John Groce realized early that Ohio University was going to have a different team than some anticipated so the Bobcats' record after 10 games isn't that surprising.
Ohio, the defending champion of the Mid-American Conference, brings a 6-4 record into St. Bonaventure for a 2 p.m. matchup today at the Reilly Center against the Bonnies.
Because of final exams it's been a light week in the Big 4. The University at Buffalo (6-3) hosts NAIA Houghton (4-5) today (1 p.m., Radio 1230 AM), while Niagara University (3-7) plays at Central Connecticut (4-5) at 3:30 p.m. Sunday. Meanwhile, Canisius College (4-5) travels to Natchitoches, La. for a game at Northwestern State (7-3) at 5 p.m. Sunday.
St. Bonaventure (5-3) looks to rebound after a disappointing 69-61 loss against Big 4 rival Niagara last Saturday at the RC. The loss to the Purple Eagles was the Bonnies' first home loss since Temple (Feb. 17) last season. St. Bonaventure plays four of its next six at the RC and only one game (Arkansas-Little Rock) is a true road contest.
Meanwhile, Ohio is trying to regain the giddy momentum that propelled the Bobcats into the NCAA Tournament, where they scored one of biggest first-round upsets in a victory over Georgetown.
The Bobcats lost last Feb. 27 to UB, 72-69, and didn't lose again until the second round of the NCAA against Tennessee, a string of six consecutive games. Heading into the MAC Tournament, the Bobcats were 7-9 and seeded ninth.
"I don't think by any means that we were the ninth-best team in the conference," Groce said. "We were up and down then as well. Once we settled in and figured out our rotation, guys started carrying a chip on their shoulder and we got on a roll."
But that was so last year.
During the offseason, the Bobcats lost their most talented player in high-scoring guard Armon Bassett, who entered the NBA Draft and is now playing in Israel. They also lost their best interior defender in Kenneth van Kempen while shooting guard Steven Coleman decided in August to pursue a music career full time. A hip-hop artist, Coleman performs under the name "Stevie Fresh" and his mixtape debuted online in August.
Yet the most surprising departure was Alex Kellogg, the son of basketball analysis Clark Kellogg, who decided the day before practice began in October that he lost his passion to play basketball and left the team.
"Those were 3-4 potential starters," Groce said. "Maybe some of the preseason predictions were based around those guys being on the team. We have a young team and I read somewhere that out of 347 teams we're 277th oldest team which isn't very old."
But the Bobcats are coming off an 87-58 win over St. Francis (Pa.) where they placed six players in double figures and recorded its second highest-scoring game of the season. The 29-point margin was the largest of the year. Sophomore guard D.J. Cooper is averaging 18.1 points and has increased that total to 20.6 over the last five games, including 29 in a 67-65 victory at Illinois State.