Ohio State Basketball: Thad Matta Should Be the Buckeye Coach for Years to Come

Scott PolacekFeatured ColumnistJuly 31, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 13:  Head coach Thad Matta of the Ohio State Buckeyes celebrates after he cut down the net following their 71-60 win against the Penn State Nittany Lions during the championship game of the 2011 Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse on March 13, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

This article is supposed to be about why Thad Matta should be the Ohio State basketball coach for years to come.

Well, he may very well be on his way to becoming the best coach in Buckeye history. There, article over—if you are a school and have one of the best two head men (along with Fred Taylor) that you have ever had, you do everything in your power to hang on to him.

However, I’m guessing that when you clicked on this article you were looking for more than one or two paragraphs, so I’ll elaborate a bit. Even if you weren’t looking for more, it takes further analysis to truly grasp Matta’s impact on the Buckeye basketball program.

When looking at Matta’s influence on Ohio State hoops, the logical place to start is his on-court successes.

In eight seasons at the helm in Columbus, the former Butler guard has been to six NCAA Tournaments, one NCAA title game, two Final Fours, three Sweet Sixteens and won the National Invitation Tournament. In fact, the NIT title came in the only season that an eligible Matta-led Buckeye team did not qualify for the NCAA Tournament.

Matta has also won at least a share of five Big Ten regular season titles, an impressive number considering the overall strength of the conference. His teams have appeared in six Big Ten Tournament title games, winning three, and he has won at least 20 games every year of his career. Moreover, in eight short years, Matta already ranks in the top 20 of all-time in Big Ten conference victories.

Really, the only thing missing from Matta’s impressive resume is an elusive national championship—something much easier said than done.

One of the benefits of competing at such a high level deep into the postseason is prolonged national and local exposure. This is more important at Ohio State than it is at a number of other powerhouse programs because the football culture is so dominant.

For years, basketball was something Columbus natives used to pass the time until spring practice started. Now, thanks to Matta, that is starting to change.

But it hasn’t just been the postseason success that has kept Matta’s Buckeye teams in the public eye. His tendency to schedule marquee and nationally relevant non-conference games is something other coaches should follow.

In the previous five seasons, Duke, Florida, Kansas, North Carolina, Florida State, California, Butler, Notre Dame, West Virginia, Syracuse, Texas A&M and Tennessee have all appeared on Ohio State’s schedule. Many of them have shown up multiple times.

Clearly, these games carry a different weight to them than those match-ups against the typical non-conference cupcakes that powerhouse programs (including Ohio State) typically feast on.

Besides temporarily drawing the attention of the football-crazed fans in Buckeye Nation away from the gridiron in November and December, these games help Ohio State prepare for what lies ahead. Matta undoubtedly recognizes that if he continues to schedule these games, his teams will be ready for the bruising Big Ten and the gut-wrenching pressure of March.

That is probably why games versus Duke, Kansas and Marquette already appear on the Buckeyes’ unfinished 2012-13 slate.

Another thing difficult games prepare the Ohio State players for is life in the NBA.

Since 2007, eight of Matta’s Buckeyes have been drafted to the professional ranks. Seven of the eight were taken in the first round, and three were taken in the top four selections.

Yes, certain Buckeye players can be criticized for their lack of production (see Greg Oden and Kosta Koufos) in the NBA, but no Big Ten program came close to logging as many professional minutes in the 2011-12 season as Ohio State. In fact, the second place program (Michigan State) was more than 3,000 minutes behind the Buckeyes.

These types of facts are critical in recruiting and maintaining a level of relevance in the eyes of young players. When high-school recruits are watching the NBA playoffs it should matter to them that Thad Matta had a hand in Evan Turner and Mike Conley reaching the pinnacle of their sport.

From pumping players into the NBA to scheduling marquee games that prepare his team for postseason success, Matta has had an invaluable overall impact on the Ohio State basketball program.

But his influence extends beyond the playing court. In recent years, Matta convinced the Ohio State movers and shakers to move the student section to the sidelines, a la a Cameron Indoor Stadium. He has also (finally) obtained approval for the construction of a top-notch basketball practice facility, something that would have been unheard of in football-crazed Columbus a few years ago.

Matta is the fastest Buckeye coach to 200 career wins and does not seem to be slowing down. While legendary coach Fred Taylor’s national title may be the ultimate trump card when determining the best Ohio State coach ever, Matta has made basketball more relevant in Columbus than it has been since the 1960s.

And he should have a chance to continue to add to his resume for years to come.


* Facts and statistics courtesy of www.ohiostatebuckeyes.com.