Thinking Out Loud about Thad Matta, Ohio State and B1G Tourney
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — With the Big Ten Tournament getting underway Thursday, it seemed liked the perfect time to reflect back on what Thad Matta and the Buckeyes accomplished this season.
It was also a great time to look ahead at this weekend, where Ohio State will be vying for a third-straight B1G Tournament championship. That got me thinking out loud.
About Thad Matta…
1. Before we move on to the postseason—where fans will undoubtedly measure Matta only by whether the Buckeyes win a championship, or at least reach the Final Four—it only seems right to pause and reflect. I find that people are in such a hurry to see how far this team can go in March, they all but ignore everything that happened from December to February.
2. This OSU team was two games down with two to play, and they were trailing a Michigan State program that knows how to finish. The Spartans have been to six Final Fours under Tom Izzo, and they have won seven regular season Big Ten championships. (Interestingly enough, they have only won two B1G Tournament titles, and none since 2000.)
3. Matta has now won five regular season title in seven years at Ohio State. That ties him for second all-time with Harold G. Olsen, who guided the Buckeyes to five Big Ten titles (1925, 1933, 1939, 1944, 1946) in his 24 years at Ohio State. Two more titles, and Matta will tie OSU basketball coaching legend Fred Taylor for the most Big Ten titles in school history.
4. Taylor is the only coach to have his name hanging from the rafters at Value City Arena. The Zanesville, Ohio native coached the Buckeyes for 18 seasons, leading them to five Big Ten championships in his first six years with the program. He also led them to an NCAA Championship in 1960, and two NCAA Runner-up finishes the following seasons.
5. No coach will ever replace Taylor in Ohio State folklore. What he did, when he did it, will always be remembered, but consider what Matta has accomplished after taking over a program that was still on probation from the Jim O’Brien fiasco.
6. Matta reached the NCAA championship game in just his third season at Ohio State. He didn’t come away with the victory, but he also didn’t have Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek to work with.
7. Matta has had to win a lot of different ways, with a lot of different players. He has had very little consistency with his roster since taking over in 2004 (it’s scary to think what last year’s team would have looked like with a senior version of Evan Turner), but has guided the Buckeyes to three-straight B1G titles and back-to-back tournament championships.
About the Buckeyes…
1. Matta said Wednesday he doesn’t think Jared Sullinger is still nursing an injury. If he is, Sullinger hasn’t said anything to his head coach. In fact, he told Matta this week that he feels as good, physically, as he has in a while.
2. Sullinger’s roommate, Evan Ravenel, agreed. He said that Jared doesn’t seem to be hampered by an injury when he is walking around the apartment, but sometimes it’s hard to tell because Sullinger is not always the most graceful walker.
3. Despite what his teammates and coaches say, it still looks like something is off in Sullinger’s lower body. He seems to have a hitch in his gait running up and down the floor, but Matta insisted there was nothing wrong with his feet.
4. It might not be worth the worry if Sullinger had not dealt with a back injury earlier in the season. Considering it kept him out of three games, it almost seems unrealistic to think it wouldn’t be a lingering issue throughout the season.
5. Back problems are some of the hardest injuries to shake, which really makes what Evan Turner did two years ago all the more surreal. It seems like ancient history now, but it is still amazing to think that Turner fractured two lumbar vertebra in his back during the middle of a college basketball season and returned to win National Player of the Year.
6. The more concerning injury right now might be Aaron Craft’s right ankle. Matta said Wednesday that Craft has experienced “excruciating pain” in his ankle whenever it gets hit or turned the wrong way.
7. Craft’s offensive game has actually improved in recent weeks, but the injury could affect his ability to play the kind of lockdown man defense that earned him Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
8. Go back and watch the play by Keith Appling in the regular-season finale. Appling took Craft off the dribble, forcing him to his right, and drove all the way to the basket for a score and the foul. That is something Craft has not allowed many times in his career at Ohio State.
9. It is also important to note Matta said Deshaun Thomas was “fine” after having his left shoulder banged in the Michigan State game. Thomas seemed to be favoring his shooting shoulder down the stretch, but Matta said there were no lingering effects in practice this week.
About the B1G Tourney…
1. Those expecting Michigan State to win it all this weekend might want to curb their enthusiasm a bit. Yes, the Spartans are the No. 1 overall seed in the B1G Tournament, which means they will avoid having to face BOTH of their co-champions until the final.
2. Izzo has never been a fan of conference tournaments, and it shows in the way his team performs each year in Indianapolis. The Spartans have won seven regular season titles since 1999, but they have not won a Big Ten Tournament championship since the year 2000.
3. Even more surprising is the fact Michigan State has not even played in a championship game since beating Illinois 76-61 back in 2000. They also won the event in 1999, but they have a 15-12 overall record in the Big Ten Tournament, and fewer appearances in the title game than Iowa.
4. Ohio State the most B1G Tourney titles with three, despite the fact Matta feels about the same as Izzo when it comes to conference tournaments. On Wednesday, he said he might get in trouble if he told us how he really felt about them, but his teams always seem to excel in the win-or-go-home format.
5. The Buckeyes are 17-8 (.680) all-time in the B1G Tourney, far and away the best record of any team in the conference. (Illinois is second at 23-12, and the Spartans are third.) Ohio State has won three tournaments, including the last two, and they have three more appearances in the final.
6. That ties the Illini with six title game appearances. Illinois won the tournament in 2003 and 2005, and lost the championship game to Ohio State in 2002 and Wisconsin in 2008. The Badgers are the No. 4-seed in this tournament, and they could be the ones to face Michigan State in the semifinals, if they can get past 5-seed Indiana on Friday.
7. Ohio Sate’s success in the conference tournament has probably helped their seeding for the Big Dance, but it certainly doesn’t guarantee more success in the NCAA Tournament.
8. Matta said Wednesday he hasn’t noticed a difference between being a No. 1-seed or a No. 2-seed in the tournament. That makes perfect sense, considering the Buckeyes were the No. 1 overall seed last year and still drew a region with Syracuse, Kentucky and North Carolina, arguably the three best teams in America this year.
9. Maybe Izzo is on to something. His Spartans have made four Final Four appearances since Michigan State’s last trip to the Big Ten championship game. Every team is built differently, but it’s hard to argue with Izzo’s model for success in March.
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