As Ohio continues to struggle offensively, perhaps the team's biggest test will come in Ypsilanti on Saturday.
The biggest test is both literal and figurative.
Ohio (8-9, 1-4 Mid-American Conference) will face an Eastern Michigan team with a bevy of size at the EMU Convocation Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m.
“Play a lot of zone, (so) we’ve got to move the ball a lot," redshirt sophomore guard James Gollon said. "They’re really long. They recruit long guys. No more turnovers, no more sloppy things."
The zone defense the Eagles play is particularly tricky to plan for, as they are the "outlier" in the conference as far as playing style and lineup construction.
Eastern Michigan's center stands 6-foot-10. Three players are 6-foot-9 and two are 6-foot-8. Three more follow at 6-foot-7.
Ohio's tallest players are Doug Taylor and A.J. Gareri at 6-foot-9 each.
"You play them. It’s a completely different game prep than anybody else," coach Saul Phillips said. "You devote a chunk of your offseason to try to figure out different ways to go at it. This one is the one and only. If we play Syracuse, we’ll know how to prep for them because it’s the exact same thing.”
The size inside is especially tough to break because there is so much length to break through to get clean looks at the basket.
“They do a great job of pushing you out to the perimeter and keeping you off the baseline," Phillips said. "And when you do get on the baseline, you’d better make a decision quick because they’re going to swarm."
The zone, however, could have positive effects for the Bobcats who have stressed ball movement in recent weeks. With the zone offense almost requiring multiple passes per possession, Ohio might be able jumpstart the offense out of necessity.
"I can’t wait for it," Gollon said. "We’ve got a lot of shooters on our team, and it’s time we start playing like we’re shooters.”
Swarming zone defense and size aside, the Bobcats need a win. After a 1-4 start to conference play, they realize early on the hole they've put themselves into.
The offense has not reached the 60-point mark twice in the five conference games, both blowout losses. But after a 34-point loss to Toledo on Tuesday, the Bobcats have tried to ramp up the intensity.
"I don’t want to mute emotions. I don’t want to make everybody lukewarm toward the process," Phillips said. "If you’re not a little edgy at this point, I don’t think you’re human.”
Last season, Ohio's first encounter with the Eastern Michigan zone ended in a and Antonio Campbell out for the season. The next time out, however, ended in a 79-point outburst. The question remains, though, whether Ohio can break its slump against one of the toughest defensive teams on the schedule.
“Last year at their place we looked really good against it," Phillips said. "Last year at our place, we looked really bad against it. In the same season, we’ve had very different outcomes. I vote for the really good against it this time.”