Bobcat fans who have followed the team since coach Saul Phillips arrived in 2013 know the drill. Ohio’s promising season always begins with an unpromising opponent.
First it was Marietta in 2014, who Ohio dismantled 82-69. Last year it was Indiana Tech, which Ohio won comfortably 73-57.
Saturday, Ohio will play Rio Grande in an exhibition matchup at 2 p.m. in The Convo. Ohio is the only D-I opponent on Rio Grande’s schedule this year.
“We’re going against a bunch of guys who are going to be hungry,” Phillips said. “I think back to the Marietta game, my first game here, you’re gonna get a good (effort) … Indiana Tech played hard as heck against us last year.”
The Bobcats enter their 2016 season with Mid-American Conference title aspirations. It’s no secret to them or the conference. They were picked second in the MAC preseason poll. They received one vote in the preseason AP top 25 poll.
Still, the Bobcats shouldn’t take Saturday’s exhibition game lightly, and they said they won’t.
“We’ve gone against others in a closed environment, but this is the first one where there’s fans reacting,” Phillips said. “I’m trying to get this group as comfortable as we can, as quick as we can. Because I think we’ve got decent upside, but in two Saturdays we have a visiting team coming off an NCAA appearance. We’ve got to be ready for that.”
Saturday will be the first time freshmen Rodney Culver and Jason Carter will play in front of a college crowd.
Phillips has said both will play significant minutes and roles this season. Saturday will be the first chance to see how they mesh rotation-wise. Phillips said it will be challenging to split minutes between his role players this season, as the Bobcats have a variety of depth from the four-nine spots.
“(Having a role) was a big part of my decision, as far as committing,” Culver said. “I wanted to come somewhere where there was a need for me, somewhere I could compliment the players there and the players there could compliment me. So, I could see where the team needed me last year and I think I’m making them better just as there making me better.”
Defense, something that’s been repeated like a broken record during Ohio’s preseason, will be under the microscope Saturday.
Ohio struggled last season against opposing screen-and-rolls, as Phillips said his team has practiced hard and flat hedging. Culver was brought in to help fix that problem. Saturday will test it, too.
“Like coach always says, we’re never going to be, probably, the best defense in the MAC,” sophomore guard Gavin Block said. “But that’s always a goal to have and if you can be a good defensive help team and take away the easy buckets that a lot of teams got last year, then that’s just another possession we’ll have on the other end.”
Finally, Ohio’s second-best rebounder will have to emerge.
Antonio Campbell is well known around the MAC –– he’s the conference’s best player after all –– and averaged a double-double last season. The Bobcats’ second-best rebounder last season was Treg Setty. He averaged five rebounds per game, but graduated last year.
Saturday could give a glimpse into who will fill that void.
Even if it is just an “exhibition.”
“Coach has watched a lot of film, he spends his off time watching film and his wife hates it,” Campbell said. “But he’s a smart man, and he knows what we need to get better at.”