Settling the Matta: Unfinished Business

AndyVance's picture
March 18, 2013 at 1:58p

What a difference eight games can make...

Feeling somewhat like a sinner following a miraculous conversion experience, I find myself singing the indelible line from Amazing Grace: "I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see."

Thad Matta is a helluva basketball coach.

Ohio State University head basketball coach Thad MattaFor those who have read my work through the course of the season, I've admitted that I've not been a "fan" of Thad Matta. No, I'm not one of the drunken masses who thinks we should spike his head at half court and bring in someone new to take the tiller of the Buckeyes roundball squad, but I haven't been entirely satisfied yet, either. At least, that is, prior to the latter half of the 2013 season.

My problem has been one of expectations, I suppose. On the one hand, I was a huge fan of Jim O'Brien, even despite his poor decision making in the NCAA infractions that ultimately spelled his doom. What I liked about O'Brien, I think, is the same thing many of us love about Urban Meyer, and to the extreme, about Coach Kerry Coombs: passion, drive, grit.

O'Brien was, for this young Buckeye at least, the type of coach you want leading your team: a hard-nosed sonofabitch who took the talent he had and wrung every last drop of potential out of them.

When Matta arrived, it was clear he was a superior recruiter. Without denigrating the Buckeyes who played for Jimmy O, he recruited middling talent and in many cases overachieved with them. Matta, on the other hand, was going to be bringing in Blue Chippers, McDonald's All-Americans and One-And-Dones with dizzying regularity.

That made it all the more troubling, then, when Matta couldn't seal the deal. Well, or at least so it seemed. Twenty-win seasons are nice; winning conference championships and tournament titles are simply a given... But with Oden-, Turner- and Sullinger-type talent stalking the court at the Value City Arena, losses against top-tier teams like Duke and Kansas were perhaps more obvious than they had been a decade prior.

As others have opined ad infinitum during the past three weeks, Matta is indeed an elite coach. BUT, Ohio State is a "football school," so we unwashed gentiles couldn't possibly see how great our playcaller-in-chief really is, because we unfairly view everything through the lens of football, where the expectation is to win a National Championship every season.

Be that as it may, there are two undeniable facts of Matta's tenure: he is head and shoulders better than any coach since Fred Taylor, and he has failed to win a National Championship thus far.

Let's talk about the former first.

Comparing coaches to determine "who is greater" is a notoriously subjective task. The question was even asked recently, is Jim Tressel greater than Woody (the answer, by the way, is no, though The Vest very well could have made a case had his tenure not been cut short), so you can understand that the factors determining is X>Y are fairly complex, and not universally accepted in most cases.

With that in mind, let's put Thad on the racks against the legendary Fred Taylor (hey, he has a street named after him, so he's a legend in my book):

Coach Team Years Record B1G B1G Titles NCAA Berths Final Fours Tournament Record
Thad Matta Ohio State 2004-2013 247-72 (.774) 111-45 (.712) 5 7 2 14-6 (.700)
Fred Taylor Ohio State 1958-1976 297-158 (.653) 158-102 (.608) 7 5 4 14-4 (.778)

So yeah, Matta looks pretty good on paper. His winning percentage is considerably better, and within probably two more seasons, he'll surpass Taylor's total wins - a feat he'll accomplish in fewer than a dozen seasons versus Taylor's 18. Already he's scored more tournament appearances, though Taylor's Buckeyes made it to the Final Four almost every time they got an invite to the postseason, with the fifth time marking an Elite Eight departure.

And so it comes down to the inescapable fact that until the Buckeyes cut down the nets after the final game of the NCAA season, Matta will always be the greatest Ohio State head basketball coach since Fred Taylor. By the way, for more reading on how awesome Matta is when compared with legendary coaches like Coach K, Dean Smith, and Bobby Knight, read this and this.

Now as to the expectation about winning the National Championship as the precursor to Matta earning the universal fan acclaim he has otherwise rightfully earned, is that fair? I went back and looked at how quickly other big-time coaches took to get to the winner's circle to see if it could be done more quickly than a potential Buckeye victory in Matta's ninth season:

  • Mike Krzyzewski, Duke: 11 seasons
  • Rick Pitino, Kentucky: 7 seasons
  • Bill Self, Kansas: 5 seasons
  • Jim Boeheim, Syracuse: 27 seasons
  • Bobby Knight, Indiana: 5 seasons
  • Dean Smith, North Carolina: 21 seasons
  • John Wooden, UCLA: 16 seasons
  • John Calipari, Kentucky: 3 seasons
  • Billy Donovan, Florida: 10 seasons

Only 11 active coaches have championship rings to their credit, as it turns out. Coach K is the Dean of this elite fraternity, holding four to his credit, tieing with Col. Adolph Rupp of Kentucky for second-most championships in history, well behind the incomparable John Wooden, who won a nifty 10 titles, a feat never likely to be repeated. Looking back in history, Bobby Knight and Jim Calhoun each had three to their credit, while several coaches have won a pair apiece.

I give you that trivia lesson to say this: the sentiment that Matta has to win a title to achieve "elite" status, a feeling I once held previously, doesn't stand up to the statistical scrutiny of reality. Truth is, very few coaches win titles, though several great coaches have won several championships. It's something of a paradox, actually, though the oft-bemoaned parity of the modern game is making it increasingly likely that a coach will either go an entire successful tenure without winning a title (Bo Ryan, while extremely punchable, has had an extremely good run at Wisconsin, for example), or win one title in an otherwise sterling career (I'm looking at you, Tom Izzo).

With that in mind, it's make or break time for Matta, because I'm going to join a perhaps optimistic chorus of experts saying that if there ever was a year for Thad to bring home a tourney title, this is it.

So how does it happen?

According to statistical genius Nate Silver, the Buckeyes have roughly a 5.8% chance of winning the tournament, behind prohibitive favorites Louisville (22.7%) and Indiana (19.6%). Ohio State as a one-seed in 2011, by the way, was a 19.1% favorite that season, and lost to Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen.

Silver's stats, by the way, make it look as though a Louisville vs. Indiana title game is the most-likely outcome, with the two teams rated as a 34.2% and 36.1% shot to reach the final game, respectively. Last year the guru's data was correct, with Kentucky projected as a 26.7% shot to win. In the aforementioned 2011 season, on the other hand, UConn was a total longshot.

SI's Luke Winn concurs that the Cardinals and the Hoosiers are the teams to beat this season, but has the "freight train that is Ohio State" besting Wisconsin (again) to win a relatively weak West Region. It is the weakness of this region, in fact, that has me taking the Buckeye fairly deep into the tournament, and facing off against two other B1G teams before it's all said and done with.

Consider the path to the title for the Bucks: taking care of business against the Iona Gaels (their mascot is named Killian, which is a passable mainstream beer) and Iowa State (there's your West Region sleeper upset, btw) before a good contest against the Lobos and another grinder against the fighting Bo Ryans (yes, I think the Badgers will upset the 'zags).

From there, Louisville will most likely take care of business against the Spartans, though I wouldn't count Izzo out in that contest - Michigan State could well have ended the Buckeyes B1G tournament hopes, and Izzo may be pound-for-pound the best coach in the conference.

In the South, Kansas will probably have a much tougher time against Florida than they will against UNC, and I'm taking the Gators simply because I refuse to pick all one-seeds in my bracket, and this seems as likely an upset as any. The striped Creans will not be denied in the meat grinder that is the East Region, setting up a Final Four with two one-seeds, a two and a three.

We know the Buckeyes can handle the Hoosiers, and we know that Matta has turned around an 0-3 start against ranked opponents to a 3-3 record against teams in the Top 5, culminating in an 8-0 run since the Madness in Madison. The "Big Mo," as it were, heavily favors the Buckeyes, who are indeed Battle Tested at this point in the season.

With Selection Sunday, also came the righteous indignation that after being seemingly overrated early in the season, the Buckeyes were now being undervalued after a stellar closing argument. This also plays into the Buckeyes' favor, as the anti-love from the media luminaries will give Matta plenty of bulletin board fodder in hopes that the team will play "angry," with the proverbial chip on the shoulder. That can't hurt in a tournament run.

Playing in Los Angeles, I'll argue, is the biggest challenge the team faces. Aside from fears of jet lag and the general feeling of funk that comes from flying across the country in a tin can with wings, L.A. may be the most distracting host city of the four regional venues. Indianapolis, of course, would have been the most Buckeye-friendly, with Washington, D.C., a close second.

As others have written, flying to Jerry World isn't much better than flying to L.A., but one would be hard-pressed to picture the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex being more potentially-distracting than Hollywood. Given the "Man on a Mission" mentality that has gripped the Buckeyes in recent games, particularly from the Rosy-cheeked Avenger, hopefully my concerns about SoCal are simply paranoia.

The factors favoring the Buckeyes this season are, somewhat surprisingly, extremely favorable when taken in totality: a now-underrated team is playing inspired basketball with momentum at its back in the weakest region of the tournament. Having already defeated the best teams in the toughest conference in the country and seemingly conquered the demons that plagued them in the first half of the season, Ohio State is poised to do something that hasn't been done in 53 years: bring home a national championship and cement Thad Matta's place as the finest head coach in the history of the program.

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Kevbo714's picture

I really appreciate your blog posts, Andy... You contribute really good points and you support your statements with these things called, "facts."  Posters like you and GSW, et. al, going along with the wit, knowledge, and insight of the staff, make this place great.  Go Bucks!

Tom Crean listens to Nickelback...

AndyVance's picture

Thanks, Kev! And yes, Adam West is still the best Batman (though I did enjoy Christian Bale's portrayal...)

Hovenaut's picture

Well written AV.

No denying my frustration towards a couple of Matta's recent teams, but I'm glad he's at the helm. Difficult to picture another coach righting the ship like he has over the past month.

OSU has their vulnerabilities heading into the dance (another scoring threat, DT scoring consistently, inside presence), but they're hot. They survived the toughest the B1G had to offer, and their defense has shone.

I like defense in championship settings - 10 years and change ago on a football field in Arizona comes to mind - basketball is no different imho.

Love to see Matta take that next step, I think he's due.

Nice Killians reference post St. Paddys day as well......

AndyVance's picture

"Defense wins championships," right?
Oh, and beer references are always appreciated in my book :)

toad1204's picture

Great post Andy.  Agreed on the travel being possibly the biggest enemy.  Hoping for early tip times. 

Nothing like dancing on the field in 02... 

d5k's picture

As a math major and working with stats somewhat in my career, I have to respond to this part:

According to statistical genius Nate Silver, the Buckeyes have roughly a 5.8% chance of winning the tournament, behind prohibitive favorites Louisville (22.7%) and Indiana (19.6%). Ohio State as a one-seed in 2011, by the way, was a 19.1% favorite that season, and lost to Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen.
Silver's stats, by the way, make it look as though a Louisville vs. Indiana title game is the most-likely outcome, with the two teams rated as a 34.2% and 36.1% shot to reach the final game, respectively. Last year the guru's data was correct, with Kentucky projected as a 26.7% shot to win. In the aforementioned 2011 season, on the other hand, UConn was a total longshot.

Ohio State losing in 2011 and Kentucky winning in 2012 do not make him or his model incorrect or correct respectively.  The only way to judge the models' ability to predict results is with years and years of data (possibly a lifetime's worth of data for this tournament).  Fans tend to misuse these statistical results, but they do give you a hint that even the best team going into the tournament any given year is a big underdog against the field.
Great post, though.  I like the mea culpa obviously with our previous debates in mind. :)

AndyVance's picture

Okay, as an Econ grad student myself, I obviously see your point now about the terminology... The model itself is neither right nor wrong, per se - clearly what I was getting at is that the model accurately predicted the winner in the one case, while the winner in the prior was considered statistically to be a longshot. (And I'm a big Silver fan, so I would never deign to criticize his modeling... ;)
Glad you enjoyed the rest of the piece, though.

AndyVance's picture

And I don't think of this piece as a "mea culpa," exactly, because I don't think I was wrong to begin with. I think my criticisms of Matta were fair, and if you go back and read my previous blogs posts, I was of the opinion that he was a "work in progress," so to speak. (I was never in the "fire Matta" camp, you'll recall.)
What annoys me still are the self-righteous Kool-Aid drinkers who want to use every win as an excuse to further excoriate any Matta critics. This thread comes to mind, which was a blatant retread of this even more annoying thread.
The Matta apologists who say there can be no critique of the coach still grind my grits, I just happen to be one fan who, after watching the impressive coaching he's done across the arc of this season, is now sufficiently convinced he is living up to his own hype.

johnblairgobucks's picture

Nice comment Andy.  Sometimes you have to open up the blinds, let the sun shine in, and clear out the roaches. 

What annoys me still are the self-righteous Kool-Aid drinkers who want to use every win as an excuse to further excoriate any Matta critics. This thread comes to mind, which was a blatant retread of this even more annoying thread.

what makes you correct to call me self righteous or a kool-aid drinker? 
I believe I was sticking up for OSU's basketball coach, who deserved more respect than he was being shown, on this site, by some. 
Being a critic and calling for Matta to be fired are two different things.  Never have I wanted Matta to go without critique, but I will call out the silly posters who said he couldn't win a "big" game and OSU could do better at coach (and there were more than a handful here, when OSU dropped out of the top 10). 
Seems as if you misunderstood what my angle/point is. 

AndyVance's picture

Misunderstood? No, I think I got it. In fact, you'll recall, I had some fun with it, all in good humor.
The fact that after the first thread you felt compelled to again remind all us loyal Matta critics of his successes felt a little too much like rubbing our noses in it... I've always felt it was equally important to be humble in victory as well as in defeat.
In other words, yes, you made your point, but it was unnecessary to thump your chest and remind all us wayward souls that we were so clearly wrong in our criticisms. The threads were fine for those who participated (you'll note that I refrained from raining on your parade the second time), but I thought the second one was just tacky because you'd already made your point the first time.
That said, I'm not suggesting you've done anything wrong, I think you're a great member of the community. Having traditionally been one of the "loyal opposition" when it comes to Coach Matta, so to speak, I just get a little weary of constantly being reminded how amazing he is, and how he does no wrong, and how every coach before him sucked, and how we should all just shut up and be glad he graces us with his presence courtside, etc., etc., etc. (heavy dose of hyperbole for effect).
In other words, it's not you, it's me. Let's be friends, okay?

johnblairgobucks's picture

 funny stuff bro.  No problem in the world of internet conversations, but I see what you did there^^^^^^^
you say:
I wasn't humble, a chest thumper, tacky..... and then end it with:

In other words, it's not you, it's me. Let's be friends, okay?

I hope you don't try to pull the "I'm pulling things out of context" card.  I have a firm grip on the situation.  I'll enjoy a good laugh.  Go Bucks.

AndyVance's picture

I'm glad - while we all take this stuff seriously, it's not life or death, after all. Everyone has their opinions... while I try to back most (but not all, I'll admit) of my observations up with some basic facts and analysis, I know now everything sees things the way I do, and that's okay.
While I definitely felt like you were rubbing our noses in it, as I said above, I know I'm in a vocal minority and that comes with the territory. In other words, it's all good.

johnblairgobucks's picture

fair enough Andy.  I hope you understand that rubbing anybody's nose in anything, is not my style of doing things.  The first forum topic on Matta haters was to basically say he was able to coach OSU to a "big' victory against top 10 (at the time) Michigan State. Hence the picture of many crickets, who you could not hear, because a "big" game was won and supposedly that was something Matta  wasn't supposed to be able to do, according to many vocal critics.  Probably the first weekend, where Matta bashing was quite, since the early season loss to Kansas.
After the Big 10 Championship Game came the second forum topic, that was totally different, an attempt at saying, after Matta helped coached this team to an 8 game win streak and Big 10 tourney Champs, the only folks left, who wanted Matta fired had to be few and far between, dried up and clueless.  Hence the picture of just 3 skeletons, who were covering their eyes, ears and mouths.
An attempt at humor, that was slight and not very apparent to some. 
I have never been able to understand how a team can get to a NCAA Championship Game, 2 Final 4's, win their conference title 5 times and their conference tournament championship 4 times, (in a 9 year span) and the Head Coach has never won a "Big" game or gets out-coached on a consistent basis.  Also that coach took Xavier to the elite 8 and 2 other 2nd round NCAA Tourney trips and  took Butler to the NCAA Tourney 2nd round.
Hell, I know Matta isn't peferct, but I find it hard to bitch and moan about the guy.

cajunbuckeye's picture

The even more annoying thread is one of my all time favorites. Where else can one find a SFW pictue of Kate Uptons ass!!!

An angry fan...rooting for an angry team...led by angry coaches

Poison nuts's picture

Great post & I agree with much of what you wrote. I've always felt Matta was a great coach & the ending to this season solidified that notion in a way that not many other years past have or could have. Your opinion that the OSU fanbase is more demanding of it's basketball program due to it's blueblood status in football is spot on IMHO. To be honest, having a 12-0 team under Urban Meyer this year probably only added to the fans expectations for the basketball team - so you get what was happening midway through this season...disappointed fans looking for a place to lay the blame. Obviously the ending to the season opened many eyes as to the level of Thad's abilities.
Winning a NC in BBall is just a very difficult task. Coaching plays a part, but there are plenty of factors. Luck plays a healthy role. The 2011 squad was the finest team in the country throughout the year, but had a bad game at the wrong time. I thought it less about the coaching & more about the players having their worst possible night against a good UK team in that game. There are as many examples of exceptional teams not winning the title while seemingly lesser teams get it done, as there are great teams winning when they were expected to. What worries me slightly is what happens if there is no NC this year? Will Matta suddenly be a bad coach if OSU comes home without the Crown? I hope not. I'll say this though - I have great confidence in this team & believe wholeheartedly that we'll all have plenty to be happy about soon enough.

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

AndyVance's picture

The more I study the statistics of the truly great coaches (again, what a subjective thing to study, I know), the more I'm struck by just how difficult it is to win a national championship. By comparison, winning a national title in football isn't that difficult at all - from a probability standpoint, at least: win a dozen games, give or take one, build a cache of goodwill with the media, and win a one-game "playoff" when it's all said and done...
Winning the roundball title, by comparison, takes winning more than 30 games, capped by winning six in a row, most likely only a week removed from playing three in a row in a conference tournament. Yeah, that's a tall order.
I don't think Thad will lose anything in my eyes if he fails to bring a trophy back from Atlanta, but so much of it will depend on how this team plays during the next two weeks. If they're the Buckeyes of the past 8 games, there isn't much they can do that will take the bloom off the rose in my mind. If they play like they did at Illinois or Wisconsin, on the other hand, I'll have some questions, I think.
While I don't think we're quite fairweather fans, I do think we tend to have expectations that fluctuate wildly - consider that six weeks ago we were debating OSU as a likely 6-seed, and last night many of us were pissed that we were snubbed as a one-seed after playing far better than the Hoosiers since Feb. 20... Talk about a massive shift in expectation!

shortbus20's picture

Great article and very well thought out and written...I don't get your love for Jim O'Brien. I thought he was an ass and a  lazy recruiter. He made some really stupid decisions.
I hope Thad Matta retires from OSU in another 20 years. Love him.

  • shortbus20
AndyVance's picture

I think when it comes to coaches, we like who we like, and we like them for a lot of different reasons... Why did we hate Urban Meyer before we loved him? Why is Earle Bruce revered while John Cooper is scorned? Was Paul Brown a genius or a megalomaniac? 
I guess what I'm saying is that I liked Jim O'Brien because I liked him... Perhaps it was because - as people have said about Thad Matta almost continuously - he was so much better than those who had come before him in recent years.
Finally, while I did say that O was a mediocre recruiter, I don't know if it's fair to categorize him as lazy unless you actually have information about his work habits not available to me.

Toilrt Paper's picture

I never hated Urban Meyer. I was envious of Florida, knowing he was an Ohio guy.
IMO there is not a more highly respected Head Coaching duo in major college NCAA basketball and football than Matta and Meyer.

AndyVance's picture

Agreed on the head coaching duo. None better in the business today.

Johnniebuckeye's picture

To all who write--- respect your opinions, all good. However,  in looking at big coaches and coaches nationally; who would you really select over Thad? I know Izzo is considered good but he's not better than Thad, just more hyped. I like Donovan but still Thad is my pick. 
Not being a homer here;  just a Thad supporter.   Go Bucks. Oh yes , I have us in the ncg but not sure we'll win it this year;  however, next year it's all us.

AndyVance's picture

It's hard to argue Mike Krzyzewski isn't the best coach in the game today. Duke may be up or down in any given year, but among currently active coaches, no one comes close to touching him statistically.
As to the question about Izzo and Donovan and how they compare, let's take a look:

Izzo's a helluva coach, any way you slice it. His tournament record is the 3rd best in the country among active coaches (bested only by Coach K and Roy Williams), and he makes the tournament every year, and makes it to at least the Final Four precisely one-third of the time.
Donovan, meanwhile, has two national titles to his credit, so he's legit. Unsurprisingly, his tournament record is actually better than Izzo's (going to the final game two years in a row will do that to you). The knock would be his winning percentage in the SEC, given that it is a much softer conference than the Big Ten.

Toilrt Paper's picture

A much better question would be, "Who is the best coach that could be hired by Ohio State if Matta retired at the end of the season due to a health issue?" It would not be Izzo or Donovan, fixtures at their current schools.

AndyVance's picture

Sorry if that breakdown implied I thought either of those two "lifers" were actually every going to be available for an OSU to hire... I agree, they'll retire from those schools. And hopefully, That retires from Ohio State as well, after a long and fruitful career.

Smanpoint10's picture

Why is P.J. Hill your favorite player that you saw?

AndyVance's picture

As far as Buckeyes I've watched play in person, I just loved Hill - to me he was the prototype of the kind of guard (note - I am NOT making a direct comparison) Aaron Craft would become: the scrappy gym rat of an on-ball defender who immediately brought a level of enthusiasm and intensity to the court that you just couldn't help but love to watch.
Never got a lot of minutes and wasn't exceptional in any single facet of the game, but was a lot of fun to see out on the court.

Johnniebuckeye's picture

Andy, thanks for the comparisons; stats don't lie but like you say; you go with who you like and I like Thad.

cajunbuckeye's picture

That's some darn (Sorry Andy, I can only use "damn" when referring to Ryan Shazier) fine writing. I've had my differences with Thad over the years. My coaching style, from the couch of course, often conflicts with what's happening on the court. Andy, your post only confirms what has always been heartfelt for me; Thad Matta is an elite college coach. We are very fortunate to have him. Thad, i want to apologize for the occasional obscenities I shouted at the TV this season. With that being said, can someone please pass the kool aid? I'm ready for that glass, now.

An angry fan...rooting for an angry team...led by angry coaches

AndyVance's picture

You and I are definitely kindred spirits when it comes to Thad Matta. Well said, and enjoy the Kool-Aid - I know I am. (Of course, come this weekend, all bets are off, right? :)

BuckeyeCrew's picture

Don't worry, Andy.  I am sure you will be back with the bandwagon idiots, once this team hits a cold spell, next year. All the while, I know you will try to dress it up with illogical, pseudo-intellectual drivel, that the average fan will lap up.
You're entertaining, Andy, but hardly genuine.

AndyVance's picture

Actually, while you've just shown up today to claim the moral high ground, I started pointing out the flaws in the anti-Matta crowd's argument three months ago. For reference, see posts here and here where I clearly spell out, using what you apparently see as "illogical, pseudo-intellectual drivel," why Matta is an elite coach, and surpassing all of his predecessors, perhaps even Fred Taylor.
No insincerity here, as I'm very honest that Coach Matta does not inspire in me the same passion or excitement as an Urban Meyer, Jim Tressel or Woody Hayes, but I'll admit I'm a football fan first, but I still love Buckeye Basketball. I'm no bandwagon guy - I just decided this season that if I was going to complain about the coach, I'd better be able to back it up with something solid - hence the posts debunking my own preconceived notions.
I guess it's easy to take pot shots at one of the few guys on this forum who doesn't hide behind an anonymous username and avatar.

BrewstersMillions's picture

And in what world is being critical of a coach a bad thing? It could be worse, we could all blindly follow a guy who wins games at sport X and assume he's a good coach. We'd of course be no better than our Blue and White clad neighbors to the east....but hey, its an option.

AndyVance's picture

These two comments make my day - the picture is hilarious, and you hit the nail on the head - criticism is a good thing, and it's even better when the critic - in this case, me - owns up to the fact that his critical analysis disproves his original hypothesis - in this case, that I didn't think Matta was quite "there" yet. After looking at the data objectively, I decided that while there are still things to be accomplished (a national title, as one minor example), Matta is definitely an elite coach, and doing an outstanding job with our program.
THANK YOU for "getting it" and sticking up for me, too.

d5k's picture

I do not blindly follow Thad or assume he's a good coach.  However, every common criticism that has been spouted endlessly over the last several years is completely flawed.  Short examples:
Not using the bench enough:  This year he has worse starters and better bench players so guess what, he plays 8+ guys for double digit minutes practically every game.  (Huge causation vs. correlation fail when "criticizing" the 2009-2011 era)
Only a good recruiter:  wow, see Evan Turner's development, ability to create winning teams that dominate on either side of the ball or both based on the players' strengths.
Can't win big games or in the tournament: simply a small sample size issue and assuming that there was a possibility of some theoretical perfect coach who could produce a final four every time his team was a top 2 seed, his record speaks for itself if you actually understand the sport.  I think the "football mentality" is what is at play here as others have suggested.
Am I missing any other big ones?  Most of Matta's "failures" have been from more players leaving early than he expected and flat out missing shots at inopportune times (but that is the nature of the sport!!!).

tennbuckeye19's picture

I can attest from reading pretty much everything that Andy Vance has contributed to this site, and he is no bandwagon OSU basketball fan. While it frustrates me when people criticize Matta, especially when I feel it is unjustified, I've never gotten the impression that Andy thought he was smarter than the coach or that he was calling for Matta to be fired. The guy asks questions and shares his opinion which is generally well thought out. And he does his research when it comes to sharing his thoughts and opinions on things. Also, he's also not afraid to admit if he's been wrong about something. The guy is solid. I'm a fan.

BrewstersMillions's picture


AndyVance's picture

You and Brewster are two of my favorite fellow 11Wers, especially because I think we all hold to the same standard: that you can have any opinion you want, as long as you back it up and maintain some level of intellectual honesty and integrity. I've never been afraid to take my lumps for being a member of the "loyal opposition," but I felt like this season it was important for me to really be critical with my own feelings about Coach Matta and where we are as a program.
And yep, I definitely realized I've been wrong about some things and tried to point that out in the original post above. Thanks for assuring me I'm not completely out in left field.
You and Brewster have humbled and honored me with your comments, because the two of you are two of the most respected members of the community - thank you for the support and encouragement.

BuckeyeCrew's picture

Hey, congrats to you and Mortal Kombat Brewster making out with each other, using vapid commentary.  I am so intimidated now.. lol.  Andy, I have read your previous posts.  They seem like a veneer for underlying angst that is so typical of jackass fans who expect to win every game, no matter the conditions.  Maybe when AGI is perfected and we can create bball playing robots, that will be the case.  With humans? Not so much.
I don't agree with your analysis.  For example, one problem is with you comparing OSU in 2004-2012 with six of the top programs, historically, in college basketball, that span several conferences.  First issue with this concerns the fact at least four of those schools have a gargantuan recruiting advantage that naturally comes with the program name.  (Nevermind the great coaches)  Yes yes yes.. I know Thad can recruit, but can we get an analysis of how many NBA players have been produced from those programs (within that time frame), compared to OSU?  I haven't looked it up, and maybe we edge out UCONN, but I doubt so against Kansas, UNC, Florida, and Duke.  Sure, pro-caliber players don't exclusively define the success of a college bball team, but it's certainly a major factor.  (Kentucky, from NCAA to NIT 1st round losers?) 
Another issue I have, is that you don't compare the schedules of those other teams, to that of the Buckeyes, for at least a few of those years.  The details matter, in such comparisons.  And if you are going to write a novella for each post that "artfully" criticizes Matta, you should at least include that depth of research.
Furthermore, the power of your analysis is just not as great for Matta, versus the others, with respect to tournament games.   Not even close to large enough sample size (especially at OSU), to compare to the others.

BuckeyeCrew's picture

Nice reply.  So thoughtful, William.
Go back to your bottle.

AndyVance's picture

I'm not sure if you've just decided not to read the entirety of my work, or if you've just decided to stake out the position of resident "Andy critic" on 11W, because I did two separate posts comparing Matta not only to the "legends," but also to active coaches who have won a national title at their current schools and have been there for at least the full eight seasons studied.
Before I go any further, let's get one thing straight: like everyone else here, I write about this stuff because I enjoy, not because my profession is analyzing and writing about Ohio State sports. It's a hobby I do, in my spare time, in addition to a fairly demanding professional life and a personal life that now includes a six-month-old puppy and four-week-old daughter, so I refuse to apologize to the one hack who thinks I didn't do enough research, when I'm actually spending the time to actually gather the data and compile it, rather than just spouting off my random opinions.
Now, to your criticisms: In the post comparing Matta to the legends, there is only so much data from the bygone eras easily accessible - in other words, without spending 20-30 hours per post researching, let alone writing - for some of the coaches I chose for my analysis.
FURTHERMORE, the point I made in the post was that, when you compare the stats I selected for comparison, Matta looks pretty darn good on paper. In fact, what I actually said was, AND I QUOTE:

This is a pretty cursory analysis; a much deeper look into the differences between Matta and the greats could focus on performance against ranked opponents, looking at the RPI, etc., but the crux of the matter is this: on paper, Matta is as good as they come.

Then, since many Matta critics have said he doesn't do as well in "big games," I did a second post to pick apart that notion. Again, I selected for consistency, pulling the stats from the past eight seasons for the Buckeyes, as well as for four other coaches who have won the NCAA tournament during those eight years and have been at the same school for those eight seasons.
Your only truly valid argument is with this piece - the NCAA Tournament data is a small sample size for Coach Matta, compared to the likes of Roy Williams and Coach K. That said, Matta has made it to the tournament almost every year, so for a young coach, it's not like I was looking at one year's performance and making a judgment. And, were I to write the post again after this season, obviously the numbers would improve with the increased sample size, further cementing Matta's big game creds, so to speak. But at the time the post was written, the Buckeyes hadn't beaten anyone of note yet this season, so you have to take that into account as well.
And it would be interesting to do an analysis of the NBA draftees to come from each school, but you'd almost certainly say my Matta sample size wasn't big enough, or fall back on the Blue Blood recruiting power of a UK or a UNC. I could look at All-American selections, but that would have the same type of inherent flaws in your "illogical, psuedo-intellectual" rebuttal of my previous work.
The bottom line is this: I've tried to add something to the conversation by being a member of this community, rather than hiding behind the cloak of internet anonymity and simply throwing flames at anyone I disagreed with. You've chosen the other route: that of calling names and hurling insults. You certainly haven't invested the dozens of hours to research, analyze and draft the "novellas" I've offered on this blog, so it's interesting that you're willing to play armchair analyst and point out everything I'm supposedly doing wrong.

BuckeyeCrew's picture

No kidding, Andy. I was looking at your post concerning active coaches, in case you missed it, not at the one concerning legends.
Good for you on having a personal life!  Your analysis is STILL flawed, because it is too basic to come to a conclusion.  I maintain it's unconvincing to compare the records of these coaches for 2004-2012 without comparing schedules from some years, or at LEAST including conference power rankings, for those years.  Heck, you could pick those years which support your insinuation that Matta sucks at winning big games.  Yeah.. that's basically what you said, albeit in a more amicable manner than others.  (Kinda sounds ridiculous now, as you have admitted)  And yes, I am glad you see that it is unfair to compare Matta's tourney record, to the others, at this point in his career.  Wait five or so years, and then do it.  (This assumes that he continues his excellence)
And no, your logic concerning the NBA draftee analysis is laughable.  It's simple, look at the number of draftees, maybe including the rounds, and some marker of impact in the NBA.  Sample size would have little to do with it, since the variable is a measure of the talent at Thad's disposal during those years (compared to that of his competitors).  I think you agree, that NBA talent is a determinant of success, especially in the tournament, when individual talents can support a team that is in poor form. 

AndyVance's picture

Wait, so let me get this straight... the analysis is flawed because it is too basic, even though it supports the fact that Matta is a great coach? Which side are you arguing, again?
The analysis of those years DID include analysis of schedules in that it looked specifically at a team's performance against teams ranked in the AP Top 25 and RPI Top 50, games that were, by definition, "big games."
And I specifically did NOT cherry-pick years - in the first post, I compared Matta's first eight seasons at Ohio State to the first eight seasons for the legendary coaches I selected for comparison, and even noted the challenges in doing so given the changes in the NCAA tournament from Wooden's era to present day. In the second post, I compared Matta's first eight seasons at Ohio State to active coaches FOR THE SAME EIGHT SEASONS, so saying that I cherry-picked the data is blatantly wrong - I specifically chose a controlled set of seasons to compare apples to apples, as much as is possible.
So it is entirely fair to compare Matta to other coaches at this point in his career, because I went on to point out that very few coaches win national titles in their first eight years - Knight and Coach K did, but others including Wooden took much longer. I used 100% of the full-season data available, also, rather than including the current season, specifically because I didn't want to skew my analysis by including a partial dataset. Obviously had I included the first half of this season at that point, the numbers would have been much different, and probably not looked as good - if I did the same numbers again at the end of the tournament (which I might), the first half of the season wouldn't look so bad anymore.
Again, I held the years constant for a reason: to avoid cherry-picking to suit my hypothesis.
I guess what puzzles me is, what are you so pissed off about? I'm not sure what more you're expecting here - my posts already include a degree of research, data and commentary not found on fan blogs or sites almost anywhere else other than at 11W, and for someone who isn't a sports writer/analyst for a living, I think I'm adding some value to the discussion, at least from what I've gathered from the other commenters to my posts.

BuckeyeCrew's picture

Reading comprehension is at a low, for you, right now.  I didn't say you DID cherry pick years, I said the you COULD have done so (with regards to schedule analysis) to support your point at that time.  But you didn't do any such analysis.  (And of course, that would have been somewhat underhanded) Ideally, one would randomly pick a few years within 2004-2012, and come to some statistical conclusions of respective schedules.  Sheesh...
Yes, I saw the AP and RPI.  I was talking about some measures of conference rankings, remember? That's what I mentioned. 
And I'm not pissed off at you, at this time. You have come out and admitted to some deficiencies, with respect to your ponderings.  (At least I think) 

BuckeyeCrew's picture

I'll say something else, Andy.  Part of this is related to fans using your elaborate posts, to back-up their idiot critiques of Matta.  I doubt those fans read (or try to comprehend) what you write, nor do they make an attempt at being reserved, or fair.  They might just spout drivel, beat their chests, and say, "Buhhht Andeeee shaid it! DUR HURR DUR HURR!"
Not something you have control over, but definitely a problem.

AndyVance's picture

But those "bandwagon idiots," as you've branded them, would have to be using my "elaborate posts" to praise Matta, in this case, because almost all of my data-based analyses have been positive!
Moreover, while I appreciate the apparently omnipotent status you seem to think I have here, I must be missing the cult meetings my mindless followers are apparently having, in which my talking points are apparently being distributed. Nice to know I have such massive powers of persuasion that everyone, except you of course, is blindly following my lead.

BuckeyeCrew's picture

Oh, so good to cherry pick the positive.  So you didn't make any insinuations about Matta being able to win big games? Eh? You are "artful", but akin to the Tressel bashers, winning a lot isn't good enough.  It has to be, winning most (if not EVERY) big game against elite opponents, that matters.
Just saw this.  Nice and vacuous, Andy.. nice.  Quit playing the role of "hurt girlfriend".  You're better than that.  And let me get to the post above, in a separate post.

AndyVance's picture

Wait, wait, I'm better than that? Earlier you said I was a "jackass" spouting "illogical, psuedo-intellectual drivel." Is this your way of trying to have your cake an eat it, too?
And, as I said in the post above, my analysis of "big games" came midway through the season, when the team had lost 100% of its games against Top 10 opponents, and the post today would look much different - which, of course, was the point of the blog post you commented on originally. I described my "conversion experience" in detail above.
You're beating a dead horse, Sir.

BuckeyeCrew's picture

Yes, with proper analysis, you could drop the "pseudo".  The "jackass" comment was harsh, I admit.
And while your post may have come in the middle, that is still when you CHOSE to write it, which may not have been the best idea?  Right?

AndyVance's picture

No, wrong: the point was that a lot of discussion was happening on the site at that time about the "fire Matta crowd" and those of us who have some level of criticism about the Coach, and my point in writing those two well-researched posts was to look at the criticism of Matta objectively, not based on some emotional gut-reaction. Waiting until the end of the season would have done nothing to advance the discussion at that point in the season - which is the purpose of a blog, to write about things happening now. Hindsight is always 20/20, as they say, so a blog post by definition is always subject to looking either brilliant or foolish after the fact as the data changes with time.

BuckeyeCrew's picture

Yes, right. Again, you can't absolve yourself of erroneously chosing to pick data in the middle of a season, where it is obvious that the current team was one in transition!  How many (nearly) iconic players did we lose from last season? And you want to interject in that post, that those who believe Thad can't win big games, had a point?  That alone feeds trolls. You know this.

Hindsight is always 20/20, as they say, so a blog post by definition is always subject to looking either brilliant or foolish after the fact as the data changes with time.

Well.. then what are you arguing about?  "Foolish" is the dish served, here.

AndyVance's picture

What was said, my trollish friend, is that the only area where Matta critics had a leg to stand on was his performance against ranked opponents - which did NOT involve the current season at all! In his first eight seasons, his record against the AP Top 25 was 37-44 (.457), meaning he lost more than he won, which was not true of the "elite" comparison coaches.
I also noted that in those eight years, he won 70% of his tournament games, which was extremely impressive.
Finally, I don't care if you think I'm "feeding the trolls" or not. I put together data to answer questions others on this site were asking or discussing so I could decide for myself - and so others could, too. It's not my place to censor the data simply because you don't like it: in his first eight seasons, Matta's teams lost 44 games against ranked opponents. That is not an opinion, that is fact.
Adding in the current season's record, his teams have gone 42-48 (.467) against the AP Top 25, a slight improvement. Writing the analysis at the end of the season would not have changed the fact that he wins 47% of his games against ranked squads, while Billy Donovan wins roughly 54% of those games and Bill Self wins an amazing 67% of those games, including six of eight this season.

BuckeyeCrew's picture

Aww Andy, you called me a troll?  I feel bad, now.  Trolls generally don't use critical thought, or provide valid points.  My issue wasn't with you "censoring" data, it was how you used it in your analysis, along with certain important variables you excluded.  (Such as power rankings for conferences, and some stats on NBA draftees) This again, makes the figures you so jovially exclaim in your last paragraph, suspect. 

AndyVance's picture

The data on victories versus AP-ranked opponents is not suspect in the least: it is one objective measure of performance, which is why I used it, along with the RPI rankings (which we all question on some level), to give various data points to consider. In other words, the point was to look at what constitutes a big game? In this case, it was performance against ranked opponents, ranked RPI opponents, and in the tournament.
If your point, re: harping about conference power rankings is that Matta winning 71% of his games in the Big Ten is more impressive than Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski winning 75% of their games in the ACC, I think you are splitting hairs. If you're saying that Matta winning 71% in the B1G is better than Kansas winning 85.5% of their games in the Big 12, you may have an argument, though I think Self's winning percentage is significantly higher, regardless that his conference is not the strongest in the country.
When it comes to the ACC vs. the B1G, during the reference years (2004-2012), each conference was the Top RPI Conference in the country precisely three seasons.

BuckeyeCrew's picture

Indeed, that is more of what I was looking for. However, one confounder for records versus top 25 opponents, concerns those teams who might have been in the top 25 only fleetingly.  I think there needs to be a rational cutoff (e.g. exclude teams that were in there for only two weeks)
The power conference rankings are necessary to distinguish which of those elite teams you mentioned, had to go through a schedule that included games against tough unranked opponents.  Surely, there were teams in the B10 during given years, who could more readily handle elite competition, than their mid-tier counterparts in other conferences.
The inclusion of some stats on NBA talent is needed for obvious reasons.  As a corollary, Wooden is looked upon as the greatest of all time.  But my goodness, he had elite talent during UCLAs dominant years that no other team past or present possessed, over such a span. So was he really that great of a coach? I think so.. I do.  But at the same time I muse that even a mediocre coach could have won 1-2 championships, with that talent pipeline.