The Bobcats are going dancing. For the first time in nine years, Ohio has made it to the NCAA Tournament.

The last Ohio team to make it, in the 2011-2012 season, was a strong shooting, offensive-minded team — led by a star junior guard in D.J. Cooper — that earned a 13 seed in the tournament. This Ohio team is a strong shooting, offensive-minded team led by a superstar junior guard in Jason Preston, and it also earned a 13 seed.

The 2012 team played a traditional powerhouse in Michigan in the first round. This year’s team is playing 2019 champions Virginia in the first round. The similarities are clear between Ohio’s last two tournament attendees.

This year’s run is so much more that just a tournament appearance, however. Last season, the Bobcats were getting hot at exactly the right time — before the Mid-American Conference tournament and the NCAA tournament were canceled due to the outbreak of COVID-19.

Ohio was a young team last year and only improved this season under second-year head coach Jeff Boals. Boals went to the tournament as a player with the 1993-1994 Bobcat team, and he wanted to do the same as a coach.

When the opportunity was taken away from them last year, there were videos of the team playing pickup at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, where they had been scheduled to play Akron in the MAC quarterfinals. The videos showed how close that team was, and it showed again this season. The Bobcats overcame numerous COVID-19 issues to put together an incredible run to the NCAA tournament.

Despite playing just three games in five weeks going into the MAC tournament, the Bobcats dominated all three games, only trailing for 75 seconds in the championship game against Buffalo. 

Preston led the way, earning MAC Tournament MVP honors, but Ohio’s entire roster stepped up when it needed to. From Ben Vander Plas and Ben Roderick knocking down threes to the constant shots of Colin Granger screaming encouragement from the bench, it is clear these Bobcats are a tight-knit team, and it all starts with Boals.

The players love Boals, and the best example of this is how they hype him up as he dances in the locker room after every win. Ohio is an entertaining team to watch, and it has already given fans memories that won’t be soon forgotten.

That is why what happens Saturday does not really matter all that much. For a non-Power Five conference team like Ohio, just getting to the tournament is what matters. The Bobcats are not a traditional powerhouse like Michigan or Gonzaga, for whom making the tournament is the baseline.

Would Ohio love to make a splash in the tournament? Absolutely. It would give the fans and players even more to remember of what has already been an incredible season. But whatever happens, a MAC Championship banner will be going up in the rafters at The Convo, and this team has secured its place in Ohio lore right alongside the 1993-1994 and 2011-2012 teams.

The bottom line is that whether Ohio makes another Cinderella run or gets blown out in the first round, this team has provided memories to last a lifetime. Names like Preston and Vander Plas will go down with Cooper and Gary Trent. This team has given its fans hope, which they are in desperate need of right now.

@willocunningham

wc425318@ohio.edu