A recurring point to be made going into the 2013-2014 season for Ohio was the absence of the school's greatest senior class, and most notably the loss of possibly the program's best player in its history in D.J. Cooper. By a combination of increased leadership, and solid play from veterans, transfers and young Bobcats, Ohio put together a 25-12 season (topping their win total from the year before) while going 11-7 in the MAC.
This year's team ultimately passed the senior class from the year before to become the all-time winningest senior class in school history, winning 97 games over the last four years.
Looking at this team as a whole, two players easily had the biggest impact on its success. 6-foot-9 Senegalese big man Maurice "Nature Boy" Ndour, and senior shooting guard Nick Kellogg led the way for a team that finished third in the MAC East standings; behind Buffalo and rival Akron. At their best, the two were incredibly prolific on the offensive end.
Kellogg finished the season as not only Ohio's, but also the MAC's best all-time 3-point shooter, hitting an incredible 293 in his career as a Bobcat.
A thrilling characteristic about the team this year was its ability to play from behind. Ohio came back from numerous double digit deficits, most notably around the middle and towards the end of conference play. Comeback wins against the likes of Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan, Toledo, Miami and Buffalo all over a three week span had to have given Bobcat fans multiple heart attacks.
Ohio did have a strong non-conference showing in games against Ohio State, Northern Iowa, Valparaiso, Mercer, Evansville, Richmond, and UNC-Asheville.
Development of several players towards the end of the season, especially Javarez Willis, made it easy to recognize the growth the team had experienced throughout the year. Antonio Campbell and Treg Setty should be included in this category, as both stepped up their respective play at the end of MAC play. Campbell showcased an ability to guard in the post and get dirty buckets in the lane, a-la Reggie Keely. Setty showed an increased ability to get to the hoop and score, where early in the season he had been pure awkwardness with the basketball.
Another positive was the coaching of now former coach Jim Christian, who righted a ship that was at risk of sinking. He made a cohesive group out of an Ohio squad that was at risk of falling apart, even with talented players. The interesting thing is, not many think it is a negative to lose him, as Saul Phillips has been welcomed with open arms in Athens.
Even after such big losses in terms of talent from the outgoing seniors, the team had great expectations for itself. A third place finish in the MAC East and a quarterfinals loss in the conference tournament to rival Akron left a bitter taste in the mouths of all involved.
Willis, who many tabbed to be an all-conference performer before the season began, struggled with confidence out of the gate as Stevie Taylor stepped in to fill in the majority of minutes at point guard (though not by much).
The injury bug bit hard, as it was not only injuries such as Ricardo Johnson's that hurt the Bobcats. Ndour struggled with back problems. T.J. Hall had leg issues, as did Taylor. Travis Wilkins hurt his shoulder towards the very end of the season. Other injuries riddled the Bobcats in conference play.
Losing games at home is not usually Ohio's style, but the 'Cats fell to Bowling Green, Akron, Western Michigan and Buffalo all in the Convocation Center.
For those who saw the highlights of Ndour, a transfer from Monroe College in New York, before he stepped on campus knew that he was a highly capable player who would step into a starter's role and produce right away. What wasn't expected was that the explosive and talented Ndour dominated several opponents early on, and seemed to make a highlight reel play at least once a night.
Nick Kellogg- As noted before, Kellogg set the all-time MAC record for 3-pointers in a career. Kellogg could very well have his name on a jersey in the rafters of the Convocation Center one day. It's hard to replace a player who has that kind of a scoring impact, all the while being a constant threat to bomb from deep. Kellogg averaged a team-best 15.5 points per game, 109 assists, and an 89 percent free throw percentage. The sharpshooter also shot 39 percent from beyond the arc.
Jon Smith- The big guy provided a bit more of a scoring touch than what was expected of him at points in the 2013-2014 season. Smith was an intimidating defender with his lengthy wingspan and 1.6 blocks a game. Smith took off after the team's loss to Akron in the MAC tournament, leaving the Bobcats to play without him for three CIT games, citing discontent with Christian (now at Boston College).
Travis Wilkins- The senior from Missouri took on an all-important role in his last season in Athens, especially after the injury to Johnson. Wilkins was required to step into more of a scorers role, and the sharpshooter had multiple 14-point games against Akron, and even scored 23 points in a victory over Miami. His ability to stretch the floor will be missed. Wilkins hit 40 3-pointers in conference play, which was good for second on the team.
Ricardo Johnson- Johnson earned himself a spot in the starting lineup and was a valuable contributor before a leg injury sidelined him during a game with UNC-Asheville. Though the injury did allow other players to step up, it pained Bobcat fans to see the hard-working senior go down before conference play even started in his last year. The possibility still exists that he may be back, as he has petitioned to be granted a medical redshirt that would allow him to play next season.
T.J. Hall- The athletic forward/wing played with increased confidence many times in 2013-2014 when compared to previous years. At times he was expected to step up and guard an opponent's post player, and was versatile enough to help Ohio to put an extra large lineup on the court. Leg problems towards the end of the season slowed him down as his career came to a close.
Assuming no one decides to transfer (and it sure doesn't seem that way in the first week of the Phillips era), Ohio will get several important players back.
Overall Grade: B+
Coming into a season with so many unknown pieces, it would have been easy for Ohio to fold up and quit. Injuries certainly tested the team throughout the year, as did some notable growing pains. But Ohio showed heart. The team willed its way back from several early deficits, and made it to the quarterfinals of the 2014 CollegeInsider.com Tournament. All in all it was a good season for Ohio, even with some frustrating losses to rival Akron, and some obvious mis-steps throughout the season.