Skull Session: When Thad Matta Knew D'Angelo Russell Was One-And-Done, Imagining a World Where J.T. Barrett Was Short, and Non-Contact Sports Can Begin

By Kevin Harrish on May 15, 2020 at 4:59 am
Harry Miller is extremely good in today's skull session.

You've done it. You've made it through another work week – even if you're still trapped at home. Happy Friday.

Let us celebrate together with a meme.

Song of the Day: "Diamonds and Guns" by Transplants.

Word of the Day: Pellucid.

 ONE-AND-DONE. I attended every one of D'Angelo Russell's home basketball games as a student, standing 15 feet away as he threw up (and made) ridiculous threes in the face of two defenders, broke various ankles, and threw no-look passes that bounced off his teammates' chests.

It still makes absolutely no sense to me that he played at Ohio State, and it probably only took two or three games for me to realize that he wasn't going to be around for very long.

It only took Thad Matta one. And it was a preseason exhibition.

Matta called him Doc (Russell’s initials are DR), telling him from the first time the two met that he had to shorten the name because he didn’t think he could get “D’Angelo” out of his mouth fast enough when he had to yell at him during practice. There was an easy, fast rapport, and Matta succeeded in doing what anyone who knows Russell well understands to be key: convincing him that he had Russell’s back.

“It’s funny because throughout his recruitment, these so-called experts kept pointing out flaws in his game,” Matta said. “Every time I’d sit and watch him play, he always won. He never lost. And he always made the right play down the stretch.”

The last thing on Russell’s mind when he arrived was that he was going to be gone seven months later. Russell was planning on being in Columbus for years, developing his game, immersing himself in the college life.

Matta still remembers the moment he knew Russell was a short-timer. Both Matta and Boals recited his stat line for a preseason scrimmage in West Virginia off the top of their heads like Russell had done it in the national championship game: 33 points, eight assists, shredding Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins’s famed full-court press, hitting the game-winning 3 on the final possession.

“I get on the bus and say, ‘Fellas, he’s out of here. We’ve got to find another point guard,'” Matta said to his assistants. “They were like, ‘Nooo, no.’

“I’m saying, ‘Fellas, I’ve never seen shit like that before in my life.'”

One of my biggest sports-related regrets is that he didn't play for like, pretty much any other Ohio State basketball team in my lifetime, because that squad was just dogshit bad outside of him. But that maybe that made the ride even more fun, anyway.

Regardless, let's roll the tape once more.

 THE SPOT IS BAD? If you're not giving credence to outlandish hypotheticals, you're not doing the offseason right. So when I saw an article titled "What If the "The Spot" Favored Michigan, Not Ohio State?" I clicked the hell out of it.

Give it to me. I'll play the game.

In this what-if universe, however, Barrett drops tantalizingly short of the first-down marker, and the importance of Samuel's amazing play is immediately—and forever—forgotten.

Meanwhile, Michigan erupts into jubilation, snapping a four-game skid in The Game while sealing a Big Ten title berth.

Harbaugh and Co. head to Indianapolis and take on Wisconsin. Earlier that season, Michigan had earned a 14-7 victory over the Badgers thanks to an incredible defensive showing in which it allowed only 159 yards. The Wolverines again shut down Wisconsin to win the Big Ten and seal a place in the College Football Playoff.

And, well, Clemson defeats Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl anyway. In a showdown featuring two elite defenses, it's reasonable to think Clemson star Deshaun Watson would fare better than Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight.

The bigger impact, however, is felt within the Big Ten.

Those five graphs are the closest thing Michigan has to a victory over Ohio State in eight years.

The truth is, the picture they paint ain't that much different for the Buckeyes. Michigan just might have recruited slightly better the next few years and possibly replaced Penn State as the Big Ten's second-best team while their fans and head coach got quite a bit more unbearable.

But I will say, the fact that my stomach coiled itself around like a boa constrictor the entire time I read that piece tells me everything I need to know whether I would trade a loss to Michigan for a national championship.

Whenever Michigan accidentally does beat Ohio State, I'm probably going to be physically ill for weeks, if not months.

 SPORTS ARE COMING BACK! Fear not, Ohioans: sports are nearly back in your lives – provided that they're low-contact or non-contact.

That decidedly rules out football – the sport that involves a very firm hug once every two minutes or so – but an update on that front could be coming soon as well.

My hunch is that conditioning for contact sports could be permitted very soon even if the all-clear to play them in full isn't quite given yet. And that could be huge for putting Ohio on pace to have an on-time return to college football in the fall.

Folks, I'm still a hopeful blogger.

 PRESIDENTIAL SEARCH STATUS. I'll save you some time and sum up what we know about the status of Ohio State's presidential search with one emoticon: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

But since I know y'all are avid words readers, here's the longer version:

But it’s unclear how that timeline has been impacted by the pandemic, if at all. If it hasn’t, OSU is set to have a new leader in less than two months at a pivotal time for all higher education institutions as they grapple with how to adapt the college environment to a world focused on social distancing.

Von Thaer, through a spokesman, declined to answer specific questions about which search milestones have occurred and what step the university was currently at.

He also did not respond to questions about whether the private search firm was still sorting through candidates, whether any finalists have been identified for the position – or whether he expects there to be a new president by the time classes start this fall.

Nor is it clear whether Drake has been asked to stay on as the full-time university president for any additional time. Drake is already set to remain at OSU after he steps down and serve as president emeritus for one year.

OSU spokesman Ben Johnson, in response to those questions, said there was “no additional info at this time” to share.

I'm thoroughly amazed at how quiet they've been able to keep this entire process, but I guess that's what happens when a global pandemic distracts and removes everybody from on campus.

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