Night Line: Ohio University and DJ Cooper Deserve Your AttentionPosted by EJacoby on December 21st, 2011
Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.
After another impressive road victory, it’s time to get Ohio University on the national radar. The Bobcats of the MAC improved to 10-1 with Tuesday’s night’s impressive win over Northern Iowa, another one-loss team coming into tonight’s game. Ohio entered the contest as six-point underdogs and left with a 17-point victory. They have now won road contests over Oakland, Marshall, and UNI, and they had a five-point lead at Louisville with under three minutes to play before poor execution down the stretch lead to a late loss. That near-upset remains the Bobcats’ only loss of the season. Ohio has passed all of its major non-conference tests with flying colors, and they certainly look the part of an NCAA Tournament team. Barring a stunning loss in one of their next three home games against weaker opponents, star point guard D.J. Cooper and his team will head into MAC conference play as the league favorite and with a good resume worthy of at-large bid consideration.
Ohio is led by the junior guard Cooper who simply does it all. The 5’11”, 165-pounder doesn’t have the physical make-up of a high major player, but he’s been as productive as any guard in the country. His playmaking skills on both ends of the floor have been remarkable. Cooper led the entire country in total steals as a freshman, not to mention finishing the season with a 13/5/6 APG average that season. As a sophomore, Cooper accumulated the second-most assists in the nation, dishing out 7.5 per game. He’s back at the task this year, contributing across the board with 14.6 points, 6.4 assists, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.5 steals per game. His one struggle is shooting the ball from deep, where he’s made just 30% of his career three-point shots despite attempting over five per game. If he were ever to cut down on his volume of deep shots, then we’d be looking at an even more dangerous player.
The 10-1 Bobcats are not just the D.J. Cooper show, either. Fellow juniors Walter Offutt, Ivo Baltic, and Reggie Keely all score in double figures nightly as well. Keely scores his 10.3 PPG off the bench, where he also leads the team in rebounding (5.6 per game). Offutt and Baltic each contribute about ten points and four rebounds per contest, and Baltic in particular poured in 22 points on 10-14 shooting in the victory over Northern Iowa. Sophomore guard Nick Kellogg is the team’s most prolific three-point shooter, hitting roughly 2.5 threes per game at a 48% clip, and he averages 8.3 PPG. The Bobcats use a collective effort in the scoring, rebounding, and long range shooting departments, and Cooper is the spark that ignites the operation.
In Tuesday night’s win, Ohio shot 51.7% from the field including a tremendous 11-21 from three-point range, and limited Northern Iowa to just 35.2% shooting and 6-20 from deep. This continues a trend that has allowed the Bobcats so much success; they hold opponents to an icy 25.3% from long range on the season, good for sixth best in the nation. They also are top-40 nationally in three-point makes per game, so coach John Groce’s team consistently has a huge advantage from the perimeter. A large three-point shooting discrepancy is jumping off point for an upset in the NCAA Tournament, but if these Bobcats were to knock out a talented opponent in March like they nearly did to Louisville last month, it might not be that significant of an upset. D.J. Cooper and his Ohio Bobcats look like they can hang against almost any opponent, and with wins over UNI, Marshall and Oakland in their pocket, they’ve already put together a good non-conference resume worthy of Big Dance consideration.