Preview: Ohio Begins MAC Play This Week

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The Ohio Bobcats will start Mid-American Conference play this week, coming off a 94-57 victory over Marshall on Saturday. Against the Thundering Herd, the Bobcats could do no wrong.

They were shooting lights out, with season-highs in field goal percentage and three-point percentage. They also had season-highs in points scored and assists.

The one key stat, though, came defensively. The Bobcats forced 26 turnovers and tied their season-high of 16 steals. They scored an incredible 51 points off turnovers, six points less than Marshall’s total points for the game.

Without a doubt, that’s the type of game Jim Christian was hoping to see heading into MAC play. In essence, Ohio’s play in the conference decides the Bobcats’ chances to make the NCAA Tournament, as an at-large bid seems unlikely at this moment.

Christian knows the MAC through and through. In his six years at Kent State, the head coach had a 79-28 record against MAC opponents. In his final three years, the Golden Flashes were 40-10.

As the Bobcats enter this week with Buffalo and Western Michigan on their schedule, Christian’s group is expected to be ready, especially coming off their strong outing against Marshall.

Ohio begins their week Wednesday with the Bulls coming into town. Buffalo has started the season 5-9, with only three of their wins against Division I opponents. Their marquee win came against Evansville, a 9-6 team who lost by eight to the now No. 14 Butler Bulldogs at Indianapolis, In.

The Bulls rebound extremely well. They’re ranked second in the MAC with 37.1  boards a game, a stat where the Bobcats are ranked 11th in the conference.

Rebounding will not be the issue for Ohio, though. Stopping Javon McCrea will be.

In just 26.1 minutes a game, the 6-foot-7 forward is averaging 15.8 points and 6.6 rebounds this season. In Buffalo’s 72-52 win over Milwaukee on Dec. 5, McCrea was 15-for-19 for 31 points and had 11 rebounds.

Unlike many big men in the MAC, McCrea is not a threat from outside. Throughout his entire career with the Bulls, he has only attempted one three-pointer. He has scored in double-digits 12 of Buffalo’s 14 games.

Buffalo features three players that average above 10 points and five rebounds a game. They found out following their 77-67 victory over Niagara that guard Jarod Oldham was out for eight to 10 weeks with a wrist injury that required surgery. The Bulls were riding a two-game winning streak before losing Oldham, who was averaging 10.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists. Since then, they’ve lost two of their past three.

The Bulls have been looking for freshman Jarryn Skeete to step up in his place. In the last three games, Skeete has averaged 6.3 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists.

The next top scoring option for Buffalo comes from Will Regan, a 6-foot-8 forward. The sophomore has averaged 11.0 points and 5.3 rebounds. Unlike McCrea, Regan has the ability to hit a shot from beyond the arc. He’s shooting 60% (18/30) from three this year. Against Niagara, he had 26 points, eight rebounds and shot 3-of-4 from deep.

The Bobcats will head on the road to Western Michigan, searching for their first road win of the season. The Broncos will not be an easy test, though.

They also feature a team that’s strong on the boards, ranked first in the MAC in rebounds (43rd in the nation) with 39.2 rebounds a game.

Their leading rebounder is Shayne Whittington, a 6-foot-10 center. With an increase in minutes, Whittington is more than doubling his production from last season with averages of 11.8 points and 8.2 rebounds this year. He also has gotten 20 blocks this season, four away from matching his total last season. Whittington’s rebound total is second in the MAC.

The Broncos have played a similar schedule to the Bobcats, playing Maryland-Eastern Shore and Oakland and defeating both by a combined 144-123 score. Ohio defeated these two opponents by 171-118.

Western Michigan has received a solid contribution from senior Nate Hutcheson, who’s averaging career-highs in points (12.6) and rebounds (5.5). The 6-foot-7 forward has scored in double-digits for most of the season, including a 30-point outing against Loyola (IL).

Freshman Darius Paul has stepped up his game tremendously, ranked second on the team with 12.0 points and 6.7 rebounds a game. He has gotten a double-double in three games this season.

With their top three scorers all above 6-foot-7, the Broncos will definitely challenge Ohio down low. The Bobcats are ranked 318th in the nation with 30.7 rebounds per game. They allowed 38 rebounds (21 offensive) against Marshall, while on pulling down only 25 boards.

The Bobcats will tipoff against Buffalo on Wednesday at 7 p.m. SportsTime Ohio will be broadcasting the home game live. Ohio will travel to Western Michigan to play in the University Arena in Read Fieldhouse at 2 p.m. on Saturday. Ohio is 0-4 on the road this year.