Five Things We Learned in Wild Win over Minnesota
By John Porentas
1) This is a very, very unpredictable basketball team. If you watched the first half the team was unpredictably bad, really, really bad. It was the kind of bad that made you lose faith that they could ever be good. It was that kind of bad. Then in the second half they came out and played the kind of good that probably surpasses your wildest dreams for this crew. It is within this team to be very good. We saw that tonight. It seems weird to be still wondering how good or bad a team is this late in the season, but that's just the way it is with these guys. If they can consistently put 40 minutes together of what they showed in the second half, this could still be a very memorable season. Note however, that I'm not predicting that they will, nor that that they won't.
2) Sometimes a fix is really not complicated. At half time Thad Matta didn't spend any time talking about things the Buckeyes could do to turn the game around. There was no Xs and Os talk at all, no chalk board, no diagrams. He simply told them they had to play better. That may seem odd to you - it does to me - but both Matta and his players said that's what happened at half time. They did also add that Matta said it in a manner that left nothing to the imagination as to how he felt about their play in the first half. We weren't there, but it's safe to say that Matta probably felt the same way you did about that first half. The only difference between you and him is that he had the opportunity to get in their collective face and tell them what he thought. He must have done a great job of communication, because that was a different team in the second half simply doing exactly what the were doing in the first half, only better.
3) Thad saw it coming. Matta said that at shoot around before the game he felt the team was not focused, that they "had an odd way about them". He added that he raised his voice with them trying to get their attention because he feared they would get off to a bad start. That's exactly what happened when Minnesota jumped out to a 7-0 lead then went on to lead by 10 points at the half. Matta may have failed to get their attention before the game, but see "point 2" above about how he made up for that at half time.
4) Rick Pitino coveted Sam Thompson. Thompson was a one-man wrecking crew against Minnesota. Minnesota Head Coach Rick Pitino Jr. wasn't surprised. Pitino had been an assistant coach on Billy Donovan's coaching staff at Florida where Pitino had attempted to recruit Thompson for Florida while he was there. Pitino said he was actually pretty sure Thompson would go to Florida, but instead ended up with the Buckeyes. Pitino said all the things he saw in Thompson back then were the things Thompson showed in the second half against the Gophers. That by the way included a game-high 19 points and four rebounds.
5) We now know what Thad Matta's vision for this team has been all along. What you saw in the second half was what Matta has hoped all along that this team would be. They were aggressive on defense and then aggressive to get into the transition game and score easy baskets quickly. Matta has been trying to get them into that mode all season, but for some reason, they sometimes just don't play with the aggression and sense of urgency that is required to be a transition team. Maybe now that they've done it, can see it on film, and know they can do it, Matta's vision will be on display with a little more consistency. It's the perfect style of play for a team that has trouble scoring in the half court, and a perfect style of play for the type of athletes Matta has assembled.
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