Tough Outs: Perspective on Tonight's "Shocking" Loss

AndyVance's picture
March 30, 2013 at 11:40p

For many of us (and especially for the very colorfully-spoken among us on the open thread), tonight's loss to the Fighting Totos of Wichita State was probably one of the most deflating losses in a long time. Yes, the debacle and Madison was ugly, and it always hurts to lose in Ann Arbor, but the extremely poor showing from the Buckeyes in the first half of tonight's game had many of us hanging our heads at halftime.

The guys definitely played a much better second half than the first, though still deeply flawed. For a team that, as another 11W member put it, was playing on house money for quite a while, an Elite Eight berth probably - if we're being honest with ourselves - exceeded our expectations halfway through the season.

So the problem wasn't that we lost, but how we lost - looking like a bunch of chumps. In fact, I felt at one point like one of those years the football team got emasculated in the National Championship Game and someone said the teams must have switched uniforms in the parking lot, because Ohio State played like a team you'd never heard of before the tournament, while Dorothy State played like they wanted to make history.

Judging a season by one loss is always bad business, so don't do it. Even so, many fans are rightfully upset, and looking for places to lay blame and take out their frustration. For some, Aaron Craft was the goat of the game, throwing up three-balls with reckless abandon. For others, Tank's first-half shooting woes were particularly pernicious. But, as is often the case, the bulk of the vitriol seemed to be headed for the playcaller-in-chief, Thad Matta.

One of the most common critiques I heard was that Matta's teams lose to lower seeds in the tournament, and that is true, but with some major caveats. In seven tournament appearances in nine years, here's how it looks:

  • 2006: #2 Ohio State lost to #7 Georgetown in the Round of 32
  • 2007: #1 Ohio State lost to #1 Florida in the Championship Game
  • 2009: #8 Ohio State lost to #9 Sienna in the Round of 64
  • 2010: #2 Ohio State lost to #6 Tennessee in the Sweet 16
  • 2011: Overall #1 Ohio State lost to #4 Kentucky in the Sweet 16
  • 2012: #2 Ohio State lost to #2 Kansas in the Final Four
  • 2013: #2 Ohio State lost to #9 Wichita State in the Elite Eight

Take-home points: Matta has the longest active streak in the country of reaching the Sweet 16 at four in a row. He's now made three Elite Eight appearances in nine years at Ohio State - one in every three years, in other words. Matta's teams have lost to lower-seeded teams five out of seven years, BUT, and here is the first BIG caveat, at least three of those losses came at the hands of big-name schools: Georgetown, Tennessee and Kentucky.

The ugliest marks on the record, obviously, are the first-round loss to Sienna in 2009 and the loss this evening to Wichita State. Those two really look bad.

Here is the big reality, though: when only one team ultimately wins all six games, 63 (well, 67 nowadays, I suppose) other teams go home beaten. In Matta's case, his teams have been a #1 or #2 seed EVERY. TIME. BUT. ONE. Think about that for a minute... If you're always ranked at the top of the pack, the odds increase considerably that you will be beaten by a lower-seeded team, because there are very few higher-seeded teams to play!

As I've said before, this discussion is all about expectations. At the top of the season, expectations were artificially high because of unrealistic preseason polls. Midway through the season, the expectations were artificially low because the team played so darn bad in so many of those early games, and many started writing the season off before the team had really gotten its act together.

After the Big Ten Tournament, expectations were probably just about right, with most of us thinking a Sweet 16 was not out of the realm of possibility, but then with each victory in the tournament it seemed more and more possible that the team that got outgunned at Champaign and Madison could actually make a run to Atlanta. We raised the bar on ourselves in the past week, failing to realize that all the flaws and faults this team had in January didn't just go away.

The team definitely improved, and Coach Matta deserves all of the praise he's gotten here in the past week or two. This season was a big success compared to any objective set of expectations and criteria. Let's celebrate the good, and after another glass of Scotch, hopefully I'll just forget the bad.


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Hovenaut's picture

And that folks, is how it is laid out for you.

AV, voice of reason extraordinaire. Well done sir.

Buckeye Chuck's picture

In Matta's case, his teams have been a #1 or #2 seed EVERY. TIME. BUT. ONE. Think about that for a minute... If you're always ranked at the top of the pack, the odds increase considerably that you will be beaten by a lower-seeded team, because there are very few higher-seeded teams to play!
This is true: if you're a program at a certain level, you're going to be an upset victim more often than not, as opposed to a school like Belmont, which has been in the tournament several times now and has never been an upset victim even once (they've also never won a game).
For a program like Duke, it would be interesting to compare the 4 types of tournament outcomes: winning it all (which they've done 4 times in the Coach K era), losing to a better or equal seed, a loss to a worse seed that doesn't qualify as an upset in the usual sense of the term (Syracuse's loss to us last season would fall into that category), and a loss to a much lower seed.
My sense of Duke is that the number of true faceplants they've had, like last year against Lehigh, is very low; and even when they've had the rough outcomes, those 4 recent titles make up for a lot. No one would have said last March "Coach K can't win the big one!" because it's so obviously disproven by the record. And my sense of the Matta-era Buckeyes is that the ratio of "good/understandable losses" in the tournament to "bad losses" isn't really where you'd like it to be.
The fact is that Matta is going to have these questions until 1) he wins a title or 2) he has a tournament team that clearly overachieves the way Izzo's team did in 2010 (or for that matter, Jim O'Brien's 1999 team, and no way was O'Brien's record even close to Matta's). Even excellent coaches have to deal with these questions. I'm sure the fans of Kansas were wondering about Roy Williams when he had Jacque Vaughn, Paul Pierce, and Raef LaFrentz and managed to lose to UTEP (and in the end, he never did win a title there). Arizona had a long stretch with inexplicable tournament losses before Olson broke through. And of course, John Thompson III has been hearing the hoots and hollers of late.
Two other points:
One, expectations change as the tournament field changes. I thought the Buckeyes would win their regional, but it's safe to say people would not be as upset about a loss to Gonzaga as they are about today's outcome. In the same way, no one really expected the 2010 Buckeyes to beat the top seed in our regional (and in the tournament), Kansas; but once Kansas was knocked out, losing to Tennessee really hurt.
Point two is about Tennessee: do they really qualify as a "big name school" in a basketball sense? They've had fine teams here and there over the years, but they've never been to a Final Four; in fact, the year they beat us marked their first trip to the Elite Eight.
This is a good post; I always appreciate people who bring facts to their arguments.

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

BuckeyeVet's picture

And as we all know, "seeding" is hardly a scientific process. Well put, Andy & Chuck.

"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."          - Groucho Marx

"The recipient of Oyster's ONLY down vote".

Kurt's picture

I definitely support Matta.  We're in a far better place with him than without.  However that also goes with saying that as with everything he has things to learn from.  This defeat was ugly, but from it I hope and expect he and the team to learn.  That said if it becomes apparent that he is not learning from failures I won't continue to support him - defiance only goes so far.  Fortunately we're far from that point.

Brutus's picture

This season was a terrifically fun ride, the last 40 days especially.  Thanks boys.  Already looking forward to what's in store for next year.


The 2011 loss to UK still stings FAR more than this loss to Wichita and most of it I think are the expectations vs. the reality of that season. Even last year's Final 4 loss to Kansas didn't sting as much as that Kentucky game, mainly because OSU was hands down the most dominant team in the country in 2011. OSU was really, really good this year but some may debate whether they were the most dominant team.
IF DT comes back and Q continues to develop and Slam Thompson and Scott get a year stronger we will most definitely approach 2011 in terms of talent, caliber and the ability to dominate. I think a loss like this in the 2014 NCAA Tournament will be a greater disappointment than Saturday's loss. Just my humble opinion. The expectations next winter are going to be huge, much like the football team's.

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

buckeyestu's picture

My expectations for this year were slightly exceeded by this great group of players. Next year my expectations are high, a national title.

cplunk's picture

True, but you could also look at it like this-
If you're a one seed, you are expected to make the final four. Matta did this one out of two, so he underachieved 50 pct of the time.
If you are a two seed, you are expected to make the elite eight. Matta did this two out of four times, so he underachieved 50 pct of the time.
In the NCAA tournament he is basically performing under the Selection Committee's evaluation of his team about half the time.
Many of the posters here know that, although Ohio State football is probably the most important thing to me in the world outside of immediate family (and my immediate family are all diehard Buckeye football fans anyway), I grew up rooting for Cincy in bball. Ohio State bball is my 1A and Arizona, where both my parents went, is my 1B. 
That background gives me a little more objective distance than a lot of people here. Not totally objective- I spent last night screaming at the tv and pacing my living room- but more objective.
So here is my perspective- if your biggest problem is that your coach consistently does well enough in the regular season, while playing in arguably the best conference, to earn a 1 or 2 seed but then half the time underperforms in the crazy one-and-done environment of the NCAA tournie, then YOU DON'T REALLY HAVE ANY PROBLEMS.
I would kill, almost literally, to have my Cincy team doing that. It's been a long time since the Bob Huggins days. And think about this- to have consistent regular season success and slight tournie underperformance, I had to put up with Bob Huggins. Matta is infinitely preferable.
you want a title. There is nothing wrong with that, but don't underestimate the risk of firing a consistent winner. You could end up with Richrod.

AndyVance's picture

Your point about appreciating what you have is well made - my wife is a huge WVU fan, so her first comment last night was, "At least your team made the tournant."

Toilrt Paper's picture

Did you know that thus far in this tournament there have been 19 higher seeds lose to lower seeds?

cplunk's picture

Yeah, it is all about perspective.
Take another example from last night, Jim Boeheim. He's a legendary coach, certain to make the hall of fame (or proverbial hall of fame, since I'm not certain whether there is a hall of fame). Syracuse is a frequent title contender.
He's coached Syracuse for 37 seasons. In those 37 seasons, he has won the Big East regular season 9 times, and the Big East tournament 5 times. He's made the Final Four a total of 4 times and won 1 national title.
Now let's look at Thad, just while at Ohio State. He has been the coach for 9 seasons, and won the B1G regular season 5 times. He's won the B1G tournie 4 times. He has made the Final Four 2 times and has not won a national championship.
So were Matta to continue at the same pace for 29 more years, he'd absolutely destroy Boeheim in conference regular season and conference tournament championships. He'd outnumber him in Final Four appearances by somewhere around the order of 9 to 4, and with 9 Final Four appearances, it is almost certain he'd have a title or two.
For many reasons, Matta won't coach for 29 more years, and probably won't continue to succeed at the same rate, but the fact that he is succeeding at a pace that dominates the stats of an all-time great coach is informative, no?
People should be much, much happier with Thad than they are. 

cajunbuckeye's picture

"Happiness isn't having what you want, it's wanting what you have." I'm satisfied on the season. I saw some bad basketball and I saw some fantastic basketball. I think that Thad did a good job getting these guys rolling at the end of the year. Obviously, there wasn't enough "gas in the tank" to get up the final hill, but so be it. Good year+great memories=successful season. Overall, I'm happy with Ohio State basketball. 

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

ATT2121's picture

Thanks for putting things in perspective. I read, but did not comment in, the live game post last night. Yes the language was colorful at times but I will never fault fellow fans for wearing their emotions on their sleeves. Although, I do wish some would think about what Aaron Craft has meant to this program before laying this loss at his feet.


"It all goes so fast, and character makes the difference when it's close."
Jesse Owens

ShowThemOhiosHere's picture

I think what stings about the tournament losses is that most of these losses happened in a way that left us thinking "what if?"
Think about the comeback attempt OSU made last night - what if they played like that BEFORE they got down 20?
What if they didn't go cold in the 2nd half against Kansas last year?
What if WB's 3 in the final seconds falls against Kentucky two years ago (or Turner's 3 attempt against Tennessee three years ago)?
That's probably why they hurt.  Five years in a row, a tournament loss comes in a game that OSU could've won.  You can't really blame these losses on any one player or coach Matta.  These things happen.  If Matta can keep recruiting great talent, competing for Big Tens, getting high seeds in the tournament - eventually, a year will come where everything works out and our Buckeyes take it all.  I stopped going into tournaments expecting national titles after 2011.  All it takes is one bad game, which seems almost unfair sometimes, but makes March Madness so exciting.
In reality, if OSU played Wichita State 10 times, OSU would probably win 8 times...same for OSU in 2009 vs. Siena.  OSU likely beats the Kentucky and Tennessee teams they lost to more than 5 times out of 10.  However, the game only happens once.
As far as this team, getting to 4 straight Sweet 16's and 2 straight Elite 8's is quite an accomplishment.  This year's team was the best coaching job that Matta has done at OSU.  Early in the season, this looked like a team that could maybe get to the round of 32.  He took this team further in the tourney than 2 of his previous 3 teams that were definitely better than this one.  Unlike some other teams in the conference, OSU can make good runs more than once every 20 years.

Class of 2010.

d5k's picture

I would actually argue that Wichita was the only "big" upset out of that group and they were way underseeded due to using RPI rather than pomeroy and co.'s more predictive statistical rankings.  They would be a 6 or 7 seed with a more predictive (rather than resume) approach.
Georgetown had an enormous team full of future NBA players, so even if they were a 7, much like Arizona this year, it was not a big upset to lose to them.  Case in point, we met them the next year in the final four with many of the same players for them.  Similarly with 4 seed Kentucky, although they were only a 4 because of their early season struggles.  Going into the tournament they were playing like a 2 seed probably.  6 seed Tennessee was a tough matchup with their depth and length and athleticism also similar to Arizona.  Rather than "upset" being the common denominator, I think a more valid analysis could be with "long, athletic teams with NBA talent who had chemistry issues leading to worse seeding" causing us problems over the years.  But even then that is a sample of 3 losses which get way too much focus.  
And the best point you make is that the odds of making a final four going into the tournament are slim (Louisville was probably at best a coinflip just to make the final four, we were probably similar in 2011) so if you are a top 2 seed you are bound to get tripped up by someone.  Go take a 6 sided die and do several sets of 4 rolls.  See how many of those sets of 4 have no sixes in them.  That is basically close to the probability of making a final four as a top seed if not worse than that.