Opposition Q&A: Ohio

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Our expansive coverage of Michigan in the 2012 NCAA tournament continues with a traditional opposition Q&A featuring not one but two scribes that pay more than enough attention to the Ohio Bobcats. Both J. Scott Fitzwater of MAC Report Online (@macreportonline) and Jason Arkley of the Athens Messenger (@JArkley_ACMOhio) agreed to take time to answer a few questions about Friday night’s upcoming game.

It seems like I would be remiss to not lead this off with DJ Cooper. First off what makes him such a great player and second, more importantly, how have teams been most effective slowing him down?

Fitzwater: What makes him great is his fearlessness and his vision. DJ has a little bit of Michael Jordan in him. He’ll look for ways he was disrespected (I’m guessing the calling Ohio State “Ohio” thing will count) and use that to fuel him. And while he’s beating you, he’ll tell you about it. He’s good for at least one “How did he do that?” pass a game. Of course, fearlessness can be a double-edged sword, because he’s also good for some “Why did he shoot that? shots as well.

But it’s more a positive than a negative; he plays best when the lights are brightest. Just ask Georgetown. The best way to slow him down is to make him do everything. If he’s penetrating, don’t collapse on him. If he wants to take NBA-length threes, let him. If you don’t allow him to get his teammates involved, he’ll press and try and take the game over. Of course, sometimes he can do that. When that happens, you’re in a lot of trouble. You can try and keep the ball out of his hands, but that’s extremely difficult. He’s just an excellent player and probably one of the country’s best point guards.

Arkley: His best attributes are his vision and confidence. Cooper is smooth, fluid, not afraid to take the big shot. He’s Ohio’s all-time assist leader and has the knack for the highlight worthy pass. Plays with savvy, but not super quick. Team have had some success going big on him, playing off and trying to make him an outside shooter instead of a drive-and-dish guy.

Ohio looks like a pretty average team down low. Rebounding numbers are fairly average and just two players on the Bobcat roster are over 6-foot-8. Break down Ohio’s low post game on both ends of the floor, and on the glass.

Fitzwater: Ohio is mediocre on the defensive glass but they crash the offensive boards hard, recovering 35.3% of their misses. As for a low post game… on offense, they don’t have much of one. Reggie Keely can get the ball in the basket from the block and do it against taller defenders, but that’s about it. Ivo Baltic is much more comfortable taking jumpers or getting the ball on the move off pick-and-rolls. Jon Smith’s offense comes almost exclusively on putbacks and cuts. Defensively, they can hold their own. Smith’s length allows him to defend taller players. They double players in the post a lot and try to create a turnover. This does make them vulnerable a bit to inside-out ball movement.

Arkley: Ohio uses three posts, junior Reggie Keely (6-8, 250ish), junior Ivo Baltic (6-8, 220) and sophomore Jon Smith (6-7, 210). Keely is Ohio’s best low-block scorer and only true wide body. Baltic has a decent face-up game and good mid-range jumper. Smith is a garbage man type of guy, tip-ins, dunk follows, pick-and-roll layups. All three run the floor well, have good reach and decent hops. You have to be able to run the floor to be a big in Groce’s system. Active and athletic, but not space-eaters in the lane. Ohio did lead the MAC in offensive rebounds per game. Defensively, Smith is Ohio’s leading blocker and deceptively adept at protecting the rim. Baltic and Keely are average, but Ohio gets good dig help from the guards.

DJ Cooper will be the focus of Michigan’s defensive gameplan but who is the most likely role player to step up for OU?

Fitzwater: When Ric Johnson went down with a back injury, TJ Hall saw his minutes increase. He responded by upping his level of play. He’s not going to score 20 points, but he’ll provide valuable bench points, rebounding, and some versatility on defense.

Arkley: Ohio will need Walter Offutt to score to win. Bobcats are 17-0 this season when Offutt gets 12 or more points. Offutt is a solid hard-nosed guard with okay jumper and aggressive takes to the rim.

Ohio forces more turnovers than any Division I school other than VCU. That’s just a statistic, breakdown the Bobcats’ defensive style and how they are so effective.

Arkley:  Ohio forces a ton of turnovers, but doesn’t use a lot of full-court press or half-court traps. Ohio has a lot of guys in the 6-3 to 6-8 range with long arms and quickness. They anticipate well, are active with their hands in the passing lanes and generally give great effort. Will catch teams with post-doubles and by blitzing ball-screens out top.

Fitzwater: Ohio plays mostly man-to-man with some zone mixed in, mostly to give teams a different look or if they’re getting killed inside. Both Cooper and Walt Offutt are good at picking pockets. Everyone on the team takes charges; if that was a tracked statistic, they would be among the country’s leaders. They try to deflect passes and dig at the ball whenever they double or trap. The goal is to get a turnover whenever possible and start a fast break. John Groce has the team hedge on most screens, and they rotate so well that they can do that. They’re a very hard-nosed defensive team that doesn’t give up many open looks and defends the three as well as anyone.

You mentioned the hedging… How effective would you say Ohio has been at defending the ball screen this year? 

Fitzwater: Baltic is probably the guy you want hedging. They’re more likely to switch if it’s Baltic, but they still hedge a lot. Sometimes Keely and Smith will bump a little too much and draw a whistle, though. The quickness of Ohio’s guards helps defend against the ball screen rather well. Like I said earlier, they rotate so well. The best bet is forcing someone to help and getting the ball to the open man with enough time to shoot before the defender can recover.

What type of teams have the Bobcats struggled against this season? Conversely what style of teams have they played their best against?

Fitzwater: Teams that play a lot of zone have given Ohio problems. Teams with strong, tall forwards can also force a lot of fouls and dominate the paint. But nobody blew OU out this season; they were in a position to win every game and were up two possessions late at Louisville. The Bobcats thrive against teams that don’t take care of the ball, don’t deal well with high ball screens, give up offensive rebounds, or depend on the three.

Arkley: Typically teams that slow it down (lower possessions) give Ohio more trouble. Slower paced teams that play a lot of zone even more so. The Bobcats have been inconsistent at best from three and can have problems generating points if not getting any full-court opportunities.

Ohio has played well against teams that don’t have good inside-out balance offensively. The Bobcats have been good enough defensively this season to take away opponents top option or two on the offensive end. Ohio wants to run as well, so they haven’t had many problems with high-pace teams.

What would you say a fatal flaw or the Achilles’ heel of this team has been this season?

Arkley: Two things; need more low post scoring/threats. Could really use a thumper in the lane as only Keely really fits that mold right now. And shooting from the three and from the foul line. Ohio was below average in both this season and nearly lost in the MAC Tournament twice because of late misses at the foul line. Conversely, if Ohio is hitting from three they’re very difficult to knock off.

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Walter Offutt has high-major experience at Ohio State, what kind of player has he turned out to be in Athens?

Fitzwater: Offutt is an interesting case. After he left Ohio State, he transferred to Wright State before coming to Ohio, so he didn’t play for two years. But Groce said Saturday night that Offutt gives the team its toughness. He’s the team’s best on-ball defender and a floor leader. When it comes down to crunch time, they will look to him to make a play on either side of the court. He can get to the rim, but he has trouble finishing, making up for that with getting to the line and converting. Walt was in a shooting slump for a long time but started to come out of in February.

Nick Kellogg has the famous father (Clark Kellogg) but he’s also a lethal shooter. What role has the sophomore played for this team?
Arkley:  He’s a steady player and started every game this season. Has shot over 40% from the 3-point arc the last two seasons. Average defensively, but good basketball IQ.  Incorporating more 1-2 dribble pull-ups in his offensive game. His older brother, Alex, transferred to Ohio from Providence but gave up basketball prior to the 2010-11 season. So they never played together at Ohio. Clark has been to a lot of games in the Convocation Center, usually non-conference though as the later the season goes the more his TV schedule picks up.
How do you think OU will counteract a smaller lineup? Do they play a four guard look often?

Fitzwater: Groce doesn’t really change his lineup based on the opponent too much. He likes to have two of Keely/Baltic/Smith out there whenever possible with a few minutes of freshman TyQuane Goard (Ed: Did not play in MAC Tournament, potential transfer/discipline situation) sprinkled in. If the forwards are in foul trouble, you’ll see Johnson and Hall defending the four. Johnson has the length to keep from getting overwhelmed. Four guards on the floor is pretty rare; they don’t space the floor too well when that happens.

If Novak is playing well that would really hurt Ohio. It’s a matchup problem for sure. You don’t want Smith outside the post and Keely is the team’s best defensive rebounder, so the task would go to Baltic. If Groce elects to go small, you would see Johnson or Hall on him.

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