Welcome to my latest creation here in the blog window at www.athensmessenger.com.
From the Whiteboard will be a once or twice weekly addition to the portal that will focus in on Ohio men’s (and sometimes women’s) basketball.
Here you’ll find insights and extras that didn’t make it into the print edition coverage because of a lack of space or time, or maybe stuff that I found interesting but perhaps not ‘print worthy’ given those time and space concerns.
Ohio, coming off consecutive 14-17 seasons and back-to-back years when the Bobcats failed to get out of the MAC Tournament’s first round, unveil their 2019-20 edition publicly on Saturday with a 1 p.m. exhibition game against Capital.
Here’s 10 things I’m thinking about regarding the Bobcats as Jeff Boals’ first season as head coach gets under way.
1 — Guessing game
For the first time in a decade, Ohio closed the majority of their practice time during the preseason schedule. It’s a tactic I have not encountered here at OU since John Groce’s first season (2008-09). Groce used the ‘I’m a teacher’ line of thinking to defend his decision then, but relented after that first season.
This isn’t a complaint, really. It’s Boals’ program now and if he wants to limit viewing of practice to the first 15 minutes or so, that’s his choice.
But it does leave some holes in how I think OU will play this season, who’s ready to contribute right now and so on. Usually that kind of information is firmed up by now, but I’ll be picking up lots of insight — like everyone else — once the games are actually played.
2 — PG depth
A common complaint against previous head coach Saul Phillips over the last two years was point guard depth. OU needed another one, basically.
Well, PG depth is a concern starting 2019-20. Sophomore Jay Preston is the team’s point guard, and barring injury, should get 30-35 minutes a night there. But there’s no clear second guy. Freshman Miles Brown was supposed to be that guy, but a knee procedure in the preseason took away six weeks of practice time for the first-year player.
Expect Jordan Dartis and freshman Lunden McDay to get turns providing auxiliary minutes there.
3 — Injuries haven’t left
This was the most disappointing development in the preseason. Nearly a full third of the scholarship roster has either had a substantial injury, or has missed substantial time, already this season.
First, both Brown and combo freshman forward Marvin Price missed essentially the entire preseason after minor knee surgery. Boals expects them back for the bulk of the season and/or conference play, but they’re already behind the curve.
Junior wing Connor Murrell was a pick by many on the roster to break through this season after a minor role a year ago. But a foot injury has him sidelined at the moment.
And freshman wing Ben Roderick — the ‘best’ recruit in Boals’ first recruiting class — is out for a while after a knee injury during the Bobcats’ ‘secret’ scrimmage against Robert Morris.
None of this is good news.
4 — Most critical player
The most critical player for Ohio’s game-to-game chances this season is Preston. He’ll have a huge workload this year, he’ll be running the offense, and I’m expecting a big jump from him. If he struggles, or even just regresses a bit, it’s hard to see OU picking up many wins.
5 — Most pivotal player
The most pivotal player for OU will be Dartis. He’s an all-conference talent, and a transcendent shooter. His ability to stretch the floor, and provide batches of points was sorely missed last year. I had OU with 4-5 more wins last year simply if he was part of the rotation. He’s that good from the arc. If he’s fully healthy, and stays that way, he’ll be a difference-maker
6 — You don’t know what you don’t know
Ohio will be exceptionally young, and knowing that you have to assume a couple of things. First, the Bobcats won’t be a great defensive team. Second, I think rebounding will be an issue most nights. OU will play hard — there’s no exception with Boals leading — but with eight freshmen and many of those expected to log minutes there will be mistakes. Freshmen are notorious for defense and rebounding because there’s lots little things involved in both that they simply don’t ‘know’ yet.
7 — Pleasant surprise
I figured McDay and Roderick would get major minutes right away. I figured Miles Brown and Price would be rotational players. But the first-year guy that has already exceeded my expectations has been center Nolan Foster.
Foster has legit center size and length. He appears to be solid and strong enough, right now, to compete with most teams on the OU schedule. He’s a good roller, and finisher at the rim. I think he’ll be the second ‘big’ — OU will probably only play one at a time this year — behind Ogbonda.
8 — Will Ohio be deeper?
Unknown. The Bobcats have a solid four in place that will be counted on to be the core — Preston, Dartis, sophomore forward Ben Vander Plas and grad transfer center Sylvester Ogbonda. Beyond that, I’m sure that McDay will be a big part of the rotation and I think Foster is going to play.
But what about redshirt freshmen Nate Spring and Mason McMurray? Both are tweeter types, not true bigs and not really true wings. Can Roderick, Price, Brown and Murrell come back from injury and add something to the lineup? You don’t need 10-player rotations to win games, but typically you need more than six.
9 — Boals’ factor
Like I said earlier, because of limited exposure I don’t have a firm grasp of the type of tactics Boals will employ most often with a what should be a young, and highly variable, group this season. Will OU play zone, or go straight man-to-man? What about full-court pressure? Screen-and-roll coverages? Set plays or a general motion offense? Pace and tempo?
This will all flesh out in time.
But Boals has been consistent from day one in laying down clear objectives, goals, rules and stipulations for his team. And the Bobcats, for the most part, have bought in. There’s a good vibe in most workouts I’ve seen. Music and competition periods are up. Confidence is high.
The players know what the expectations are — effort, availability, going to class, ect. — and consequences of not meeting those stipulations. For the holdovers from last year, I'm getting the impression they're all for the internal changes instituted.
Will that change when the Bobcats get beat a few times? We’ll see.
10 — What’s it all mean?
This is a reset year for Ohio. There’s been an extraordinarily large amount of change in one off-season. The roster is young, and mostly unproven. Every player that was a focal point — either offensively or defensively — from last year is gone.
The Bobcats have to figure out how to play together defensively, find who will be go-to offensive options in big spots, and learn exactly what Boals wants in games. It’s a learning process.
There will be some positives and real signs for growth. And there will be some tough lessons taught along the way.
The good news is that the MAC — or at least most of it — is undergoing a similar transition. 16 of the 20 players on the all-conference teams are gone. Buffalo’s reign at the top is in real jeopardy.
Still, it’s hard to find more than 14 wins on the 2019-20 schedule — and a tough non-conference schedule in November will be a quick indoctrination to college basketball for this team.
My advice? Don’t worry about the W-L record for a while. Enjoy the moments along the way, and embrace the process.