Is Thad Matta Finally Ready to Take On Legitimate Non-Conference Slates?

By Chris Lauderback on May 10, 2014 at 8:15a
Matta's non-conference schedules have often been nothing short of embarrassing

After years of scheduling a heavy dose of cupcakes to fill the non-conference slate, it looks as if Thad Matta might finally be willing to make a stronger effort to play with the big boys. 

Though a four-team event coined the CBS Sports Classic featuring Kentucky, North Carolina, UCLA and Ohio State was confirmed last October, the Buckeyes' opponent for the 2014 tilt, the Tar Heels, was just announced earlier this weekEven better, the games spanning the next three years will be neutral site affairs, providing neither team a home court advantage while allowing Matta to further the program's footprint. 

Next December, OSU will take North Carolina in Chicago's United Center followed by a 2015 clash with Kentucky in Brooklyn and a 2016 tilt with UCLA in Las Vegas. 

Matta will take on Slick Rick next season

Complementing the date with with Roy Williams' squad next year, the Buckeyes will also travel to Louisville to take on the Cardinals as part of the ACC/B1G Challenge giving Matta two elite non-conference matchups. 

Also announced earlier this week, the B1G struck an agreement with the Big East to participate in the Dave Gavitt Tipoff Games running through the 2022 season. Each B1G team is guaranteed at least four games over the eight year span but conference heavyweights such as Ohio State could conceivably participate more than four times. 

Matta didn't obviously birth the idea nor is the Big East what it used to be but knowing the format will follow the ACC/B1G challenge in that it will look to create competitive matchups, the Buckeyes could conceivably face the likes of Villanova, Georgetown, Xavier or Butler, to name a few. Again, not exactly Kansas, but definitely not Louisiana-Monroe. 

All of this would be welcome news anytime but especially after last season in which the non-conference slate was highlighted by one tournament team (North Dakota State) along with matchups against Marquette and Notre Dame. Those two combined to go 32-32 on the year. Now, it's fair to note you can't always predict in advance which non-conference teams will be decent by the time tip-off rolls around, however you can minimize the risk by scheduling more consistently great-to-elite competition. 

Interestingly, as janky as last year's non-conference schedule appeared to be, it actually served as Matta's toughest – by Strength of Schedule ranking – over the last five years. Let that sink in for a second. 

For a bit of context, here's how Ohio State's non-conference schedules of the last five years stack up with the top five winningest programs in history, along with the Buckeyes' chief peer in the B1G, Michigan State: 

Non-Conference Scheduling
TEAM 2013-14 2012-13 2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 AVG
KANSAS 1 17 33 32 29 22
DUKE 18 1 44 35 37 27
MICHIGAN STATE 24 86 51 17 104 56
NORTH CAROLINA 36 70 20 95 93 63
KENTUCKY 9 59 11 109 180 74
SYRACUSE 109 106 126 38 26 80
OHIO STATE 65 134 72 128 129 106

Pitifully, not only did Ohio State's non-conference SOS from last season serve as a five-year best at a mediocre 65, it only boosted the five-year average to a 106th ranking. Over that same span, among B1G teams, Matta's non-conference slate ranked no better than 5th and was as weak as 9th in 2010-11.  

Over the last five years, outside of the ACC/B1G challenge, the only remotely legit non-conference foes have been Kansas (twice), Florida (twice), North Carolina, California and Butler. Meanwhile, just last year, the Kansas Jayhawks played six NCAA tournament teams as part of their non-conference schedule. 

D'Angelo Russell should start from Day One

With this nonsense serving as a backdrop, it's time for Matta to build on the CBS Sports Classic agreement and seek out other more competitive opponents to dot the November and December schedule, complementing the ACC/B1G Challenge and Dave Gavitt Tipoff Games.

The goal should be to have at least four legit non-conference games per season, something typically achieved by the truly elite programs in college basketball such as those listed above, if Matta wants to take the program from great to elite. 

The bottom line is that kids today want to test themselves against the best competition and strength of non-conference schedule can help attract recruits already intrigued by the rugged B1G slate. Additionally, fans in a football town are more likely to become avid hoops supporters such as those already found at elite programs like those in the graph and national pundits who help shape the narrative for programs are much more intrigued and complimentary of programs that take on all comers. 

Now that Matta is welcoming a top notch crop of freshmen this fall, highlighted by the silky smooth D'Angelo Russell, with a 2015 class already featuring three four-stars on the heels of what was largely a swing and miss in 2011 followed by a one man class in 2012 and a two-man class in 2013 anchored by a promising Marc Loving, non-conference scheduling needs to take the next step toward elite program status. 


Comments Show All Comments

osu407's picture

I see nothing but upside to this.  Plus a decent non-conference game in December will really help fill the gap after football regular season but before bowl/play-off games which will lead us up to basketball conference play.

+2 HS
BoFuquel's picture

Thad Matta has nothing to do with scheduling. GO BUCKS!

I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then.

Mortc15's picture

Did you forget the italics..? 


+2 HS
buckeyeradar's picture

Thad Marta has everything to do with scheduling.  The only thing he doesn't do is send out the contracts.  If Coach Marta wants to go in a certain direction he will let it be known to the Athletic Director.

I may not be the sharpest crayon in the box but I'm one of the most colorful.

-2 HS
rosycheeks's picture

Marta? Only one time and I'd think it was an accident.

bucksfan92's picture

People bash OSU way too much for OOC scheduling.  Have any of you ever heard Matta speak about his philosophy on the topic?  I have.  He tailors his OOC schedule to the kind of team he projects that he will have that year.  When the team is young he tends to have more weaker teams, but in years where he thinks he has a strong squad he will load up more.  In addition to the B1G-ACC challenge we have played the likes of Florida, Kansas, and UNC in home/home series.  We also have played Washington and Cal when they were the at top of the Pac10.  ND and Marquette this year were projected to be much better than they turned out to be.  You can't play every OOC game against top level teams, nobody does that.  As recently as '11-'12 we played Florida, Duke and Kansas in the OOC in the same season.  

+4 HS
Leland5150's picture

Playing a tougher OOC only makes you better and gives you a better sense of what kinda team you
have. Some of the teams they played last year I didnt even know was a real college their enough D1
teams to choose from you dont have to play all top
ten but you can sprinkle in some teams like st marys
or st johns to go all with the big boy teams you play.
It works for the major programs they play all the
best and see different styles and arent suprised
come tournament time. Good games in OOC is good
for the fans and means more national tv games which is good for recruiting.


ibuck's picture

CL, there's a lot of conjecture and "I don't know" in this article, along with assumptions about the strength of recent Buckeye teams. Did you interview anyone about this? Or are you trying to denigrate OSU men's hoops in favor of OSU football?

Our honor defend, so we'll fight to the end !

If you can't win your conference, just quietly accept your non-playoff bowl game.

-2 HS
Chris Lauderback's picture

I hope you're kidding about denigrating osu hoops in favor of football. I'm the rare fan that follows both sports equally and am a huge fan of Thad Matta. Since late '06, I've been writing about Ohio State hoops in an effort to add as much coverage as possible for the program. 

My point is that if Thad wants to take the program to truly elite status, he needs to consistently schedule better OOC competition for all the reasons I called out in the article. 

No, I didn't interview anyone. I typically don't when I'm writing something based on my opinion. I reviewed schedules for the elite schools programs in college basketball and strength of schedule metrics. 




ibuck's picture

Like some commenting here, I think you overestimate the quality of recent Buckeye teams, particularly the 2012-2014 versions. Coachability, consistency of effort, tenacity, athleticism, hoops IQ, shooting ability both on the line and from the field, moving the feet, chemistry, cohesion, focus, leadership, etc, all contribute to team quality. To me, Thad and staff performed miracles in getting 25 wins from the latest squad, who demonstrated signs of entitlement and lack of interest. As an example, there's no excuse for such poor FT shooting, and that's just lack of "want to" by the athletes.

To be elite, you need great athletes and "buy in" from them. Thad has not landed the best guys recently, but too many of those he has gotten have not bought in completely. Or led. And yet, Matta has achieved remarkable things with them. Imagine if he got buy in like Wisconsin got this year, instead of the entitlement and obstinacy Thad had to overcome. Perhaps the highly touted new recruits will buy in. IMO that's the key to elite status, not a tougher OOC schedule. On the other hand, perhaps getting smacked by an elite team or two will adjust some player attitudes.

Our honor defend, so we'll fight to the end !

If you can't win your conference, just quietly accept your non-playoff bowl game.

jralvarez's picture

Cupcakes, nothing but cupcakes....   I love Matta, but until we play a real schedule, with the likes of the blue bloods, we will always be a second tier BB program.


-8 HS
ibuck's picture

Regardless of preseason games, the B1G schedule is "a real schedule." If not the toughest, one of the toughest conferences in the country.

Our honor defend, so we'll fight to the end !

If you can't win your conference, just quietly accept your non-playoff bowl game.

+2 HS
BuckeyeNationforLife's picture

The Big East - B1G tipoff game was genius, it's a great addition to the ACC - B1G Challenge (plus a big money maker) and this CBS Sports Classic is definitely needed for us individually as well. I feel like every year you want as least 3 marquee matchups in the nonconference, and that's the minimum. Hopefully we upgrade the basketball OOC for more years to come. Love Matta, but I'm just not thrilled with his scheduling.

Paralyze resistance with persistence. - Woody Hayes

+1 HS
Johnny-Shane_Utah-Falco's picture
-1 HS