Ohio State Basketball Recruiting: Where Should Thad Matta Turn in 2014 Class?

Scott PolacekFeatured ColumnistFebruary 24, 2013

ANN ARBOR, MI - JANUARY 05: Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Thad Matta reacts during a game against the Michigan Wolverines at Crisler Center on February 5, 2013 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

It has only been two years since Thad Matta brought a top-10 recruiting class to the Ohio State basketball program, but there is some fretting among Buckeye Nation that he has lost his golden touch on the recruiting front.

After all, he only brought in one unheralded prospect in 2012 after striking out on Tony Parker (who eventually went to UCLA), and Andrew Wiggins—the top prospect in the 2013 class—recently eliminated Ohio State from the schools he is considering.

The Buckeyes’ 2013 class will likely only include two players (Kameron Williams and Marc Loving) when national signing day rolls around, marking the second straight recruiting season that Ohio State has failed to make a significant splash.

So what happened to the Matta that landed (per Scout.com) the No. 2 class in 2006, No. 7 class in 2007, No. 2 class in 2008, No. 3 class in 2010 and No. 8 class in 2011?

That ruthless recruiter is targeting 2014 as the year to make his grand comeback to the national stage. In fact, 247sports.com recently listed Ohio State on top of its way-too-early 2014 class rankings, and that was before Matta received a commitment from 6’10” center Dave Bell of Garfield Heights near Cleveland.

Bell is somewhat under the radar because he missed a summer of AAU ball with a broken foot, but after an impressive performance at the Flyin’ to the Hoop tournament in Dayton, he drew some interest from the likes of Arizona, West Virginia and Pittsburgh.

Matta struck before the iron got hot with Bell, and it was a wise move because Bell will likely rise in recruiting rankings if he continues to average better than 17 points, eight rebounds and four blocks a game this year.

Bell joins a class that already includes verbal pledges from Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate, both of whom are considered athletic wings that could have impacts from Day 1 on campus.

Many coaches would be satisfied with a three-man class of that caliber, especially since the prospects are going to compete for heavy minutes right away. However, Matta is looking for 2014 to be a program-altering year in terms of the prospects he lands and is reportedly trying to get as many as six freshmen, numbers that are typically reserved for the likes of John Calipari.

So where should he turn next?

The grand prize would be center Jahlil Okafor out of Chicago. He is considered to be one of the best (if not the best) players in the nation for 2014, and is drawing interest from the typical cast of characters such as Duke, Kansas and Michigan State.

The intriguing thing about Okafor is that he wants to play at the college level with point guard Tyus Jones of Minnesota, another immensely talented prospect. It’s probably safe to assume that Matta has reminded Okafor and Jones of the last point guard-center package deal he brought to Columbus—Mike Conley Jr. and Greg Oden.

This should be priority 1A and 1B for Matta because he already has commitments from two wing players and will need a point guard by 2014 to replace Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott and a center to replace the (thus far) underwhelming Amir Williams.

If Matta could convince Okafor to don the scarlet and gray, it would continue his recent run of momentum in the Chicago area that includes commitments from the likes of Evan Turner and Sam Thompson. Landing combination recruits like Okafor and Jones are the types of moves that bring Final Four and championship banners to arenas.

It is also worth keeping an eye on shooting guard L.J. Peak, who just happens to be high school teammates with Okafor. The Buckeyes have extended an offer (via Scout.com) to Peak, who is a very talented player in his own right. Of course, a commitment from Peak would undoubtedly help in the Okafor sweepstakes.

In a perfect world, Matta would be more than satisfied with a six-man class of Okafor, Peak, Jones, Bell, Bates-Diop and Tate, but that may be somewhat of a pipedream, even if it is entirely plausible.

With that in mind, Ohio State will spread its eggs out across a couple more baskets, including that of forward Leron Black from Memphis. Black was originally a Baylor commit, but he reneged on his verbal pledge and is once again drawing interest across the college basketball landscape.

Don’t think of Black as some type of backup plan, though. He is a 5-star prospect and could very easily crack the starting lineup as a freshman thanks to his defensive and rebounding prowess, two traits that Matta emphasizes among all his players. He is also more than capable of putting the ball in the basket and is arguably the best prospect not named Okafor that Matta has his eye on.

Each of the players listed here is among the best in the country for the class of 2014. If the Ohio State coaching staff can convince any one of them to join those already planning on taking their talents to Columbus, the Buckeyes will be major players on the national scene immediately.

If Matta could somehow land a group of six recruits that includes the majority of the names here, the Buckeyes could find themselves in the national championship again. Maybe this time they can avoid Joakim Noah and Al Horford.