Giant Killers: How Ohio Can Beat UNC
John Groce and the Ohio University Bobcats are walking into the Sweet Sixteen with Final Four intentions. Ohio has already shocked Michigan and South Florida, and they have a date with North Carolina on Friday evening. Here’s how the Bobcats can beat the Tar Heels and continue their surprising run:
Stay locked in and focused
The Bobcats must eliminate distractions across the board. The whole state of Ohio is buzzing but, as a perennial top-ranked party school, the students of Athens have not slept much since closing out South Florida on Sunday night. The stage just grew 100 times bigger and the Bobcats will have to fight off many distractions including the full-court press from agents on the likes of D.J. Cooper, Walter Offutt and Ivan Baltic (whose passport and rebounding make him very attractive overseas).
Groce has been rumored for bigger jobs and his departure and pay day are well earned. This week, those items need to be handled by his agent and no athletic director that tries to get to him now is worth working for anyways.
Fans, alumni, family, ticket requests and new-found national stardom must wait if the Bobcats are to keep their run alive.
Preparation is huge. Ohio has shown the 40-minute mentality that it takes to upset a top ranked team. Kendall Marshall and John Henson are banged up, but sometimes the lack of game footage and too much focus on the unknown takes a team away from their own strengths. Here are the three things the Bobcats must stick to regardless of North Carolina’s lineup:
1.) Great decisions and spacing late in the shot clock. Cooper reminds me of Isaiah Thomas from the Sacramento Kings and, at times, looks like he is toying with the defense. He will need to be at his best with the ball and be ready to carry the team when the scoring droughts come.
2.) Expose the ball-screen defense and find high-percentage shots. North Carolina has more agile big men that will hedge and flatten Cooper out. Hall, Offutt and Kellogg will need to make contested shots will Cooper remains in full attack mode.
3.) Use fouls and timeouts wisely.
St. Louis is a tough place to play and domes are difficult to shoot in. Coach Groce studied under Thad Matta during his days at Ohio State University. Matta is widely respected as one of the best in-game tacticians of all time. If Groce can limit runs, save baskets and get a couple front-end free throws to come up short, the Bobcats will be in the game with a chance to win.
Nobody gets the ball out of the net and up the floor faster than the Tar Heels. Ohio must be ready to show them different looks depending on North Carolina’s personnel. If Marshall is out and the pressure is working, the Bobcats bench must be ready to spell the starters without losing a beat.
A beat-up Henson and the possible loss of Marshall means that the Bobcats may be able to deploy a gimmick defense to limit Harrison Barnes and Tyler Zeller while forcing three-point threats P.J. Hairston and Reggie Bullock into quick decisions. A “1-3 Chaser” focused on Harrison could force Bullock into being a shooter and limiting passing angles to get Zeller the ball. Bullock is a steady player who rarely turns the ball over so another strategy that could be employed is to “Red” or double and take the ball out of his hands as much as possible, limiting his ability to get the ball to players in their “kill zones.”
North Carolina can be bodied so I would expect the Bobcats to also have lots of isolation plays to go to Baltic and Offutt in the mid-post and short corners where they can either get to the basket or draw the defense to find a shooter or second attack on the paint. Cooper will get his shots early and the halftime decisions of how to maintain a lead or cut into a deficit are usually well thought out in advance.
The dome environment may cause both teams to get off to slow start, but the Bobcats will need a backup plan if the rest allows the Tar Heel to strike early.
As a coach, you always have to respect your opponent. Since the day Groce got the job at Ohio University, he has outworked a lot of people. That mentality has shown up to the Sweet Sixteen. Taking a page out of Shaka Smart’s book with VCU, I can guarantee that they will start the game in full attack mode. No matter what adjustment and preparation North Carolina has to offer, the way to be the giant slayer is to continue to attack. This UNC team is not particularly tough, as we saw in the blowout against the Florida State Seminoles earlier this year. I do not expect them to handle the double dip of injury adversity well. In those moments of fighting, questioning of Roy Williams and reactive play, the Bobcats will have to smell the blood and attack.
Pick layups, and-ones, charges, forced jumpballs, winning 50/50 balls, strips in the lane and driven body language are all things I have seen from OU during their ride through the MAC Tourney and first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
David had a plan for Goliath. Rocky had a plan for Ivan Drago. VCU had a plan and Butler had a plan. Do not be surprised to see next-level coach Groce and the Bobcats pull it off.
Dan Barto is the Director of NBA/College Skill Training at IMG Academies in Bradenton, FL. For more than 30 years, IMG Academies has helped countless youth, adult, collegiate and professional athletes reach their full potential in sport and life by providing expert coaching, customized training programs and world-class facilities across an energizing and motivational 450-acre campus. Go to www.imgacademies.com or email email@example.com for more info.