Jeff’s Weekly Sports Rapp: Mr. March
By Jeff Rapp
(Editor’s Note: Jeff Rapp has covered Ohio State athletics since he graduated from the university more than 20 years ago. He currently serves as a voting member of the Heisman Trophy Trust and is a longstanding member of the Football Writers Association of America and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association).
Maybe you should take a bow, Thad Matta.
Oh, you won’t? You don’t believe in patting yourself on the back like a lot of other successful college coaches?
Photo by Jim Davidson
OK, well allow us to present you with a new moniker that deserves to stick: Mr. March.
Someday, someone will figure out that’s who you are.
Your 46-12 record as a head coach in this, the most important month of the season, is beyond impressive. In fact, it ranks you fourth among all active college coaches even though many Ohio State fans don’t seem to think you’re an elite coach.
To suggest that a “players’ coach” and “good recruiter” has earned those assessments because he’s not really a good bench coach is, of course, ridiculous, yet that’s exactly how you are unfairly viewed.
Until, perhaps, Tuesday night.
That’s because your No. 14 Buckeyes did the unthinkable by holding mighty Indiana to a season-low output and grinding out a 67-58 win at Assembly Hall on Tuesday. It was supposed to be a Senior Night celebration and a postgame eruption of glee with Hoosier players cutting down the nets and enjoying the program’s first outright title in 20 years.
The last time an Ohio State squad beat a team ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the country – IU currently is No. 2 behind Gonzaga – in Big Ten play on the road was in 1987, when the Buckeyes knocked off top-ranked Iowa. That was stunning, and helped propel a Dennis Hopson-led team to an NCAA Tournament appearance.
But this is more significant. Indiana is one of the proudest and most accomplished programs in the country and its return to glory was considered inevitable. Plus, the win keeps Ohio State directly in the mix for a fourth straight Big Ten title.
That would be six in your nine years as OSU coach, Mr. March – actually six in the last eight. You managed to squeeze 20 wins out of a ragtag group in your initial season of 2004-05 when Ohio State was riddled with NCAA sanctions, punishment that kept your first team from even being able to play in the postseason.
They are ready to build monuments and name buildings after Urban Meyer for going 12-0 under similar circumstances last fall, but you, Thad, are the “other” coach. You’re the guy who has provided a nice diversion for Buckeye fans, who can never get enough football.
Most of the media outlets that cover Ohio State paid more attention and provided more coverage of the first day of spring practice than they did the buildup to the biggest basketball game of the season and your momentous achievement in Bloomington. That’s right, you were second fiddle to guys running around in shorts and helmets during a closed practice in the offseason to your stunning upset before a national television audience and a raucous crowd of 17,472 at one of the most storied buildings in the sport.
Your Buckeyes improved to 22-7, 12-5 in Big Ten play with one regular-season game remaining and that game is the home finale with Illinois on Sunday (12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). That will be Senior Day for Evan Ravenel and until last year your Buckeyes had never lost on Senior Day. After all, you are Mr. March.
Assuming you lead OSU to yet another win to close the regular season (yawn), you’ll be assured of no worse than a tie for second place in the conference. Meanwhile, Indiana (25-5, 13-4) needs to win at Michigan, which is undefeated at home this season, to claim the title or will have to share it with you, the Wolverines (if they also beat Purdue tonight), and likely the winner of the Wisconsin-Michigan State game in East Lansing on Thursday.
You’ll have to wait for the outcome from Ann Arbor, so there probably won’t be much fanfare at The Schott if you beat Illinois, even though that would deserve some recognition.
Your Buckeyes are now assured of not having to play on the first day of the Big Ten Tournament, which begins March 14 in Chicago, but that’s not news, either. Your teams have never had to play on a Thursday of the BTT.
You are 243-72 as Ohio State’s head coach and 344-103 overall and you hold a mark of 129-52 vs. current Big Ten opponents, including a record of 125-50 at Ohio State.
The fact that you and Bo Ryan have traded off over the past few years as the Big Ten coach with the all-time highest winning percentage is no matter. Tom Izzo receives way more fanfare and does a better job of reminding reporters of all of his accomplishments.
Other coaches steal the spotlight as well.
You’ve won at least 20 games in all 13 of your seasons as a head coach, but that is only mentioned in the context of Mark Few, who has done the same thing for 14 straight years. You beat him in the NCAA Tournament last year, dumped a brash Cincinnati team in Boston and dropped a Big East power, Syracuse, in Big East country to make your second Final Four last year. But this year your coaching skills came back into major question.
After all, you weren’t dominating the best Big Ten field in 20 years without first-round pick Jared Sullinger and William Buford, one of the winningest and highest-scoring Buckeyes of all time. What was wrong with you?
Well, at least you rebounded a bit with the win at Indiana, which improved you to 11-7 vs. the Hoosiers and 8-2 against Tom Crean. You were still dumb not to pursue that Indiana job a few years ago so you could go to a good basketball program, but it appears Ohio State is now stuck with you.
Plus, now that I think about it, you aren’t going to receive much credit for what happened last night. I mean, you didn’t allow Deshaun Thomas enough attempts to score 18 points or guide Aaron Craft to become an off-the-dribble demon or green-light Sam Thompson to become an aggressive offensive player or give Shannon Scott the confidence to affect key stretches of games. Did you?
We can’t point out that your three reserves each played at least 13 minutes and combined for 20 points, nine rebounds, three assists and four steals in the biggest pressure-cooker game of the season because we all know you don’t put any value on your bench.
Crean only got seven points and 3-for-12 shooting from his bench but, hey, he played five guys, which proves he is a better recruiter and has a deeper team. Plus, that guy has perfectly feathered hair and a well-tended belt line.
Granted, CBS analyst Clark Kellogg, who appeared this morning on WTVN, described suggestions that your coaching acumen deserves to be scrutinized as “farcical” and he added this: “It’s comical to me that people even wonder how good he is … it’s absolutely ludicrous. He’s one of the best and we should be grateful to have him. He’s terrific.”
We all know Kellogg is an Ohio State shill who is just trying to protect your image.
I suppose we can still call you Mr. March for a while, but the more I think of it that may be premature. I mean, what if you lose another national championship game?
Tell you what, I’ll wait and see if you win yet another Big Ten Tournament and go to yet another Sweet 16 and then I’ll get back to you.
* This is the latest installment of Jeff Rapp’s Weekly Sports Rapp on The-Ozone.net. He is a regular voice on 610 WTVN in Columbus and long-time reporter covering the Buckeyes. If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out more of Jeff’s work on SportsRappUp.com.