While Buckeye basketball has been resurrected and had a tremendous amount of success under Thad Matta, there is certainly a lot our humble leader can learn about building an elite program. Looking around the country, there are some great coaches who have made their mark on the game, but when you talk about building greatness at a school over long periods of time there is nobody better to take notes from than college basketball's newest national champion, UNC coach Roy Williams.
While Williams has been blessed with recruiting the nation's best talent at prestigious universities like Kansas and North Carolina, there is something to be said about what he has done with that talent and his strategies in obtaining the talent that plays for him. When you look at Williams' programs and other successful programs across college hoops there are some common factors that go into building a program with a winning tradition. There are many factors to success at the college level, but five characteristics stand out more to me than the others. These common factors are senior leadership, depth, recruiting pieces that fit the system, ability to dictate the style of the game, and, simply, defense. Let's take a look at each one of these areas of a championship caliber program, how they apply to OSU, and what Thad Matta can do to reach these in the future.
It is important to have senior leadership on any team for many reasons, but most importantly seniors are the smartest players on the court, have the most in-game experience, and are looked up to in times of hardship and struggle. A coach needs to be able to groom leadership amongst his players so that when the said player is ready to take the reigns of the team as a senior leader he is fully prepared for all responsibilities. Roy Williams has done an excellent job of that, but part of the job he has done has to do with the fact that he continually has players who stay four years so that they may become seniors. Thad Matta has had the unfortunate experience of having Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Daequan Cook, Kosta Koufos, Eric Wallace, BJ Mullens, and Anthony Crater all depart Columbus early to either enter the NBA or because of transfers. Thad's most successful year in Columbus is when he had a mix of star recruits and veteran leaders in 2006-2007, and while he's had star recruits continue to come in, he hasn't been able to add the senior leadership to those classes because there are no seniors (or mature seniors in the case of Jamar Butler) around anymore to lead the younger guys. This will be imperative in the coming years with guys like Diebler, Lauderdale, and Lighty expected to stay for their full tenures at OSU, but is even more important in our next category, recruiting.
Recruiting Players Who Fit The System
While I will never turn down a recruit with the talent or potential of those we have had come through Columbus, you have to recruit players who fit your system and want to grow at the college level within that system to better themselves on and off the court. Look at North Carolina once again, and you see great players like Danny Green, Marcus Ginyard, Deon Thompson, and others who were not of the same caliber of guys like Greg Oden, but were recruited because they fit well in Roy Williams' system and could grow into very solid players in Chapel Hill. David Lighty is an example of one of those types of players, but instead of trying to hook the big fish like BJ Mullens, it wouldn't be so bad for Thad to go after guys that may be the next level down as recruits, but are willing to put in the work to be excellent basketball players for Ohio State (like Cameron Wright of 2010). With the strategy of recruiting the players who best fit your system, rather than recruiting the best players and trying to fit them into your system, you build a successful program, which is much better than building one successful team.
While recruiting and senior leadership are important, depth could be one of the biggest on-court keys to a national championship season. Look at the successful teams in the nation right now-UNC, Michigan State, UCONN, Villanova, Louisville-and one common factor among all of them is that they have depth. The ability to avoid injury problems, foul trouble within games, fatigue issues, and other problems that occur throughout a basketball season are invaluable and can only be done by having a ton of depth. Look at this year's OSU team for example and although the season may not have been that much different, I can guarantee you it would have been a lot easier (at least to watch) if the Bucks had David Lighty playing on the court and teaching the younger players about what it takes to win at the college level. Depth is a result of being able to recruit solid players across the board and one-and-done's don't help either, but with the class Thad has coming in a few years, depth should not be a problem for the 2010-2011 OSU team, but I'm not sure I can say the same for next year's squad.
Dictating The Style Of Basketball Played
Both championship teams, Michigan State and North Carolina, were able to dictate the style of basketball played during their games. Although you didn't see it last night, MSU generally slowed the game down, played excellent defense, and took advantage of their ability to play inside-outside and take high percentage shots. UNC was able to speed the game up and beat their opponents every time down the court in transition. The problem with Ohio State basketball this year was that there was no distinguishable consistent game plan on the offensive side of the floor and the team continually played down and into the game of its competition. While Evan Turner is a great player, he can't do everything himself and letting him try to do everything on his own is no way to be a successful basketball team. Thad Matta must be able to establish a style of basketball he wants to play and find a way to execute that game plan every game of the season. If you're playing the game the way you want to play it, it is much easier to win basketball games compared to trying to win at somebody else's game.
Finally, but definitely not the least important, is defense. Every championship caliber team plays great defense, and not only that, but they can throw different defensive strategies at you so that it is harder to adjust. The Buckeyes certainly did not execute the latter this season, and even their base zone defense was not too stifling. UNC had an explosive offense this season and while some criticized their defensive efforts at times, you may be surprised to learn that they had a top 20 ranked defense in the nation. Their ability to force turnovers and move the ball in transition was key to their championship run and if you can get the ball from your opponent to limit their opportunities, and more importantly create your own points off of these turnovers, the formula for a win is at your fingertips. The Buckeyes need to be more creative and aggressive on the defensive side of the ball next season if they want to be a winner and will need to change things drastically fro the past season.
With these characteristics built into the philosophy of the Ohio State basketball program, Thad Matta is guaranteed to have continued success during his time in Columbus. The state of Ohio State basketball is in good shape now, but excellence could be on the horizon and the blueprint for the next national championship run in Columbus can be laid if these practices are added to what is currently in place. Hey, it worked for Roy Williams, why can't it work for Thad Matta too?