In its second season under head coach Saul Phillips (pictured above), the Ohio Bobcats made an encouraging 13-game improvement in the win column to finish the season with a 23-12 record before losing to Buffalo in the MAC Tournament semifinal. In the postseason College Basketball Invitational (CBI), the Bobcats fell to Moorhead State in the semifinals.
After losing just one senior (forward Treg Setty) to graduation while having several key starters returning, the 2016-17 Bobcats certainly figure to compete for the top spot in the MAC and appear to have a legitimate shot at reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first season since 2012. Here are five reasons incoming freshman and all Bobcat fans should be excited for the upcoming season of Ohio mens basketball.
1. The Convo is home to the best sporting event on campus
When the NCAA releases yearly attendance statistics for each conference, Ohio routinely leads the MAC in drawing the biggest crowds per game. Attendance numbers for last season haven’t been released yet, but in 2014 “The Best Fans in the MAC” led the conference with an average of 6,681 fans per-game, which ranked higher than nationally renowned programs such as Baylor, Texas Tech, Washington and Gonzaga. If you are coming to Ohio looking for an electric atmosphere to watch a live sporting event, joining the student section “O-Zone” at The Convo is defintiely your best bet. Check out this awesome video taken during Ohio’s 76-64 win over conference rival Miami (OH) for a glimpse of what it’s like to experience a game at The Convo.
2. The (likely) return of MAC Player of the Year Antonio Campbell
Antonio Campbell was so good for the Bobcats last season that the forward decided to declare for the NBA draft. He didn’t hire an agent, meaning Campbell is eligible to withdraw his name from the draft by the May. 25th deadline and return to Athens fo
r his senior season. Conventional wisdom says Campbell will be back with the Bobcats, which is great news after he led the team in scoring (17.1 PPG) and rebounding (10.2 RPG) to earn Mid-American Conference Player of The Year honors as well as being named to the Associated Press honorable mention All-American section. He was the only MAC player included in the AP’s All-American team. In his senior season, Campbell figures to once again be among the most dominant players in the MAC and act as the centerpiece on offense for the Bobcats.
3. Point guard Jaaron Simmons is breaking records
After transferring last year from the University of Houston, Jaaron Simmons still has two years of eligibility left for the Bobcats which is among the biggest reasons why the team will be a force in the MAC for the next couple years. Simmons proved to be one of the best playmakers in the nation last season as his 7.8 assists per-game ranked third in all of college basketball. He finished the season with 264 assists, surpassing D.J. Cooper’s record for the most assists in a single season in Ohio program history. Cooper is thought to be one of the greatest players to ever play for Ohio, so it is exciting to think of what else Simmons will achieve in his next two years at Ohio.
4. Youth all around the roster
In Campbell and Simmons, I’ve already mentioned two of Ohio’s premier returning players, but in reality basically the entire team is returning from last season meaning expectations will be higher for this Bobcat squad than any in recent memory. Although players can still transfer before the start of next season, Treg Setty is the only Bobcat being lost to graduation. This current roster of youthful Bobcats are positioning themselves to not only be good next year but also many years to come, meaning incoming freshman will be able to watch Ohio’s current crop of players grow into upperclassmen during their time at OU.
Freshman Gavin Block and Jordan Dartis were key contributors for Ohio last season, while sharp shooter Kenny Kaminsky will be returning as a redshirt junior. In other good news, Ohio’s recent success and strong current nucleus of young talent should make it easier for coach Saul Phillips to draw more top recruits to Athens.
5. We have a really cool coach
Ohio coach Saul Phillips is a treat to be around. His press conferences are always a spectacle because Phillips has a great sense of humor that is noticeable the second you meet him. The third-year coach seemingly genuinely enjoys being apart of the Athens community and is committed to building Ohio into a perennial NCAA Tournament contender. Before signing a five-year contract with Ohio, Phillips was the head coach at North Dakotah State University from 2007-2014 and led the Bisons to two NCAA Tournament appearances. Phillips’ passion and enthusiasm is contagious and the Bobcats are in great hands for as long as he is at the helm.