When Ohio State defeated Minnesota last Thursday in the second round of the Big Ten tournament, Thad Matta became the winningest head coach in Buckeye history. A proven winner and one of the elite coaches in the country, Matta has made the scarlet and gray a regular participant in the NCAA tournament during his tenure, and an ascendant program nationally.
For his career, which has included head coaching gigs at Butler, Xavier, and Ohio State, Matta has a .763 winning percentage (400-124), has coached two National Player of the Year recipients (David West and Evan Turner), and turned out eight NBA first round draft picks. In his 11th season at the helm in Columbus, a ninth NBA first-rounder is basically a foregone conclusion in D'Angelo Russell.
Ohio State finished up with a 23-10 record this season, including 11-7 during the Big Ten's regular season, which landed them a 10 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Buckeyes will matchup with VCU in Portland on Thursday.
The program has heard its name called on Selection Sunday seven years in a row now, and nine times during Matta's tenure as head coach. This marks the 27th appearance in the tourney for Ohio State in its history.
In fifteen seasons as a head coach, Matta has missed the NCAA tournament just twice. In his first year at Ohio State, the school was not eligible for postseason play due to NCAA infractions perpetrated by the previous regime, and the year after losing in the national title game and seeing three players taken in the first round of the NBA draft, the Buckeyes won the NIT.
Overall, Matta enters this season's tourney with a 23-12 record in his twelve previous appearances. Six times, his teams reached the Sweet Sixteen or better.
Matta's first March Madness experience came in his first season as a head coach, in 2001 while coaching his alma mater, Butler. The Bulldogs, who had won the Midwestern Collegiate Conference that season, were a 10-seed, and found themselves in Kansas City to play the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Matta's squad beat their 7th-seeded ACC opponent, and moved on to play eventual national runner-up Arizona. The Wildcats thumped the bulldogs 73-52.
After his year at Butler, Matta was hired by Xavier, and he proceeded to lead the Musketeers to three consecutive 26-win seasons and three appearances in the NCAA tournament. After getting bounced in the second round in 2002 and 2003, Matta guided Xavier to the Elite Eight in his final year in Cincinnati.
The Musketeers were fresh off of losing National Player of the Year West, and opened the season 10-9. A sixteen game winning streak put the team in the regional final against Luol Deng and Duke. "The Run," as its still known at Xavier, ended with a 3-point loss to the Blue Devils, and propelled Matta's career forward to Ohio State.
The Buckeyes are 17-8 in tourney games since Matta was named head coach, with the crowning achievement being playing for the national championship in 2007.
A team headlined by freshmen Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Jr, and Daequan Cook, which entered the tourney as the overall No. 1 seed, fell to Florida, 84-75, in the Georgia Dome.
The four years following the national runner-up finish against the Gators saw Ohio State miss the tourney, lose a first round game to underdog Siena, and consecutive Sweet Sixteen losses to Tennessee and Kentucky.
Following that relative dry spell, the Buckeyes made the Final Four in 2012 and the Elite Eight in 2013. Led by All-American Jared Sullinger, Ohio State lost to eventual champ Kansas in the national semifinals in New Orleans. The two-point heartbreaker, 64-62, was followed by Sullinger's jump to the NBA.
The following year, Matta's squad, led by juniors Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft, narrowly lost to a cinderella Wichita State team in the Elite Eight, 70-66. That year's tournament marks the last time the Buckeyes won a game in March Madness, thanks to last season's stunning loss to Dayton in the team's first game.
On the whole, Matta has proven himself to be a high-level coach, and has rejuvenated the basketball program at Ohio State. As he enters his thirteenth go-around in the NCAA tournament, fans of the scarlet and gray are in good hands. While this season's Buckeyes may not meet with the kind of success of Matta's past teams, the program is in a good place, and has high hopes for the future.