Each game since Antonio Campbell went down in mid-January seemed like a test for a suddenly young Ohio team.
Whenever the Bobcats hit the floor, they had to prove they could function and succeed without their — and the conference's — best player. Despite mixed results, the Bobcats haven't lost any ground in the Mid-American Conference standings. At least not yet.
Tuesday night will be a final exam of sorts for that fresh-faced team. Ohio will face Buffalo at The Convo at 6 p.m. in a crucial game for MAC seeding.
“Haven’t talked to the team about it, but it’s real simple," coach Saul Phillips said. "You’re a game ahead, you win the last two, you’re gonna be at least a game ahead. That’s the scenario I’m most interested in seeing play out right now.”
The last time the two teams met, Ohio had to overcome a 15-point deficit with Campbell. But Tuesday, there will be much, much more on the line. In fact, it could make or break either team's season. No pressure.
“For the most part, I like my team to be as loose as they can be at this point," Phillips said. "Not that you’re ever gonna be completely at peace at the end of the year knowing the next one could be the last one."
The Bobcats (18-9, 10-6 MAC) are currently in second place in the conference, three games behind Akron, which has clinched the No. 1 seed in the MAC Tournament. Behind Ohio, however, is where the logjam lies.
Four teams, including Buffalo, are tied at 9-7 in conference record. Buffalo ranks third, followed by Western Michigan, Kent State and Ball State. The top four teams earn an automatic bid to Cleveland for the MAC Tournament while the remaining eight have to play at a campus site game to earn the right to play in Cleveland.
“I don’t think there’s much to prove to ourselves, we’ve got a pretty good barometer of where we’re at," Kenny Kaminski said. "At the end of the day, I love stacking up wins and losing sucks. I think we’re confident, we’re loose right now.”
Looseness was something that the team emphasized on Tuesday, trying to make sure that they were as calm and relaxed as possible for the storm that could be brewing. And boy, is it a big one.
There remains the possibility, where the Bobcats lose to the Bulls, for a five-team tie for second-place after Tuesday night concludes.
If there is a multiple-team tie at the end of the season, the tiebreaker goes to "tiebreaker E," which is win/loss percentage between the tied teams. Once it goes down to two teams, it goes to head-to-head match-ups once again.
But if you're not a math major, or like not having to take Advil at the sight of MAC tiebreakers, there remains an easy way out for Ohio: win.
A Bobcats win would guarantee an automatic trip to Cleveland on March 9. If not? Well, break out the Advil.