Fans can't score points, grab rebounds or step in front of passes, so outside of the comfort of playing in its own gym and sleeping in its own beds the College of the Ozarks men's basketball team shouldn't have any discernible advantage when it plays Southern Oregon tonight in the second round of the NAIA Division II national tournament.
But don't tell that to third-ranked Northwood. A favorite to advance far at Point Lookout, Mo., Northwood was upended by the unranked hosts 57-49 Wednesday as 2,800 fans roared their approval.
And it's a safe bet that the Bobcats (21-12) will have another packed house tonight when the 18th-ranked Raiders (25-9) step into Keeter Gym with a quarterfinal berth on the line.
"We've been in some crowds before, so I think we'll be fine," said SOU head coach Brian McDermott, whose Raiders have already set a program record for wins in a season. "But it's definitely a different deal than what you play against here most nights. It gets buzzing in here pretty good when there's a lot of people watching, but it's never like that. It'll be packed."
College of the Ozarks is 11-3 at Keeter Gym, 7-6 away, and enters the game riding a four-game winning streak that includes a three-game run through the Midlands Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament.
More concerning to McDermott, however, is the Bobcats' dangerous one-two punch — senior forward Mike Wiebe and junior forward Nathane Simniok, both of whom were first-team all-MCAC selections. The 6-foot-6 Wiebe is the nation's second-leading scorer (23 points per game) and shoots 48 percent from the floor, while Simniok, also 6-6, leads the Bobcats in rebounding (8.5), steals (1.3) and blocks (1.2).
Both came up big in Wednesday's upset — Simniok had 20 points, 13 boards and four steals, and Wiebe, College of the Ozarks' all-time leading scorer, added 14 points and eight rebounds.
"(Wiebe) does just about anything he wants," McDermott said. "He can shoot the 3, he can put it on the floor, he posts up, shoots it. He's a tough matchup for anybody."
Against the Raiders, Wiebe will be a tough matchup for three players in particular, since SOU is planning on implementing a guard-by-committee approach, "Just because we'll probably need to," McDermott said. "And we'll probably play a little bit of zone. We feel like they're not great against a zone, so it's not all (Wiebe)."
The Raiders usually play man-to-man defense almost exclusively.
One area in which Southern Oregon usually enjoys an advantage is size, but that may not be the case tonight. The Raiders have six players 6-7 or taller in their starting lineup, but the Bobcats have four players 6-5 or taller in theirs. Also, points out McDermott, the Bobcats play a physical brand of basketball that the tournament officials seem to favor.
"They're really physical," McDermott said. "But the one good thing is, they're not a real high-pressure team, and that's good for us. It allows us to run our stuff, and when we can run our stuff then we usually have some success."
That was certainly the case Wednesday, when SOU junior forward Eric Thompson exploded for 19 first-half points on his way to a game-high 30, helping the Raiders steamroll 14th-ranked Madonna 83-66.
Sharpshooting guard Kyle Tedder added 20 points, as the Raiders' motion offense picked apart Madonna all night.
McDermott hopes somebody goes off again tonight for the Raiders, but doesn't see any matchup in particular that favors SOU. In other words, tonight will likely come down to execution.
"I think the normal characters need to do what they do," he said. "It's always nice if you get something extra out of (role players) like (Taylor) Roos or Tim (Webber) in terms of numbers, but we're going to be what we are. But at some point, people are going to double (Thompson) and other people are going to have to make shots."