Virginia’s first game of the NCAA Tournament will be against the Ohio Bobcats of the Mid-American Conference. The Bobcats were the fifth seed in their conference tournament, but won the championship 84-69 over Buffalo to secure their ticket to the Big Dance. Ohio last made the NCAA tournament in 2012, where they beat Michigan and South Florida before losing in overtime to North Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen.
This year’s Ohio team is currently 78th in Kenpom’s ranking (UVA is 11th) and is 22nd in the country in scoring, averaging 80.9 points a game. Conversely, Kenpom ranks them 174th in the country in adjusted defense - all against the 133th hardest schedule in the country. They are led by junior guard Jason Preston who averages 16.6 points and 7.2 assists a game this season. Preston also shoots better than 40% from three, joining his teammate sophomore forward Ben Roderick as the two best outside shooters for the Bobcats. Forward Dwight Wilson III leads Ohio in the paint, as the 6’8” senior averages 7.5 rebounds and 14.9 points a game. Junior Ben Vander Plas is the dreaded stretch four for the team and the 6’8” forward shoots 35.6% from beyond the three point arc.
Jeff Boals, a former player at Ohio, is in his second season as head coach of the team and his squad has been a trendy one to talk up their potential to pull and early upset in March, regardless of their opponent:
Some high-major assistant coach isn't going to sleep from Sunday night until Friday or Saturday. Why? Because his program drew Ohio and Jason Preston in the Round of 64. STUD.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 14, 2021
Jeff Boals just led Ohio U back to the NCAA tourney in just his second season.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanHoops) March 14, 2021
This is team that can do what DJ Cooper did back in 2012 and advance to the Sweet 16.
Jason Preston is a star, but this team has a lot more than just Preston.
This optimism is certainly warranted - the Bobcats took Big Ten champion Illinois to the brink of an early season upset, losing by only 2 points in their November matchup. Jason Preston scored 31 points in the narrow loss. Ohio followed up that performance by destroying Horizon League champions Cleveland State in their next game, winning by 55 and at one point scoring 40 straight unanswered points. The team’s worst loss, at least as far as Kenpom rankings go, was a December 83-75 loss to Bowling Green (121st in Kenpom).
The Hoos will tipoff against Ohio on Saturday, the second full day for the tournament this year - but the time of the game has yet to be announced. Stay tuned to Streaking the Lawn for more looks at the Hoos’ West Region and more coverage leading up to Saturday!