With John Groce returning to the Mid-American Conference, the pressure surrounding Saul Phillips just rose a little higher.
Phillips, fresh off his third year in Athens — and consecutive campaigns finishing second in regular season play — will soon coach against the man who last took Ohio to the NCAA Tournament.
Pressure is rising, increasingly more now that the Bobcats should be the frontrunners in the East Division and will only lose one starter from their lineup. (Antonio Campbell can be excluded for his minimal impact during conference play.)
There’s no more Isaiah Johnson at Akron; there’s no more coach Keith Dambrot, either.
Instead, there’s just Phillips, Jaaron Simmons and the best roster, which is solid enough to expect nothing less than a conference championship.
Skim through transcribed interviews from Phillips the past three years and you’ll notice a couple of key points: One, success was always going to take time, even if there was no target year, and two, he was in for the long haul.
So what happens now if Groce arrives, bulldozes through the MAC with an inferior roster and finds the success Phillips is still searching for?
Hopefully, that’s not a dilemma Phillips and Athletic Director Jim Schaus have to contemplate. But it should at least provoke a passing thought.
Since Groce left for Illinois, the Bobcats have had two coaches. The current is much more engaging and approachable than his predecessor.
Whether it’s the players, the coaching staff or the Athens community, there’s faith in Phillips’ process and his players on the floor.
Simmons, according to his coach, is a top guard in the country. Jordan Dartis has a smooth, lethal 3-point shooting stroke when he activates it. Gavin Block consistently fills his role. Jason Carter, who already filled in as Campbell’s replacement, should flourish in the future.
And those are just the returning starters. On paper, no team in the East or possibly even the conference should be as competitive.
But the number 2012 still sticks out.
If Groce returns and wins the MAC, it’d be the PG-13 version in relation to a football coordinator taking a head coaching job in the conference, only to beat coach Frank Solich en route to a championship.
That’s not going to happen, but can you imagine?
Let’s think about the looming 2017-18 season. Both the football and basketball programs have deservingly high expectations, due to great coaches and strong rosters.
But when opposing coaches find short-term success, it can be incredibly frustrating. An obvious example is a football comparison: P.J. Fleck’s remarkable turnaround with Western Michigan.
Now, imagine the frustration if a former Ohio basketball coach started dominating his former school with Ohio’s rival?
Hopefully, that one is left to the imagination.