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.