Recently I posted a blog that ended this way:
This is not about whether Matta was a good hire - he was. This is not about whether Matta is a good coach - he is. This is certainly not a call for his firing (I'm still trying to understand the mindset of Chicago Bears ownership who fired a coach that got them 10 wins. What proven winner is on the market? That to me looks like a team ready to implode completely.) This is about whether he is maximizing potential, whether OSU basketball under Matta is as good as it can be. I think Matta is a good coach, a very good coach. But I don't think he has earned a right to be above criticism. I'd gladly give up a few B1G wins for an NC ring or two. I'd even settle for playing in two NC games in five years. I'd like to see hustling role players learning teamwork. I'd like to see more Turners, who come to Columbus rough and leave as professionals. Those to me are how to measure elite coaches. And wanting such things does not mean I am never and will never be satisfied - they mean that for all Matta's successes I think he is falling short of what an OSU coach can accomplish. And I'd like to see those things accomplished.
I had thought my position was clear - that OSU basketball under Matta was good yet could be better. I also thought this was non-controversial - that every coach, no matter how successful, would feel that the best was still to come. The 11W response, however, was vitriolic. It was as if we were still in the 14th century (or whenever it was) and I had suggested that the earth revolves around the sun. The responses were more religious than scientific. Which is really unfortunate because some legitimate questions I had raised were being almost completely ignored. Andyvance compared Matta's winning percentage with other coaches - thank you Andy! - but otherwise my blog might have served no purpose whatsoever but to get Buckeye fans irate. Since subtlety did not work I will try stating directly some questions I think those who take basketball seriously might care to look at more closely.
Given the pavlovian way too many readers react to my name alone I'd like to offer two reassurances. I just ask questions here, I do not give answers. I do not attack Thad Matta, Ohio State sports or western civilization. And I do not know the answers to these questions - this is not a devious way of attacking Matta, OSU or wc. It may be that the answers suggest that Matta is operating in an idiosyncratic way that may put a firm ceiling on what he can be expected to consistently achieve. It may also be that the answers establish that he is operating according to principles that have proven successful, and that there is no limit to what can be expected. Search if you have a curious mind; refrain if you fear what you might find.
1. I wish I hadn't started my blog with reference to Trey Burke because doing so permitted those so inclined to focus entirely on my error in not remembering that Shannon Scott had been more highly regarded. With that apology now on record let's put Matta's recruiting in the spotlight. We all know the one-and-dones he has brought to Columbus; the less heralded players he has molded into strong starting line-ups. Matta deserves recognition for these achievements. But he has offered spots on the roster to a lot of players who have not become household names even to Buckeye fans; and in at least a couple of instances he may have failed to fill known needs. How has Matta actually recruited top to bottom during his years in Columbus? Narrowing the focus, how should his incoming class of 2012-2013 be evaluated? There is not a single senior on this year's roster that he recruited (Ravanel transferred in) and none from the graduating class of 2013 left early for the pros - what happened to his recruits? More generally, a relatively small number of roster players ever contribute in a meaningful way - are the guys who ride the pine for a year or four just not very good? and if that is the case is Matta recruiting a higher percentage of busts than he should? And to return to Burke should Matta be paying heightened attention to local kids (including Chane Behanan from Cincinnati who is now killing it at Louisville) or are Ohio and Columbus as recruiting bases absolutely no more important than anyplace else?
2. To me the "length" of a bench is not based on the number of players who get some arbitrary amount of playing time; rather, it is based on the number of players who are regularly asked to contribute at times other than when the outcome is already settled or the coach is desperate. The role players. There is a widely held perception that after the dust settles and things get real relatively few players are asked to contribute under Matta. Is this true? Is there a pattern to how deep into the line-up Matta goes or is every year different? How does his approach compare with other Div 1 coaches? with coaches at other "elite" programs?
3. If Matta's bench is shorter than other coaches' what does that mean? It could be that the end of the bench is not very good, in which case that reflects on his recruiting. Assuming that more players are capable of contributing "now" than are actually being asked to do so why is this? Is it because they could be good enough if Matta gave them the attention that could get them there but Matta does not give them the attention? If so is that because Matta does not have time, he is too busy with the select? Is it because Matta does not care to make the time, he doesn't care about any but the select? Are they already pretty good and don't need a lot of extra attention but philosophically Matta is more comfortable with a short bench? And given that Matta is coaching at a college where, in theory, the student athletes have a right to expect to be taught and get experience is that kind of philosophy a fair one? (This last question allows for the possibility that at a college there might be something more important than winning.)
4. If Matta's bench is generally shorter than those of coaches he is competing against what, if anything, does this say about his likelihood of winning an NC? What is the shortest bench of a team that has won one? that has reached the final but lost? What is the average number of players who regularly contribute to an NC winner? What is the optimal number, if that is different?
5. This question can not be answered by data, it is jus a matter of preference, but it would be nice to know what OSU fans think; what fans nationally think.
At the start of each year the coach will have one primary goal. For weaker teams the goal might be nothing more optimistic than improving in some way over the previous year. In this case the focus is much more on teaching than winning.
A different goal might be winning a certain number of games - 10, 15, 20. If so, a coach can look at the schedule, determine where the wins are likely to come, and design game plans likely to get those wins, without regard for the rest of the schedule. There are plenty of teams that would jump up and down at winning 15.
Or a coach might aim at winning the conference regular season title. In this case games outside the conference don't matter except as they help prepare to win conference games.
A coach might aim at winning a conference end-of-year tournament to get the NCAA automatic bid. In that case out of conference games don't matter, and a large number of in-conference games don't matter either, as long as the team wins enough conference games to make the tourney.
A coach might aim at making the NCAA, no matter how it gets done. That will call for its own strategies, though it will need to be the right number of quality wins and avoiding bad losses.
Finally, a coach might aim at winning the NCAA. The strategy here is counter-intuitive but obvious, if that really is the goal. In this case the objective is taking as long as it takes, within reason, to go into March peaking without worrying too much about record, particular wins, or rivalries. As long as the team has a combination of athletes that can compete (including as long a bench as it really neds) and has all its necessary pieces healthy and on-board and gets into the tournament playing as well as it ever could be it will be a team with as good a chance as any, no matter hw low its seed. In other words, losing 12 games before March matters less than winning the last game in April.
OSU is playing for more than simply being better than last year, more than simply winning 15 games. But everything else is on the table. Some readers have said that 20 wins is the measuring stick they use. Some have said that winning the B1G is most important. I want rings. All call for different coaching approaches. A goal can change during the course of a year; it can change many times; but at the start of a year a coach needs to know what he is preparing his team for. What do 11W readers want Matta to set as his goal? and are you willing to accept losses if they are part of the strategy necessary to achieve that goal?
6. I don't know what six is but I certainly have not asked all the questions about coaching at a high level. Think of an assumption you have made about Matta's performance and turn it into a question.