It’s no surprise that the Bobcats are on the rise. 

Led by second-year head coach Jeff Boals, Ohio’s men’s basketball team was selected to finish second behind Bowling Green in Thursday's Mid-American Conference preseason Coaches’ Poll. There’s no more divisions this season, and the top eight will simply go straight to Cleveland to compete in the tournament.

The Bobcats received one first-place vote for regular season champion but received zero votes for tournament champion. 

Two major reasons for Ohio, which finished last season 17-15, being rated so high is Jason Preston and Ben Vander Plas. 

Preston enters his junior year having averaged 16.8 points per game and 7.4 assists per game (second highest total in the nation). On Thursday, Preston was selected to the preseason All-MAC first team. Preston finished on the All-MAC second team last season. 

Vander Plas, a redshirt junior, finished on the All-MAC third team last season, but he’s projected to be on the second team this year. Vander Plas settled into a leadership role last season with the young Bobcats, and he’ll be someone Boals looks to often. 

Last season, Vander Plas averaged a team-high 6.9 rebounds a game. If he ups those numbers, Ohio’s defense will be better for it. 

MAC play is slated to start Dec. 29 at Miami for the Bobcats. Last season, Ohio went 8-10 in the conference and was a sub-par 4-9 on the road. With two extra conference games and a limited non-conference schedule, Ohio will have to learn to go into hostile environments and escape with wins.

Being a year older and wiser has the Bobcats ready to compete with the conference’s best. This team has the potential to be special, but it also has a ways to go before it can claim the top spot.