Podcast: Ohio Basketball Season Review

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The Ohio Bobcats finished the season 24-10 and lost in the first round of the NIT, 61-57. For many within the program, the loss was a huge disappointment after the Sweet Sixteen run last season.

With the season completely finished, four Bobcat Sports Showcase men’s basketball beat writers have come together to answer two questions: what is the legacy of this team and where does the program go from here?

The writers answered more questions in the final rendition of the Weekly Dish podcast, where topics included D.J. Cooper’s legacy, the MVP of this year’s team, and a deeper look into next year’s squad.

What is the legacy of this year’s team?

Bryan: After Ohio’s loss to Denver, understandably, many fans and writers alike were frustrated and quick to call this team a disappointment. After such an impressive run in March last season there were high expectations. The knee-jerk reactions calling the 2012-2013 season a “bust” and “disappointment” were expected. But they’re wrong.

Yes, the team returned 98 percent of their minutes from last season along with star point guard D.J. Cooper. But with a new coach and newfound expectations it was unrealistic to demand this team make it back to the NCAA tournament for another deep run. Not blaming Jim Christian here, in fact I’m doing the exact opposite. What Ohio did in the 2012 tournament was magical, no denying that, but it also put a huge target on the ‘Cats back that John Groce would have had trouble dealing with.

This senior class was phenomenal during their four years at Ohio, but until this season they had never dealt with the target on their backs that comes from such success. Add in a new coaching staff and it created an unrealistic set of expectations and pressure that ultimately got the better of this squad. That’s not anyone’s fault, in fact it’s something to appreciate. While the team took a step back this season, they accomplished something many aren’t realizing.

No longer are Ohio fans satisfied with a 24-win season and an NIT birth. Heck, they’re not even okay with a MAC Player of the Year season from D.J. Cooper and a Co-MAC regular season title if it means anything less than an NCAA bid. Think about that for a moment, fans are angry because this squad won 24 games and didn’t make it to the NCAA tournament. Four years ago, this wouldn’t have been the case. All shortcomings this season aside, by accomplishing that they did something no one could have expected them to do. They changed the fan culture at Ohio.

Matthew: After the Denver loss, I started thinking about what happened this season. There was always the thought that this year’s team would make the NCAA Tournament. Even after the two Akron losses, they still believed that they would win the MAC Tournament and pursue another NCAA Tournament run. Then all of that spiraled down when the ball just wouldn’t go through the net in the Quicken Loans Arena last Saturday night.

After covering this team since November, I’ve noticed amazing growth in several people in the program. D.J. Cooper has become a much better player since day one. Reggie Keely has improved drastically since adjusting to the Jim Christian system. And even Christian has made the adjustments to understand this team and still make it work with his system. He helped a John Groce team win 24 games in his system. That’s not easy to do, and the fact that the players bought into the system proves that Christian will have future success.

This senior class will go down in history as one of the greatest because of their number of wins, but I look beyond that. I look at how they changed a culture. With a few more 20-win seasons, I can see Ohio starting to make more noise in the NCAA Tournament in the future. Four years ago, I don’t know if Cooper anticipated making that type of impact on this program, but he has. Ohio basketball is a winning culture now where it’s NCAA Tournament or bust. That’s the legacy this senior class of Cooper, Keely, Walter Offutt, Ivo Baltic, and David McKinley leaves behind.

Bradley: This is the best Ohio team in terms of accomplishments, in my opinion. The Sweet Sixteen appearance in the NCAA Tournament’s largest field is most impressive. The improbable defeat of Georgetown in 2010 is iconic. Two Mid-American Conference Tournament Championships against the formidable Akron Zips stand strong in this team’s favor. In four seasons, an Ohio fan cannot ask for much more.

Avery: Ohio Men’s Basketball is on the right track.

In the last four seasons, the Bobcats have set school records for both wins in a season and MAC wins in a season, captured a regular season conference championship for the first time in 18 years, won the MAC Tournament twice and won three NCAA Tournament games.

But with all of this success comes expectations. And the way Bobcat fans may view the 2012-13 season is a direct result of that.

In 2012, Ohio turned some heads by reaching the Sweet 16 as a No. 13 seed and nearly shocked the world, pushing No. 1 seed North Carolina to overtime.

With the same group of players returning, the expectation was for Ohio to simply run through the MAC and make noise in the NCAA Tournament again, perhaps with an Elite Eight berth or even a Final Four appearance.

So naturally, Ohio’s inability to win on the road out of conference upset some fans.

Ivo Baltic’s struggles as the season progressed caused some concern.

Nick Kellogg’s prolonged shooting slumps were difficult to watch.

And Ohio’s first-round exit from the NIT — not the NCAA Tournament — solidified this season as a disappointment for the fans. The fact is Jim Christian came in as a new coach with the impossible task of duplicating the previous season’s improbable run.

Never mind that the Bobcats won 14 games in the MAC; they lost to Akron three times.

Never mind that D.J. Cooper became the first college player ever to achieve 2,000 points, 500 rebounds, 900 assists and 300 steals in a career; he did not make a field goal in the MAC Tournament championship game.

Never mind that the class of 2013 seniors became the most successful class in Ohio Men’s Basketball history.

At the end of the day, the Bobcats blew their chance at a magical season and lost in the first round of the NIT. Their season was over before the NCAA Tournament Round of 64 even began.

But Ohio is on the right track.

The graduating seniors’ last ride was a little shorter than everybody hoped, but their accomplishments cannot be overstated.

Cooper, Baltic and Reggie Keely put Ohio on the map in 2010 with the upset of Georgetown that still seems to define both the Bobcats and the Hoyas to this day. Walter Offutt came to the program in 2011 and played a vital part in the 2012 NCAA Tournament run.

What are your predictions for next year’s team?

Matthew: The loss of those five seniors really kills Ohio, especially in a drastically improving Mid-American Conference. There are several teams that will be battling for the top spot with Ohio and Akron losing key pieces next season.

Here’s my projected lineup for the Bobcats in 2013 with their top backups in parentheses:

Point guard: Javarez “Bean” Willis (Stevie Taylor)

Shooting guard: Nick Kellogg (Travis Wilkins)

Small forward: T.J. Hall (Ricardo Johnson, D.J. Wingfield)

Power forward: Jon Smith (Treg Setty, Antonio Campbell)

Center: Maurice Ndour (Wadley Mompremier, Kadeem Green)

Although Ohio is losing a lot of their team’s scoring in Cooper, Offutt and Keely, they have a strong nucleus returning and a solid recruiting class coming in. I believe Christian will try to have the traditional lineup by not putting Hall or Johnson at the power forward position and starting junior college transfer Ndour instead. And from what I’ve seen from Willis in practice, I predict he will surprise a lot of people next winter.

As for their final ranking in the MAC, I am predicting Ohio to finish fourth. I predict the final MAC rankings to be Toledo, Western Michigan, Akron, and then Ohio. Toledo returns Rian Pearson, Julius Brown, Matt Brown, and a freshman big man that showed promise in Nathan Boothe. On top of all of that, they add Ohio State transfer J.D. Weatherspoon, which makes them the favorite in the MAC.

Bryan: Heading into next season and the years ahead one has to think the legacy of this squad will have a huge impact. Ohio will undoubtedly take a step back next season. Losing two 1,000-point scorers, a guy like Cooper and a great leader like Walter Offutt is no easy task to overcome. But with these new expectations and a new reputation as a proven winner for Ohio, there’s no doubt Christian is set up for success. He’s already landed some great recruits, going after size hard. All four of the 2013 recruits can score and should contribute offensively right away. With guys like Javarez “Bean” Willis and Treg Setty able to get on the court and with T.J. Hall finally able to move to his natural position at the three spot, Ohio will be alright next season. Expect guys like Stevie Taylor and Ricardo Johnson to step up and perform well. Ohio won’t win the MAC regular season and probably won’t win the tournament. But a 20 win season is highly likely as these new guys step in and try to carry on the 2009 recruiting class’s legacy.

Avery: Because of the successes of the past four years, Ohio is in perfect position to dominate the MAC and take steps toward becoming a nationally recognized mid-major program.

And keep in mind Jim Christian has done it before. In six seasons with Kent State from 2002-08, he led the Golden Flashes to four conference titles and two NCAA Tournament Berths and never won less than 20 games in a season.

Next year, Ohio’s success in the MAC will depend on smooth transitions for players with increased roles. Players like Stevie Taylor, Nick Kellogg and T.J. Hall may be counted on to score more, while transfers Javarez Willis and Treg Setty figure to play a big part in the offense next season.

The Bobcats may not win 14 MAC games or keep their regular season loss count in single digits. But it all goes well, Ohio will likely compete with Akron, Kent State and Buffalo for supremacy in the MAC East.

Again, Ohio is on the right track.

Bradley: Next season will be Ohio’s most challenging in some time. Not many teams are accustomed to turning over such a large and talented senior class. Jim Christian has the task of replacing one of the Bobcats’ best players of all time in Cooper, the toughest person on the floor in Offutt, and two talented big men in Baltic and Keely. The promise is in what the ‘Cats have done to sure up the roster next season. Ohio has its biggest and tallest lineup in recent memory; talented transfers in Treg Setty, Javarez “Bean” Willis and Maruice Ndour; a freshman worth developing in D.J. Wingfield; and senior leaders in Nick Kellogg, Ricardo Johnson, T.J. Hall and Jon Smith. There is a lot to look forward to next season for the Bobcats.

(Disclaimer: Predictions are worthless to me. Do I have to?)

C – Setty
PF – Smith
SF – Hall
SG – Kellogg
PG – Willis

Second in MAC East, Kent State wins
Western Michigan wins MAC West
Toledo wins MAC Tournament