The year was 2002. Tedious questions by reporters about a lack of offensive production after another crushing early season defeat led then New York Jets coach Herm Edwards to blow up in a historic postgame tirade.
“Hello?” Edwards questioned right back at the reporters. It was a precursor to what would become one of ESPN’s most overplayed clips, but also one of sports most virtuous truths.
“You play to win the game.”
Last season, Ohio men’s basketball won the majority of games they played, 29 wins to be specific, including a program record 16 victories in the friendly confines of the Convocation Center. When you win at the rate the 2011-2012 Bobcats did, that means you were efficient in putting the ball in the basket and in some games, you did it at ease.
What was all the more impressive about Ohio’s production was their ability to, as President Obama says, spread the wealth. Political implications aside, the ‘Cats were one of only three Mid-American conference teams to have five players score more than 300 points. To put that into perspective nationally, some of the mid-major darlings of 2012 – Creighton, Murray State and St. Mary’s – had either two or three players in the 300-point range. While those teams made plenty of noise during the regular season led by stars like Doug McDermott, Isaiah Canaan and Matt Dellavedova, they all failed to reach the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.
A stable attack will again be key for Ohio, as it returns 96.6% of its offensive production. The leader of the Bobcats, point guard DJ Cooper, deserves as much respect as the aforementioned mid-major stars. He’s a true point guard with the vision to find an open man anywhere on the court. That vision could lead him to rarified air with some elite company. Cooper enters the 2012-2013 season with 692 career assists, the most in Ohio history. If he matches his assist total of 263 from 2010-2011, his career high, he’ll move into 7th place on the list of all-time NCAA career assist leaders – ahead of names like Chris Duhon, Greg Anthony and Gary Payton.
Cooper’s ability to get his teammates involved will pay dividends for a team that saw impressive individual performances down the stretch. Although his points dropped off in March, Cooper’s assist rate increased from 35 to 42% from conference games to the NCAA tournament. The main benefactor of Cooper’s spike in assists was Walter Offutt, who saw his points per 40 minutes increase from 15.84 in conference play to 21.89 in the NCAA tournament.
From behind the arc, it was Offutt and Kellogg who registered the most efficient long distance shooting games of the season. The duo combined to have nine of the ‘Cats ten highest 3-point shooting percentage games, with Stevie Taylor verse Lamar mixed in.
When analyzing shooting, do not confuse consistency with the clutch factor. Cooper is well known as a deep threat with a number of ice-in-your veins shots throughout the MAC tournament and NCAA run. When you dive into the numbers, Cooper attempted 45 more triples than Nick Kellogg but made roughly 12% less of his shots than the junior from Westerville, OH. While Cooper did have his share of games in which he shot 50% from three, including big wins over Kent State and Michigan, the Bobcats could benefit from a more selective approach for their leader.
The one area where the wealth was not spread was on the offensive glass. Big men Reggie Keely and Jon Smith dominated the boards for Ohio, each hauling in more than 80 rebounds on the offensive end.
What coach John Groce didn’t expect was a sharp decline in offensive rebounding numbers by 6-8 forward Ivo Baltic. As a junior, Baltic grabbed 75 offensive rebounds compared to 49 this past season, tied for third on the team with Offutt. A bulked up Baltic is expected to be a cog in the post for the ‘Cats in 2012.
You don’t need Herm Edwards to tell you that the best offense is a good defense and that’s exactly what Ohio had last season. Groce stressed the importance of a strong transition offense and he had players who bought into a defense first attitude to get the job done.
New coach Jim Christian will attempt to come in and keep what worked.
“We want to push the ball,” said Christian.
“The best way to score the ball is to get layups and the best way to get layups is to push the ball up the floor. It’s more execution than it is what we are running.”
Christian, known for his half court offense while at Kent State, will help a team that at times struggled in the half court set. In his final season at Kent State, Christian’s Golden Flashes led the MAC in field goal percentage, true shooting percentage (includes free throws) and floor percentage, which measures the percentage of possessions in which there is at least one point scored.
These numbers aren’t the end all be all. Many factors and X-factors can contribute to a winning season but a more balanced offensive attack under Christian could have Ohio just were they want to be. Playing to win deep into March.