The Ecstasy of Goals

By Johnny Ginter on April 1, 2013 at 5:00p
Why yes I am a successful college basketball coach, thank you for noticing!Still knows his stuff

Losing in the Elite Eight sucks for anybody. It's in that magically frustrating place between the Sweet 16 ("hey, at least we got to the Sweet 16") and the Final Four ("wow, what a year, can't believe we got to the Final Four!"), in that no one is really impressed that you got there, because the implication is that if you won three games in the NCAA Tournament, four should be a piece of cake.

This week Ohio State knows that better than anyone, especially since that Elite Eight loss came against a nine seed; and not only that, but a nine seed that is making its first Final Four appearance since 1965, which isn't as shocking as the fact that they've actually made the Final Four before.

As Ohio State fans, we want to tell ourselves that we're better than that, that we should expect to go to the Final Four year in and year out because hell, that's who we are! We win games and championships, period. Easy as falling off a log.

Of course, most astute college basketball observers will tell you that's not true, especially in a ridiculously tough conference like the Big Ten. Making the NCAA Tournament every year is absolutely an attainable goal for Thad Matta and Ohio State. Making the Elite Eight with semi-consistency is extremely difficult (in the past 10 years, only two coaches have made the Elite Eight three years in a row, John Calipari and Billy Donovan) but doable.

Regular Final Fours, though? That's where the demarcation between the highest tier coaches and those who haven't quite made it there becomes evident. Thad Matta and OSU haven't gotten there yet, but we expect it. Today I want to take a look at why that's both brilliant and insane, with a look back at past OSU tournament history.

Any story about how a team has done historically in the NCAA Tournament has to start with the caveat that the tourney was much, much different even as little as 30 years ago. Seeding didn't begin until the 1979 tournament, and that 1960 team that won OSU's only national championship in basketball only needed to win four games to seal it up.

So things have changed somewhat, and for the purposes of this article I'm just going to look at how OSU has performed in the "modern" era of college basketball; I mean, sure, it might be relevant to talk about the fact that Ohio State reached the Elite Eight in 1939, 1944, 1945, 1946, and 1950, but since there were only eight teams total in those tournaments it's probably a little disingenuous to include them.

Anyway, this year marks the 35th NCAA Tournament since seeding started. Ohio State has only been a part of 19 of those tournaments, but interestingly has averaged around a four seed in those tourneys combined, having gotten a one seed four times and a two seed another four times. Pretty good, right?

"Yeah, I get this a lot""IT'S COOL GUYS, I HAVE A SPARE NET"

Here's where the bottom falls out a bit. In those 19 appearances, the Buckeyes have failed to make the Sweet 16 11 times; including in 2006 when they were a second seed and promptly destroyed by seventh-seeded Georgetown in the round of 32. In those 19 appearances, the Buckeyes have made the Final Four three times. In those 19 appearances, the Buckeyes have made the championship game exactly once.

In other words, historically, Ohio State is not a great tournament team. Before Thad Matta was hired, Ohio State had won multiple NCAA tournament games in back to back years only once since 1979, and neither of those teams made it past the Elite Eight.

Which is no crime, but it's easy to see how Ohio State fans can set our goals as high as we do, because of the success that other coaches have been able to have in the past 10 years or so.

Coach K at Duke hasn't missed an NCAA Tournament since the mid-90s. Tom Izzo has six Final Four appearances since 1999 (and only one championship, which is an indicator of how ridiculously difficult they are to win). Rick Pitino now has as many Elite Eights with Louisville as he had with Kentucky, which is kind of insane to middle school me. John Calipari is a tremendous douche, but managed to reach the Elite Eight or beyond three years in a row before falling off the cliff this season. Jim Calhoun has won three championships since 1999. And on we can go, with Williams and Boeheim and Self and so forth.

Here's my point: Thad Matta is an excellent coach. He would tell you that his goal is to win the Big Ten and then the NCAA Tournament every year. Ohio State has a ton of potential. Every player on the team would tell you that their goal is to win the Big Ten and then the NCAA Tournament every year.

That's not realistic. Not yet. The closest analogue that I can think of right now is Matta's (according to Mark Titus) eternal rival in Billy Donovan. Donovan arrived at Florida in 1996 at the age of 31 and in his first nine years as head coach took them to March Madness seven times. The first time they advanced past the Sweet 16 was in 2000, when they lost to Michigan State in the championship game. The second time was in 2006, when they won the first of back-to-back titles. It was Donovan's 10th season as Florida's coach.

It's coming. Thad Matta has turned one of the Big Ten's most inconsistent NCAA Tournament teams into one of the most consistent, and in nine seasons as head coach he's won 17 NCAA Tournament games, more than Ohio State had won in all the combined seasons since 1979.

Don't change the goal, because the goal is what drives the program to be successful. But do keep in mind that this is a process, and Matta is just getting started.


Comments Show All Comments

gravey's picture

I wouldn't trade Thad for anyone.  He does it with class and humor.  He recruits well and I've been really proud of the kind of players he's brought to campus.  Think of how many first rate human beings he's had in his program in the last few years.  I'm super proud to have Thad as our coach.  I really hope he wins at least one national championship...for him; but I think it's really hard to do it the right way and still win it all.

gwalther's picture

Second all of that. 

Class of 2008

Geraffi's picture

Completely agree. 

Geraffi's picture

Good read, Johnny. Really looking forward to the day we cut down the nets at the end of it all! 

buckeye4life050233's picture

It's more in the way they played against Wichita State that is so frustrating.......the team never found a go to style of play that they could consistently was always just feeling out a team in the first half and then making some changes and trying to put it away in the second half of a game no matter who the competition was......certain offensive plays we ran were completely wrong for the style/type of athletes we had on the floor and defenses knew they didn't really have to guard craft,thompson, and scott outside of 15 feet bc there shots weren't falling nearly consistently enough to warrant it and therefore thomas was double and triple teamed off of screens and we had no answer to counter that tactic.......

OldColumbusTown's picture

And yet they still won the B1G tournament and made the Elite Eight...

BeijingBucks's picture

Well we do lack a consistent inside and out scoring presence and leadership.  Every player will have down nights where they are slow to get going.  Craft had one sadly and frankly we have limited scoring options.  We didn't have the tools to be able to completely change our scoring methodology.  If like 3 of those shots fall Bucks pull it off... ridiculous.
I love all the young guys but they are not world beaters yet.
I still remember the Florida team that beat OSU in the finals... a bunch of Seniors that had played together for 4 years and only THEN won the finals.
It's frickin hard to  win it all.
I don't feel bad at all... the Bucks rocked it this year and surpassed our expectations (if we're honest about it, we did lose Sully after all).

None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license. ~ John Milton

jbcuky's picture

Generally great comments. However, that Florida team was mostly comprised of juniors. And those juniors already won a national championship as sophomores.

sir rickithda3rd's picture

i don't think thad gets appreciated enough either...however, i would take smart, stephens, calipari, k, and izzo over thad.

mark may wins douchebag of the year... again

jbcuky's picture

Down votes for saying Matta is underappreciated but he'd rather have the two hottest young coaches in the country, one of two coaches that has taken three teams to the final four and routinely gets the top recruiting class in the nation, the all-time winningest coach, or a coach that has six final four appearances and a national title over Thad???
There are some seriously sensitive people on here.

KE's picture

You need to remember that there is a reason that OSU is thought of as a football school. These sorts of reputations do not happen overnight. I grew up with OSU football in the 60s and 70s, and aside from Lucas and Havlicek, basketball was an afterthought. A reputation does not change overnight, over a year or two, or over a decade. It takes, and will take, a long time with a long period of success to change it. This year, last year, and the last few years are a start. History is important.

Buckeye Chuck's picture

For most of the '60s, the heart of the Woody Hayes era, OSU was much stronger in basketball than in football. Even in the year where that began to dramatically change, 1968, the Buckeyes were in the Final Four.

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

Poison nuts's picture

Thanks & great article. In all reality, it's hard to think that there are any people wanting Matta replaced as OSU's HC..I mean, who the hell would be better? That said, there are plenty of disappointed fans out there right now. And that's to be expected, but I would bet my life (figuratively speaking of course) that Thad will get the job done soon enough. The thing that gets me is that had he done it in 2007 - no one would be complaining right now. He was that close in his second season & missed & now you have fans sitting around with arms crossed, feet tapping, wanting their long awaited celebration...You also have Urban Meyer as the HC of the football program who just went 12-0 in year one while on probation. As great as that was, it probably added more pressure to Matta & his job. We fans like success, give us a taste, and like feeding a hungry cat, we come back for more the next day. So having an undefeated football season, without the possibility of a NC, leaves you looking elsewhere (Thad) for success. Patience is key, and I honestly think we all won't have to wait much longer...
If DT comes back for a senior season (probably wishful thinking), then you'd have to like the chances for next year.

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

DefendYoungstown's picture

Bottom line, OSU is a football school and always will be.

What we can't do in the air we'll do on the ground.

osubuckeye4life's picture

I really hope tOSU wins another championship in basketball. 
However, the odds are severely stacked against winning one.

Toilrt Paper's picture

Ohio State has the best football coach in the country. Matta is a great basketball coach, but not the best in the country.

Squirrel Master's picture

Been saying this for the past couple of days, this program was barely a program before Thad showed up! Elite Eight is never the goal of us fans but compared to what we used to see every year, they don't suck! It is very hard for any team to win a championship. In football, it only takes losing 1 game in the regular season and BAM, no chance for a national championship! In basketball, regular season isn't that tough but once you get into the tournament, BAM 1 loss and you are done for the season, no national championship. In both these instances, any team can win on a certain day. A bit of luck can go a long way. That is why the only sports you see the best teams pretty much win the championship each year is the NBA and MLB, because they play series to advance. Not a one and done.
Thad is a great coach and we can say coach X or coach Y would come here and dominate, I doubt it would be that easy. What Thad has done with this program is amazing and shouldn't be taken for granted. Unfortunately, some will!
and one day when it all goes away, you will miss Thad and what he has done here now!

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

Poison nuts's picture

Correct, the one & done aspect of college athletics brings much more luck into the equation than people really seem to understand. With only one shot at winning every time, it's not always the best team that wins. Particularly with Bball. We all know that from the 2010-11 team. Given a best of seven or even best of three - that team beats all comers...but that just isn't the case. You get one shot & if you're off your game just a hair - you're done...

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

DaiTheFlu's picture

Am I wrong in assuming the title of this article is a subtle nod to Enio Morricone and Metallica? If so, nice job.

We can't stop here; this is bat country...

Johnny Ginter's picture

well, morricone anyway

nfitz44's picture

Since OSU never was a powerhouse in basketball when I was growing up, it's not as disappointing for me that they are out of the tournament. I'm a closet Duke fan which is surprising to me since I'm from Toledo and I attended Jim Jackson basketball camps when I was growing up. I even got a picture with Jim O'Brien at a meet the buckeyes dinner. I would rather of had my picture with Thad. What I like about Duke is the clean program coach K runs along with getting top recruits. The Buckeyes are a very close second favorite basketball team.