NCAA Tournament: The Ohio Bobcats are the coolest team in the Sweet Sixteen

By: Kels Dayton

The Ohio Bobcats are the coolest team in the Sweet Sixteen.

Point guard D.J. Cooper looks like a young Michael Jackson, and has been fantastic for the Bobcats this season. (AP Photo)

They’ve got a point guard that looks like a young Michael Jackson and plays like a veteran Mark Jackson– grown man-style.

They’ve got a school president who was in the locker room after the Bobcats defeated South Florida in the third round, giving a spirited congratulatory speech and shouting, “The best team won! The best team won!” as his players clapped and cheered him on.

They’ve even got CBS analyst Clark Kellogg’s son, Nick, although whether or not that adds to their coolness is debatable.

And in an era when anybody can beat anybody and Butler and VCU can reach the Final Four, Ohio stands as the lone mid-major left in this turbulent tournament.

“This is amazing,” said guard Walter Offut, who scored 21 points in the Bobcats’ 62-56 win over South Florida. “I pinched myself coming here today. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”

Ohio (29-7, 11-5 Mid-American Conference) has won 10 of 11 games, and certainly looked like the best team in the gym in their first two tournament games.

The Bobcats led the entire way in their 65-60 second-round evisceration of 4th-seeded Michigan, which won a share of the Big Ten regular season championship. Then they completely controlled the pace of play against gritty South Florida in the round of 32, scoring 41 points in the second half against a Bulls team that only gives up 51 points per game.

“I’m so proud of these guys, the way they stuck together and believed in what we’re doing as a team,” said head coach John Groce, who guided Ohio to a first-round win over Georgetown in 2010. “I think our guys have a chip on their shoulder. [We] look forward to playing on the big stage against quality competition, and I think it shows,” he said.

Cooper leads the Bobcats with 14.6 points and 5.7 assists per game this season.(AP/ Mark Humphrey)

What makes them even cooler is the fact that they can focus even after coach confiscated their cell phones.

“Two years ago, after the first round win I felt like I really didn’t do a good enough job of helping them avoid distractions,” Groce said.

So after giving them a few minutes to text and tweet after the Bobcats upset Michigan in the Round of 64 on Friday, Groce rounded up his players’ phones.

“Not one guy complained,” he said.” And that’s how I know that this team is locked in. Not a single guy complained.”

The MAC champions are used to balling without all the attention, anyway. Point guard D.J. Cooper is one of the best players in America who never shows up on your T.V. screen.

Cooper, who leads the team with 14.6 points and 5.7 assists per game said that he received a few scholarship offers from the big-time schools, but that he was always their second option.

“It seemed like everybody wanted me if they couldn’t get somebody else,” Cooper said. “Baylor was going after John Wall, and they started calling me a little bit after he left,” (Wall signed with Kentucky). “I wanted to go someplace where I was their first option.”

So the 5-11, 148-pound guard from Chicago chose mid-major Ohio University, and immediately helped lead the Bobcats to their most successful three-year run in program history.

Guard Walter Offut scored 21 points in the Bobcats' third-round win over South Florida. (AP Photo)

Cooper averaged 13.5 points, 5.9 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game in his freshman season in 2010, and took charge late in March, leading the Bobcats to a stirring MAC championship as the ninth-seed in the conference tournament. Ohio came into the 2010 MAC Tournament at 7-9 in conference play, but scored three upset victories to crash the Big Dance as a 14-seed.

The Bobcats weren’t done there, though.

With Cooper leading the way (23 points, 8 assists), Ohio punked 3rd-seeded Georgetown in round one of the 2010 NCAAs, leading by as many as 17 points and cruising to a 97-83 win.

The Bobcats missed the Big Dance last season but have picked up right where they left off, this time winning in round two and advancing to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1964.

The team’s 28 wins so far this season are a school record, and Ohio will have a chance to reach the Elite Eight when it takes on North Carolina on Friday.

Coach John Groce’s belief in Cooper has paid off big-time, as the point guard has remained with Ohio U. even after claiming he received calls from bigger schools such as Tennessee and Baylor, among others, who were trying to poach him away from Athens.

Tennessee and Baylor have denied these claims, which would constitute as NCAA violations.

John Groce has led Ohio to three NCAA tournament victories in four seasons. (Tony Dejak/AP)

“I didn’t think about leaving,” Cooper said. “It’s about loyalty. I’m sticking with coach Groce. He believed in me from the start.”

That seems to be a theme with the rest of the Bobcats players.

Groce took a chance on 6-3 junior guard Walter Offut, too.

Offut spent a season at the big state school in Columbus before transferring to Athens in search of more playing time.

“[There’s] a lot of roads I could have taken,” Offut said. “I think God had me be here at Ohio University. It’s been an amazing journey, probably the best thing that ever happened in my life.”

“I have coach Groce to thank for that,” he said.

“Oh man. Coach Groce is a genius, man,” said forward Devaughn Washington. “That’s it. He’s just a genius.”

“I love you coach!” shouted one of the Bobcats during school president Roderick McDavis’ postgame speech.

Groce nearly broke out in tears.

Yeah, this is the coolest team in the Sweet 16.


Information from WNPR, and the Associated Press was used in this report.


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