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By Matt McCoy
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Monday morning, following Ohio State's Big Ten Tournament championship, I talked on air with 610 WTVN morning host Joel Riley about the coaching job Thad Matta has done, not only this year, but throughout his career at Ohio State.
I mentioned Matta's 19-5 all-time record in the Big 10 touranment and his four titles. I mentioned that before arriving at Ohio State Matta won the Midwest Collegiate Tournament his only year at Butler and won two Atlantic 10 Tournaments in three years at Xavier. I mentioned his career conference tournament record which is 30-6.
That conversation prompted "Mike from Westerville" to send the following e-mail:
I think Thad Matta is fabulous. Your statistics about his Big 10 tournament success are remarkable but that's the wrong tournament to recite impressive stats. I just don't think Thad Matta can be considered one of the best. To be in that category you have to win championships...NATIONAL championships! He's failed so far and I would argue the tournament losses the last 3 years are completely on him. I want to go all in on coach Matta but I can't yet.
To a certain extent, I understand where Mike is coming from. Phil Mickelson was never considered an elite golfer until he finally broke through and won a major. When Dan Marino's amazing NFL career is discussed, it's always followed by, 'but he never won a Super Bowl'...but come on Mike.
Thad Matta's career record in the NCAA tournament is 20-10 (.667). He led Xavier to the Elite Eight in 2004. At Ohio State he's been to four sweet 16's, two Final Fours and was national runner-up once. That's a pretty good resume.
"In my mind what really makes a great college basketball coach, is somebody who consistantly gives his team a chance to win national championships. There's often very little difference between years when you might win one and the years that you don't, except that you get a lucky bounce one way or another," 610 WTVN basketball analyst Tony White said as we discussed the e-mail on Bucksline. "The better way to judge a head coach is what kind of product does he put on the court every single year? Who are his assistants and are they getting the job done? Are his kids graduating? Does he care about his kids? Is he the kind of guy who is involved with the alumni and taking pride in the fact that he's at that school?... Thad Matta gets an A+ in all of those categories."
As ususal, Tony put it better than I could...and I could not agree more. What I see year in and year out is a coach who has his team at or near the top of the Big Ten. I see a coach who makes his team better as the year goes on and has the Buckeyes playing their best in March. I see a coach who loves his players and is a master at developing a team. I see a coach who doesn't beat his own drum, doesn't seek the limelight and represents the University the right way.
What I don't see, as Mike and others do, is a guy who's getting outcoached and is botching it up in the NCAA's. The Buckeyes lost in the National Championship game in 2007 to a Florida team that defended its national title and is considered one of the top college teams in history.
As for the three losses, the last three years Mike claims were "completely on him," I don't see that either.
In 2010, The Buckeyes led Tennessee in the final minute, forced a miss but couldn't get a defensive rebound. Tennessee scored and won.
In 2011, the number one Buckeyes saw Kentucky's Brandon Knight make an off-balance contested shot over Aaron Craft go in, while William Buford's potential game winning 3-pointer bounced out.
In 2012, in the national semifinals, Ohio State led most of the game, but a veteran Kansas team chipped away and wound up winning by two.
By no means am I saying that Thad Matta is perfect. Maybe there were in game adjustments that could have been made to change those outcomes. I'm sure he looked back and a second guessed himself and wondered 'what if I had done this'...but I didn't see it that way.
I saw three heart-breaking defeats when plays that could have been made to change a loss to a win, were not. The difference between the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat in the NCAA tournament is paper thin. Ohio State has benefited before...like Ron Lewis game tying 3-pointer in 2007 against Xavier...and they've lost before. It's called sports.
Would a national championship complete Thad Matta's resume? Yes. But will he suddenly become a great coach because he won it? No. He already is. Guys like Mike just don't realize it.