"Been There Done That" Big for Matta
By Patrick Murphy
It isn’t just about talent in college basketball.
Thad Matta – who is one of the most successful head coaches in the last 10 years – would know.
Matta has five regular-season Big Ten titles, four Big Ten tournament titles, two Final Four appearances, and a winning percentage of 89.7%.
His Buckeye teams have won 35, 34, and 31 games in a year and he’s had three consensus All-Americans.
“Obviously I love having the great ones, but I also love having experience,” Matta said.
One thing Matta has not had often in his 10 seasons in Columbus is a team like the 2013-14 rendition. Matta has seen player after player leave early for the NBA. Somehow the coach has kept things rolling, winning no fewer than 20 games in a season, but this year he finally has the type of team he has been looking for.
"Thank god, huh,” Matta said. “Two seniors! We've got two seniors this year!”
Yes Coach, two seniors, but also seven juniors, and Matta has seen first-hand just how valuable experience can be. In his third season in charge, the Buckeyes went 35-4. That team was comprised of two seniors and three juniors – one a JUCO transfer, but that team was a blend of experience and young talent. Three of the top five contributors were true freshmen.
“Every now and then you get that, Oden, Conley, Cook-type class and you see that periodically now,” Matta said of that team.
That group won the Big Ten and went to the Final Four, but they ran into a buzz saw of experience in Florida.
“We get into a situation where we play a team that had already won it and everybody came back. That’s how my luck works,” Matta said.
Talent is great, but experienced talent proved out in that game. Matta knows that experience can, at times, trump talent.
“I think there’s a tradeoff but those teams, those guys, don’t come along real often.”
Matta has yet to have another recruiting class like the Thad Five, but his 2010-11 team did have a great blend of freshmen and senior talent.
“I think we had that when we had John Diebler, David Lighty, and Dallas Lauderdale as your core seniors,” Matta said.
“Then you had Jared [Sullinger], and Aaron [Craft], and Deshaun [Thomas] who were freshmen. Boy that was a great balance.
“Then you had a great junior in William Buford, third all-time leading scorer in school history. That was a great mix, I loved coaching that team.”
That season, the Buckeyes finished 34-3. OSU was the favorite to win the NCAA Tournament that season, but lost on a buzzer-beater to Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen.
Ohio State’s most senior-laden team under Matta is usually forgotten. The 2005-06 team featured seven upperclassmen, including four seniors.
“The second year we won the Big Ten outright, we won 26 games, we were a two-seed,” Matta said.
“[Fans] didn’t care about that season and then those guys kept on winning and winning and winning. Terrence [Dials], Je'Kell [Foster], James [Sullinger] and Matt [Sylvester], to this day I owe those guys a lot.”
Matta has had veteran teams in the past, but this is his most experienced team.
These seniors have won the Big Ten regular season and tournament title. The class has won home and away against every Big Ten opponent. They have played some of the nation’s top teams – beating Duke and Florida – and been to the Final Four.
This Buckeyes team – preseason 11th in the country – is not the most talented Matta-coached team, but experience is something he will not take for granted.
“I think the pros favor the experience side in college basketball today and I think experience is something that you can’t teach.”