EXPECT QUICK NCAA EXIT FOR BASKETBALL BUCKEYES -- FUTURE ISN'T SO BRIGHT EITHER
Let’s roll down Thad Matta’s impressive resume’ before we get to the gritty stuff:
· Tied with the legendary Fred Taylor with 297 wins at Ohio State.
· Has coached the Buckeyes to 20 or more wins in 11 consecutive seasons.
· Five Big Ten regular season titles and four Big Ten tournament titles.
· A NCAA Tournament finals appearance in 2006-07 and an NIT championship the following season.
· A 297-92 record at Ohio State – an impressive .763 winning percentage.
· An overall nice guy, good recruiter at a so-called “football school” and a great representative of the university.
I'll start by saying that Andy Geiger's decision to hire Matta when Bob Knight wanted the job in the summer of 2004 was a sound decision.
Now some Matta backers will scream bloody murder and come at me with butcher knives for saying this, but it’s been my constant feeling all along during this 22-9 season (11-7 in the Big Ten) that Matta’s program at Ohio State has peaked.
The future is not as bright as the 11-year past. And the bottom line: These Buckeyes will not advance very deep in next week’s NCAA Tournament – nor any NCAA tournament in the future for that matter.
In fact, this team, projected to be a eighth or ninth-seed, is a good bet to play only one game and head back to Columbus with their heads hanging low.
“It’s March,” Matta explained Sunday. “Crazy things can happen.”
He was referring to the next three weeks, of course, not the hapless 24-point loss to Wisconsin. Yes, it would be downright crazy if the Buckeyes went on any sort of roll this March, much less advanced to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
Of course, the Big Ten Tournament comes first, but that hardly matters in the big scheme of things.
I have heard some in the media say Matta did one of his best coaching jobs this season, bringing along five notable freshmen to blend with seniors Amir Williams, Shannon Scott, Sam Thompson and Trey McDonald.
On the contrary, I would argue this is one of his worst coaching jobs of his career. Those four seniors mentioned above all regressed. And they capped off their careers with their collectively worst performance and effort in the Buckeyes’ embarrassing 72-48 loss to Wisconsin in their final home appearance.
Think about it: Did Williams improve over his four years? Scott? Thompson? McDonald?
What about Lenzelle Smith Jr. a year ago?
Heck, even the beloved Aaron Craft had a sub-par senior season and his shooting numbers regressed.
I always believed a sign of good coaching is how much a freshman improves through his senior season. There are far too many cases within Ohio State basketball where players just didn’t make gigantic leaps in performance over those four years.
I’ll go ahead and say it: I think many Buckeyes and Buckeye teams have underachieved recently.
Unlike in Taylor’s days (1958-74), today’s scheduling practices make it awful easy for a coach at a major program to roll up 20 wins in a season. Consider that this season’s team finished 9-7 in the Big Ten and still won 22 games – by beating UMass-Lowell, Sacred Heart, Campbell, Morehead State, James Madison, Colgate, High Point, North Carolina A&T, Miami of Ohio and Wright State all in Columbus. Bonus points if you can even tell me what state High Point is in. But that’s 10 automatic wins by any critic’s admission.
And that’s been the norm for Ohio State scheduling over the past decade.
The Buckeyes played only 10 road games this season, losing six, with wins over Big Ten-bottom feeders Northwestern, Rutgers, Penn State and Minnesota.
When you group Matta’s 11 teams at Ohio State, I have noticed a few disturbing trends. For one, he never develops enough depth to make a run in the NCAA tournament, where two games are always played within three days. The great coaches of recent years such as Dean Smith, Rick Pitino, Roy Williams, Mike Krzyzewski, and even John Calipari have made it a habit of playing their benches a ton of minutes in those November and December games so that an eight-, nine- and 10-man rotation can be used come tournament time. The refusal to do so has been one of Matta’s greatest flaws.
It’s been well-known that Matta has never been an x-and-o genius on the court: Assistant Jeff Boals coaches the defense and Greg Paulus handles the offense, much like a football staff breaks down responsibilities. And Matta’s teams have always been near the top of the Big Ten in team defensive statistics, but in other categories, they have been lacking – especially free-throw percentage.
They have ranked 11th, 11th, seventh, seventh and eighth in the Big Ten in the past five seasons in free-throw percentage and never ranked in the top-five in his 11 seasons, bottoming out at a horrible 67.3 this season. Just think of the wins that were turned into losses by an inability to step to the line and knock down the freebies: As just one example, the Buckeyes were 5-of-13 in a three-point loss at Michigan State.
And for some odd reason, Matta decided to start this season in a 2-3 zone, which was a disaster (ugly losses at Louisville and North Carolina) until he realized it and switched to a man defense for Big Ten play.
I will admit this: The NCAA’s “one-and-done” rule has hurt Matta’s program more than any other school but Kentucky. Think of what may have happened over the past 11 seasons had Daequan Cook, Michael Conley, Greg Oden Jr., B.J. Mullens, Kosta Koufos, Evan Turner, LaQuinton Ross, DeShaun Thomas, Jared Sullinger fulfilled their eligibility.
You would like to think that the Cook, Conley and Oden teams would have won at least one national title since they had advanced to the finals and lost to Florida before each leaving after their freshmen seasons.
But remember this: During that run to the NCAA Final, Xavier had the Buckeyes beaten in the final seconds of the second round, but missed a crucial free throw with nine seconds remaining that would have sealed the game. Instead, Ron Lewis drained a three-pointer at the buzzer and the Buckeyes rolled in overtime.
Otherwise, the in-state Musketeers would have been added to this list …
Siena, Tennessee, Kentucky, Wichita State, and Dayton ...
The Buckeyes were heavily favored over all five, dating back to 2009, and were upset in the NCAA Tournament in the first, third, third, fourth and first rounds, respectively.
It may not be an upset next week, given the Buckeyes likely won’t be favored in their first round matchup with whomever, but don’t be surprised if this team goes down quickly – and without much of a fight.
And as far as the future and the big picture, the team’s best player, D’Angelo Russell, is a sure bet to head to the NBA since he will be assured of being a lottery pick. If you care to examine next season’s expected roster and starting lineup, it’s not a reason for optimism, even though Matta has three ESPN Top 100 recruits committed.
You just have to wonder how many more early NCAA exits Matta, who is only 47 and has had a chronic back problem since he was 15 years old, can endure. (He is forced to walk with a bad limp).
Given his resume’, he would never be a candidate to be fired unless he broke an NCAA rule (remember Jim Tressel and Jim O’Brien were about as secure as coaches can get at one time until they stepped on the NCAA’s toes and rulebook).
However, it sure wouldn’t disappoint me if someday soon Matta decides to walk away from coaching and focus on his health, either.
Because like his aching back, it’s just too obvious that the better days of Ohio State basketball are behind him.
Last Updated (Monday, 09 March 2015 18:48)