Photo Caption: Ohio forward Jon Smith, shown hear shooting during the Bobcats' 72-47 dismantling of Alabama A&M last Friday, says the Ohio men are mainly concerned with payback in Wednesday evening's contest against No. 22-ranked UMass in the Convo.
The year 1997 sticks out in history for a number of reasons.
Princess Diana's tragic death, the conviction of Timothy McVeigh in connection with the Oklahoma City federal building bombing, and the beginning of the dot-com bubble were just a few of the big events that shook the world.
That year also will play an important role in Wednesday night's tilt between the Ohio Bobcats and the No. 22 UMass Minutemen at the Convocation Center. The last time the Bobcats (7-2) played a ranked non-conference opponent in Athens was on Dec. 30, 1997 when they hosted No. 7 Kentucky.
Despite being on the verge of a rare opportunity for a mid-major program in college athletics, Ohio is focusing more on avenging a disappointing 85-76 loss to the Minutemen a season ago.
"I think it's more the fact that we lost to UMass last year than what they are doing this year," redshirt senior forward Jon Smith said. "They have a good team coming in, but we also have a good team coming at them."
UMass jumped out of the gate to a 9-0 record, their best start since beginning the 1995-96 season 26-0 under John Calipari.
The play of redshirt senior point guard Chaz Williams is a big reason for the Minutemen's hot start. He is living up to his selection to the Naismith Player of the Year Watch List by averaging a team-high 16.9 points per game while averaging 7.6 assists per contest.
"I just think he's a guy that has to be guarded every time he has the ball in his hands because he makes everyone on the court better," Ohio head coach Jim Christian said. "He's unbelievable in transition. He's got great vision. He wants the ball in big moments."
Juniors Stevie Taylor and Javarez Willis will be given the task of trying to contain Williams' playmaking abilities.
While it will be a challenge to keep him from scoring, Willis feels that he and Taylor will give Williams trouble when guarding him.
"I don't look at him different," Willis said. "We're both going to attack him. I don't think [Williams] has played two point guards that are going to be going at him in the same way."
Other players in the UMass lineup also can do damage, as forwards Sampson Carter, Cady Lalanne and Raphiael Putney all average more than 12 points per game.
The Bobcats' depth down low will be tested, but recent showings from redshirt sophomore Treg Setty and freshman Antonio Campbell have impressed.
Setty's defensive intensity has been steady throughout the early season, while Campbell had a breakthrough Saturday against Alabama A&M when he recorded a career-high six points and seven rebounds in just 11 minutes on the floor.
"It's really good because we're going to need them," Smith said. "[Campbell] is really able to duck people in and really get close to the basket. I think we don't have anyone on this team that can do that as well as he can."
Pace could also play a very important role in the contest, as the Minutemen's mark of 80.4 points per game shows they are comfortable in high-scoring contests.
While it could be a cause for concern, Christian says that Ohio is also capable of matching the pace and running the floor to score points.
With a fast-paced game expected, taking care of the ball will be crucial. Ohio is still trying to figure out how to better handle the ball.
After averaging 10.5 turnovers in the first seven games of the season, the Bobcats saw that number jump to 17.5 in the last two contests.
The players and coaches feel that avoiding turnovers could be the difference between a big upset and a frustrating loss.
"This is a game where we need to be as sound as we've ever been to get a win," Willis said. "I know they're a ranked team, but I feel like that if we play to the level that we are capable of, then that number goes out the window."
Ohio and UMass will square off at The Convo Wednesday at 7 p.m. The game will be streamed live at OhioBobcats.com. The Athens NEWS will post a game recap after the game Wednesday night.