This time of the year is generally reserved for preseason predictions, so can Ohio State head coach Thad Matta return his program back to prominence? Well, the simple answer is yes, but it’s more complex then that simplicity.
If you look at the totality of Matta’s tenure at Ohio State, he’s accomplished as much or surpassed his predecessors in certain respects. Heading into his 12th season as the coach his overall wins and losses stands at a 320-108 record, with an astonishing .748 winning percentage. He’s also led them to nine NCAA Tournament berths and five Big Ten regular season titles.
So why did his entire 2015 recruiting class transfer, or better yet, why has he yet to reel in a NCAA Championship? These questions can be considered subjective because many have their own theories, speculations and so on, but the questions cloud the program.
There are a few schools you could count on one hand that have a long and rich history and in college basketball the Buckeyes have been a to-rated team in the Matta era.
Taking that into consideration, it’s puzzling to understand why Matta has generally struggled to recruit top players like a top program, especially away from the Midwest, with Greg Oden, Mike Conley and D’Angelo Russell being exceptions.
Aaron Craft and Jared Sullinger were a part of one of Matta’s two most iconic Buckeyes teams, who are Ohio-born players. Other notable players like Evan Turner, who’s from Chicago, and Deshaun Thomas, who’s from Indiana, were players attainable in terms of proximity.
From the outside looking in you could say that Matta just endured one of his toughest recruiting challenge in convincing the Louisville, Kentucky product Russell to leave his hometown, by not signing with neither Kentucky or Louisville.
The main theme with all of these players is that they were ESPN 100 prospects, except for Craft, but we know the outcome. Even guys like Kosta Koufos, Jon Diebler, Daequan Cook, David Lighty, Lenzelle Smith Jr., Dallas Lauderdale, Sam Thompson and a few others were highly rated prospects.
Just to give some context, in this recent 2016 class he only landed one top 100 prospect in power-forward Derek Funderburk, who cracked the top 70 on ESPN.
So again I ask, what made his entire 2015 class besides JaQuan Lyle depart? Were those transfers just a shocking set of events that happened or was there something deeper to it? I’ll go with the latter because with the way he and his staff have attacked recruiting, this seemed bound to happen eventually due to the circumstances the program finds themselves in.
It’s following a recurring theme of landing one or two big time players every few years and trying to ride that wave, but what happens when a guy like Russell decides to enter the NBA Draft— sometimes staying loaded like a Duke or Kentucky is not a bad option.
There must be consistency in recruiting to make the Buckeyes a legitimate perennial NCAA title contender again. The reality is the last time they made the NCAA Championship was the 2006-07 season where they had one of the most loaded and talented rosters, featuring plenty of depth that you cannot build if your team is full of freshmen or one-and-dones.
Matta and his staff must revisit their own blueprint to success because it’s working for other programs and it’s the missing piece to the Ohio State postseason puzzle.