Should Ohio State have done more?
They had the Big Ten Player of the Year, the Big Ten Coach of the Year, and the most wins since Aaron Craft’s senior year. In most years like that, bowing out before the Sweet Sixteen would be a terrible disappointment.
Not this year.
Most people picked Ohio State to finish in the cellar this year. But the season wasn’t a success because they overcame low expectations. The season was a success because the Buckeyes reestablished themselves as a program that’s going to stay at the top of the league for the foreseeable future.
Let’s rewind the clocks just a little bit to the prior era. For a time, Thad Matta was downright scary. Oden, Conley, Turner, Diebler, Sullinger, Thomas, Russell. There was never a shortage of talent willing to come play in Columbus. In an eight-year period from 2006 to 2013, the Buckeyes had a one or two seed six times. Five Big Ten titles. Four Big Ten Tournament titles. Two Final Fours. Football money. And Thad hadn’t even turned 50.
Ohio State wasn’t Duke, Kansas, or Kentucky, but they were only a half-step down. Another National Championship to go with their one from 1960 seemed inevitable. As a Big Ten fan, that was good. As a Big Ten fan of another team, there didn’t appear to be any way to surpass Ohio State. All you could do was hope to beat them every third year or so.
And then a bad back and bad chemistry caught up with Ohio State.
And the question arose: did Thad Matta elevate the program, or did the program elevate Thad Matta?
If the former, you could expect the Buckeyes to drop off like Indiana after Bob Knight or Illinois after Bill Self. If the latter, the inherent money advantages and favorable recruiting territory meant the Buckeyes would be able to reload.
I expected the Buckeyes to drop off like Indiana after Bob Knight or Illinois after Bill Self.
The jury’s still out, but after the job Chris Holtmann did this season, it’s looking a lot less likely than it did.
Yes, Ohio State lost to Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament. Yes, that was a winnable game.
But with programs like Ohio State, you don’t sweat the yearly results so much; you know you’ll be back. This wasn’t your one shot at glory. In fact, this year was supposed to be just a shot at a return to mediocrity. I don’t expect Ohio State to be mediocre again anytime soon.
This season was a success because it was a message from the Buckeyes to the rest of the Big Ten: We’re not going anywhere.
Now if only they could figure out how to beat Penn State.