Scouting report: Meet the Ohio Bobcats
Another round in the NCAA Tournament for USF means another quick cram session for the Bulls players -- and fans -- to get acquainted with 13th-seeded Ohio, which knocked off 4th-seeded Michigan just before the Bulls knocked off Temple in Nashville on Friday night.
ESPN pointed out after the game that in the history of 12s vs. 13s in the NCAA Tournament, the 12-seeds have an 8-1 record all-time, but the Bobcats were a team not to be overlooked long before they took care of Michigan on Friday.
Ohio is 28-7 and has an RPI of 47, five spots higher than USF. Lots to get to, but you have two teams with much different levels of experience against elite teams this season. Ohio is now 2-1 against RPI top 50 teams, having beaten Marshall (42) and now Michigan (14) and having lost by five at Louisville (13) -- more on that later. USF, meanwhile, is now 4-9, with two of those wins coming in the last three days against California (37) and Temple (18).
Ohio, unlike USF, has been here before: two years ago, they were a 14-seed and knocked off Georgetown in the opening round, 97-83. They lost to sixth-seeded Tennessee 83-68 in the second round, getting outrebounded 39-28 and outscored 58-12 in the paint. Three current starters on that team were freshmen in 2010, so they have an experience advantage on USF, which is making its first NCAA Tournament run.
About those starters: The guy to watch most is guard D.J. Cooper, a 5-11 junior who leads the team in scoring (14.7) and assists (5.7). He was huge in their first tournament run, with 23 points and eight assists in the Georgetown win; on Friday against Michigan he had 21 and five, going 7-for-11 from the field. Next-best scorer is 6-3 forward Walter Offutt, an Ohio State transfer who averages 11.7 points.
There are two 6-8 forwards who were freshmen on the bench in 2010 -- Reggie Keely averages 9.3 points and 5.0 rebounds, and Ivo Baltic gets 9.1 and 5.1. The Bobcats usually bring Keely off the bench and start 6-7 forward Jon Smith, a Saint Louis transfer who averages only 3.7 points per game but is solid defensively, averaging 4.6 rebounds with a team-high 44 blocks. The player you might know best is sophomore guard Nick Kellogg -- he's Clark's son -- and he averages 8.8 but is a dangerous shooter, hitting 90 percent of his free throws and 41 percent of his 3-pointers. He has 79 makes beyond the arc this year.
About that Louisville loss: Just as USF's biggest win of the regular season was at Louisville, Ohio nearly pulled off the same. The Bobcats were up six with four minutes to play but let Kyle Kuric and the Cardinals escape with a victory.
Ohio opened the year 12-1, and was 19-4 before taking two bad losses, both on the road in a span of four days, to Toledo (RPI 246) and Eastern Michigan (RPI 243). They just didn't play well -- Toledo outrebounded them 42-29 and had 20 offensive rebounds; Eastern Michigan held them to 6-for-26 shooting on 3-pointers.
Ohio bounced back and has won its last five, and you can tell a lot by where they rank in the MAC statistically. Keep in mind the MAC is rated as the NCAA's No. 17 conference in CBSsports.com's Conference RPI. Ohio had led the MAC in scoring in each of the previous two seasons, but ranked third this year at 70.6 points per game. (They were held under 60 five times, no lower than 54, which was the Louisville loss.)
Ohio led the MAC in 3-pointers per game at 7.3 per game -- that's more than any team in the Big East, though in fairness, the team that led the Big East in 3s was last-place DePaul, at 7.2. The Bobcats also led the MAC in steals per game (9.3) and in turnover margin (+4.3); they were first in offensive rebounding and in 3-point defense, holding opponents to under 30 percent beyond the arc. The Bobcats were seventh in rebounding overall, suggesting USF's frontcourt could have an advantage there.
Ohio was efficient and opportunistic against the Wolverines -- went 15-for-17 on free throws, shot 51 percent as a team, committed only nine turnovers, went 6-for-16 on 3-pointers while holding Michigan to 7-for-23 shooting beyond the arc. The most impressive thing about the Bobcats' win over Michigan might have been how well they sustained the lead and kept in control of the game. Ohio led by as many as 13 late in the first half, led just six at the half, but Michigan never got closer than two, with Ohio locking down on defense in the closing minutes. The Bobcats led 63-60 with three minutes to go and held Michigan scoreless the rest of the way, scoring again only on two Offutt free throws in the final seconds.