Without any TV coverage, the “Bobcat Blackout” scheduled for Saturday turned out to be more ironic than many had hoped.
Ohio will face North Carolina-Asheville as part of the ESPNU BracketBusters series Saturday at The Convo. At the time that the matchups were announced, the Bobcats sported a 17-4 record and were hoping for a top-tier game against a mid-major opponent that would be aired on the ESPN family of networks.
Instead, Ohio (20-6) got a less favorable pairing that seemed to favor UNC-Asheville — the Bulldogs (19-8) have little to lose on the road, and the BracketBuster agreement requires the home team to repay the visit two years after the matchup.
Ohio watched as Mid-American Conference leader Akron and third-place Buffalo both received televised games while the second-place Bobcats’ contest was relegated to ESPN3.com.
“We clearly should have been on national television,” Groce said after learning about his team’s BracketBuster fate. “That’s the part I’m most disgusted about for our guys.”
But since the Jan. 30 matchup announcement, Ohio has lost two games to sub-.500 teams, meaning the Bobcats’ bracket hopes might be busted unless the team wins the MAC Tournament at the end of the season.
UNC-Asheville has hit its stride in Big South play after a tough non-conference campaign. The Bulldogs are 14-2 against conference opponents and are on the verge of their 20th win of the season — a feat Ohio accomplished Wednesday against Bowling Green.
And just as Ohio hung on the verge of that milestone through two losses, the Bobcats are looking to hand the Bulldogs their second straight loss after a six-game win streak.
“The biggest thing for us is we want to keep taking steps forward regardless of who the opponent is,” Groce said. “The last thing we want to do is go backward.”
UNC-Asheville brings a high-octane offense that averages more than 82 points per game, good for the fourth-highest point production in the country. But the Bulldogs surrender nearly 73 points per game, which is in the bottom 50 nationally.
Ohio’s games have typically involved much less scoring and more focus on defense. Groce has said his team needs to rely on defense because the team does not feature a consistently explosive offense.
But he also said the Bobcats will not try to slow the game to a crawl to limit the Bulldogs’ bite.
“We never slow it down. We always want to run as much as we can,” he said. “We’re always going to want to push it, and then at that point we’re going to try to execute our offense.”
Ohio can make its mark in history with a win Saturday. The Bobcats are 14-1 at home this season, and a victory against UNC-Asheville would give them a record-setting 15th win at The Convo. Last year, the Bobcats lost more games at The Convo than in any other season.
Notching that win will require a complete game from the Bobcats, who want to keep progressing as March, and its inherent madness, approaches.
“Now we’ve got mojo going in both areas, execution and toughness,” Groce said. “So now we’ve got to continue to do that going forward.”