also has to be concerned about its collective psyche in the pressure cooker of the tournament, since this team suffered through four suspensions and one player being booted out of the program this season. The chemistry looked repaired in the conference tournament, but adversity might be the best test of that. Junior G Armon Bassett is a prolific scorer, but senior C Kenneth van Kempen does not provide enough offense to let the Bobcats use an inside-outside tactic with much success.