Thad Matta, Ohio State’s loss is Michigan’s gain
Published: Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Updated: Thursday, January 10, 2013 08:01
The Ohio State men’s basketball team has played three ranked teams thus far this season, and three times they have been defeated.
OSU, 12-3 on the year with losses to No. 1 Duke, No. 6 Kansas and No. 12 Illinois, is by no means a bad basketball team.
But they seem to be a piece or two away from being able to contend among the elites, whether that be competing for a Big Ten title or taking a shot at winning the program’s second national championship.
“They need another scorer to complement junior forward Deshaun Thomas,” some will say.
“They need a dominant inside presence,” others will point out.
“They really just need to shoot the ball better,” nearly everyone claims.
All of those points are valid, but there’s only one thing that can transform this season’s Buckeye squad into a national threat.
It’s a time machine.
Yes, you read that correctly.
OSU’s woes through the first half of the season can be traced back to three years ago, when coach Thad Matta failed to give a scholarship to a player that could have been the solution to many of the Buckeyes’ present problems.
There is a guard, who hails from Columbus, that grew up wearing Scarlet and Gray, and is best friends with former OSU All-American forward and current Boston Celtic Jared Sullinger.
He currently averages 18.2 points, 7.5 assists and three rebounds per game. He is one of the favorites for the Naismith Award, given to college basketball’s best player.
And he easily could have been a Buckeye.
But instead, he plays for OSU’s archrival, Michigan, and has led the Wolverines to a 16-0 record and No. 2 ranking in the Associated Press poll this season.
Meet Trey Burke, a 6-foot, 190-pound point guard from Northland High School in Columbus. The Wolverines’ floor leader was coached by Sullinger’s dad, Satch, and played with Jared at the AAU and high school level.
Now meet Shannon Scott, the Buckeyes’ sophomore guard that Matta chose to recruit instead of Burke.
No disrespect to Scott, who has played valiantly for OSU at times this season and has the potential to become a very good player for the Buckeyes, but there isn’t a person with knowledge of college basketball in the country that would pick him over Michigan’s sophomore star.
Well, except for Matta, who chose Scott over Burke three years ago.
While the choice between the two players seems easy now (Burke is superior to Scott, and every other OSU guard, in nearly every statistical category), it wasn’t as clear three years ago when Burke and Scott were seniors in high school.
Burke was a three-star point guard recruit that was — and still is — undersized with scholarship offers from mostly mid-level to high major programs.
Scott was a top-50 national recruit from Georgia that ended up making the McDonald’s All-American Game.
If Matta would have chosen Burke over Scott, all the recruiting services and basketball analysts across the country would have likely criticized him.
It’s Matta’s job to make the tough decisions in the recruiting process, though, and his decision to not offer a scholarship to Burke is haunting his basketball program this season.
Coaches hit and miss on recruits every year. Some five-star players pan out, some don’t. Some three stars improve drastically, many do not.
There are diamonds in the rough in every recruiting class, and it’s incredibly tough to find out who they are before they hit college. It’s hard to put too much blame on Matta for choosing a McDonald’s All-American over a short, three-star point guard.
But then you take a closer look at Burke, and notice the fact that he is best friends with OSU’s greatest player since Greg Oden, was born a Buckeye fan, and the miss stings a little — heck, a lot — more.
Now, this basketball season is far from over. OSU is likely to grow and develop as a team as the year goes on, as Matta continues to preach to anyone that will listen.
To win a championship in college basketball, however, you usually need two elite players, or one truly, truly special player. As good a player as Thomas is, he isn’t good enough to single-handedly lead the Buckeyes to the elite level. Outside of the Buckeyes’ junior forward, no one on this season’s squad has the capability to be elite, at least not yet.
The only way OSU could hang a banner this season is if Matta calls up the Doc, jumps in the DeLorean and Marty McFly’s his way back to 2010, and offers Burke a scholarship instead of Scott.
Don’t believe me? Watch OSU’s game this Sunday, when Burke and the rest of the Big Ten’s best team march into Columbus to take on the Buckeyes. Burke will be sure to impress and outshine anyone on OSU’s roster.
OSU is set to play the Wolverines Sunday at 1:30 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.