Know your team: Ohio University Bobcats
The Ohio Bobcats started the season looking like the best team in the Mid-American Conference and the type of team that could give almost anybody fits. The Bobcats did just that in an early-season 59-54 loss at Louisville.
This team was thinking wins, though, and racked them up quickly in an 8-0 December. Early January brought a rut, a stretch of three losses in four games that forced Ohio's veteran leaders to step up and get things moving back in the right direction.
They did. Junior point guard D.J. Cooper sparked the offense, the defense delivered to preserve some forgettable but important league wins and the Bobcats were especially good on their home floor. Early February losses to Toledo and Eastern Michigan kept Ohio from a shot at the MAC regular-season title, but the Bobcats recovered nicely and come into the NCAA Tournament having won eight of nine.
They'll meet Michigan Friday night in Nashville in a game between teams that rely on their guards for their scoring but differ in their approaches. Michigan relies on patience, backscreens and backdoor cuts to set up its scoring opportunities, and it's 3-point happy attack will meet a Bobcats defense that ranks in the top 20 nationally in defending the 3-point line.
The Bobcats prefer a freewheeling style that allows to Cooper to set up his teammates -- and sometimes fire from 25 feet. Cooper was a freshman two years ago when the Bobcats dumped Georgetown in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and he'll be the key to OU trying to replicate that on Friday.
Cooper leads the Bobcats at 14.6 points per game. Ohio State transfer Walter Offut is next at 11.6, while Reggie Keely and Ivo Baltic are the next leading scorers and share the team rebounding lead at 5.1 per game. Sharpshooter Nick Kellogg, the son of Clark Kellogg, is shooting 42 percent on 3-pointers for the season.
Even as Akron established itself during conference season as the MAC's best and deepest team, OU still loomed as maybe the league's most dangerous. In winning three games in three days at the MAC Tournament last weekend, including a thrilling final over Akron, the Bobcats played with pace and spread the wealth offensively.
That close loss at Louisville, wins at Marshall and Northern Iowa, a home blowout of Akron in the final week of the regular season and the final two games of the MAC Tournament are games you can point to and think the Bobcats have a chance to win a game -- or even two -- this weekend. OU also beat NCAA Tournament teams Lamar and NC-Asheville, but Michigan will provide a different kind of challenge.
It could be one Cooper and Friends are up to. We'll find out Friday night.
Why they can get to the Sweet 16: There are no killers in their pod. Michigan has earned its No. 4 seed, but the Wolverines aren't physically dominant and can be streaky. The Bobcats can be, too, and could make the game faster than Michigan wants it to be. The other game in the pod pits Temple against either South Florida or Cal.
Why they'll flame out early: If you can't beat Eastern Michigan, can you beat Michigan? Yes, but OU will need to play a near-flawless game, avoid foul trouble and stay on the attack. The Wolverines can win a bunch of games in this tournament if they dictate the pace and Trey Burke gets rolling.
Key to their hopes: Cooper not only making shots, but making everything go. The Bobcats will need to be solid on the defensive glass, aggressive going to the basket on offense and keep Trey Burke from getting to the lane. The Bobcats won't be overwhelmed athletically by any means but will need to play an efficient game.