OU visits CMU with three-game streak in tow

Win or lose during Tuesday’s trip to Central Michigan, the Bobcats know they’ll have the weekend off.

Ohio (10-6, 6-4 Mid-American Conference) will be dialed in for the matchup at CMU (6-10, 2-7 MAC), set for a 5 p.m. start at McGuirk Arena in Mount Pleasant, Mich. It figures to be the ‘Cats last game for a week after the MAC announced a set of scheduling changes Monday morning.

Jeff Boals (center) and the Bobcats head to Central Michigan for a game on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021 with a three-game winning streak. It figures to be OU’s only game of the week. Photo by Jason Arkley

Ohio’s home game against Eastern Michigan, set for Saturday, was one of three Eagles games postponed on Monday. EMU also lost Tuesday’s home game against Bowling Green, and a trip next Tuesday (Feb. 9) to Miami, as it deals with COVID-19 protocol within the program.

In addition, Northern Illinois’ game at Western Michigan – also set for Tuesday – was also postponed. As a result, the MAC moved Saturday’s scheduled game of WMU at BG up from Saturday to Wednesday.

The upshot of the announcement for Ohio is that it will have just one shot this week to continue building momentum. The Bobcats have won three in a row, climbed up to fifth in the MAC standings and are playing the kind of basketball that Jeff Boals wants.

Ohio has been better defensively over the last three games, and won the rebounding battle each time during the three-game streak.

“It proves it works, right?” Boals said Monday. “When you see the results, it’s a lot easier to talk about it, to teach it.

“It’s the growth you want to see this time of year.”

Central Michigan, ninth in the MAC, is the lone team in the bottom four of the MAC standings with any hope of dislodging one of the top eight teams for the passport to Cleveland for MAC Tournament. But the Chippewas are wrapping up the murderer’s row part of the schedule.

CMU just finished a three-game road swing, played at the top three teams in the league – at Akron, then at Toledo and finally at Kent State on Saturday. The Chips finished with a competitive 83-76 against the Golden Flashes, and now will try to make up ground in February with a schedule that has seven home dates in final 11 contests.

Coach Keno Davis has employed a layups-and-3s approach for the Chips during his tenure in Mount Pleasant, but this season CMU has leaned more heavily into the layups part of the equation. Athletic tweeners — strong enough to rebound like a forward, savvy enough to be a guard — Travon Broadway (16.7 ppg, 5.4 rebounds per game), Meikkel Murray (14.9, 6.3) and Caleb Huffman (11.3 ppg) lead an offense that ranks just 10th in the MAC in made 3-pointers per game (6.4).

The Chips will push pace, attack the glass and create havoc with their hands. CMU ranks second in the MAC, and 24th nationally, with 8.69 steals per game. In short, they’ll play – stylistically – in a vein similar to what OU saw from Kent State and Buffalo.

So the things the Bobcats have done well of late? Well, they need to keep doing them if they hope to win at CMU for the first time since Walter Offutt, D.J. Cooper and company won there in 2013.

“They got multiple guys who can get downhill… they’re good on the offensive glass. They like a fast-paced game,” Boals said. “They put a lot of pressure on you.”

And the pressure remains on for Ohio, which begins February with a 2-4 road record and no wins in their last four visits to McGuirk. Given the uncertain nature of scheduling this season, any win is almost doubly valuable. There’s a chance other teams you’re competing against may not get enough games in to catch you if they’re trying to match your pace.

And yes, scheduling, COVID-19 protocols and postponements will play a huge part in which team wins the MAC regular season, or gets the high seeds for the tournament in Cleveland. If you miss out on games against the bottom teams in the standings, or if teams you’re chasing do, it presents big swing opportunities.

“(Scheduling) definitely will (determine the MAC champion, or even make the tournament),” Boals agreed on Monday. “Coaches wanted every team to make the tournament this year, especially with what happened last year. But it didn’t happen.

“There’s only so many Thursdays there for you to make up games,” he added. “It won’t be fair.”

With Monday’s announcement, Ohio is looking at making up three games before the end of the season. Boals hinted that Ohio may be asked to make up a road game at Miami on Thursday, Feb. 18, and is tentatively scheduled to make up a road game at NIU on Tuesday, Feb. 23.

That sets up a stretch of three road games in 6 days – at Miami, at Bowling Green and at NIU. The lesson is to bank wins while you can.

“There’s lot of variables at play,” Boals said.

Bobcat bits

Junior guard Jason Preston is now ranked in the MAC’s top 10 in scoring (16.3 ppg, 8th), rebounding (6.9, 9th), assists (7.5, 1st), assist-to-turnover ratio (3.0, 2nd) and field goal percentage (51.6%, 8th). …Forward Dwight Wilson checks in at 10th in scoring (15.7), seventh in rebounding (7.4) and second in shooting (67.9 percent). …Ohio leads the MAC in overall shooting (46.2 percent) and is third in 3-point shooting (35.4 percent). …Ben Roderick is fifth in the MAC in 3-point shooting (44.4 percent). Freshman guard Mark Sears is seventh in the league in assists (3.7 per game) and ninth in shooting (51.1 percent). …Toledo leads the MAC standings at 10-1, and Akron is second at 8-2.  After that, it’s a tight cluster through eighth as Kent State (6-3), Miami (5-3), Ohio (6-4), Bowling Green (6-5), Buffalo (4-4) and Ball State (4-5) all essentially within two games of one another.

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