That didn’t take long.
The Ohio University men’s basketball team thought it would be opening the Mid-American Conference season on Tuesday night against Eastern Michigan in the Convo.
The pandemic, as it has for two years now, had other plans.
The Ohio vs. EMU contest was postponed on Monday, both schools announced. It may be rescheduled for a future date the MAC office announced. The reason for the postponement presumably is a host of positive COVID tests within the Eagles’ program. EMU also postponed Saturday’s home game against Buffalo.
For now, Ohio (9-2) is scheduled to open the MAC season – 20 games strong this season – on Saturday at Western Michigan (4-7) in Kalamazoo.
The MAC boilerplate regarding COVID and its rescheduling policy reflects the changing landscape across the NCAA and pandemic protocol. The MAC’s current stance is:
“(The) MAC announced that it has modified its 2021-22 COVID-19 rescheduling policy. The decision was unanimously supported by the Conference’s Directors of Athletics due to the current rise in COVID cases and its impact on winter sport programs. If possible, games that cannot be played as scheduled will be rescheduled. If a game cannot be played and cannot be rescheduled, it will be considered a no contest.
“The MAC Medical Advisory Group will continue to monitor and discuss the current circumstances and, if necessary, may adjust the current protocols. All contests will remain subject to national, state and local health guidelines.”
With dozens of postponements across the country, often depending on whether programs test or not, and positive tests forcing the cancelation or re-matching of bowl games, there’s been a non-surprising lack of leadership from the NCAA for the whole process. It’s expected, at some point, for the NCAA to mimic recent changes both the NFL and NBA have made regarding positive tests and quarantine periods in the way of the Omicron variant wave hitting the country.
The CDC itself has issued changes to protocol for those testing positive and eventually those will be reflected in how college sports and the MAC choose to handle positive tests. Until then, assume any game on the schedule comes with a measure of doubt.
On the other side
The Ohio women’s team (6-3) is currently still set to open MAC play on Wednesday night at Miami. However, the home opener for Saturday against Eastern Michigan has been pushed back to Sunday – with a 1 p.m. start in the Convo.
The Bobcats opened the season with an ugly (105-69) loss at Notre Dame, and then a three-point setback at Liberty. Since, Ohio has won six of seven with the only loss coming in a wild (99-93) defeat at Minnesota on Dec. 15.
The story thus far
For the men, it was a successful run through the non-conference slate. I had thought 8-3 would be a ‘win’ for OU during the non-con run and the Bobcats topped that thanks to a great win over Belmont in the opener.
With 11 games in the books, the Bobcats have solidified their status as a league championship contender in what has been a weak MAC so far. The league is ranked just 15th by kenpom.com with nearly half the league bringing losing records into conference play. Central Michigan (1-10), Northern Illinois (3-7) and Western Michigan (4-7) both are ranked in the 300s by the analytics site; it’s an indication that barring an absurd 20-0 run through the MAC no team in the league is going to be able to craft an at-large resume.
At No. 102, Ohio is ranked second in the MAC by kenpom; the ‘Cats rank first in the league in adjusted defensive efficiency (97.5 points per 100 possessions, 98th) and fourth in adjusted offensive efficiency (104.7, 96th). Buffalo (6-4) leads the MAC in the eyes of the site, ranked 81st nationally.
For Ohio, the Bobcats failed to finish and faded late in its two biggest matchups – road losses at ranked Kentucky and then again two weeks later at LSU. But OU took care of business the rest of the way, including a ho-hum 85-70 win over USC Upstate on Dec. 21 that included a career-high 33 points from sophomore PG Mark Sears.
What’s worked – Sears has been a perfect fit so far as a score-first PG with uncanny shooting skill. He was circled as one of the most important components coming with Jason Preston on to the NBA, and Sears has delivered. He’s averaging 18.5 points per game with a positive assist-to-turnover ratio, and threatening to collar a 50/40/90 shooting season to boot.
Jason Carter has also fared well in his return to Ohio. He’s become an essential cog; Carter is playing starter’s minutes at the 5, averaging 13.6 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, and has become OU’s best interior defender.
Reason for worry – Ohio’s preference and prevalence for 3-pointers as a focal point for its offensive strategy often hinges on junior wing Ben Roderick, and he’s been mired in a season-long shooting slump (20% from 3). He’ll continue to get open looks, given the attention Sears, Carter and Ben Vander Plas will receive, and if he turns it around then Ohio’s attack will find another gear.
Ohio is a bit thin in the rotation as well. Without center Dwight Wilson III (knee) and guard Lunden McDay (personal reasons), the Bobcats are relying on first-timers to fulfill big roles off the bench. With neither Wilson nor McDay expected to return any time soon, any extended absence for a starter will hit twice as hard.