Looking Back at Matta's First Decade as Ohio State's Head Coach

By Michael Citro on July 10, 2014 at 1:00p
35 Comments

Ten years ago this week, The Ohio State University did a pretty smart thing by hiring Thad Matta to coach the men’s basketball team.

Yes, it’s been 10 years already. Time does fly when you’re having fun (read: winning).

Ohio State basketball has been transformed under Matta into a perennial power and a national destination for top athletes. Where the Buckeyes once struggled just to make the NCAA tournament and finish in the upper half of the conference, it is now deemed a disappointment when Ohio State fails to reach at least the Sweet 16.

In his 10 seasons so far, Matta has been more than impressive. Matta has led Ohio State to a 275-83 record (108-48 in conference play). His team has reached the NCAA tournament eight times, with five (including four straight) Sweet 16 appearances, two Final Fours and the 2007 national championship game.

Under Matta, Ohio State has: 

  • Five regular season conference titles
  • Four B1G tournament titles and reached the final three other times—and was one possession from another one last year
  • An NIT Tournament Championship (2008)
  • Two Big Ten Players of the Year (Terence Dials, Evan Turner)
  • 10 first-team All-B1G selections
  • Three conference Freshman of the Year selections
  • Three Big Ten defensive POY picks
  • Three B1G Sixth Man award winners
  • Six All-America selections
  • Three B1G COY awards
  • Nine NBA draft picks—seven in the first round.
  • 10 20-win seasons
  • Three 30-win seasons

Not too shabby.

Matta is also second on the school’s all-time list for wins and with 22 more in 2014-15, he’ll pass even the legendary Fred Taylor’s mark of 297. His career winning percentage of .768 is the highest in school history by anyone who coached at least 25 games (sorry Thomas Kibler, even though your 22-2 mark from 1909-10 was impressive).

ESPN.com recently named Matta among its Top 50 Coaches, albeit a bit low, at No. 20. There are more decorated coaches and guys who have won more titles, but there are not 19 guys out there with a better resume and track record. Sure, ESPN’s rankings are based on right now and not their careers, but it’s still hard to fathom 19 guys more on top of their game than Thad. It’s not a shortcoming on his part that Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas weren’t around in 2013-14 to make a title run.

Thanks to Matta, Ohio State fans now whine and complain at anything less than a Big Ten regular season (or tournament) title, a run to at least the Sweet 16, and at least one player on the all-conference first team or at least the third All-America team.

The following is a year-by-year walk down memory lane in the Thad Matta era.

2004-05

In Matta’s first season, the Buckeyes won 20 games, going 20-12, with an 8-8 record in Big Ten play. Ohio State finished sixth in the B1G, but was ineligible for postseason play. Wins that season included an 81-69 victory over 14th-ranked Iowa, a 72-46 thumping of Michigan, and this gem on March 6, 2005:

2005-06

A 79-69 overtime win over Butler early in the year was an omen of good things. Ohio State vaulted from sixth in the Big Ten to a league regular-season title. Matta led the Buckeyes to a 26-6 (12-4) mark. The Buckeyes swept Michigan and beat Penn State and Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament before bowing out to Iowa in the final. Ohio State reached the NCAA tournament and dispatched Davidson 70-62 before being overwhelmed by Georgetown, 70-52. Dials was named B1G POY and Matta was the league’s coach of the year.

2006-07

The Thad Five arrived and promptly went HAM. The Buckeyes went 35-4 (15-1), winning the both the league’s regular season and tournament championships. Ohio State toppled rival Michigan, Purdue and Wisconsin en route to the B1G tournament title in Chicago, winning all three games by double digits. In all, the Buckeyes beat That Team Up North three times during the year.

At NCAA tournament time, Ohio State crushed Central Connecticut State (78-51) and squeaked past Xavier (78-71) the first weekend. The Buckeyes narrowly avoided the usual trip-up against an SEC opponent in the Sweet 16, beating Tennessee 85-84. Then they beat down Memphis, 92-76 to reach the Final Four. Ohio State avenged the previous year’s Georgetown loss in Atlanta, winning 67-60 before losing their shooting legs against Florida in the title game. Poor three-point shooting (sound familiar?) was the biggest difference in the 84-75 loss, despite Greg Oden playing like a man possessed.

Oden and Mike Conley Jr. were All-B1G first teamers and the big man was the conference Freshman of the Year, Defensive POY and a first-team All-American. Matta repeated as COY and Daequan Cook took home sixth man honors. Oden, Conley and Cook all went in the first round of the ensuing NBA Draft.

2007-08

As expected, Ohio State took a step back after its run to the title game and the subsequent loss of several key players. The Buckeyes went 24-13 (10-8) and finished fifth in the conference. Key wins over Syracuse (79-65), Florida (62-49) and Michigan (65-55) provided salve for the wounds.

Michigan State knocked Ohio State out of the B1G tournament in the first game, 67-60, and the Buckeyes didn’t get called on Selection Sunday. Matta instead took them on a dominating run through the NIT, beating UNC-Asheville (84-66), California (73-56), Dayton (74-63), Mississippi (81-69) and UMass (92-85). Jamar Butler was a first-team all-conference selection and Kosta Koufos was drafted in the first round by Utah.

2008-09

Ohio State went 22-11 (10-8), tying Penn State for fourth in the conference. It was a bit disappointing after a 9-0 start which included wins over Miami (FL), Notre Dame and Butler. But the Buckeyes did manage to sweep Michigan and went on a run in the conference tourney. Matta’s bunch dropped Wisconsin (61-57) and Michigan State (82-70) before losing to Purdue (65-61). The Buckeyes returned to the NCAA tournament, but fell in double-overtime to Siena, 74-72. Evan Turner was a first-team All-B1G pick and an honorable mention All-american, William Buford was the conference’s FOY, and B.J. Mullens won the sixth man award. In a surprise move, Mullens turned pro and went in the first round of the NBA Draft.

2009-10

Matta returned to the top of the Big Ten with a 29-8 (14-4) record, winning both conference titles. That record may have improved if not for Turner injuring his back on a dunk and missing a month. Ohio State finished strong, winning 10 of its last 11 regular season games. The Buckeyes began the B1G tourney with a 69-68 win over Michigan on this Turner bomb, taking two of the three meetings on the year. After a double-OT thriller over Illinois (88-81), Ohio State thumped Minnesota, 90-61 for the trophy in Indy. The NCAA run began with a 68-51 win over UC-Santa Barbara, followed by a 75-66 win over Georgia Tech. Tennessee ended Ohio State’s run in the Sweet 16 in a heartbreaker, 76-73.

Turner was a first-team All-American and All-B1G selection, the Big Ten POY, and the second overall pick by Philadelphia in the NBA Draft. Matta was named Big Ten COY for the third time.

2010-11

Thadface
Thad's expressions are an artform.

Ohio State stayed atop the league, going 34-3 (16-2) behind freshman Jared Sullinger. Matta’s Buckeyes won their first 24 games to start the year, including a 58-44 road win over Florida State in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Ohio State again swept Michigan and won at Indiana, iowa, Illinois and Minnesota, cruising to the regular season conference championship. The Buckeyes dispatched Northwestern (67-61), Michigan again (68-61) and Penn State (71-60) to grab the league tournament crown. Matta led Ohio State past UT-San Antonio (75-46) and George Mason (98-66) before a stunning loss in the Sweet 16 to Kentucky (62-60) in the worst-shooting night of Buford’s career. (This loss still haunts my dreams.) Sullinger was the league’s top freshman and was picked to the first team All-American and All-B1G teams. Aaron Craft won the sixth man award. Jon Diebler became the league’s all-time three-point king doing things like this and Portland selected “Threebler” in the second round.

2011-12

Matta was forced to share the B1G regular season crown with Sparty and Michigan after a 31-8 (13-5) campaign, but it felt ok, because this helped make that happen. The Buckeyes destroyed Duke, 85-63 in the B1G/ACC Challenge and even finally won a game at the Kohl Center, beating Wisconsin 58-52. Ohio State took down Purdue (88-71) and Michigan for the second time in three games (77-55) but narrowly lost to Sparty (68-64) in the Big Ten Tournament final. 

Then Sully and company went on a run in the big dance. The Buckeyes took out Loyola (78-59), Gonzaga (73-66), Cincinnati (81-66) and Syracuse (77-70) to win the East Regional and advance to the Final Four. Ohio State had a rematch against Kansas in the Final Four in New Orleans—a Sullinger-less team had fallen 78-67 at Kansas in December. The Buckeyes led with under two minutes to play, but lost 64-62. Sully was again an All-American and All-B1G first teamer and turned pro, going to Boston in the first round. Aaron Craft won defensive POY honors

2012-13

Matta and the Buckeyes fell just shy of a 30-win season, finishing 29-8 (13-5) on the year, just one game behind league-winning Indiana. But Tom Crean’s net-cutting party took place after Ohio State’s 67-58 win in Bloomington on Senior Day. Despite settling for second in the regular season, the Buckeyes captured the conference tournament crown, toppling Nebraska (71-50), Michigan State (61-58) and Wisconsin (50-43), led by tourney MVP Craft.  Ohio State failed to defeat any worthy non-Big Ten opponent in the regular season, but the NCAA would be a different story.

After an easy win over Iona (95-70), the Buckeyes needed this shot by Craft to sink Iowa State (78-75) in the round of 32. The following weekend, LaQuinton Ross took his turn as hero, draining this three to beat Arizona (73-70) in the Sweet 16. A third Final Four for Matta’s Buckeyes wasn’t in the cards, as tournament darling Wichita State finished the game stronger than Ohio State to win 70-66. Deshaun Thomas and Craft were first-team All-B1G performers—Thomas was also a second-team Sporting News All-American and the AP gave him third-team honors—and the San Antonio Spurs drafted Tank in the second round of the NBA Draft. 

2013-14

Last season was considered a “down” year by the standards Matta set at Ohio State. The Buckeyes rolled to a 25-10 (10-8) mark, good only for fifth in the conference. Wins over No. 17 Marquette (52-35) and Maryland (76-60 in the B1G/ACC Challenge) and a stunning comeback win over Notre Dame at Madison Square Garden (64-61) highlighted a 15-0 start to the season. A skid of five losses in six games, including a home loss to Penn State (71-70) brought expectations back to reality.

Six wins in the next seven games seemed to turn things around, but Ohio State fell at Penn State (65-63) and at Indiana (72-64). Then, weirdly, the Buckeyes beat No. 22 Michigan State (69-67) on Senior Day. Ohio State found itself playing on the Thursday of the B1G tournament for a change, but dispatched Purdue (63-61) in an annoyingly close game, and squeaked past Nebraska (71-67) before coming up a hair short against Michigan (72-69) in the semifinal. The string of close games continued into the NCAA tournament, with the Buckeyes falling 60-59 to Dayton in the round of 64. Craft earned his second defensive POY award and one of the most popular players of Matta’s tenure departed with fellow senior Lenzelle Smith Jr. and underclassman Ross.


It’s been a phenomenal run for Matta’s first 10 years and outstanding recruiting classes the next few years hint at more good things to come. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed what you’ve seen, because Matta has raised the bar for what Buckeye basketball could be and had been for many years. Here’s to another decade of greatness.

35 Comments

Comments

RedStorm45's picture

It’s not a shortcoming on his part that Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas weren’t around in 2012-13 to make a title run.

WUT

-2 HS
Michael Citro's picture

Wrong year. Stupid numbers, way up there on top of the keyboard.

Young_Turk's picture

Thad doesn't rebuild, he reloads.

+1 HS
TheShookster's picture

The title is coming. I'm optimistic about 2014 but 2015...as I've probably said way too many times...If Russell stays for 2 years, the 2015 team has a very good chance of winning it all.

+3 HS
Killer nuts's picture

Nice summary of the last 10 years, one minor correction:

The Buckeyes rolled to a 25-5 (10-8) mark, good only for fifth in the conference

I don't think that overall record is correct if we had 8 losses in conference

Michael Citro's picture

10...I was only half wrong. Reparations have been made and I've sacked my willfully destructive fingers. Thanks for the catch.

BuckeyeLurker0509's picture

Best Ohio State basketball coach EVER, with all due respect to the OGs.

It's much harder to win now and what Matta has done at a "Football School" is nothing short of remarkable. We're spoiled as hell.

and it's going to be SO fun CRUSHING that team up north this year. ORDER WILL BE RESTORED.

+5 HS
jamesrbrown322's picture

 Where Matta had taken this program is awesome! I was convinced after the Jim Jackson era, that 'd never see them again in the Final Four, then the O'Brien debacle confirmed how difficult it is. Matta has taken them to 2, and the brink of a title. He'll get his title soon enough, and finally get the recognition he deserves.

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." - Winston Churchill

+4 HS
Barnsey69's picture

Lucky to have him, great guy and dedicated family man off the court. I hope Giddens crystal ball is 100% on that National Title, because he does deserve it!

Thank the Maker that I was born in Ohio, cradle of coaches, US Presidents, confederate-stomping Generals, and home of The Ohio State University Football Buckeyes!

+3 HS
drtz's picture

BEST. COACH. EVER

+6 HS
TMargo's picture

We have been to 5 Sweet 16's under Thad.  2007, 2010-13.

Regardless it's amazing what he has accomplished.  We are officially a top 10 program now.  It hard to crack the top 5 (Carolina, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, Indiana, etc) but he has no doubt taken our program to heights we haven't seen in almost 50 years.  We can only be lucky enough to have him for another 10 years.   Thanks Thad.  Go Bucks 

+3 HS
tennbuckeye19's picture

If you're talking current top programs, there's no way Indiana is even in the conversation. 

+3 HS
TMargo's picture

Agreed.  I was more viewing it from a historical standpoint.  It's difficult in just 10 years to overcome decades of championships, final fours, and winning that the Kentucky's of the world have going for them, but Indiana over the past 10 years has no question fallen hard.  

+4 HS
IGotAWoody's picture

Exactly right, 5 Sweet 16's. AND, we've been to the NCAA Tourney 8 years under Matta. He's failed to reach the Big Dance only once (his first season, OSU was ineligible), and that year, '07-08, we won the NIT.

 - License to kill gophers (wolverines, badgers, etc) by the government of the United Nations

+2 HS
Shangheyed's picture

ESPin's rankings are not right as expected.  He should be in the Top 10 at the very least.

+2 HS
tennbuckeye19's picture

ESPN's rankings are skewed because on one hand they gave coaches credit for doing "more with less" and ranked them higher than coaches like Matta, and on the other hand they also gave coaches who consistently have the best players and have won titles tons of credit. 

+1 HS
Shangheyed's picture

I wonder if they include in the more with less losing Freshman to the Draft, albiet they are great players but Matta seems to have to reboot often... his best teams are when most of his recruits stay with him for 3 yrs.  Oden yr as the exception.

BuckeyeGrownFloridaLiving's picture

It's hard looking at some of these teams that seemed destined to win the NCAA tourney. I know Thad will get at least 1 in his career.

+1 HS
darthbuck's picture

Having Evan Turner win multiple National Player of the Year awards is a pretty noteworthy accomplishment too.

+3 HS
BuckWylde's picture

Wow, that's one that I was unaware of . . . knew he won 1, but did ET actually win national POY TWICE?!!!                                 How long was I asleep that year?

BuckWylde

Buckeye2's picture

I'm confused, he only won one National POY

Go Bucks

Michael Citro's picture

ET won it in 2009-10...and that's it. Turner is sandwiched between Blake Griffin and Jimmer Fredette.

ScarletNGrey01's picture

Matta has a great resume and is an even better person.  You wonder how much longer he can coach with his health problems, hopefully many more years to come.  Yeah, the 2010-11 team falling to UK in the big dance was a huge disappointment, that season the bucks were clearly the best team in the country and I thought for sure the NC would be ours.

The will to win is not as important as the will to prepare to win. -- Woody Hayes

+3 HS
bucksfan92's picture

We are very lucky to have Thad and I am thrilled with the high level of consistency he has brought here.  Aside from only having 1 title, we are still the overall best program in the B1G- and this is with decades of peaks and valleys.  Now that we have eliminated the valleys, we are clearly a head above the rest right now.  I think my favorite team so far has been the 2010-11 team.  That senior led team seemed destined to bring Matta his first title.  I am still pained by that upset loss to UK in game we should have won easily.  Had we gotten past that I think we would have won it all.

And you need to do a little checking on your history, as you've mixed in a few football tidbits that don't apply to basketball.  Michigan is not an equal rival to OSU in basketball - we lead that series by over 20 games, they aren't any kind of measuring stick in basketball, they are just another league opponent.  And what is this business about narrowly avoiding a trip up vs the SEC?  Until that loss to UF in the title game OSU had NEVER lost to an SEC team in the NCAAT.  That included 4 games vs UK.

Michael Citro's picture

And you need to do a little checking on your history, as you've mixed in a few football tidbits that don't apply to basketball.  Michigan is not an equal rival to OSU in basketball - we lead that series by over 20 games, they aren't any kind of measuring stick in basketball, they are just another league opponent. 

Wrong. We always want to beat Michigan. In everything. Always. Forever.

And what is this business about narrowly avoiding a trip up vs the SEC?  

I was specifically talking about that particular game (a narrow, 1-point win against an SEC team). Subsequently we have tripped up against Florida, Tennessee and Kentucky and of course it's well documented in football, hence the use of "usual."

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

Luv Coach Matta!  He's been one of the best!  Here is to 10 more great years...at least!

Go Bucks!!

+2 HS
mrspray's picture

Loved the recap - the loss to UK in the 2011 NCAA tourney still haunts my dreams as well... I was far too emotionally invested in a team that honestly should have made it to the championship game...

AngryWoody's picture

Ten years already? Doesn't seem like it's been that long....damn I'm getting old.

Our Honor Defend!

+1 HS
Fuzzbuck's picture

I will second the old comment--- Thad is the right man for this job and hopefully he stays put- I think he will. Only thing I want to see him do is recruit a three point shooting 5 man like our buddy Bo Ryan has every year.

jamesrbrown322's picture

That 2010-11 team was the best they have fielded since the 60s (excepting maybe the 2006-07 squad). That was such a HUGE let down in the tourney. The team was constructed exactly how most national title winning basketball teams are - superbly talented youth, mixed with experienced leadership; great defense combined with potent offense; a dominant inside presence with 3-4 other guys who could either beat you off the dribble, or hit the three.

I still think we all under appreciate how good this team was, and how great of a career a guy like Lighty had. With all due respect to Craft, Lighty was the best on-ball defender I've ever seen at OSU. He could defend 3 different positions and did a phenomenal job with help defense as well. Really stop and think about the talent on that team, and it is stunning that the run ended when it did. However, it just goes to show you that winning an NCAA title in basketball is not about having the best team all year, it is about having the best team for 6 games in March and April.

Just check out the depth - Swatterdale in the post, PF - Sully backed up by Deshaun/Ravenel, SF - Lighty, SG - Threebler backed up by Sibert, and PG - Buford backed up by Craft. Damn, I  LOVED that team!

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." - Winston Churchill

OSUbonobo23's picture

Thad Matta is great. Here's a quick story from my interaction with him. 

Ran into Dave Telep at a wedding (Dave is a scout for the Spurs right now, but at the time appeared on ESPN for college b-ball and high school b-ball recruiting info) because his wife was good friends with my friend. Dave and I were discussing college b-ball and I was talking about tOSU. He mentioned he was good friends with Thad and was telling me how nice of a guy he was and how cool he was. So he gets his phone out and calls him right in front of me and says he has an Ohio State grad here at this wedding. Dave quickly puts me on the phone with Thad and we proceed to talk about a number of random things, including his yard work and drinking beer. It was pretty cool he took the time to talk to me for a few minutes and wasn't afraid to use some colorful language. 

Can't wait for the next 10 years.

I put the The, in The Ohio State Univeristy.

+3 HS
Buckeye2's picture

What a shot by Buford against Sparty. I was in the building for that one and I'll never forget it. COLD BLOODED

Go Bucks

CTBuckeye's picture

One of the most underrated coaches in college basketball today - lucky to have him at Ohio State.  Great recruiter and cotinues to put together teams that can contend in any year.

"Because we couldn't go for three"

+1 HS
WC Buckeye's picture

All I can remember thinking when tOSU hired Thad, after witnessing the train wrecks that preceded him (Ayers and O'Brien), was, "well, he's a younger guy and maybe he'll stick around long enough to fix it before he goes to the NBA". I wouldn't have dreamt either that he'd have the successes that he has or that he'd stick around. It sure looks like this could be his last coaching stop, and man, we'd better enjoy every last second of what remains - it's going to be very difficult for us to find another one like him.

The only thing that's new in the world is the history that we have forgotten.