Thad Matta has accomplished a lot during his eight seasons as captain of the Ohio State ship.
But a list of conference championships, tournament runs and Final Four appearances doesn’t mean the head coach is resting on his laurels heading into the new season.
Unfortunately for Buckeye fans, there are plenty of pitfalls that could potentially push Matta’s hairline back even more.
Here are four pressing issues that should be primary concerns for Matta and the Scarlet and Gray as they attempt to return to the Final Four.
The staple of any good Thad Matta-coached team has always been, and probably always will be, defense.
Whether directing a pesky Xavier press in his younger days or helping Greg Oden perfect the proper shot blocking technique, Matta has always stressed the less glamorous side of the ball.
This season, Matta has the perfect player in Aaron Craft to spearhead these efforts. However, if the Buckeyes are going to be a truly elite team again, they cannot afford their other leader and best player to be a defensive liability.
Deshaun Thomas can score from basically anywhere on the floor. Never was that more evident than last season’s NCAA tournament.
However, his defending has always been his Achilles heel. Matta wouldn’t have started calling him Shaun (no “D”) for a while if it wasn’t.
The good news is Thomas made visible strides (and shed his moniker) in this department as the year wore on.
Nevertheless, Matta would likely sleep better at night if Thomas made even larger strides this year. He would probably even live with a few more rebounds.
Despite the frustrations he caused for some fans, William Buford was a critical cog in the Ohio State machine for the last four years.
Now that he is gone, the Bucks are going to need other pieces to step up. The first place Matta will turn is the upperclassman Lenzelle Smith Jr.
Smith brings a great defensive presence (probably better than Buford ever was), and has shown flashes of stardom on the offensive side during his first two years.
But for every 28-point and seven-rebound performance against Indiana, there were two-point outings against Michigan and Michigan State.
Now that Smith is an upperclassman, Ohio State is going to need much more consistency from the shooting guard slot. Matta won’t need 20 points a game from Smith, but he is perfectly capable of a double-digit scoring average (I’m envisioning 10-12 points).
We saw it in multiple NCAA tournament games last March, so perhaps Smith can pick up where he left off.
Greg Oden, Kosta Koufos, Byron Mullens, Dallas Lauderdale and Jared Sullinger.
Not a bad list of collegiate big guys for Thad Matta to list on his resume, despite the relative lack of success they have had in the professional ranks (to be fair to Sullinger, he should outperform the others in the NBA).
Amir Williams is the next heir to the Ohio State center throne, and once again, there is considerable hype and potential. The 6’11” Williams was a McDonald’s All-American and a formidable shot blocker in the limited minutes he saw during his freshman campaign.
The problem is there may not be much in terms of depth after Williams outside of Evan Ravenel. And, frankly speaking, Ravenel is about as low-risk, low-reward as they come. It’s hard to imagine Ravenel ever consistently scoring double-digit points or doing more than providing serviceable defense and rebounding.
Matta is going to need both Williams and Ravenel to stay healthy and stay out of foul trouble. Otherwise, there could be trouble in Columbus.
Replacing William Buford is going to be a team effort, which is why one of these pressing issues was more consistency from Smith Jr.
However, much of the burden will be lifted from Smith’s shoulders if LaQuinton Ross and/or Sam Thompson live up to their potential.
Each will be entering their sophomore campaigns, but Ross was the more hyped of the two coming out of high school. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, Ross ran into some academic trouble and spent the majority of the season riding the bench.
Thompson, on the other hand, performed fairly well as a freshman. He was a solid defensive presence and provided athleticism to help match up with quicker teams. He also had the ability to bring the fans to their feet at a moment’s notice with his high-flying dunks.
Despite the differences in their freshman production, Ross is the player with the higher ceiling. Matta is going to need him to provide the three-point shooting he was recruited for and play a large role in Ohio State’s offense.
If all four of these pressing issues are answered favorably, the Buckeyes could be in for another successful season.