At A Low Point In the Thad Matta Era, How Can Ohio State Fix What's Gone Wrong?

By Tim Shoemaker on March 15, 2017 at 10:10 am
Ohio State huddles to a game at Michigan earlier this season.

This won't be a quick fix.

If anybody is expecting Ohio State to jump right back into contending for a Big Ten championship next season, it might help to change that line of thinking before the season starts.

This may take a year — or two — to get things back close to where they were just a few short seasons ago.

Thad Matta's program is at the lowest point of his now 13-year tenure having missed the NCAA tournament for the second-straight season and failing to make the NIT. The Buckeyes went 17-15 this year and were bounced by Rutgers in the very first round of the Big Ten tournament. It was the first season in Matta's head coaching career his team failed to reach the 20-win mark.

Right now, there are way more questions than answers for Ohio State, but there's no doubt Matta and Co. need to find a way to fix what's gone wrong and get things trending back in the right direction. 

How can they do that, though? Let's try and figure it out. Here are five ways the Buckeyes can get back on the right track:

Re-Evaluate Coaching Staff

Matta is returning next season but it's perfectly fair to talk about other potential staff changes. Those might be necessary.

Chris Jent was brought back as an assistant prior to this season to work on Ohio State's offense. The Buckeyes improved from 138th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency (105.9 points per 100 possessions) in 2016, according to KenPom, to 57th (111.3 points per 100 possessions). That's a pretty significant jump. Jent will return to the bench next year if he wants, but he's a reported candidate for the Cleveland State head coaching job.

Defensively is where Ohio State struggled this year as it had the worst statistical season in the Matta era. The Buckeyes ranked 94th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency (101.0 points allowed per 100 possessions) while in 2016 they ranked 43rd (95.9 points allowed per 100 possessions). Also a significant change, but in the wrong direction. Greg Paulus was in charge of running Ohio State's defense this season and coordinated the offense a year ago as Jeff Boals was in charge of the defense.

Dave Dickerson is a former head coach who has been on Matta's staff now since the 2010–11 season. He is in charge of recruiting and developing Ohio State's big guys. Trevor Thompson showed significant improvement from last season to this one, but the Buckeyes lacked an inside presence until this year really since Jared Sullinger's departure. Dickerson has stated multiple times he wishes to be a head coach again.

It might be time for Matta to look at a change for either of the latter two.

Someone Must Emerge As All-Conference Caliber Player

Ohio State hasn't had a player named first-, second- or third-team All-Big Ten the last two seasons. It's pretty hard to be competitive when that is the case. Somebody needs to become one next season if the Buckeyes are going to get this going in the right direction. 

There isn't a likely candidate coming in, so it has to be one — or two or three — of the returning players. Jae'Sean Tate is probably the most likely candidate, but with his style of play and skill set, he probably shouldn't be your best player. Tate is best when he plays off of others, but next season — as a senior — he should become an all-conference performer.

Which brings us to the two most likely candidates: Keita Bates-Diop and JaQuan Lyle. Bates-Diop, obviously, was injured most of last season and is this team's best two-way player. His skill set makes him a tough matchup on the offensive end and his length allows him to be a versatile defender. He's probably Ohio State's best pro prospect and needs to become a dominant force next year when healthy.

Lyle improved from his freshman to sophomore season but didn't take the drastic leap many expected. He still struggled with consistency and still has difficulty, at times, on the defensive end. His jump shot was much improved and he's still the best player on this team at creating his own shot, however, now he just needs to do these things on an every game basis.

Matta Must Find New Approach to Leading Team

It's hard to argue what Matta has done in year's past as the results are all there, but if he's tried those same things with this group, it's time for a different approach. It certainly hasn't worked with this particular team.

Matta has often discussed this group's inability to play with any sort of consistency as well as it's day-to-day effort and energy level, so it's on him to find a new way to reach them. Players must buy-in to what a coaching staff is selling, but after two years, there need to be some tweaks to how Matta and Co. approach what they're doing in trying to reach this group.

Adapt, Change Style of Play

Basketball coaches have a system and recruit players they think fit that system, but Ohio State hasn't seen much success with this particular group the last two years. Since the personnel isn't going to change much next season, perhaps some adjustments of schematic changes would help.

For me, this mostly comes at the defensive end of the floor. When the Buckeyes get Bates-Diop back, I'd like to see them use their length and athleticism to their advantage. Maybe they could try applying some full-court pressure with all of the 6-foot-4 to 6-foot-9 players they have like Tate, Lyle, Andre Wesson, Bates-Diop and Derek Funderburk.

This could potentially lead to some easy baskets for a team that struggles to get them, too. Plus, it'd be a different style, and maybe that's what this team needs.

Use Depth to Advantage

Assuming all players with eligibility remaining return — Trevor Thompson is reportedly undecided at this moment — and nobody is added to the roster, Ohio State will have 12 scholarship players next season. The Buckeyes need to use that to their advantage.

If somebody isn't getting the job done, there's no reason they should be playing 30-plus minutes. Move on to the next player to try and find some sort of mix that wins a specific game. It doesn't have to be the same rotation every time. Play the hot hand.

Ohio State will have plenty of bodies at multiple positions. There should be no guaranteed spots or playing time for just about anybody.

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