Without much fanfare outside of Columbus, Ohio and Ohio State fans, Thad Matta has coached the Ohio State men’s basketball team to another excellent season. The Buckeyes are 24-7 overall, 14-4 in the Big Ten, and have won the Big Ten title for the third time in Coach Matta’s six years at the University. They rattled off wins in 13 of their last 14 games after starting out the Big Ten season 1-3.
Coach Matta has a reputation as an excellent recruiter, and that reputation is richly deserved. He has brought some tremendous players to Ohio State — slashing point guards, talented 7-footers, deadeye outside shooters, and other players, like Even Turner, who are good at just about everything. His recruiting skills are a bit of a double-edged sword, however, because a number of those recruits have left Ohio State early for the NBA, leaving holes to be filled. Coach Matta has done so. One of the most impressive things about his record at Ohio State is that he has won at least 20 games every year, with different collections of players.
This year also has shown once again that Coach Matta and his staff really can coach, and not just recruit. He has melded his players into a very strong unit that plays well as a team. The players seem to genuinely like each other, respect the coaches, and follow the system. Good coaches tend to have players who are good people, and this year’s Buckeyes are a very likeable bunch. Another sign of good coaching is the development of the specific skills of the individual players. Each of the current starting five players has shown significant improvement during his career with the Buckeyes.
One reality of coaching at a major school with devoted fans, like Ohio State, is that you are going to be second-guessed unless you win every game by more than 20 points — and maybe even then as well. This year, the primary complaint has been that Coach Matta has relied too heavily on his starting five, not developing bench strength and risking wearing down his players as the season has progressed. So far, at least, the opposite seems to have occurred. The team has gotten stronger and, apparently, more confident with each passing game; it played very well against the Big Ten’s best teams down the stretch. The players may run out of gas come tournament time, but there has been no sign of that so far. Maybe it is just time for fans to recognize that Coach Matta knows what he is doing.
In the meantime, we also can appreciate Coach Matta and his record. We can be thankful that he is prowling the sidelines with great energy and intensity, chewing his gum furiously, wearing ties selected by his kids, showing great affection for his players, and bringing great college basketball to Ohio State and its appreciative fans.