Ohio’s 11-3 record is the same as it was 14 games into last season.
Sans Buffalo, the 2015-16 Bobcats experienced long periods of success and made a deep run into the National Invitation Tournament quarterfinal.
While the identical 14-game records are encouraging, considering Ohio lost Kiyanna Black, one of the best players in program history, the current Ohio team hopes to avoid the same fate as a year ago.
Coach Bob Boldon’s goal of making the NCAA Tournament was realized two years ago, and his team is set on a repeat appearance this season. As Ohio learned last year, however, the roadmap to achieve that goal becomes complicated without a Mid-American Conference championship along the way.
The Bobcats were one of first four teams left out of the NCAA Tournament last season, despite a 24-6 record and a regular season MAC title. Ohio sported one extra loss compared to the gloried season prior, and it was the loss in the conference tournament that made the difference.
“It’s a challenge,” Boldon said earlier in the season of earning an at-large bid. “The margin for error is very small. We know we can’t afford a bad loss. We maybe could get away with one, but the second one would eliminate us from any at-large conversation.”
This season’s setback came on Dec. 28 in a 63-57 outcome to a 6-10 North Carolina A&T, which recently lost to Maryland Eastern Shore.
Outside of that loss, however, the Bobcats have a strong resume at the moment. Ohio has beaten three teams that made the NCAA Tournament last season, including an 83-55 slaying of its Buffalo demons.
Ohio held Michigan to 15 points or less in every quarter besides the disastrous third, and the Bobcats also rank 67th in the country in the Ratings Percentage Index, which measures teams based on record and strength of schedule.
Ohio is beating teams by an average of 16 points, and two of its three losses have come by single digits. All that despite linchpin starter Kelly Karlis missing five games due to an injury.
As of now, Ohio has a legitimate claim as one of the best 64 teams in the country, conference champion or not. But there is a long season ahead, and the Bobcats know how quickly circumstances can change.