Offensive troubles put Bobcats in hole in MAC
It's too early to panic, but the Bobcats are starting to get antsy due to their clunky offense.
Ohio (13-4, 1-2 MAC through Jan. 15) had lost its first two conference road games. Both were close games until the last couple of minutes, and both could have been saved if the Bobcats had displayed their usual acumen in scoring.
For example, at Akron on Jan. 14, the Bobcats dropped a 68-63 decision after shooting 35.5 percent from the field and just 24 percent from 3-point range. Ohio blew four layups during the first half.
The shooting mirrored Ohio's recent troubles. In the last four games through Jan. 15, the Bobcats were sub-40 percent from the field and an abysmal 19.5 percent (17 of 87) from 3-point range. The 'Cats insist they'll find their groove soon.
"We'll be fine," junior guard Walter Offutt said. "We'll get this turned around. All teams go through this."
They need it to happen soon, however. Ohio welcomes in Kent State and Miami -- both MAC East rivals -- for home games this week. Both teams make their living through defense.
The Golden Flashes are deep and athletic, and they will contest Ohio with hard, in-your-face, man-to-man defense. The RedHawks will try to frustrate the up-tempo Bobcats with a slow-down style designed to minimize possessions.
Both teams will make scoring difficult, which isn't exactly what the Bobcats need right now.
"That's the thing with league play, there's another game bearing down on you all the time," Ohio coach John Groce said, "so we have to attack this head on and get it worked out quickly."
Cooper struggles through shooting lull
--D.J. Cooper's season-long shooting slump may have reached its lowest point -- or at least the Bobcats hope so.
Over the last four games through Jan. 15, Cooper, the Bobcats' leading scorer and best player, shot just 15 of 64 (23.4 percent) from the field and only five of 28 (17.9 percent) from 3-point range. Part of the problem has been Cooper's shot selection -- too many forces -- and teammates not being aggressive enough in the half-court offense.
Cooper was just 2-for-15 from the field in a 68-63 loss at Akron on Jan. 14, but on four different occasions was forced to throw up a prayer late in the shot clock as teammates threw the ball back his way after passing up open looks. Ideally, Cooper should be in the 10- to 12-shots-a-game range.
--Junior F Reggie Keely was in mired in a three-game slump through Jan. 15. The 6-foot-8 post had 15 points and 15 rebounds during the span, numbers that were below his season averages.
But more than that, it's been Keely's awareness and focus that had been troubling of late. Normally sure-handed, he'd been plagued by drops on post entry passes and on finishes around the rim.
Ohio's best back-to-the-bucket scorer, Keely needs to regain the form that had him averaging 10 points and 6 rebounds as a reserve player through the season's first 10 games.
--The one thing Ohio had been doing well this month was creating turnovers. The Bobcats had forced no fewer than 16 since 2012 began, with a total of 91 forced turnovers in the last four games through Jan. 15.
Ohio was doing it with only sporadic full-court pressure. With the offense in a funk, the Bobcats might be well served to increase the full-court defense in an effort to jump start the point production.
BY THE NUMBERS: 4 -- In a 69-63 loss at Akron on Jan. 14, the Bobcats were called for 30 personal fouls and had four players foul out. Ohio had just two players foul out in the previous 16 games combined.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I liked our toughness, I think we played as hard as we have all season. They just made a couple more plays than we did." -- Ohio coach John Groce, following a 68-63 loss at Akron.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--vs. Kent State, Jan. 18
KEY MATCHUPS: The Golden Flashes, the two-time regular-season defending MAC champ, also return the reigning MAC Player of the Year, F Justin Greene. Long and springy, Greene has elevated his play as conference play started and was averaging 20.7 points through three MAC games. Kent State will also be able to match Ohio in creating turnovers -- the Flashes force 17.0 per game.
--vs. Miami, Jan. 21
KEY MATCHUPS: The Bobcats wrap up their first tour through the MAC East with their archrival. The RedHawks are struggling overall, but they will play at a slow-down pace that could frustrate Ohio. Also, the RedHawks have one of the MAC's best in PF Julian Mavunga, who was averaging 18.5 points and 9.9 rebounds per game through Jan. 15.
FUTURES MARKET: The evolution of sophomore G Ricardo Johnson has been more methodical than some Ohio fans would like, but it has been steady. A 6-foot-5 slasher, Johnson still hasn't shown much of the offensive game that was expected of him.
Still, Johnson has carved out a role as one of the team's better defenders. He's the top option when foul trouble snags one of the Bobcats' top perimeter players, and his length gives him versatility and offers the team options in setting up defensive assignments.
Getting about 15 minutes per game, Johnson doesn't get a chance to show his offensive skills often. However, with Ohio's preference for floor spacing and open shooters, he'll need to continue to develop his range; Johnson was shooting just 27 percent from 3-point range this season through Jan. 15.
--Junior PF Ivo Baltic had scored in double figures in eight straight games through Jan. 15, but he had been inefficient in his last two, going a combined 8-for-27 against Buffalo and Akron.
--Sophomore SG Nick Kellogg had hit at least one 3-pointer in 16 of 17 games this season through Jan. 15. He had hit at least two 3-pointers in 14 of 17 games.
--Senior C Kenny Belton still was not practicing with the team as Jan. 15. Belton was shoring up his academic standing, and he won't return to practice on a full-time basis until the issue is cleared up.