Now that UVA has arrived in Indianapolis the ‘Hoos are set to tip off in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in nearly two years on Saturday at 7:15 against Ohio.
With the majority of the team forced to quarantine following a positive COVID-19 test from a player last Thursday that forced UVA out of the ACC Tournament there are still a few hurdles to jump. Nevertheless, the team is on track to play and look to start its defense of the 2019 title against the Bobcats in two days’ time.
What Ohio had done so far this season
Like the rest of college basketball, this has been a season full of peaks and valleys for Ohio. With a 16-7 overall record (9-5 in the MAC), the Bobcats finished fifth in their conference. Coming off the MAC Tournament Championship, Ohio has won nine of its last ten games including two upset wins over Buffalo and another against Toledo.
While the Bobcats have been on a tear of late, they’re not immune to significant inconsistencies this season. Their one loss since mid-January was a 20-point blowout against Buffalo on their senior night. Earlier in the year, Ohio dropped games to Marshall by 14, Akron by 20, Bowling Green by 8, Toledo by 17, and Kent State by 10.
While each of those results is evidence of a high variance team at its worst, the Bobcats’ two-point loss to Illinois back in November points to the high ceiling this squad has as well.
As mentioned, Ohio’s lone common opponent with UVA this season was Kent State who the Bobcats split two contests with. Granted, after losing to the Golden Flashes at full strength in January, Ohio’s win over them in the MAC Tournament came while Kent State was missing their two best players in Mike Nuga and Danny Pippen.
Comparing those two results to UVA’s seven point overtime victory isn’t all that conclusive. But, to generalize, it’s obvious that both teams have high ceilings and low floors; each can go off on any given night while they can both go cold quickly.
Breaking Ohio down
When assessing Ohio as a team it starts and ends with star point guard Jason Preston. A dynamic scorer at all three levels, Preston makes the Bobcat offense go. He’s both the leading point scorer (16.6 points per game) and distributor on the squad with 7.2 assists per game (37.9 percent assists rate).
In fact, the whole Ohio offense is predicated on putting Preston in positions to make plays. The Bobcats run a great deal of spread ball screen looks with additional sets meant to get Preston attacking downhill off the dribble. His ability to shoot over the top makes it difficult to defend Ohio without leaving the guys around him open.
Speaking of Preston’s teammates, the Bobcats run a seven man rotation. Complementing Preston offensively are the two Ohio big men in 6’8” Dwight Wilson III and 6’8” Bennett Vander Plas.
Wilson plays as a traditional center on both ends and thrives as a screener for Preston while also boasting a decent post game. Vander Plas, while bulky in stature, is more of a stretch four as he shoots 36.8 percent on more than five three-point attempts per contest. He’s a threat to pop off of ball screens. Vander Plas — who was named after Dick Bennett since his father played for Dick and with Tony and Green Bay — is also a threat to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim.
Alongside Preston in the backcourt is 6’5” dead-eye shooter Ben Roderick, 6’3” slasher Lunden McDay, 6’1” backup point guard Mark Sears, and 6’1” sophomore guard Miles Brown. As a 40.7 percent three-point shooter on nearly six attempts per game Roderick can get going quickly and requires tight coverage. Expect to see Trey Murphy matched up with the sophomore to open the game as the ‘Hoos will hope that the Durham native can disrupt Roderick with his length.
Both Brown and Sears can create for themselves on occasion so they’re not to be ignored by any means but Ohio uses each of them sparingly in favor of feeding Preston as many touches as possible.
Defensively Ohio is nothing special. The offense is what’s dangerous — the Bobcats are just looking to survive on the other end of the floor.
While the Ohio backcourt has a number of solid athletes none are necessarily lockdown defenders. Sears is capable of putting pressure on ball handlers by being a disruptor as his good hands and diminutive stature make him a bit of a pest.
The frontcourt defense isn’t anything to write home about either. Vander Plas is exploitable defensively especially considering that the ‘Hoos rotate their fours out on the perimeter as shooters. Then, while Wilson is bulky enough not to be bullied in the post, Jay Huff’s five inch height advantage could be an issue for the Bobcats as Huff has his turnaround hookshot down pat.
UVA will win if:
The ‘Hoos can avoid rust and a slow start as a result of their last week plus in quarantine. Ohio is a dangerous offense that, is difficult to beat from a deficit. UVA has a tendency to come out slow in first round contests but need to avoid that on Saturday. Secondarily, containing Preston is the key. If they can limit him and force others to beat them the ‘Hoos should be in a good position to pull out the victory. Look for Reece Beekman to be the primary defender on the Ohio point guard. Then, per usual, Virginia must must must generate as many touches and shots for Sam Hauser, Jay Huff, and Trey Murphy as possible.
Ohio will win if:
The Bobcats can get out to an early lead and ride Jason Preston home. The NCAA Tournament is perfect for guards like Preston to make their names known and this is his opportunity. Additionally, they’ll want to force the UVA guards to beat them. Be sure to watch and see whether or noth Ohio decides to switch everything like FSU, Virginia Tech, Duke, and N.C. State did with much success against the ‘Hoos this season.
Score prediction: UVA 70 – Ohio 65
I expect UVA to come out a bit slow but to get their bearings shortly thereafter and start to hit shots. Preston will get his but as long as the ‘Hoos can prevent a Herculean performance I see Virginia advancing to the second round.
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