Before the Ohio men’s basketball team can prepare for its highly anticipated clash against No. 11 Ohio State on Tuesday, they will have to get past a team who has enjoyed plenty of success in recent years.
Ohio head coach Jim Christian and his squad will begin the post-D.J. Cooper era Saturday at 2 p.m. when they welcome Missouri Valley Conference opponent Northern Iowa to the Convocation Center.
“We are excited to play our first game against a good opponent,” Ohio senior guard Nick Kellogg said. “This challenge will provide us with an opportunity to get better.”
Much like Ohio did in 2012, the Panthers reached the Sweet 16 in 2010. Led by senior guard Ali Farokhmanesh, the Panthers’ run included a shocking upset of top-seeded Kansas in the second round of the tournament.
Northern Iowa finished last season with a 21-15 record, and they were picked to finish third in their conference behind 2013 Final Four participant Wichita State and Indiana State.
“They are a well-rounded team who shows a lot of discipline,” Christian said. “They don’t give away easy baskets and they also play well in all areas.”
One of the keys to the game for the Bobcats will be the rebounding. For a majority of last season, the Bobcats struggled in that area. With Reggie Keely and Ivo Baltic playing professionally in Europe, forward Jon Smith will be relying on newcomers Maurice Ndour and Wadly Mompremier to help him out in that area.
“Rebounding is a team game,” Smith said. “We can’t afford to stand around. We need the bigs and the guards to contribute.”
Besides being a team that shows a lot of discipline, senior guard T.J. Hall added that the Panthers execute their game plan well. The Gainesville, Fla., native also said that his team cannot afford to make mistakes on defense because Northern Iowa will then be able to accomplish what they want to offensively.
These two teams do have a history against each other. The Bobcats traveled to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Dec. 20, 2011, and came away with a comfortable 76-59 victory. Kellogg tallied 11 points and converted on three 3-point field goals, and Hall chipped in with 10 points and four rebounds.
Despite earning an easy victory that night, Smith is not expecting Northern Iowa to forget that moment.
“I expect them to remember what happened two years ago,” Smith said. “We have to defend our home court knowing that a strong mid-major team is coming in to our place.”
For the Bobcats to start the season on the right foot, they will need to get production from all players, which is something Christian is going to monitor throughout the season.
“We are going to be playing a number of guys all year long,” Christian said. “If guys are playing well throughout the year, they will get plenty of chances to play.”
Even though their focus is on Northern Iowa, the Bobcats will face off against other talented teams. After the Panthers and Buckeyes, the Bobcats will do battle against teams including Valparaiso, Massachusetts and Richmond. Kellogg thinks this nonconference schedule is the toughest he has ever come across.
“Our nonconference schedule is going to be a challenge for us,” Kellogg said. “Despite that, everyone is looking forward to the challenge.”
The two players Ohio must contain are Seth Tuttle and Deon Mitchell. Tuttle, a junior forward, averaged 11.4 points per game and 6.6 rebounds per game last season. Tuttle was a preseason All-MVC selection. Mitchell, a junior guard, averaged 9.3 points per game and led the team with 3.6 assists per game.
The Bobcats have won their last nine season openers, and the Green and White holds a 71-35 all-time record in season-opening games.
Hall thinks that the team who is able to control the pace of the game will come out victorious.
“I think it will be a high-scoring game,” Hall said. “It will be a fast-paced game, and both teams will be looking to control how the game goes.”