Finding Balance In Life Without Cooper

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Few gave as much credence to the possibility of success for this season’s Ohio Bobcats when compared to seasons past.

It wasn’t for tepidness toward head coach Jim Christian’s first true recruiting class. Rather, it seemed to be a fear of the unknown more than anything else. How would Ohio survive without star point guard D.J. Cooper?

People worried after Ohio’s dismal showing in the 2013 Mid-American Conference Tournament final and again after the loss to Denver in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament. The Bobcats were limp and lifeless. Utterly defeated.

The man caught in the middle was Christian with John Groce his benefactor, leaving behind arguably the best men’s basketball team in the Bobcats’ storied history. Groce handed Christian the keys to a shiny new car in the form of a Sweet 16-caliber squad and told him not to wreck.

Last season’s failure was seen by some to be a fender-bender – purely the result of a transition of power. Then again, some saw the Bobcats as totaled.

Cooper was under the hood. An engine driving the Bobcats for the better part of four years.

Christian’s litmus test was to see if he could succeed without that engine.

With 10 games remaining in the season, Christian’s Bobcats are at 16-5, first in the MAC East and coming off a monumental victory over conference powerhouse Toledo.

They are succeeding so with something unfamiliar to those same Ohio fans calling for Christian’s head after the tournament: Balance.

In Cooper’s final two seasons, approximately 42.7 percent of Ohio’s offense ran through him. That is to say Cooper converted or assisted on 765 of the Bobcats’ 1,790 made field goals from 2011 to 2013.

The point guard out of Chicago was showered with praise in times of peak performance and also caught his fair share of flak during the valleys. When Cooper was on, he was adored. When he wasn’t, he was the scapegoat.

That is not to say the Bobcats lived and died by Cooper’s performance. In fact, it is quite the contrary. Walter Offutt was electric. Ivo Baltic, along with being CBS analyst Seth Davis’s love story of the 2012 NCAA Tournament, was a key contributor as well. Reggie Keely’s performance was leaps and bounds better over his last two seasons.

Yet, now, Ohio seems more balanced than before. There is no central figure or pointed-finger receptor on this team.

While Cooper had a hand in nearly half of Ohio’s field goals in his final two seasons, current point guards Stevie Taylor and Javarez “Bean” Willis have had a fraction of the statistical impact on the offense.

So far this season, Taylor has converted or assisted on 25.4 percent of Ohio’s field goals; Willis on 13.7 percent.

Currently, no player has more than 21 percent of the Bobcats’ assists this season. Cooper had 41.2 percent of Ohio’s assists over the past two.

This is not to say one model, Christian’s or Groce’s, is better than the other. It isn’t to say Cooper was a one-man band. It’s not to say there are no great players on Ohio, but a bunch of good ones.

Statistically speaking, though, Ohio is spread much more evenly than the past two years. Whether that is a testament to Christian’s coaching style or Cooper’s greatness creates room for debate.

While Cooper is soaking up the tzatziki as the Greek Basket League’s first half MVP, Astraea’s scales have tipped back toward center in the Ohioan Athens. The results of the last stretch of the Bobcats’ season will prove if it’s for better or worse.