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By Matt McCoy
To hear Thad Matta after Ohio State's regular season ending 68-55 win over Illinois click HERE
It had to be painful for the Buckeyes to watch the end of the Indiana/Michigan game. Ohio State had beaten Illinois 68-55 and needed a Wolverine win to share a fourth consecutive Big Ten championship. Unfortunately for Ohio State, Michigan wilted down the stretch and let a five point lead get away in the final 50 seconds, falling 72-71. The Hoosiers win their first regular season Big Ten title since 1993, the Buckeyes settle for a second place tie with Michigan State.
"I'm so proud of this basketball team," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said after the Illinois win. "A lot of people had this team dead to rights a month ago and they haven't lost since then."
The Buckeyes finish the season 23-7 overall and 13-5 in the Big Ten. After losing to Wisconsin by 22 points three weeks ago, Ohio State finished with five straight wins, with two of the five victories coming over top five teams Michigan State and Indiana.
"I think as players we just looked at ourselves and said we needed to take more ownership for the way we had been playing," guard Aaron Craft said of the turnaround after the blowout loss in Madison. "Instead of falling apart, we did a great job of coming together."
I imagine it was disappointing to Craft and his teammates that the impressive late season run did not result in a fourth straight Big Ten title, but give credit to Indiana. The question mark for the Hoosiers coming into the season was whether they could win significant road games. They answered that and then some. Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan lost only once at home during the Big Ten season---Indiana was responsible for each of those losses.
We shouldn't be surprised
When the Buckeyes got clocked at Wisconsin, there were plenty of e-mails, tweets and phone calls, questioning Thad Matta. I said at the time that fan frustration is understandable, but writing off this team and Thad Matta would be a mistake.
What happened after the Wisconsin debacle is the rule...not the exception. Matta coached teams always get better and play their best late in the year.
In his 13 seasons as a college head coach, Matta is now 13-0 in regular season finales...and some of those have been doozies. Just think of his first season ending win at Ohio State when Matt Sylvester shot down undefeated and No. 1 Illinois in 2005.
That Illini victory started another streak. It was win number one, in Matta's current 15 game winning streak in the final week of the regular season. The only time a Matta coached Buckeye has lost in the final week was the game before the upset of Illinois, a 74-72 loss at Iowa.
That win streak includes some extremely meaningful games, highlighted by the road wins at Michigan State last year and at Indiana last week. It's to the point that I find the criticism of Matta laughable. The guy is a hell of a coach. He knows what he's doing.
Stay classy Tom
I don't think I've ever seen a guy draw more attention to himself for how he acts after a basketball game than Indiana coach Tom Crean. He's perfected the blow-by handshake, routinely takes an hour or more to arrive for his post-game media conferences, and now, chose moments after the biggest conference win for Indiana basketball in 20 years to go after an assistant coach on the opposing team.
As background, Jeff Meyer, an assistant for Michigan, was part of the Kelvin Sampson staff at Indiana that caused the NCAA nightmare that set the Hoosier program back five years. It was Crean who had to come in and rebuild Indiana basketball to what it is today...Big Ten champions. It's understandable that Crean would have contempt for anyone associated with the Sampson years and I get where he's coming from...but there's a time and place for everything.
Apparently for Crean, that time and place was following their emotional Big Ten clinching victory in Ann Arbor. The Indiana coach tracked down Meyer. The exchange was caught by RTV-6 in Indianapolis when Crean is heard yelling at Meyer, "You helped wreck our program!" The video shows Meyer simply turning and walking away while Crean smiles in delight.
When asked about it after the game, Crean told reporters, "I'm not talking about that...ask him."
Tom Crean is an incredible coach. He clearly cares about his players and gets the most out of them, but he also has an ugly theatrical side to him. He needed to show some class. He needed to celebrate an amazing victory and a championship, while being respectful to the opponent. He needed to be fair to the moment. He wasn't...again.
My latest AP ballot
I'll be interested to see where the Buckeyes end up in this weeks poll. I sent in my ballot early Monday morning and moved Ohio State up five spots to No. 9, one of four Big Ten teams in my top 10. I have Indiana at 3, Michigan State at 6 and Michigan at 10.
At the top, I still have Gonzaga No. 2. The Zags are great and might win it all, but after watching Duke dismantle North Carolina on the road, I put the Blue Devils No. 1....odd because they didn't even win the ACC, Miami did...but, with Ryan Kelly in the line-up Duke is 18-0. They look fantasic. Here's my ballot.
6) Michigan State
9) Ohio State
12) Kansas State
14) Oklahoma State
15) New Mexico
20) St. Louis
22) Notre Dame