Matta's Buckeyes are Working Hard, Playing Harder

By Kyle Rowland on January 31, 2013 at 10:00a


Those that don't share Allen Iverson's worldview consider it pretty crucial to development. If you put the work into practicing speed reading, surgery, juggling knives – anything, really – your proficiency should improve.

The other side of the clipboard? Diagrams of alley-oops to Sam Thompson.Matta's best work may come away from the cameras

Luckily for Thad Matta, the 2012-13 Ohio State Buckeyes seem to be a team that enjoys the art of improvement.

“Building a team is a process in terms of guys finding their niche and what type of personality they’re going to bring to practice,” Matta said. “That’s something we’ve tried to instill in them. This is the personality we want you to have. That’s easier said than done, but in terms of meetings and practice, they’ve been pretty receptive of having an understanding of what we’re trying to get out of it.”

One year ago, Ohio State was in the midst of capturing a third consecutive Big Ten championship and advancing to the program’s second Final Four appearance in six years. But the team was largely reliant on a veteran core that understood the game and what it took to succeed at the highest level.

When you’ve practiced for four years or feel like you have what it takes to be dominant, dedication to practice begins to wane.

With the calendar advancing one year, the nucleus of that team is gone. William Buford, the third-leading scorer in school history, is gone, as is Jared Sullinger, a two-time All-American. Evan Ravenel, the lone senior, and three juniors – Aaron Craft, Deshaun Thomas and Lenzelle Smith Jr. – remain, but the Buckeyes have a decidedly young feel to them. Four underclassmen, two of them starters, play more than 15 minutes per game.

“To be honest, we’re a better practicing team than we were last year,” Craft said. “That’s very encouraging, especially with the heart of the Big Ten season coming up. It reaches a point where it’s real easy to punch-in and punch-out and just get the work in and leave.”

That period is the zone Ohio State is now entering. Late January and the month of February is the least desirable point during basketball season. The games and practice become a grind after three months of non-stop action. But the second half of the Big Ten schedule is the most challenging for Ohio State, meaning focus will be paramount. At the heart of that is taking advantage of extra time in the gym, not just game experience.

“We have to make sure we trust each other and make sure we practice hard,” Thomas said. “We know every game will be a fight, but Coach Matta has prepared us.”

Matta has become known for his team’s defensive presence, but he is also a preparation guru. It’s one reason why his teams at Butler, Xavier and Ohio State have all won 20 games. Sure, he’s had the luxury of great players due to a keen recruiting eye. Plenty of coaches are good recruiters and underachieve. When Matta’s players arrive on campus, he has a track record of development.

“He does a phenomenal job of getting us ready through practice, and especially on game day,” Craft said. “That is why he is one of the best coaches in the country.”

During Matta’s tenure Ohio State has trended upward as the season progressed. That appears to be holding true once again. The Buckeyes lost three games during a 10-game stretch earlier in the season, albeit to ranked opponents. The constants, however, were defeats away from Value City Arena to highly ranked teams. The bottoming out came at Illinois in a 19-point beatdown.

The transformation started in the first practice following that game. The coaches showed no panic, instead delivering a message. The realization finally set into the Buckeyes – every day is meant for bettering themselves. Ohio State is 5-1 since that afternoon in Champaign, winning two games on the road and handing No. 1 Michigan its only defeat.

Where the sausage is madeHome workshop

“When you don’t have a ton of guys in practice and you don’t come to play every day, you look bad,” Matta said. “They picked up on that early and that has helped our team.

“It has been a process of getting guys to understand and appreciate what it takes to get your mind ready to play every single minute you take the floor. From the standpoint of coaching, we just have to keep showing them the film, practicing at an incredible level and seeing improvement every time we take the floor.”

Last season Ohio State experienced a February swoon that threatened to derail its Big Ten title hopes. In the end, with backs firmly against the wall, Ohio State overcame a bout of adversity to pull out a final-week stunner to add another trophy to a growing case.

Walk into the auxiliary courts today and you’ll likely see spirited competition between the starters and reserves, and skirmishes that occur when teams are invested in winning at a high level. That group of underclassmen – sophomores Sam Thompson, Amir Williams, Shannon Scott and LaQuinton Ross – has helped give the Buckeyes a relentless attitude on the court. 

“We definitely compete more,” Smith said. “The teams are more well-rounded. Last year at practice with the starting five against the other guys, we’d take over the practice almost every time. Now it’s guys competing, we’re fighting. You never know who’s going to win these practices.”

Said Thompson: “I think we’re definitely getting better every day. That’s all you can ask for. It hasn’t always been as smooth as we’d like it be, but I think we’re all coming into our own.”



Goose's picture

I like this article.  It just solidifies the good feeling that I've had all year about this team.  It seems as if this team might not be the equal from a talent standpoint of the last few years, but they're very "likable" from a fan standpoint because of the effort they show.  Eventhough Thomas will probably leave, this bodes good things for the next couple of years.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Funny as it was, Iverson's tirade also celebrates the triumph of style over substance. Iverson keeps repeating the same inane "argument" over-and-over again - basically repeating the same 1-2 stupid sentences like 34 times, with only very slight variation. Because he had a cool style and was a bad m'fer, though, he actually makes listening to a broken-record seem compelling.

bhartman13's picture

Practice makes perfect and with this team I think all we can ask for is that they continue to improve.  Matta seems to be doing a solid job at coaching these guys up and I have seen progression from most of the players.  This years squad can be aggravating at times but without the big dogs like Sully, Buford, Oden, Conley, Turner, etc, it will take more of a team effort for them to make a deep run in March.  Yes Deshaun can put this team on his back but if he is struggling against top tier competition then my personal confidence goes way down considering the lack of scoring options.  Recently Slam, Craft, and even LaQ have been contributing more on the offensive end and that will be needed if tOSU has any chance at another B1G title.  I sure hope Lenzelle can get on track and start knocking down some 3's consistently and Matta needs to let LaQ loose! 

Run_Fido_Run's picture

It surprised me to see that Pomeroy actually has Ohio State at 16th in adjusted offensive efficiency (better than I expected), but only 11th in adjusted defensive efficiency (not as good as I expected).
My inclination was to say that Ohio State does not need to develop 2-3 other prime scoring options as long as they can play the best defense in the country and they take good care of the ball.
Given Pomeroy's numbers, though, it seems more realistic for the Buckeyes to continue improving offensively - where there is more room for growth - than defensively.

RedStorm45's picture

I like the fact that in "crunch" time down the stretch, Thad has gone with the better matchups or the "hot hand."  We've seen LaQuinton, Shannon, and Ravenel in those last 6-7 minutes.  I know some people want a set "go to" lineup, but I think Thad this year (more than in the past) isn't afraid to go with who's playing well that particular night.  You could get 3 different lineups in crunch time the next 3 games.  It's different than previous years but I think it's good (granted AC and DT will always be in there barring foul troubles).

TMargo's picture

Am I the only one that will be rooting for TTUN this Saturday? Just so we can go in there Tuesday and make everyone in Crisler Arena cry!!!!

hail2victors9's picture

Are you really expecting to go into AA and win?  Or are you just hopefull?

Those who stay will be CHAMPIONS!

~Bo Schembechler

rgarrett22's picture

Speaking for myself alone, I am just hopeful, but it certainly is within the realm of possibility. If Craft can continue to bother Burke, then I like our chances.

bhartman13's picture

If Craft can slow down Burke and we keep it a low scoring battle then I don't see why the Buckeyes can't go up north and get the win.  I personally don't expect it but wouldn't be too surprised considering the dominant 1st half display by tOSU in Cbus.

TMargo's picture

Hopeful, but I am expecting us to compete.  It will take our best game of the year to win in your building.  However, I ABSOLUTELY want you to be #1 and would love to own BOTH your losses on the season.

Squirrel Master's picture

Thing is Hail, we expect them to win anywhere. I do expect OSU to go into AA and win a tough game. So far the rule has been 1. Craft has owned Burke, 2. Thomas is equally as good on the road as he is at home and 3. OSU is playing better and getting better than the last time they met UM.
I think the thing is we expect them to win but we don't expect an easy win or a blowout!

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

gobucks96's picture

Why would it be a shock to think they could beat a team they lead by double digits for most of the game again?

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Honestly, I'm just hopeful that the Buckeyes will win in AA.
On the other hand, I can expect the following things to happen:

  • Michigan losing within the first three rounds of the NCAA tournament.
  • Constant flashbacks (video highlights) during this year's March Madness of Michigan's first round loss last year to Ohio.
Jack Fu's picture

To me, "expecting" something means that you think it's significantly more likely to occur than not to occur. If you go by that definition anyone expecting the Bucks to win in Ann Arbor is, um, I'll say overly optimistic. But it's certainly possible and obviously we all hope it will happen.

hail2victors9's picture

We are on the same page, Jack Fu.  I don't think the probability of Michigan winning in Bloomington or OSU winning in Ann Arbor is higher than the opposite, while I feel both teams can compete and, potentially, win on the road.  I was 50/50 before the Michigan @ OSU game, but I'm around 75/25 that Michigan wins in AA.

Those who stay will be CHAMPIONS!

~Bo Schembechler

Run_Fido_Run's picture

So, you'll give me 3/1 on the Buckeyes in AA?

Jack Fu's picture

Extrapolating Pomeroy's findings on the predictive value of margin of victory on rematches, based on OSU's 3-point win in Columbus a few weeks back their chances of winning in Ann Arbor are somewhere in the neighborhood of 35%. So I guess if you can get 3-1 odds that would represent some value, but I'm not a gambler.

tennbuckeye19's picture

Question: Has OSU worn the gray uniforms yet this year? I've watched all of the games this year, but I just can't remember. 

TMargo's picture

At home vs Kansas...haven't seen them since. 

AndyVance's picture

Maybe we decided they're tainted and left them in the bottom of the locker henceforth.

buckeye4life050233's picture

I think they might be wearing the "Logo" pro combat uni's up in AA tuesday........from what I saw somewhere, i might be incorrect though

thetothmancometh's picture

Nope you're right - so they'll be lookiing like they're at Practice, man.

osubuckeye4life's picture

Play "the game" like you practice!