Preview: Mid-major power Ohio visits Robert Morris

Tonight, the Robert Morris Colonials take on the Ohio Bobcats, who captured the audience’s attention last season by making it into the Sweet 16 of NCAA tourney. D.J. Cooper and company were finally bounced out by the Tar Heels, in overtime no less, so it was a magical season for the defending Mid-American champions. Now, Ohio has a new coach, but returns their top eight players in terms of efficiency rating. This may be, check that, this is the best away opponent any NEC program will face this season (Ken Pomeroy has Ohio rated #30 in the nation). I’m fully aware of the Colonials strong non-conference home record, but an upset here would be a fantastic, #15 seed resume building victory, should Andy Toole’s squad pull it off.

It won’t be easy. Ohio is off to a wonderful start this season, having already beaten up on several mid-major programs in order to compile an impressive 6-0 record. The real test, at least to the major media, will occur four days from today, when Ohio travels to Tennessee to square off against the slumping Memphis Tigers.

Before then, however, Ohio will need to defeat a Robert Morris that handed the Bobcats their only home loss last season. For the special occasion, I asked Hustle Belt writer Matt Sussman for his thoughts on Ohio. He does a good job blogging for SB Nation and an even better job on Twitter @suss2hyphens. If you enjoy the blending of sports and humor, with a dash of sarcasm, Matt is someone who should occupy your timeline. And of course, check out the coverage at Colonials Corner for the latest on Robert Morris basketball.

Four Key Questions:

Typically, teams will struggle at least a little when a new coach is brought in. LIU and Wagner, who are both veteran squads that enjoyed success last season, have struggled since Jim Ferry and Dan Hurley left to take jobs in the A10. What has Jim Christian done to make sure the transition has gone so smoothly in the early going?

MS: If it’s not broke, don’t fix it? I can’t speak for the other two teams, but my understanding is those are their first DI head coaching jobs. Christian has done this before, and he also previously coached in the MAC at Kent State, a very similar program.

What’s the best way to attack this team defensively in your opinion? With a potent backcourt led by D.J. Cooper, are there any defensive schemes that have been able to slow down this offensively efficient team in the past?

MS: You can’t really focus on any one guy, and there’s no magic bullet here, but it’s like any other superior team: try to force them to shoot jumpers. You saw this a little bit against them last year, but once in a while DJ Cooper goes into heroball mode, and if it works they’re unbeatable, but — and this happened against UNC in the Sweet 16 — he can’t buy a basket yet will keep trying. Basically keep Cooper out of the lane and make sure that Reggie Keely isn’t getting any easy put-back points.

The past two seasons, Ohio has been fantastic in forcing turnovers. Given their high steal rates, I’d assume this is a team that will pressure you in the full court? Talk a little about their ability to defend and the best way to attack it.

MS: Yes, they’ll do some pressure off the inbounds. But I don’t believe it to be the primary reason they create turnovers so well. It’s just everybody is so darn good at defending, starting with Cooper on the perimeter. Jon Smith is their best defender down low. Again, the key against them is to play smart. Create your own turnovers and you can get some transition points. And really try to stay patient and attack them inside: teams are not scoring well against them but they are making 48 percent of their 2-pointers.

Ohio is off to their best start since 1969 and their average margin of victory is better than 20 points/game so far, but is there an Achilles Heel with this team? Are their one or two weaknesses that coach Christian should be concerned about moving forward?

MS: Clearly they’re not flawless. They’re taking excellent shots and playing tough defense. But they are prone to turnovers (20 percent TO rate) and their rebounding numbers are some of the lowest in the country. The Bobcats are going to lose some games — more than a handful, I’d reckon — and these reasons could be their downfalls.

Three Key Stats:

  • Robert Morris’ defense – This goes without saying, but Ohio is shooting the basketball at rediculously efficient clips at the moment; they’re in the top 10 nationally in effective field goal percentage at 57.8%. So far, Robert Morris isn’t defending well, as they find themselves in the bottom quarter of the country in two-point and three-point defense. After their atrocious start against Rider and Lehigh though, the defense has been better of late. They’ll certainly need to play defend at a high level tonight.
  • Attacking the Glass – As Matt mentioned above, the Bobcats aren’t the greatest team rebounding, but then again, when you’re making a high percentage of your shots, it isn’t terribly prudent to possess spendid rebounding rates. If Robert Morris can force Ohio to take contested jump shots, then Mike McFadden, Lucky Jones, and company need to clean off the glass.
  • Getting to the Tin – Ohio may turnover opponents at a fantastic rate (#1 nationally at 32.9% TO rate), but they are prone to fouling. And wouldn’t you know, Robert Morris thrives at getting to the line! If the Colonials can drive the lane with success, then they’ll have a fighting chance tonight. In the two games Velton Jones had at least ten free throw attempts, his Colonials won both games. Ten free throws should be the magic number for the senior point guard.

One Pomeroy Prediction: Ohio is a moderate road favorite with a 71% chance to pull off the victory, 68-62.

Ryan Peters covers Northeast Conference men’s basketball for Big Apple Buckets and Pioneer Pride. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride

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