Under normal circumstances, Ohio’s basketball team would have awful match-up problems against North Carolina.
But when the two meet Friday in the NCAA Midwest Regional semifinals in St. Louis, the Bobcats will have an abundant supply of what Carolina is likely to fear most _ small, quick perimeter players who specialize in ball-hawking.
With Tar Heel star playmaker Kendall Marshall either sitting out the game or playing in a limited capacity as the result of a broken bone in his right hand, the Bobcats (29-7) should be in prime position to capitalize on a makeshift UNC (31-5) lineup.
With 334 steals, former N.C. State assistant John Groce’s Mid-America Conference team has tormented opposing perimeters all season. The Bobcats have forced 622 turnovers while committing only 468.
In Friday’s 65-60 over 4th-seeded Michigan, the Bobcats had seven steals _ three by 5-foot-11 junior playmaker D.J. Cooper.
“Their speed gave us a lot of trouble,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “They took away our threes and were able to keep pressure on us.”
In addition to Cooper, the Bobcats usually start 6-3 junior Walter Offutt (a transfer from Ohio State), 6-3 sophomore Nick Kellogg, 6-6 soph Jon Smith and 6-8 junior Ivo Baltic.
Other than the 215-pound Baltic, the other four starters weigh less than 190 pounds. Seventh-man Reggie Keely (6-8, 265) is the only Ohio player with the sort of size to defend UNC’s Tyler Zeller, John Henson, Harrison Barnes and James Michael McAdoo.
But freshman Stilman White and senior Justin Watts likely to play significantly, the Tar Heels are almost certain to be slower and find it much more difficult to get the ball inside.
Through 36 games, Watts has seven turnovers and five assists. White has 19 assists and five turnovers in his 32 games. Marshall has 351 of the team’s 623 assists and 43 of its 250 steals.
“Playing eight or nine players helps us keep the defensive pressure on,” Cooper said before the South Florida game. “When you don’t have a lot of big guys, it’s important to keep the other team from getting it inside.”
And including subs T.J. Hall (6-5 sophomore) and Steve Taylor (5-9 freshman), five Bobcats are dangerous 3-point shooters. In the NCAA wins over Michigan and South Florida, Ohio went a combined 15-for-34 (44 percent).
In the annual Playboy magazine ranking of party schools, Ohio was placed first in 2011-12 _ ahead of Georgia and Ole Miss. The last thing UNC needs Friday is for the Bobcats to throw a perimeter party in St. Louis.