Mission Accomplished

By Johnny Ginter on April 2, 2012 at 2:00p
Smiles, everyone. Smiles.

The biggest problem with success is that when you attain it, people tend to expect more of it, and in increasing quantities. For Urban Meyer, this isn't that big of a deal; OSU football fans have a pretty good grasp on the stakes of college football and the overall likelihood of the Buckeyes winning a national championship during a given year. To compete for a national title and reach a BCS bowl is a goal that seems incredibly greedy and kind of ridiculous to expect year in and year out, but Ohio State has shown consistently in the past decade that it's not at all unreasonable.

Thad Matta, on the other hand, has to deal with something else altogether.

It'd be wrong to say that OSU didn't have an accomplished basketball program before he arrived; even though much of the record has been expunged, Jim O'Brien took a basement-dwelling team and almost immediately took it to the Final Four. Still though, all of his teams seemed to be outliers on the college basketball scene: the Big Ten was still dominated by the likes of Michigan State, Illinois, and sometimes Wisconsin/Indiana, so OSU was not the consistent national player that they now find themselves being.

Which is both awesome and pretty crappy for Matta. On one hand, he's created a monster of a program that has been able to draw from the very deep well of talent in Ohio and in Indiana on a regular basis, win consistently in the Big Ten, and challenge for national titles. On the other, he now has to deal with a nouveau riche attitude toward winning; we've (meaning OSU fans and administration) got a taste for meat now, and that isn't going to go away anytime soon.

And that's not at all a bad thing. With the resources and draw that OSU has, there's no reason why Matta shouldn't be able to continue his success. Still though, it'd be unfortunate if the disappointment from a loss to Kansas in the Final Four overshadowed what Jeff Boals called Matta's "best coaching job" since he's been at Ohio State. Looking at the stats on the offensive side of the ball, I'd say I agree with the assessment.

An early blowout win against Duke set some improbably high expectations for the 2011-2012 OSU men's b-ball squad, and made it a little too easy to forget that they had lost an incredible on the ball defender in David Lighty, a reliable defensive big man in Dallas Lauderdale, and a guy coming off of one of the best 3 point shooting seasons in OSU basketball history in Jon Diebler.

Make no mistake, statistically this was a much weaker team than last season. Starting with 3 point shooting, this season's team shot a paltry 33.7%, which pales to the previous season's 42.3%. "Well duh," you're saying, "maybe it's because, I dunno, Diebler had a swig of Bugs Bunny's magic drink and shot the lights out of the ball last year." Well first of all, don't be a jerk.

Secondly, it wasn't just Diebler. Buford and Lighty both shot over 43% from three last year, which took a ton of pressure off of Jared Sullinger inside the paint. This season? Only one Buckeye averaged over 40% shooting on their threes, and that was Sully himself. Buford went from hitting 44% from downtown to just 36%, and no one else picked up his slack. Deshaun Thomas wasn't any better, barely improving on his 33% three point shooting from the previous season.

I hate harping on William Buford for a lot of reasons, not the least being that he played very well when it mattered the most against Kansas. But with that said, he probably had his worst overall season since his freshman year. He averaged 14.5 points a game, almost identical to the 14.4 per he notched in his previous two seasons, but it took him an extra 56 shots to do it. He saw his overall FG% fall from 46% to 42%, and even though he ended up tying Jerry Lucas for 3rd place in all time scoring at Ohio State, he needed an extra 56 FG attempts from last year to reach that milestone.

Next year will be interesting.

It should be noted, of course, that the Buckeyes weren't completely hapless on offense; in fact they were incredibly efficient and among the best overall scoring teams in the country, largely due to the continued excellence of Sully (who increased his points per game) and Thomas (who did the same by means of more than doubling his).

It should also be noted that while there were some glaring offensive holes on the team, several players (including Willie Buckets himself), started to play much better defense as the season went on. It was a huge factor in their success, especially given how well Aaron Craft played overall. Still, despite some hints last summer that he might develop into a Diebler-esque shooter, he never did. Craft shot 50% from the field this year and averaged 8.8 points per game, but was nonexistent as an outside shooting threat. In fact, Kid A attempted even fewer threes this season than he did last season while playing on the same team as Jon Diebler.

What this all adds up to is a team with greatly diminished offensive firepower from last season, mostly due to the near total lack of a deep shooting threat. Knowing this, I was shocked that OSU made it to the Final Four, and it's a testament to Thad Matta's leadership and coaching that he was able to manage that and also keep a somewhat finicky team in line and on track for the tourney. It's a great coaching job, whether he gets the credit from us or not.

So, this is the new normal of Ohio State basketball. We can forgive a generally crappy season from William Buford because he played like a champion in his final game as a Buckeye. Our adoring love for Aaron Craft will be tempered by the few boneheaded plays he made down the stretch against Kansas. And unfortunately Thad Matta's terrific coaching job of guiding a team that was less talented than they were a year prior to the Final Four will be handwaved away by some because OSU lost to a team they were favored to beat.

In the end it's all about what you choose to remember, and I choose to remember a great (and for anyone that watched this team in February, completely unexpected) Final Four run that exceeded my expectations for this team, and the coach that pushed the Buckeyes there.


Comments Show All Comments

buckeyefanatic's picture

If only all of our guys could have generally crappy seasons like Buford, I would be so happy. I'm too much of a homer to have a respectable opinion but I<3WILLIEB.

How many batteries does it take to beat Michigan football?   1AA
Want to beat Michigan? There's an App for that.

Urban Nation's picture

I love the way Matta can develop talent (if they stay long enough) just look at Evan Turner and Jon Diebler. When I saw them play as freshman I was wondering how they got scholarships and thought Jon Diebler should be playing for Capital University. Turner's first season we all remember Even Turnover, anybody think he would be the second overall pick? 


If it wasn't for the NBA lock out Diebler would be playing for the Trailblazers. But he is playing in Greece for a team I can't spell, I am hoping some how Diebler finds his way to the Cavs they need a good shooter among other things.

It's good to be home.

pcon258's picture

love this angle on a loss. its always nice to hear someone thinking positively. the real fun in sports is encouragement, rather than constant pessimism, so im happy to look at this through the lens of success rather than failure

Buckeye Chuck's picture

I still think Matta's best coaching job was the 2005-06 team, and it's not even close. That team had the same #2 seed in the NCAA tournament that this year's team had, and without a single NBA-type talent on the roster.

People can be happy about the overall season while still being annoyed at the way it ended, especially since we haven't had that ultimate thrill that comes with winning it all in 52 years despite multiple chances and despite having had the best team in the country just last year (I'm sure Bill Self took some heat after Kansas lost to VCU and Northern Iowa, but their very recent championship helped soften those blows).

And while it's fair to say this team did well considering its lack of consistent outside shooting, bringing shooters into the program is a key part of Matta's job.

The most "loud mouth, disrespect" poster on 11W.

timdogdad's picture

we've hit new expectations for b-ball. but when osu was introduced at the game sat and making their 11th (really 12) appearance in the final four,  i thought,  what school since basically post ww2 has won 7 football titles and has 12 trips to the final four?  who can even touch that? given fla credit for 2 titles each just a few years ago but look at the classic programs in each sport-bama, usc, penn state, texas-ever been to a final four?     carolina, kansas, ky,-ever had a good football team and been to a rose, sugar bowl, etc.   and this spans over 70 years too, not just a good team here or there.   and with our current programs, facilities and coaches, lets see where we are in ten years. more accomplishments to add i bet?      

Buckeye in Illini country's picture


Columbus to Pasadena: 35 hours.  "We're on a road trip through the desert looking for strippers and cocaine... and Rose Bowl wins!"

AJBor41's picture

Wasn't this our 10th appearance (11 counting the '99 year)?  Either way, I agree...what our two main athletic programs have accomplished in the modern era has been amazing. 

RedStorm45's picture

Yes, 11 minus the '99 year makes 10.  1 title.  We have more FF appearances than Indiana (5 titles), MSU (2 titles), UConn (3 titles), and a host of others.  Just UNC, Duke, UCLA, UK, and KU have more FF appearances than us...yet we're still on 1 national title. I mean there's 14 schools with multiple national championships.

djidell's picture

I think it's ok to be disappointed, we were favored in every game of the Tourney.  With that being said i was pleasantly surprised with the Final Four..i mean we could have lost to Gonzaga, Cincy or Cuse--we closed those games but couldn't close the 4th.

When is Sully announcing his decision on the NBA?

I give us one out of a million he stays.

So you're telling me there's a chance... *YEAH!*

buckeyedude's picture

So you're telling me there's a chance...

That would be dumberer.



doodah_man's picture

I think that not enough attention is being paid to the health of Thad Matta (ala the Dispatch article on his back and how it affects his ability to walk and overall health). I can't be to selfish here since I have experienced some similar problems. 

Jim "DooDah" Day

"If I were giving a young man advice as to how he might succeed in life, I would say to him, pick out a good father and mother, and begin life in Ohio.” --Wilbur Wright, 1910

thatlillefty's picture

While the outcome of saturday's game was certainly disappointing, in the end, only one team can be champion. And to make it to the Final Four... well that ain't bad.

This team was an absolute joy to watch, and I look forward to next year.

O - H !

zbd's picture

Got the most out of the team. Matta didn't substitute Craft, Sully, etc. and it showed as they were worn out in the 4th quarter. Live and die by not giving the starters rest like other teams do. The total chaos in the final minute of the Kansas game cannot be accepted.  Need 5 star players to replace Sully, Buford and maybe Thomas.

Ultrabuckeyehomer's picture

Way too much is made of his lack of playing the bench. He has never played the bench since he arrievd in columbus.  he has taken two teams to the final four, one to the championship game.  Obviously, not having a great bench hasn't hurt too much.  also, look at his record in the big ten tourney - when fatigue and lack of a bench would really hurt - its incredible.  The NCAA tourney is not nearly as demanding as the confernece tourney.

Would I like more bench contribution? Sure.  Is it necessary to win a title? No. The reason we lost had nothing to do with being tired or lack of depth... we didn't play smart down the stretch and couldn't hit a shot to save our lives. 

I don't care if Matta never develops a bech as long as he wins like he has

RedStorm45's picture

That '06-'07 team had Othello Hunter, Daequan Cook, Matt Terwillger, and David Lighty off the bench who all played significant minutes.  

buckeye76BHop's picture

It's a shame some people are so critical of Matta for not winning a Championship (not on this site BTW).  I appreciate this article because it shows how he took a team from desuetude from a NCAA scandal to where they are today.  Without his recruiting and coaching...this team would have not gotten anywhere.  Yes they weren't in the toilet when he took over, but it wasn't a good situation to walk into (certainly similar to Urban's).  He's done a GREAT job at OSU and I hope he retires as the Buckeye's head coach.

"There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you."

"I love football. I think it is most wonderful game in world and I despise to lose."

Woody Hayes 1913 - 1987 

baddogmaine's picture

I'm not irritated with Matta because we lost to a team we were favored to beat - I'm  irritated becase as the team began unravelling through the second half on Saturday he called to timeouts or made player substitutions to try to fix things, he seemimgly just let it happen. He did nothing to fix our defense, he did nothing to work out an offense without Thomas on the floor, he did nothing to remind Sullinger that there is no glory in helping the opposing center set the record for most blocks in a semifinal. (Withy set an all-time record. Our coach shares in that.)

I'm irritated because though it was obvious through the year that the team *might* need something off the bench in March Matta elevated wins over team development, leaving us with not a single bench player who could contribute to a struggling offense.

I'll concede that Matta did a terrific job in taking a limited team to the final four, but  his 2012 brilliance gets an asterisk in my book, for problems that could have been fixed and weren't. It was a year that exceeded expectations, but could have been even better.

buckeyedude's picture

I'm just irritated because I live my life vicariously through 20 something kids, and I hate to lose. I'm Ohio State's #1 couch potato.

A couch, by the way, I would NEVER burn, even after a loss like Saturday's. Why would I do that? I just got the cushions to fit perfectly to the shape of my butt. Can't wait for Buckeye football season!



BuckeyeCrew's picture

I'm irritated because while Thad was at it, he didn't also come up with a vaccine for Alzheimer's, all the while perfecting a cheap commercial vehicle that runs on dark energy (which scientists have yet to even qualify). 

So, I put a double **... nay TRIPLE *** by this Final Four run.  I mean really, any other team could have done it.. hell even Lamar could have done it with proper coaching.

Now, let me get back to guzzling my 2L of diet soda, while eating a bucket of greasy KFC, followed by Ben&Jerry's for desert.  Geez.. I just hope my overly-critical gut doesn't prevent me from typing more hyper-critical bullsh*t, after I wake up from passing out on my sugar high.


faux_maestro's picture

How do you know that he did nothing? Were you on the bench? Were you in the huddle during the media TO's? Do you know something that we as fans, and NOT players/assistant coaches who were actually there, know?

Your mom told me she wants a Dicken Cidar.

baddogmaine's picture

I don't know, but as Sherlock Holmes said: when you've eliminated all else what is left is the answer. We showed against Syracuse that we could tread water without Sullinger on the floor. So against Kansas Matta could have sat Sully for a brief spell with some confidence that Evan or Emir would not have given the game away in three minutes. Instead, Sully weas left on the floor to continue to force shots against a defense set up to stop him. Sully was frustrated but he is teachable, and had Matta taught during the game I'm confident Jared would have understood that winning is more important than personal scoring, and almost anything is better than entrering the record books as the one guy who did the most to help an opposing player set the record for most blocks.

I believe it because OSU did know how to play transition defense, they just stopped doing it effectively in the second half. Not just sometimes but for much of the second half. To me it looked like rotation problems. Those are fixable with coaching adjustments. If it was lack of effort then guys not trying neded to sit while subs tried for them. What was there to lose? We don't do worse losing by 20 than losing by 2. But Matta made no channges.

I believe it because Kansas, with fewer pros on their roster, looking bad in the first half, dominated in the second half. Not because their players decided to  start trying but because Self showed them how their effort could be better directed. And in contrast OSU, with four future pros in the starting lineup and a game plan that worked in the first half, got dominated in the second half against the same players they had been dominating before intermission. So what happened? Craft and Sullinger and Smith and Buford suddenly became worse? Thomas sat for most of the first half and we did fine, in the second half his subs got worse? What happened was that Matta got outcoached.

This doesn't mean that he should be fired. It doesn't mean that he didn't do a great job getting us to the Final Four. It means that like Sullinger and Thomas and Craft he choked. He choked at - what - a few mil a year? He gets paid that to NOT choke. Call it by its name - a good coach who did not handle the big game well, and arguably did not use the first 30  games of the year to develop flexibility for the six game run.He deserves praise AND he desefves pointed criticism. And it doesn't matter wheher the criticism will change him - sites like this one exist not just so fans can show their loyalty but also so that fans who watch the games and have a good working understanding of the sport can make observations as we see it.

If you want to believe that Matta is perfect then believe it.

BuckeyeChief's picture

Ramble time:
Last year's team was better, this one was gritier; we should've won, but in retrospect, i'm happy we made it...Matta did a helluva job getting this team to the Final Four, best coaching job indeed...if Sully comes back (healthy and in shape) with Amir starting, watch out...I think Sully is coming back...the way KU looks, this game is over at the half...that being said, the NCAA will take it away in 3 years...am I glad we aren't facing them (as some have suggested)? No. Anything can happen...we'll win it one day.

"2014 National Champions...deal with it!!!"

ghalephoto's picture

Matta has no recruits of substance lined up and that has never happened.  Something big is coming down the pike. now if that is everyone is coming back, nobody is coming back or Matta's back will cause him to retire, I have no clue.  However this has a such an odd feeling that there is not more of defined situation that one has to wonder.  You know that something will happen and you also know, nobody posting here has it correct.


Brutus's picture

He has no recruits lined up because he has exactly one senior. Until guys declare for the draft and/or announce that they are transferring, there is no more room on this team for more than one recruit (which I think we have already). It's actually sort of a good problem to have, that is, if you like the young guys on the roster. I'm not wild about what we saw from the bench this year, but I'm told that they are good so I'll trust the guys that know.

Does anyone know when recruits sign NLOI in basketball (is it even called that)? I know that this was always expected to be a pretty thin year for recruiting. Assuming a bunch of guys declare/transfer, is it too late to snatch up some good recruits?

couldntgo43's picture

Agreed.  I'm beyond happy that we made it that far.  I was saying in February we'd be lucky to get to the second weekend. 

However, when the chips were down in the second half, our young team resorted to some bad habits (a la February's 2-3 stretch).  Poor shot selection with a general lack of execution all combined with that lack of grittiness/toughness needed to ride through Kansas' run.  Cincy made a similar big/scary run at the beginning of the second half, but we stayed tough and got it going again.  (I'm a big Sullinger fan, but I'd like to see less bawling over officiating.  Instead of putting your hands up in disgust, get back on D big man!  Let Matta do the complaining for you and ask the officials why they made a particular call during a dead ball.)  Instead of putting our tail between our legs, we buckled down, played some defense, moved the ball around, and executed.

I'm not going to poo-poo the lack of bench minutes, but why not get Amir in there on Withey to add some length for us underneath?  If nothing else, the kid's long and when he plays aggressively creates problems for teams.  Deshaun/Sullinger weren't getting it done inside obviously.  When Plan A doesn't work, let's try Plan B.  I wish we could have seen a Sullinger/Williams front line this season.  I think it would have been a really interesting lineup, especially against a big, brawling team like Michigan State.  (Craft, Bu, Thomas, Sully, Amir) 

baddogmaine's picture

Generally speaking, Thad is not big on Plan Bs. He (seemingly) puts together an overall plan and applies it to each and every game. He does (seemingly) little adjusting, which is why Bo Ryan with far less talent has a winning record against him and Bill Carmody, with much much less talent, is able to take far too many Wildcat games to the very end - because they know what a Matta-coached team is going to do. We saw far too littlke of Matta making changes in strategy, in line-up. And during the early part of the season when he could have won AND gotten subs game experience he stuck with the known, leaving him with too few subs he was comfident in at season's end. Sullinger hurt us in the second half against Kansas, for almost the entire half. Williams did not hurt us against Syracuse. That was a sub that seemed to have been called for.

To his credit Matta's Plan A is really good. It wins a lot of games. But he may never be more than a really good coach unless and until he is willing to look at Plan Bs.

One more thought on the Williams of the world. Matta is crreating a disincentive to HS players who are not going to immediately crack the starting lineup. Were I someone not good enough to start but good enough to sub what reason would I have to come to Columbus? Maybe I'll break in my sophomore year, as Smith and Thomas did; but maybe a freshman will take my spot and I'll spend four years riding the pine. Not a good prospect for guys with potential. By comparison Butler looks pretty good, don't you think? And by the way Butler played for the title in 2010 and 2011.

Johnny Ginter's picture

honestly i think OSU is going to be pretty good next year, especially on the defensive end. a lineup of amir, lenzelle, craft, thompson, and maybe ross has potential to be decent (although they'll probably average like 50 points per game)

baddogmaine's picture

Is it "especially" or "only"? The question on defense is whether a line-up with three guys with little game experience can defend without fouling. If those are the starters who comes off the bench if someone does get in trouble? 50 points for that line-up may be right. Alas, though it can win games Matta has never liked playing that tempo. The only times we have played at sub-60 pace is when an opponent forces us to. Can Matta turn that line-up into a scoring machine, or will he try to fit these square pegs into the round holes of his system? Fortunately, the Big Ten as a whole will be down next year. MSU is losing Green and Thornton, scUM is losing Douglas,  Novack and Smotczrc, Whiskey is losing Taylor, Purdue is losing Hummell, Jackson and Smith. Indiana would appear to be the best of show, after them who? We might not need to be great to compete in theB1G.