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Opinion: Ohio State, Thad Matta need tournament berth in 2017-18

Ohio State coach Thad Matta at the Buckeyes’ 2015 Big Ten tournament game against Minnesota where he became the program’s all-time winningest coach. Credit: Lantern File Photo

The past four seasons of Ohio State men’s basketball hasn’t been pretty for anyone, and all the more frustrating for the fan base.

Mediocrity has continued to build from being a No. 6 seed in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, then a No. 10 seed in 2015, to two consecutive years of missing out.

But that’s just scraping the surface.

After Wednesday night’s 66-57 loss to Rutgers in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament, the Buckeyes have seemingly found a way to fall even deeper into college basketball’s pit of despair.

Almost three weeks ago, I wrote that OSU had reached its lowest point after losing to Nebraska at home. With the embarrassing defeat to Rutgers on the first day of the conference tournament, it’s like the Buckeyes grabbed their own shovel and began digging so deep that there’s almost no foreseeable way of getting out.

The only ladder out of the hole is earning a bid to the 2018 NCAA Tournament — a desperate measure, and the only hope, for resurrecting the program and saving the job of coach Thad Matta.

The Buckeyes finished the 2016-17 season at 17-15, awaiting a possible bid to the National Invitational Tournament — a tournament where OSU was bounced in the second round last year. After the season, three players transferred and Matta brought in coaches that he had coached with at OSU during the best seasons of his tenure.

There was plenty of room for optimism. After all, Matta had failed to reach the NCAA Tournament just twice before with OSU — one being his inaugural season in Columbus when the Buckeyes were banned from postseason play. So, why couldn’t OSU get back to March Madness?

The answer was simple: Nothing changed.

The offense didn’t seem to have a direction for the majority of most games. The Buckeyes fell asleep on defense for several possessions, lacked urgency on both ends of the floor and didn’t have any go-to scorers.

It was the same style of play the 2015-16 Buckeyes had that ended with them watching the tournament from the locker room or their own couches.

Now, Matta deserves all the respect he can get. He has won five Big Ten championships, four Big Ten tournament championships, made five Sweet 16s, two Final Fours and one national championship game. Since he took the job in 2003-04, he turned OSU into a nationally recognized program with arguably one of the greatest recruiting classes of all-time (2006) and building a stronger pipeline between Columbus and the NBA.

But, make no mistake, the questions about his job security have been warranted. However, the discussion shouldn’t revolve around his qualifications for the job. I mean, just look at the statistics above. The question that should be asked is, ‘Is it time for Matta and OSU to move on?’

Matta has certainly earned his right to walk away from the program when he best feels is necessary, but just maybe without an NCAA Tournament berth in 2018, it might be wisest for the program to go in a direction away from the school’s most-winningest coach.

Maybe then, OSU can find another Thad Matta to dig the program out of the hole that Matta was originally thrown into, and now finds himself again.

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