NCAA Tournament 2012: Ohio Bobcats Poised to Repeat "Unlikely" Run in 2013
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Ohio University is located in Athens, Ohio, a small town about an hour south of Columbus.
Over 20,000 students study at Ohio University, is the home of the prestigious E.W. Scripps School of Journalism (boasting alumni like Sports' Illustrated writer Peter King, ESPN broadcaster Jay Mariotti, and NBC's Today Show host Matt Lauer) and the College of Business (Fox News President Roger Ailes is a famous alumnus), and the Princeton Review awarded the university with its prestigious "Top Party School" honor in 2011.
Playing in a Division 1 mid-major conference, Ohio University lacks a strong national reputation for the school's athletic teams. However, the success of the of the school's football team, and the men's basketball team's recent run in the 2012 NCAA Tournament has put a spotlight, albeit dim, on the school tucked away in Appalachia.
John Groce took the head coaching job at OU after serving as an assistant coach under Thad Matta at both Butler University and later, Ohio State University. He guided the Bobcats to the MAC Championship in 2009, despite a 7-9 regular season record, and upset a heavily favored Georgetown University team in the first round of the 2009 NCAA Tournament. The team appeared in the CIT Tournament the following season, failing to capture a second consecutive MAC Championship.
This year, Ohio beat the Akron Zips 64-63 to claim the MAC Championship and an automatic No. 13 seed bid to the NCAA Tournament. The team upset a No. 4 seeded Michigan and fought hard for a victory against No. 12 seeded South Florida. In the Sweet 16 round (the best an Ohio University team has done since 1964), junior DJ Cooper barely missed a last-second half-court shot that would have secured a victory against the No. 1 seeded North Carolina Tar Heels. North Carolina ultimately won in overtime, ending Ohio's season and advancing to the Elite 8 round.
Will the Bobcats make some noise in the 2013 NCAA Tournament?
Cooper, along with sophomore Nick Kellogg and red-shirt junior Walter Offutt emerged as big-time play makers for the young Ohio team.
Cooper is widely regarded as the team's leader. The Illinois native turned down offers from Baylor and California and chose Ohio in hopes of more immediate playing time. He was the 2010 MAC Freshman of the Year, selected to the All-Mid-American first-team and named an honorable mention to the Mid-Major All-American team in 2011, and named to the All-Mid-American team this season. Cooper averages just under 15 points a game and shoots around 35 percent from the field and 30 percent from beyond the arc. He looks poised to have a huge senior year for the Bobcats in the MAC.
Kellogg, son of former Ohio State standout and first-round NBA draft pick Clark Kellogg, also played strong for Ohio. He shot 80 percent (4-5) from the field and 80 percent (4-5) from three-point range against the Tar Heels and pulled down eight rebounds. He was named to the All-Mid-American All-Rookie Team last season. Kellogg shoots at about 45 percent and just under 43 percent from field-goal range and beyond the arc respectively. Kellogg displayed a knack for hitting clutch shots in the tournament, and is looking for a breakout junior season in 2012-2013.
Red shirt junior Walter Offutt shot 77.8 percent (7-9) from the field and 100 percent (4-4) from three-point range in the second round and scored a team-high 26 points against North Carolina. After transferring from Ohio State University and later Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, Offutt looks to have found a place to stay with the Bobcats. The junior guard should be settled in nicely with the team and add to his 12.4 PPG average next year.
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The Bobcats' roster contains only one senior, forward/center Kenny Belton who saw no action in the tournament.
OU's defense ranked among the top in the nation in several categories. They ranked tenth in the nation in allowed three-point field goal percentage, allowing only 29.4 percent, and fifth in the nation with a +4.4 turnover ratio.
Ohio has three more scholarships to award next year, which might attract some more quality players to the improving program.
The only negative surrounding Ohio University basketball is the potential of head coach John Groce leaving. He has reportedly been approached by the University of Illinois. It'll take some real convincing to have Groce turn down an offer from a Big 10 school to stay with a MAC team with a lot of potential, but Groce has some unfinished business with Ohio, which might convince him to stay.
The Bobcats making noise in the tournament was no mistake and with Cooper, Kellogg, Offutt and, hopefully, Coach Groce returning next season (and a little...okay a lot of luck) the Bobcats might advance even further.
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