The Ohio Bobcats come into the 2013-2014 basketball season looking for somewhat of a new identity. In the second season with Jim Christian at the helm, the Bobcats have their work cut out for them. Losing five seniors (four of them starters) will place a load onto the shoulders of this year's squad.
The Bobcats are coming off of one of the most successful seasons in school history after winning 24 games, 14 in the MAC alone. Jim Christian led the Bobcats to a great year, and what most people would consider an outstanding season. But the fact that the expectations were so high in Athens that it made last season seem like a let down to casual fans only speaks to how far the basketball program has come. A loss in the conference finals to a very good Akron team and a first round NIT exit against Denver left a salty taste in the mouths of many fans.
Ohio loses MAC Player of the Year D.J. Cooper, second leading scorer Reggie Keely, a two-year starter in Walter Offutt, leading rebounder Ivo Baltic, David McKinley and Nick Goff. Four of those were among the team's top five in scoring. Three of the top five rebounders are gone. Also gone are 407 of a total 593 assists from a squad that led D-1 in assists per game a year ago. Cooper finished his career 12th all-time in D-I history in assists and is the only player in D-I history to put up a stat line of at least 2000 points, 900 assists, 600 rebounds, and 300 steals.
So yeah, no big loss right?
Luckily enough for the Bobcats, Jim Christian's squad returns several key players (and for the sake of this analysis, transfers who sat out last year will be considered returnees). As much as Ohio lost, expectations have not dropped too far with the talent the Bobcats have returning. Nick Kellogg returns after averaging 8.0 points per game and is an ever present threat to burn opponents with his three-point shooting. T.J. Hall is back on the wing and provides a versatile threat who should be expected to step up his game this season. Hall should be in the starting lineup on a regular basis as opposed to just 11 times in 2012-2013. Jon Smith may not be the most daunting figure with his slender frame but he is lengthy and will be expected to play a pivotal role for the Bobcats a year after starting 11 times, averaging 4.8 points per game (oddly enough exactly the same as Hall) and leading the team in blocked shots with 47. Ricardo Johnson is back to play at shooting guard and on the wing after putting up 3.5 points a game last season and seeing the court for 12.5 minutes of action a game. Travis Wilkins and his ability to stroke mid-range jumpers is back as well and may very well see his on court time extended past the 12.2 minutes he averaged last year.
Javarez "Bean" Willis and Treg Setty will both come in with high expectations. Willis sat out last season after transferring from Texas Tech and looks to fill the glaring hole left by Cooper. Willis and junior Stevie Taylor should provide great on the ball defense and will continue to distribute the rock effectively. Stay on the lookout for Willis' shooting though. He is lethal. Setty will see time after sitting out last season as well. He initially had interest in going to Ohio before choosing Southern Illinois. And now, knowing Jim Christian's propensity for bringing in transfers, here is another.
Adding to the new look Bobcats are five freshman and transfer Maurice Ndour. The big guy is expected by many to crack the starting five and is quite the athlete for his size at 6'9'' and 203 lbs. He will most certainly have to pack on a great deal more onto his slender frame. The multilingual Senagalese big man by way of Okayama Gakugeiken High School in Japan and Monroe College in New York.
As for the Freshmen, big men Antonio Campbell and Wadly Mompremier could see very limited minutes as they grow as college athletes. D.J. Wingfield is a stellar athlete who may see significant playing time. Khari Harley and Drew Crabtree round out the roster.
Looking at the Bobcats' schedule for 2013-2014, one of the first things that sticks out are the number of good teams Ohio faces in the non-conference, especially at home. Ohio plays Northern Iowa, Valparaiso, Massachusetts, and Mercer all at home. They take to the road to face the likes of Ohio State on Nov. 12th and Richmond, Virginia to take on the Spiders on the 22nd of December.
Ohio welcomes Akron to the Convocation Center in what will be the Bobcats first Mid-American Conference home game of the year. A February 1st game with Toledo that could be a critical game as far as the MAC standings are concerned. This games marks a stretch of games of critical importance to the Bobcats. Over a three week span starting with the Toledo game, Ohio plays: Buffalo, Western Michigan, rival Miami (OH), Toledo once more, Buffalo, Western Michigan again and Akron. This stretch will could very well make or break Ohio's season. The Bobcats round out the regular season in Oxford with their second game with the RedHawks.
With fresh faces looking to replace possibly the most successful class in Ohio University history, expectations remain high in Athens. Jim Christian is maybe one or two years away from really getting the crew he wants, and the MAC has something to fear down the road. As for now, Ohio was picked to finish third in the preseason poll behind Akron and Buffalo. This would be far from a poor showing for Ohio, as both Akron and Buffalo are set to impress this season. Do not be surprised if Ohio takes one of or both of these squads in the season and impresses a few people along the way.