The UMass Minutemen and Ohio Bobcats will meet on the basketball court on Wednesday night. In order to get y'all ready for some hoops, our very own Jimmy Kelley and Kaleb Carter decided it would be good to get each side's questions answered. Just remember, just because we didn't ask it definitely makes it a stupid question (kidding, leave your own questions in the comments).
Jimmy Kelley: Ohio has won 44 of its last 47 home games. What makes the Bobcats so tough to beat at home? Is it the team's talent, or is there something about that atmosphere that makes it tough on visiting teams?
Kaleb Carter: With Ohio's last three home losses coming at the hands of Akron, Winthrop and Robert Morris, MAC fans might not have a full grip of just how impressive the Bobcats have been on the bank of the Hocking (that's Athens speak for you). Now partly you can credit that to the talent of the now departed class that last year featured the likes of D.J. Cooper, Reggie Keely, Ivo Baltic, Walter Offut, etc. But you can also attribute it to the atmosphere provided by Bobcat fans. They took home the CBS "Best Under-The-Radar" atmosphere for an NCAA Football program, and the passion is shared among several sports at Ohio University, and I would argue that it's even better at basketball games in the Convocation Center. Now it is questionable what the atmosphere will be like with the school being in its winter break and much of the student population unable to make the trek to rural Appalachia for the contest. But they best be ready for a loud crowd nonetheless, a crowd that will make it uncomfortable at times for the Minutemen. Couple all this with the fact that John Groce and Jim Christian have put together great pools of talent (ex. last year's seniors), and the Bobcats play their best ball at home.
KC: UMass comes in with an impressive road record. Obviously they are undefeated, but they have defeated the likes of Brigham Young, Clemson, Boston College and New Mexico (no small task, even in South Carolina). Is this team just unfazed when playing on the road?
JK: What makes UMass so tough on the road is that they are loaded with experienced players. Chaz Williams, Sampson Carter and Raphiael Putney are all seniors, Cady Lalanne and Maxie Esho are juniors, and Derrick Gordon led Western Kentucky to a tournament game before transferring to UMass. That's six of the seven players that play heavy minutes for the Minutemen. With that kind of experience, its hard to find an atmosphere that will really get to these guys. Williams is one of the toughest players in the country and he leads by example. Thats a recipe for road success.
JK: UMass has already knocked off two MAC teams this season with one of them, Eastern Michigan, looking like one of the better teams in the MAC. What do you take away from those two results and how it will translate to Wednesday's game?
KC: First off, props to Eastern Michigan, they have looked solid thus far in the non-conference. As for defeating Northern Illinois, eh. Unfortunately for the Huskies, they are nowhere near replicating the success that they enjoy on the gridiron. In Ypsilanti with the Eagles though, it was the Minutemen's second lowest point total of the season with 69 and they still won by 12. UMass consistently scoring 80 points seems to be a trend that will continue. The experience and consistency you talk about from UMass is increasingly impressive. Even when scoring 69, there was still great production from five players who scored in double figures for them. I saw that they have had five different players lead the team in scoring in a game this year. So ultimately, guys will score against Ohio on Wednesday night. I feel as if Ohio isn't going to stand much of a chance in a shootout. And if the Bobcats are to win, no one outside that productive bunch is going to score. Otherwise, you can chalk this one up to the folks from Amherst.
KC: UMass has Florida State coming up over the weekend. What are the chances Coach Kellogg loses the focus of the players Wednesday before heading down south over the weekend?
JK: If there is one thing that Derek Kellogg has learned since taking the reins at his alma mater, its patience. He has asked the fan base to be patient as he rebuilt the program, and it has paid dividends. He has preached it to his players, and it has paid dividends. There's no way he is going to look past any team on the schedule or get the team looking too far into the future. They have worked too hard for too long to get to a point where they can even afford to look past an opponent. Florida State will be a tough test for the Minutemen, but the only word in Chaz Williams' head is "Ohio." Expect a focused effort.
JK: If there is one player that Ohio absolutely needs to perform on Wednesday, who is that player and what do they need to do for Ohio to win?
KC: Immediately Maurice Ndour springs to mind. But after contemplation, I really need to go with Nick Kellogg. Ndour will find ways to produce. There is no doubt about that. He might not score 20 points (though he is very much capable of more) but no matter what, he will grab some boards, re-direct some shots, and make some nice passes. Ohio will get production from Ndour in one way or another. Kellogg really is the guy who needs to step up. Ohio is shooting poorly from beyond the arc, but thankfully they are only allowing opponents to shoot .292 from 3-land. Kellogg is 20-43 on the year from downtown and needs to hit a few to get the crowd going in the Convocation Center. He has also greatly improved his game around the basket from last year to the current season. The Bobcats will undoubtedly need a big game from the senior shooting guard. Anything less than a great game, and UMass has a huge advantage in the guard department.
KC: If there is one key to thing UMass has to do to ensure victory Wednesday night, what is it?
JK: You know, its hard to put a finger on anything UMass HAS to do. They have won in different ways, with different scorers and different players making impacts. For me, it comes down to staying out of foul trouble. Cady Lalanne and Raphiael Putney have a history of getting themselves in trouble, leaving Maxie Esho and Tyler Bergantino to play more minutes than they should and eventually getting themselves in foul trouble too. Playing good smart defense and staying on the floor will be paramount for UMass to pull off the win on Wednesday night.
JK: As a MAC fan, do you like having these UMass basketball games? Do you feel it helps the conference to play these four games every year against one of the better mid majors in the country?
KC: I feel that it definitely helps the MAC every year. I personally am a big fan of challenging my team with other really good teams. It's a good measuring stick and it's really great experience to have at the end of the season, especially for young and inexperienced players who may be asked to step into a game against
the likes of a UMass-like talent. Specifically for Ohio, say the Bobcats win the MAC tournament, come NCAA tournament time, wins over good mid-majors are going to help Ohio escape having to play those top programs and allow them to build some momentum with a nice seed, and potentially defeat a 4 or 5-seed. UMass is likely more talented than any team Ohio has on the schedule. It should prove to be good experience, granted that they show up to play.
KC: Is there anything about Ohio's style of play, or any particular player that worries you/Minutemen fans?
JK: The player I worry the most about is actually a player that you already mentioned: Nick Kellogg. Players who can hit the three can swing a game more than any individual player on the court. You mentioned he is 20-for-43 on the year, but he is 5-for-14 in the Bobcats losses to Ohio State and Oakland. That makes him 15-for-29 in wins. Hitting just over 50 percent of your threes makes you a threat and while I expect attention to be paid, great shooters find a way.
Be sure to throw any questions you have for either Kaleb or Jimmy in the comments, and be sure to check out this contest on Wednesday night.