Ohio State Basketball: Building a Buckeye Dream Team from Thad Matta's Squads
Since Thad Matta took over the reins in 2004, Ohio State basketball has enjoyed a level of sustained success unseen at the football-oriented school since the 1960s.
Matta has led the Buckeyes to two of the school’s 11 Final Fours (the 11 includes the forfeited 1999 appearance—sorry NCAA), five regular season Big Ten championships and three Big Ten Tournament championships.
Furthermore, he has had a player named to the AP All-American First Team four times and even led Ohio State to the NIT Championship in the one year an eligible Buckeye team failed to make the tournament under Matta.
With the Olympics right around the corner, what would a Dream Team of Buckeyes who played under Thad Matta look like?
Since Matta has traditionally played a short bench as the Buckeyes’ head man, here are five starters and two bench players who would constitute a Thad Matta Dream Team. Only the college versions of the players were considered.
Bench: Terence Dials
The bench of the hypothetical Matta Dream Team begins with 2006 Big Ten Player of the Year Terence Dials. Dials, who stood at 6’9”, averaged nearly 16 points, eight rebounds and one block per game in his last two years in scarlet and gray.
With his size, Dials could spell the two starting big men on this team (no spoilers) with valuable minutes and bang around inside with some of the Big Ten’s best (assuming this team is still competing in the Big Ten—seems fair).
Dials could also serve the role of an emotional leader who is accustomed to adversity, due to his experience of leading the Buckeyes through a season in which they were ineligible for the postseason.
Bench: David Lighty
Speaking of emotional leaders, David Lighty would play the role of the veteran presence off the bench, a la Juwan Howard for this year’s Heat (although Lighty may actually play).
Lighty’s primary role, as someone who was named to the Big Ten All-Defensive Team and averaged over a steal per game in his Ohio State career, would be the defensive stopper. Plus, if there was ever a loose ball, you can bet Lighty would be the first one to dive after it.
But he also stuffs the entire stat sheet, which is an invaluable tool for Matta to use off the bench (Lighty averaged up to 12.6 points, 3.3 assists and 5.7 boards per game in various seasons at Ohio State).
Center: Greg Oden
It’s easy to forget just how dominant Greg Oden was in his one year in college because of the rash of injuries and bad luck he has accumulated in the NBA.
The big man averaged almost 10 boards and 16 points per game, while swatting away over three shots per contest. He was a physical specimen in the college ranks and earned a spot on the All-Big Ten First Team and was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
He also did not shy away from the big moment and was probably the best player on the floor in Ohio State’s loss to Florida in the National Championship Game. Oden scored 25 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked four shots in the losing effort.
Power Forward: Jared Sullinger
Ignore all the recent reports about Sullinger’s health issues. During his two years in Columbus, he was a First Team AP All-American, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year and averaged over 17 points per game and almost 10 rebounds per game.
Perhaps no player on the Thad Matta Dream Team would benefit more from Oden taking up space in the middle than Sullinger. Free to operate with a bit more space than he is used to, Sully could demonstrate his shooting touch (he led the Buckeyes in three-point percentage this past season) and not have to worry about being out-sized by larger centers.
At the end of the game, few big men would be more reliable on the stripe than the career 73 percent free-throw shooter.
Small Forward: Evan Turner
A convincing argument can be made that Evan Turner was the best overall college basketball player that Matta has coached in his time at Ohio State.
In fact, in his final year in Columbus, Turner averaged an astounding 20.4 points, 9.2 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.7 steals and .9 blocks per game. He was the ultimate stat-sheet stuffer, who even recorded multiple triple-doubles in his Buckeye career.
On the Dream Team, the former National Player of the Year could play with the ball in his hands (as he did in his final Buckeye season) or off the ball, and at 6’7”, he would be tall enough to guard forwards and quick enough to stay with guards.
The collegiate version of Turner was the closest thing Matta ever had to a LeBron James-type player.
Point Guard: Mike Conley Jr.
Sure Evan Turner was quick enough to stay with smaller guards, but with Conley on the team, he wouldn’t have to.
Perhaps Matta’s quickest player, Conley helped lead the Buckeyes to a National Championship Game appearance with his childhood friend Oden. Conley was a standout in the NCAA Tournament (probably cementing his status as a top-five draft pick) and hit the game-winning free throw in Ohio State’s double-digit comeback versus Tennessee.
On the Matta Dream Team, Conley would primarily play the role of distributor and defensive spearhead (he averaged over two steals per game) to any full-court press Matta went with.
Shooting Guard: Jamar Butler
Butler was seemingly always overshadowed by bigger stars in his Ohio State career, but in his final season, he averaged over 15 points and nearly six assists per game.
Perhaps most impressively, he shot over 94 percent from the line in his senior year, meaning Butler would be the guy to get the ball to at end of games on the Matta Dream Team. Butler played both point guard and shooting guard in his time in Columbus, so he could also help spell Conley in the case of foul trouble or fatigue.
Butler finished his career as the all-time Buckeye leader in total assists and was maybe the most underrated player Matta coached.