The Ohio Bobcats are hoping 2012-13 is their best season ever.
The Ohio University Bobcats finished one of their most successful seasons ever last year with a record of 29-8. The Bobcats won the Mid-American Conference Tournament and made the NCAA Tournament as a No. 13 seed.
In the NCAA Tournament, Ohio defeated Michigan and South Florida before losing to the North Carolina Tar Heels 73-65 in overtime.
The Bobcats roster this season remains mostly intact. The team returns all five starters from last year.
Ethan Jacobs transferred to Colgate while TyQuane Goard has taken his talents to Marshall. Ohio welcomes Kadeem Green from Missouri and Travis Wilkins, a transfer from Snow College. Treg Setty and Javarez Willis have also transferred in, but they are not eligible to play for the Bobcats until next season.
The major change for the Bobcats occurred in the coaching staff. John Groce left Ohio to coach at the University of Illinois. Groce has been replaced by Jim Christian.
Christian led Kent State to the postseason five times, including two NCAA Tournament bids, before taking over as head coach at TCU in 2008.
College Sports Madness has named D.J. Cooper Player of the Year and Christian Coach of the Year as part of its 2012-13 MAC Men's Basketball Preseason selections. Walter Offutt and Ivo Baltic also received recognition from the same source.
Ohio is the favorite to win the MAC regular-season title this season. However, individual players and the team as a whole may achieve successes that have not been forecast.
Let's find out what those accomplishments might be in the 2012-13 edition of "7 Bold Predictions for Ohio Bobcats Basketball."
Expectations leading into the 2012-13 season
Walter Offutt in action
D.J. Cooper is the most recognizable Bobcat. However, Walter Offutt is an emerging star for Ohio.
Last year, the redshirt senior averaged 12.4 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. He shot 45 percent from the field and 38 percent from long distance.
Those numbers may not be indicative of one of the five best players in a conference, but his game exploded during the NCAA Tournament.
In the NCAA Tournament, Offutt tallied 19.3 points per contest while shooting 63 percent from the field and 59 (10-of-17) percent from beyond the arc. His 26-point outburst against North Carolina in the Sweet 16 was Offutt's career high.
Offutt certainly would not sustain those numbers for an entire season, but there is no reason why his scoring average cannot increase from last season. He should be more comfortable on the floor after a year of adjusting to new teammates.
He is also a workhorse on defense, often guarding the opponent's best player. Offutt was fourth in the MAC in steals with 57.
Cooper appears to be a virtual lock to be on the first team as long as he stays injury free. Therefore, Offutt will have to beat out guards from the other schools in the MAC.
His major competition appears to be from Rian Pearson of the Toledo Rockets. Last season, Pearson averaged 16.4 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.
Toledo is facing a postseason ban, so that may cost Pearson some votes. Votes will also go Offutt's way if he puts up better numbers than last season while Ohio is the conference's best team.
The Bobcats will play the Oklahoma Sooners in Norman on Dec. 29. The Sooners went 15-16 last season but look to be improved this upcoming season.
Steven Pledger, the Sooners' leading scorer and main three-point weapon, returns and so does point guard Sam Grooms. Amath M'Baye, a transfer from Wyoming, will give Oklahoma an inside presence the Sooners did not have last season.
The Sooners may have lost 16 games in 2011-12, but 14 of those were against Big-12 opponents. Ohio may be regarded as the better squad, but Oklahoma resides in the stronger conference.
The Bobcats were just 8-6 on the road last season, so it is not a given that they will defeat the Sooners. However, the combination of Ohio's scoring ability and the Sooners' weak defense should be enough to give the Bobcats the win over a Big 12 institution.
Last season, Ohio went 16-1 at home. The loudness of the fans at the Convocation Center gives the Bobcats a decided home-court advantage.
However, a team winning all of its games at home is not as easy as one may think. Out of the 345 Division I schools from last season, only 12 institutions did not lose on their home floor.
The toughest non-conference opponents that visit Athens appear to be Wofford, Richmond, St. Bonaventure, Oakland and Marshall. The Thundering Herd are one of the top teams in Conference USA behind the talents of DeAndre Kane, Dennis Tinnon and Kareem Canty. Athlon Sports have predicted that Marshall will make the NCAA Tournament this season.
Akron and Kent State should be the next-best teams behind Ohio in the MAC East. Toledo, Eastern Michigan and Northern Illinois represent the three MAC West schools that play on Ohio's home floor.
As long as the Bobcats take no opponent for granted, Ohio should not experience the agony of defeat at the Convocation Center.
Ohio has only finished above third place in its division once, a tie for second in 2000-01, since the MAC split into East and West divisions 15 years ago. Despite winning the MAC Conference Tournament last season, the Bobcats placed third in the MAC East with a record of 11-5.
The Buffalo Bulls will be without MAC Player of the Year Mitchell Watt this season. Along with Watt's average of 16.3 points per game, the Bulls will have to find a replacement for Zach Filzen and his 97 three-pointers.
The Akron Zips return six players from their nine-man rotation last season. The Akron Zips have an extremely talented team led by 7'0" Zeke Marshall, but Quincy Diggs, the reigning MAC Sixth Man of the Year, was suspended for the entire 2012-13 season earlier this month.
The Bobcats should be better this year than last just from natural maturation. The Bobcats hope that Ivo Baltic will post-up more this season after mainly shooting jumpers by the end of last year.
There is hope that junior Nick Kellogg's game will expand beyond his 85 shots made from beyond the arc.
The arrival of Kadeem Green will give the Bobcats more athleticism at the forward position. He runs the floor well and is able to effectively finish in the paint. Green's 7'1" wing span enables him to defend both forward guard positions.
Defense certainly is not an issue for the Bobcats. Ohio forced turnovers on 26.4 percent of its opponents' possessions last year.
Any team that has the best regular-season record in its conference can certainly win its conference tournament. The Bobcats will have to guard against apathy, especially if they feel they don't need to win the MAC Tournament to advance to the NCAA Tournament.
Senior Forward Reggie Keely
It was very surprising to see that the Bobcats were not ranked when the USA Today Top 25 Coaches Poll was released last week. It was even more stunning after realizing that 46 schools received votes, but Ohio was not one of them.
It is a mystery that Butler can lose its starting point guard from last season and get more votes than a team that returns basically intact. How can that happen when Ohio was better than the Bulldogs last year?
Obviously, there were quite a few coaches, or perhaps SIDs and graduate assistants, that forgot that the Bobcats reached the Sweet 16 last season. The whole situation is odd since Ohio was placed at No. 25 in the same poll on Apr. 3 of this year.
If the Bobcats dominate the MAC like they should and get a big win or two on the road, they will be ranked before the NCAA Tournament. Teams with a low number in the loss column will get votes by people who actually have never seen them play.
Redshirt Junior Forward Jon Smith
Ohio travels to Tennessee to take on the Memphis Tigers Dec. 5. There is a good chance that the Bobcats will still be undefeated at that time.
For the first time in Josh Postner's tenure at Memphis, he will be coaching a veteran squad. The Tigers will most likely be starting three McDonald's All-Americans from three different classes in junior Josh Jackson, sophomore Adonis Thomas and freshman Shaq Goodwin.
The play of the 6'8" Goodwin will go a long way in determining the winner of this game since he is suppose to be the Tigers answer for their lack of consistent scoring and rebounding in the paint. Perhaps the Bobcats' only weakness is their lack of size.
This game represents a great opportunity for D.J. Cooper to gain national exposure. Cooper has the composure and experience to lead the Bobcats to victory over the Tigers.
If Murray State can win at Memphis last year, Ohio can do it this year. Cooper and a high number of three-pointers will propel the Bobcats to victory.
The Bobcats would disappoint their fans if they did not return to the NCAA Tournament this season. The real question is how far can Ohio advance.
What seed the Bobcats receive from the committee will go a long away in determining Ohio's fate. The Bobcats should do better than a No. 13 seed if they win the MAC Tournament as the No. 1 seed.
The longer it takes for Ohio to face the region's top seed, the further the Bobcats will advance.
Since the Bobcats are a veteran team that have been in the NCAA Tournament two out of the last three years, they will not be intimidated by the media attention or other external pressures.
The players on the Bobcats would love to advance one round further than they did last year.
My prediction is that Ohio advances to the Elite 8 as a No.6 or a No. 7 seed.