Published Thu, Mar 15, 2012 2:34 pm Dateline
"In Coop We Trust" tweets, shirts and posters were seen in bunches during the Mid-American Conference Tournament, and why not? Dj Cooper's three-game heroics could go down as the best three-day stretch of games by any Bobcat in the postseason conference tourney.
But is it even the best in the past three years?
Oh, how quickly fans may or may not have forgotten, while they were tweeting #incoopwetrust all weekend, that they may have missed a chance in 2010 to coin the phrase "In Bassett We Believe" (or something like that).
I first got on this debate on Tuesday while doing a podcast with Russ Eisenstein, the "Voice of The Ohio Bobcats." He chewed it over for a bit before saying that Armon Bassett's MAC Tournament play was better, but he wasn't sure.
So I decided to kick it around. Let's look at their performances first.
The 2009-10 team played an extra game in the tournament because it finished with a below 7-9 mark in conference play, which earned it a nine seed in the MAC Tournament. Bassett, who led the team in scoring that season with 17.1 ppg, dropped 25 points on 6-14 shooting and an 11-13 performance from the free throw line in an 85-77 overtime win at Ball State in the first round. Bassett also had three assists in the win over the Cardinals.
Next up was a date with Kent State in the quarterfinals at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Oh. The big stage didn't rattle number-zero, who exploded for 38 points and seven helpers on 9-17 shooting, 4-8 from three and again was a permanent resident at the charity stripe, making all 16 of his free throw attempts in an 81-64 drubbing of the Golden Flashes.
Bassett's hand cooled off a bit the next night against rival Miami (OH). He was 5-13 from the floor (3-7 from deep) and again racked up points at the free throw line, shooting 15-18. Bassett scored 28 of Ohio's 54 points in the 12-point victory over the Redhawks, which set up a MAC Tournament championship game match-up with the Akron Zips.
Ohio's sparkplug for the entire tournament still had it in him. Bassett led Ohio to the 81-75 instant-classic-overtime win with 25 points on a pedestrian (sarcasm) 8-16 shooting (7-12 from the free throw line) and took home the MAC Tournament MVP trophy.
Doesn't that sound like a familiar script?
You don't need as thorough a reminder, since the 'Cats march to the MAC Tournament Championship finished less than a week ago, so here's a quick summary: Cooper led the Bobcats in an offensively sluggish quarterfinal game against Toledo with 18 points and five assists. Cooper played "let's see how far I can make a three pointer from" in Friday's game against Buffalo, where he scored 18 points again - 15 of which came on of first half three pointers - then decided to pass in the second half and recorded six of his nine assists on the night. Cooper again led Ohio in scoring in the 64-63 MAC Tournament championship win.
So far, the two performances seem similar, let's examine the numbers.
In four games, Bassett averaged 29 points (His 116 total points and 49 free throws made set a MAC Tournament record) and almost four assists per game. He shot 28-60 (46.7 percent) from the field, 11-27 from three (40.7 percent), and 49-59 (83 percent) from the free throw line.
In three games, Cooper averaged 19.7 points (59 total points) and almost seven assists a contest. He shot 17-44 (38.7 percent) from the field, 12-27 (44 percent) from deep, and 13-18 (72 percent) from the charity stripe.
Talking solely better individual performances, I'd lean toward Bassett's four games. He was the guy for the 2009-10 Bobcats. He led them in points per game with 17 and took the most shots with 421 (just four more than Cooper, but Bassett missed four games due to suspension). Bassett had to lead the team and he knew that. His performance is a little better than Cooper's games this year because Ohio couldn't win if Bassett had an off game. Bassett's team was one that would outscore you, those Bobcats averaged almost 75 points per game and allowed 69 per contest.
Cooper's Bobcats hang their hat on defense. Head coach John Groce has gotten this year's team to buy into playing defense and it has done just that. This Ohio club scores just under 71 a game, but only gives up 62 points on defense. Cooper, like Bassett, led the team in scoring in every game on the way to a MAC Tournament title, but did he need to?
We've seen Ohio win games this season when Cooper doesn't dominate the box score. Cooper scored just six points in a 59-55 win on Jan. 28 over Ball State. He can afford to score less because the games have been lower scoring.
Because Bassett's Bobcats needed to outscore their opponents and because he accounted for almost 39 percent of the offense in Cleveland (Cooper accounted for about 29 percent), I'm going to give a slight edge to Bassett, but don't cheat Cooper. He played unconscious in the conference tournament, and was one of the main reasons the Bobcats are in Nashville.
There's probably no correct answer (that's the beauty of sports arguments), but I've just supplied some statistics. Now you go and debate it with friends, family and co-workers while applying the dreaded red ink to your brackets.
Either way, both played tremendously in the MAC Tournament, and Ohio's 2010 win in the NCAA Tournament was led by Bassett's 32 points. Could Cooper be on the verge of doing the same in 2012 against the Wolverines? We shall see tomorrow.