Preview: Ohio Begins 2013 With Marshall At Home

By
Matthew Doyle

Dateline
Updated Thu, Jan 3, 2013 8:01 pm
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What has happened to the Ohio men’s basketball team?

They’ve lost five of their last seven, have yet to win a game on the road, and haven’t beaten a highly respected opponent this year. Okay, 10-5 Richmond was a worthy opponent, but they weren’t a Memphis.

The one statistical category that the Bobcats have obviously lacked so far this season is rebounding. They are currently ranked 313th in the nation with 31.0 rebounds a game. But is rebounding really the issue? Do they really lack the desire to crash the boards, or is it a matter of their style of play doesn’t require a lot of rebounding from their bigs?

Head coach Jim Christian enjoys a tight, half-court man-to-man defensive strategy. When the Bobcats are forcing turnovers, everything clicks, offensively and defensively. They average 9.7 steals a game, one of the best in the nation, and 22.2 points off turnovers this season, while forcing their opponents to 18.7 turnovers a game. This Ohio defense is lethal; something the team takes pride in.

They are giving up 63.3 points a game. Not bad, but not the type of production they’ve come to expect from their defense. It’s one of the reasons Christian and the Bobcats couldn’t wait to get out of the month of December. The Bobcats were 2-5 in the final month of the year, a pitiful turnaround from their 6-0 start to the season in November.

During that time, opponents averaged 70.7 points a game, an increase of 16.0 from November. Every scoring category had declined for Ohio. Their field goal percentage (.501 to .448), their three-point percentage (.403 to .334), and their points per game (76.0 to 70.4) have all taken a hit.

Above all, though, the Bobcats have lost a step defensively, their one source of pride in November. After averaging 12.2 steals a game in their first six wins, Ohio averaged 7.6 steals in December. The Bobcats scored 26.5 points off turnovers in November; 18.4 in December. Meanwhile, they’re only forcing 16 turnovers a game, compared to their 21.8 in November.

What has been a contributor to the defensive decline? Jon Smith’s minutes. The big man, who’s considered one of the best defenders on the team, averaged 23.5 minutes in his first six games, but foul trouble has lowered his time on the floor to 15 minutes in his last seven. The Bobcats have also declined in blocks a game, going from 4.2 to 2.7 in the two-month span.

Yes, the month of December was not kind to Ohio. As January takes its toll, the Bobcats (8-5, 0-0 MAC) will begin to focus on their upcoming conference opponents. But first, they must turn their attention to Marshall (7-7, 0-0 C-USA).

A quick glance at the Thunder Herd and one word can describe their roster: big.

Marshall has seven guys over 6-foot-8, two guys who average nine-plus rebounds a game and as a collective group, they average 41.0 rebounds a game, 22nd most in the nation.

Outside of Memphis’ Shaq Goodwin, Nigel Spikes is one of the top big men the Bobcats will face all season. The 6-foot-10 senior has been dominant down low with 6.8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocks.  In Marshall’s blowout loss to Kentucky, Spikes was the one bright spot in the box score, pulling down 16 rebounds. He, along with Dennis Kinnon (9.0 rebounds/game), will be difficult to box out for Ohio.

With scorer DeAndre Kane (15.0 ppg in 10 games) going down with hand injury, Elijah Pittman has taken on a greater workload for Marshall. Kane played 38.2 minutes a game, but with the six-foot-five guard out for an extended amount of time, the Thundering Herd have relied on Pittman to pick up the scoring role from the forward position.

Pittman is averaging 14.9 points and 4.6 rebounds this season. He has reached double-digits in 12 games this season, 20-plus points on four occasions. At six-foot-nine and with adequate range – shooting 39.0% from three this season – Pittman will be a tough matchup for Ohio to prepare for.

Without Kane leading the way, the Marshall offense has not flown as freely as they would like it to. Kane was leading the team with 8.5 assists a game before going down. They’re next top guard, D.D. Scarver, averages 1.6 assists and that number hasn’t gone up with Kane’s absence. In their last game against Delaware State, Marshall lost in a close 53-51 decision, where the Thundering Herd had only nine assists.

Without Kane, Marshall becomes a more vulnerable team. They’re 1-3 without their star guard, with that one win coming against 5-8 Savannah State. In their last four games, Marshall has averaged 56.3 points a game. Before losing Kane, they averaged 75.4. They also have averaged 17.5 turnovers, raising their season average to 15.0 per game.

Ohio will welcome Marshall into the Convocation Center this Saturday. In their matchup last year in Huntington, the Bobcats pulled out a narrow 70-68 victory. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m.

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