NCAA Scores 2012: D.J. Cooper Will Carry Ohio to Win in Battle of Cinderellas

Thad NovakCorrespondent IMarch 18, 2012

NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 16:  Evan Smotrycz #23 of the Michigan Wolverines tries to block a shot by D.J. Cooper #5 of the Ohio Bobcats during the second round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena on March 16, 2012 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Ohio Bobcats have already proven they can handle a big-name powerhouse in the NCAA tournament, taking down fourth-seeded Michigan in the second round. Tonight, they’ll get a chance to show how they deal with facing a fellow underdog.

The 13th-seeded Bobcats will take on 12th-seeded South Florida, the only winner of a First Four game that survived the round of 64. South Florida has won twice in this tournament despite having one of the nation’s worst offenses—leading scorer Augustus Gilchrist averages a paltry 9.6 points a night.

The Bulls’ punishing defense will be a very different challenge for Ohio than finesse-oriented Michigan, but the Bobcats will use the same answer they did in beating the Wolverines: D.J. Cooper. Ohio’s superlative junior point guard had 21 points and five assists in beating Michigan, and even the fearsome South Florida D won’t keep Cooper from putting up numbers.

As physical as the Bulls are, 6'1" PG Anthony Collins isn’t going to be able to body up on Cooper to any great effect. Cooper’s ability to penetrate defenses and create opportunities for his teammates has keyed the Ohio offense all year, and that formula won’t change against South Florida.

Just as important, Cooper is an outstanding defender who averages 2.3 steals per game. South Florida has already shown how easy it is to get them out of sync on offense—they shot 3-of-27 in the first half against Temple—and Cooper’s disruptiveness at the point will make life miserable for South Florida all day.

Obviously, the Bulls have survived wretched offensive performances before, but they won’t be able to get past the combination of another lousy scoring effort and the points Cooper puts up. Look for the Bobcats to make their first Sweet 16 trip since 1964.