Thad Matta has more than an impressive resume during his stint at Ohio State. It is littered with Big Ten championships, Big Ten Tournament titles, coaching awards and two trips to the Final Four.
However, there is one thing missing—a national championship.
He has come so close in the past (including last year), that it seems like only a matter of time until it happens. Then again, the Buckeye basketball program only has one in its illustrious history.
Arguing when or if a championship window is closed is not an easy task. In fact, title runs take such a unique combination of luck and talent that it can be slammed shut one year and then be wide open the next (just ask Indiana).
With that in mind, I will examine the state of Ohio State’s championship window the next two days and play a sort of devil’s advocate role.
Today: why the Buckeyes championship window is now closed. Tomorrow: why it is still open.
In eight years, Thad Matta has coached a lot of talented players.
In fact, Matta’s players have been named Big Ten Player of the Year twice, First Team All-Big Ten eight times, Big Ten Freshman of the Year three times, Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year three times and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year twice.
However, a few dynamic players stand out from this impressive list. Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr., Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger were all legitimate collegiate superstars who saw themselves drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft (Oden, Conley and Turner were top three picks).
However, the closest Ohio State ever came with any of these stars to a championship was the national title game with Oden and Conley.
Players like this don’t come around every day, and the Buckeyes failure to bring home a single national championship during this time span is not promising for the overall title window.
Of course there will be more All Americans to grace the floor in Columbus (perhaps Deshaun Thomas?), but Matta has missed out on a handful of top-notch recruits recently.
If Ohio State couldn’t bring home a title with Turner, Oden, Conley or Sullinger, it could be awhile until the program wins another.
It’s not exactly breaking news that Thad Matta is known for his reluctance to play the bench.
While reality may not exactly parallel reputation, this lack of playing time for young reserves means that they are still playing catch up in the experience department when they become sophomores and juniors.
In other words, if a portion of the freshmen and sophomores spend the majority of game time on the end of the bench, they will not quite be prepared to lead as upperclassmen.
This can be a problem in today’s college basketball world, where the best players rarely play all four seasons and others are asked to step into their shoes. Thanks to this turnover, younger players without as much game experience will be baptized by fire.
This upcoming season will likely see Amir Williams and LaQuinton Ross as primary contributors in Matta’s rotation. However, neither played significant minutes in their freshmen campaigns last year.
This may become an issue in early season showdowns against Duke, Kansas and Marquette.
Many national championship teams rely on upperclassmen that have accumulated plenty of experience prior to the title season (although someone forgot to tell Kentucky about this rule).
The most obvious thing that stands in the way of a championship is the direct competition on the schedule.
For instance, Alabama may be the better college football team, but the Crimson Tide will have more obstacles on the path to the title game in the SEC than Oregon will in the Pac-12. Thus, it will theoretically be more difficult for Alabama to reach the title game.
Well, the Big Ten is arguably the best conference in the country when it comes to hoops.
Indiana may very well be the top team in the nation, Michigan has perhaps its best squad since Chris Webber forgot how many timeouts were left, Michigan State is Michigan State and teams like Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota can play with almost anyone.
Safe to say, Ohio State will have its work cut out for itself for the foreseeable future. There will be plenty of talent standing in the way of even a conference title, let alone a national one.
Sure, the return of the Indiana Hoosiers to college basketball’s elite makes it more difficult for Ohio State to win the Big Ten and then parlay its success to a high seed in March and a national championship.
But there is more to this notion than a mere repeating of the previous slide.
In recent years, Thad Matta has been very successful in infiltrating the state of Indiana and snatching away the Hoosier state’s best players.
Just to name a few, Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr. and Deshaun Thomas all played their high-school ball in Indiana before joining the scarlet and gray.
Indiana is one of the best programs in college basketball history, but they have found themselves struggling until recently. Matta undoubtedly benefited in the recruiting department from the Hoosiers struggles, no matter where he was searching in the Midwest.
Now that Tom Crean has Indiana back near the top of the college basketball world, Matta will find it much more difficult to lure Indiana and even Illinois players inside Ohio’s borders.
Throw in the fact that he is recruiting against the game’s best (and most controversial) recruiter in John Calipari to his south, luring top talent to Columbus for the foreseeable future will not be an easy task.
Maybe Matta can ask Urban Meyer for some help.