Coach Bob Boldon didn’t know why Ohio struggled on offense in its last game against Central Michigan.
The Bobcats lost 70-64 against the Chippewas on Feb. 15, losing the season series in the process. Boldon and his players were disappointed, seemingly having few answers for why they can compete with the Chippewas, yet not compete well enough to win.
“We’ve had two chances to beat Central, and we’ve done it neither time,” Boldon said. “So you can say that Central is clearly better than us.”
Ohio, in the Mid-American Conference East, doesn’t only struggle against Central Michigan, though. The Bobcats have struggled against the top of the MAC West, posting a 1-3 record against the division’s top three teams.
Two of those losses have been against Central Michigan, which is the best team in the conference.
“They’re hard to guard, thought we lost a little bit of focus,” Boldon said after Ohio’s loss to Central Michigan.
The Chippewas are hard to guard, but their high offensive output is a trait that spans most of the MAC West. Compared to the MAC East, teams in the West tend to play faster and score more.
The top three scoring teams in the conference are the top three teams in the MAC West. Northern Illinois, Central Michigan and Ball State are the best teams in the conference, and it’s because of their ability to score.
The Bobcats have three main challenges when they play West division teams such as Central Michigan. Ohio plays above average defense while being mediocre on offense. It also has an inability to play a fast-paced offense.
The Bobcats’ defense is usually one of the best in the MAC, but it dips against the West division’s top teams. When playing against MAC East teams, the Bobcats allow an average of 65.8 points per game. Among the West division’s top teams, the Bobcats have allowed an average of 72.5 points per game.
Because of that, the offense suffers. In four games, Ohio scored an average of 68.7 points per game against the West division’s top teams this season. In six games, the Bobcats scored an average of 76.3 points per game against East division teams.
Boldon emphasized the Bobcats’ inability to make shots, particularly against the Chippewas. The Bobcats missed 46 shots the last time they played the Chippewas.
“That’s hard to swallow,” Boldon said. “That’s a lot of shots to miss in one basketball game.”
The Bobcats have deficiencies against the West’s top-tier teams, but their inability to keep pace with them is most evident.
Ohio is not built to outscore teams in the way Northern Illinois does. Ohio is built to execute its half-court offense, slowing the game down as much as possible.
“I thought our pace and our tempo was just really poor,” Boldon said after Ohio’s game against Central Michigan. “And you get that a little bit when you try to slow games down.”
The Bobcats must slow their pace when they play teams in the West — it’s the only way they can compete.
But making the game too slow results in a slow offense. That is a problem the Bobcats must solve, especially as the MAC Tournament nears.
They could play better defense, hoping teams such as Central Michigan don’t score as many points. That would allow the Bobcats to keep pace with the Chippewas, a game plan they have executed frequently this season.
Or, the Bobcats can try a slow offense, which would make them vulnerable to stagnation.
“Once we started running offense, we never seemed to get going,” Boldon said after the Central Michigan game. “We seemed to be playing at less than full speed when we cut on offense.”
The Bobcats’ offense may lack energy against MAC West teams, but with the MAC Tournament only weeks away, improvement will be necessary.
Because even with the elite West division teams, an outlier exists in Kent State, the only other team along with Central Michigan that has defeated Ohio twice this season. Kent State is the new top team in the MAC East and beat Ohio 83-77 on Saturday.
“We’re just trying to stay in that conversation at the top half of the league,” Boldon said after the Central Michigan game. "And maybe we’re fortunate to be one of the top four seeds.”