Matta’s long-term strategy.
The Buckeyes just got smashed 100-65 by Maryland in a performance that was highly upsetting for Buckeye fans. After some early season losses it looked like the team had turned the corner with a big win over Kentucky on a neutral court. They followed up with a solid start the the Big Ten schedule, but the Buckeyes are looking for answers after two blowout losses to Indiana and Maryland.
Whatever your expectations for the season, high or low, no one should be surprised that this season has seen wild fluctuations in performance. The Buckeyes are really young and, just as important, there are no obvious superstars to carry the team. Young, inconsistent teams can do well when they have stars that can take over if all else fails. There’s no one on this team that can consistently make something happen one-on-one and the offense has struggled greatly without a go-to guy.
The promising side of the ball was the defense. The defense kept this team in games and gave them a chance to beat anyone when they were locked in. They were moving on a string, always in coordination with one another and communicating what was going on. Now they’re giving up 100 points and look just as confused about what to do on a dribble hand-off as they did at the beginning of the season.
But you know what? All this is fine. It’s upsetting because we haven’t experienced high and lows quite like this as Buckeye fans, but this season is a learning experience for us as well. Usually, Matta reloads every year with a team that has a chance to be really good if you squint hard enough. This year’s squad is not that and, as fans, experiencing what it’s like to rebuild around a young group. Days like yesterday against Maryland are why it’s tough, but in the long run we have to believe it will be worth it.
After Sullinger left early, I think Matta looked at the landscape of college basketball and decided he would try to zig rather than zag. All the top programs were looking for the best one-and-done guys like Kentucky to build teams with maximum talent and win-now mentalities. Even Coach K is recruiting guys that will surely jump ship after just one year.
But I think Matta believes he can take advantage. He seems to be determined to build a program of kids that will stick around for the long haul. Matta’s ultimate goal is to build a team built around upperclassman with just enough star underclassman to have a really great and balanced team.
The process to build this ideal team has certainly hit some rough patches. I don’t think Matta expected Russell to leave after one year when he recruited him, but I also don’t think anyone expected him to be that good as a freshman. Russell made the right call to go pro, but I think the fact that he took time to consider coming back was a signal that Matta had planned for him to stick around longer.
Matta going after Kobi Simmons (and ultimately missing out) is an interesting twist. Simmons is a classic one-and-done player so where would he have fit in anyways? I think Matta realizes even with a strong core of upperclassmen, talent wins and a player of SImmons caliber is a huge boost to anyone’s title chances. I think he felt that Loving as a senior and KBD and Tate as juniors was a solid core, and throwing Simmons in that mix could be a recipe for potential championship run.
Of course, we’ll have to wait another year to see if Matta can nab a freshman phenom. Next year should be an improvement, but without a real star like Simmons or Russell this team will peak and good and not great.
That’s fine too. Bringing in a top commit for 2017 would be perfect timing. Tate, KBD, Kam, and Thompson will be seniors. Mitchell, Harris, Lyle, and Giddens will be juniors. Adding a star freshman to that team sounds pretty good. But who says all these guys will stick around? KBD could take another leap and go pro. Lyle could end up leaving early too. With the demand for 3-and-D guys in the NBA, I wouldn’t be surprised if KBD got enough attention from scouts to jump after this year.
That’s where the plan gets dicey. There’s a lot of unpredictability and recruiting guys talented enough to win a championship means there’s always a chance they turn pro before the team even gets good enough to win big.
It’s going to take patience and that’s one thing Buckeye fans are not good at. We always have a win now mindset which makes this season difficult. Keep the end goal in mind. Note the improvements. At times, we’ve played team defense extremely well and each individual player has made significant improvements. Losing out on Simmons was a blow, but if Matta can land a big recruit in 2017 you can see envision a really special team.
Today is a particularly depressing day to consider the future of Ohio State basketball, but I’m still trusting Matta to take us where we want to be. I’m still trusting the process.