Big Ten Season Wrap-Up: Ohio State

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on April 5th, 2012

The last five minutes of the Final Four game were a blur for the Buckeyes. Despite cruising for most of the game, Ohio State tightened up during the final few minutes of the loss to Kansas. Jared Sullinger had some issues in the paint against the longer Jeff Withey and Thomas Robinson dominated the Buckeyes in the paint on the offensive end. But regardless of the outcome of the game, Thad Matta did an excellent job with his young Buckeyes as he led them to its second Final Four in six seasons. What used to be a great accomplishment for OSU basketball to make the Final Four has now become an expectation during Matta’s regime. And that’s a good expectation because he has raised the bar in Columbus with consistent incoming talent and superb coaching. Both of his best recruiting classes – one with Greg Oden and another with Jared Sullinger — have resulted in a trip to the Final Four. It is only a matter of time before Matta cracks the Final Four barrier and wins the national title. Every young coach had to go through some growing pains – Bill Self, Roy Williams and the latest addition to the championship table, John Calipari. Let’s take a trip back through the 2011-12 campaign and assess OSU’s overall performance.

Aaron Craft will need to step up offensively for The Buckeyes in 2012-13

  • In a nutshell: Jared Sullinger returned to Columbus for another year of education, late night meals at Taco Bell, and a national championship.  Even though he fell short of the title, a Final Four caps off two great years of college ball before he heads to the NBA. Thad Matta’s freshman class 2011 showed tremendous improvement as Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft added new facets to their game. Along with Lenzelle Smith, Jr., the core of that group should be back next season for another run at a Big Ten championship. Read the rest of this entry »
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Morning Five: 04.05.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on April 5th, 2012

  1. A year after announcing in the losing locker room that he would be returning to Ohio State, Jared Sullinger has decided to forego his final two years of eligibilty and will enter the NBA Draft. As we noted after what turned out to be Sullinger’s last game in a Buckeye jersey he still need to work on his game quite a bit. Although Sullinger did show signs of rounding out his game as a sophomore by losing weight and developing an outside shot it was not evident in that game for Sullinger. Sullinger will need to continue developing his game to have a long NBA career. He will still end up being a lottery pick and most likely a top 10 pick despite his limitations, but those flaws probably cap his ceiling.
  2. Sullinger may be joined by another Big Ten underclassman as an initial report indicated that Michigan freshman Trey Burke was going to announce his intent to enter the NBA Draft. A few hours later his father released a statement indicating that Trey had not declared for the NBA Draft yet and was still taking classes at Michigan. While some viewed this as a denial of the earlier report to us it was just semantics as his father never said that Burke was not planning to declare for the Draft. Burke’s decision to continue classes is a little less reassuring to Wolverine fans because Michigan is currently in their Winter Term, which ends in less than two weeks with exam week the following week, so Burke could finish classes to preserve Michigan’s APR score and not affect his NBA Draft stock, which is important because he is a borderline first round pick.
  3. Yesterday, one key member of Kentucky‘s national championship team announced his intention to stay in Lexington as John Calipari announced that he was not looking to pursue a NBA coaching career at this time. The most obvious suitor would be the New York Knicks, who some believe have the inside track to steal him from Big Blue Nation. On some level we could understand Calipari’s desire to stay with a passionate fan base who no doubt reveres him after he brought them their eighth national title, but if Calipari is given a chance to shine on the NBA’s stage (and with the NBA’s millions) it may turn out to too tempting to pass up after his brief run in New Jersey went so poorly.
  4. Alex Oriakhi has listed his preliminary plans for his college visits. The Connecticut transfer will “definitely visit” North Carolina, Duke, Kentucky, and Missouri while also listing Xavier, Ohio State, and UNC-Charlotte as potential visits. Outside of the UNC-Charlotte visit, which seems kind of random, the Ohio State visit becomes intriguing with the possibility that Oriakhi could potential step in to replace Sullinger. Clearly, Oriakhi is not quite the same caliber of player that Sullinger was at Ohio State, but he would be a nice bridge to the next dominant big man the Buckeyes want to bring in.
  5. Early this morning, Samford  will introduce Indiana assistant Bennie Seltzer  as its next head coach. Seltzer, who has also worked as an assistant at Marquette and Oklahoma, will be returning to his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama for his first job as a head coach. With two new head coaches without any previous head coaching experience in college basketball, Birmingham’s beat writers should be very active next season.
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Big Ten Morning Five: 04.04.12 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on April 4th, 2012

  1. The Hoosiers are getting some love for next season from ESPN. Several media outlets have ranked Indiana as one of the top teams in the country based on the talent returning to Bloomington. Now, we all know this is way too early. But for what it is worth, Andy Katz of ESPN ranked Indiana as his top team for the 2012-2013 season. If Cody Zeller comes back next season, Tom Crean’s squad should compete for a Big Ten title and beyond.
  2. The Jared Sullinger watch officially started, which started Sunday, ended today as the Ohio State junior announced that he would be entering the NBA Draft. Last season, after the loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16, Sullinger did not take much time letting the media know that he would return for his sophomore season. This season, however, he was almost as quick with his decision. It does not seem surprising that Sullinger is leaving Columbus even if his last performance in a Buckeye uniform raised plenty of questions about his ceiling as a pro.
  3. Tom Izzo‘s team has some issues off the court after an excellent season on the court. Derrick Nix was with marijuana and Izzo suspended him immediately after his arrest. Nix will be out indefinitely and Izzo has made it clear that such behavior will not be tolerated. Nix is a crucial part of the rotation for the 2012-2013 season and his suspension could be troubling news for Spartan fans.
  4. Tubby Smith‘s contract is still in works, but all reports indicate that he will be sticking around Minneapolis for a few more years. He has two years left on his current contract, but the administration is leaning towards giving Smith a multiple year extension by the end of April. The Gophers’ late season charge towards the NIT final has boosted his resume especially after losing his best player, Trevor Mbakwe to an injury for the whole season.
  5. Big Ten teams are not the only ones losing their cast upon graduation or to the NBA Draft. The Big Ten Network will be without one of their analysts next season as Keno Davis has been hired at Central Michigan. Davis coached at Providence before moving on to a job at the Big Ten Network for one season. Davis has midwestern roots because he coached at Drake in the Missouri Valley before heading to the Big East job at Providence. Davis won’t be a huge loss for BTN, but they need to make sure to hold on to Gus Johnson!
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Big Ten Morning Five: 04.02.12 Edition

Posted by jnowak on April 2nd, 2012

  1. It came down to the wire for Ohio State in its national semifinal loss to Kansas on Saturday, and it did not end well. The Buckeyes let a game that they were seemingly in control of nearly throughout slip away as the Jayhawks climbed back from a 13-point margin. Thad Matta saw his team playing some of its best basketball at the end of the year, but did not see it execute well at the end of the game that mattered most.
  2. And with that, we likely bid farewell to Jared Sullinger, possibly Deshaun Thomas and definitely William Buford as the last Big Ten team puts the finishing touches on its season. Sullinger surprised a few by coming back for his sophomore season and Thomas has emerged as possibly the team’s best talent. So how much will be left in the cupboard next year? Possibly more than you think, says Bob Hunter of The Columbus Dispatch.
  3. The clock ran out on Michigan State‘s exceptional season, but the accolades continue to pile up for star senior Draymond Green and coach Tom Izzo. Green was named the National Player of the Year by the NABC on Sunday, the first Spartan to receive such an honor since Shawn Respert in 1995. In turn, Izzo was named Coach of the Year for the second time of his career. “For me to win an award of such great magnitude means a lot for me to be able to contribute to making this an even better program,” Green said.
  4. Michigan coach John Beilein had a few things to say on Yahoo! Sports Radio this weekend, but did not get into the situation regarding his star point guard’s possible return to Ann Arbor. Beilein reflected on the season, refusing to call it a disappointment. “We had a great group of young guys that played their tails off, we won a Big Ten championship, which has only happened 13 times in Michigan history,” Beilein said. “(It) hasn’t happened in (26 years). We feel good.” The topic of Trey Burke, who is expected to make a decision about the NBA Draft early this week, did not come up.
  5. For Patrick Chambers, his first year at Penn State was all about attitude. He saw enough, and he’s looking for more. Chambers looked back on this past season, said he liked what he saw, but is hopeful for a brighter future for the Nittany Lions.
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Rushed Reaction: #2 Kansas 64, #2 Ohio State 62

Posted by rtmsf on March 31st, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Ohio State Found Fool’s Gold With First Half Threes. In the first half it looked like Ohio State might run away with the game, hitting five threes in the first 13 minutes of action but only hitting one more for the entire rest of the game. Like many teams, but especially one that shoots only 33% from deep, if a few long-range bombs drop early it can throw a team off its game plan by losing sight of its greater strength in attacking the basket. The Buckeyes attempted 12 more threes in the second half (making three) but way too many possessions ended with wayward jumpers, giving KU just enough space to make and complete the comeback.
  2. Kansas Gutted This Out Playing Kansas Basketball. If you’ve watched Kansas at all this year, you know that Bill Self’s team thrives through grinding it out and making plays down the stretch to win games. They’ll drive you crazy with some of the things they do — such as Tyshawn Taylor’s steal leading to a horrid pass behind the cutter that gave OSU new life in the final minute — but if they can get any team into a close game they have a really good chance to win. You can’t help but think about the last time Calipari and Self’s teams met in the national championship game — unlike Louisville, Kansas has enough offensive weapons to compete with Kentucky in that kind of a game. It’ll make for a very interesting Monday night.
  3. Jared Sullinger Needs to Reinvent His Game. His game was picked apart by the Twitterati and will no doubt provide many ledes around the country’s newspapers tomorrow, but the reason Ohio State is no longer playing largely falls on Jared Sullinger’s poor offensive game. The two-time All-American shot 5-19 from the field, ending up with a very tough 13 points but wasting numerous other Buckeye possessions by choosing to shoot jumpers or taking the ball up against Jeff Withey when he clearly did not have the hops to get the ball up over him. For Sullinger to maximize his abilities, he needs to realize that he’s not a dominant big man — he’d do well to watch how former Arkansas star Corliss Williamson reinvented his game so as to become a serviceable NBA player.

Star of the Game. Jeff Withey, Kansas. Withey’s defense on Jared Sullinger in the second half of this game set the tone that Kansas was going to fight and claw its way all the way back. There was one sequence in particular where Sullinger could not get the ball up and over Withey, and although, he only ended up with seven blocks, it certainly seemed as if he had more. He only had four points (on four shots), but he also grabbed eight rebounds and provided the defensive spark in holding OSU to a 5-of-21 shooting in the second half from two-point range. There were no good looks.

Quotable. “My teammates see me… as a rim protector. When I blocked Jared, I was just staying straight up.” — Kansas center Jeff Withey, describing his seven blocks and in particular, his interior dominance over Jared Sullinger.

Sights & Sounds. The NCAA Tournament can be brutal in its finality, and this is especially true when a team loses on the biggest stage in a heartbreaker of a game. Our seat was in front of the Ohio State fan section, and there was a group of girls, aged between 8 and 12 perhaps, who screamed their heads off the entire game. They were chanting, yelling, buzzing, chirping. We love to see the spirit in young folks supporting the game, but when Ohio State let things slip away at the end, their tears and sobs told the entire story of how only one team can advance.

What’s Next? A national title game, that’s what. Kansas may have been the absolute best team in 2010, and could have been the best again last year, but both of those Jayhawk teams were unceremoniously dumped by mid-majors prior to the Final Four. Not this year. Bill Self’s plucky group will return to the SuperDome on Monday to face off with the team that everyone thinks is destined to cut the nets down this year, Kentucky. It’s Calipari vs. Self, redux, and we can’t wait.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.31.12 Edition

Posted by WCarey on March 31st, 2012

Kansas

  • When former Kansas coach Larry Brown watched this year’s Jayhawks practice early in the season, he was not sure if this year’s squad would win 15 games. Considering this notion, Bill Self has really done an exceptional job this season.
  • During his first three seasons at Kansas, Tyshawn Taylor would be hardly allowed to play through his miscues. Now, the senior guard has the freedom and responsibility to correct errors and lead the team on the right path.
  • Even though he only played a limited role last season, many pundits still saw Thomas Robinson as a first round pick. Bill Self believes Robinson made the absolute right choice in coming back to school, as Self said, “Thomas wasn’t prepared to make a living.”
  • Most of the attention usually gets paid to Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson, but it cannot be overlooked that Elijah Johnson has quietly become the Jayhawks’ top weapon in the NCAA Tournament.

Kentucky 

  • John Calipari was a pretty big flop when he coached in the NBA with the New Jersey Nets. There will be rumors this offseason about Calipari returning to the NBA to coach the New York Knicks, but the question will emerge if Calipari deserves that opportunity.
  • John Calipari has made several stops in his coaching career, which has exposed him to a lot of different people. All those people do have something in common though and that is Calipari considers them part of his family.
  • Freshman phenom Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has had to deal with a lot in his life for being only 18 years old. The death of the forward’s father and uncle have helped shape who he is as a person and a player.
  • In Kentucky’s storied basketball history, it had never had an AP Player of the Year. This all changed Friday when freshman standout big man Anthony Davis was named AP Player of the Year.
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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.30.12 Edition

Posted by WCarey on March 30th, 2012

Kansas

  • Bill Self has enhanced his already strong coaching reputation by leading a Kansas team with not as much talent as Kansas teams of the past to the Final Four.
  • Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News believes the career of Tyshawn Taylor mirrors that of a Shakespeare character. DeCourcy notes that Taylor’s career has consisted of conflict, resolution, dramatic twists, and ultimate redemption.
  • Despite the fact that Danny Manning and Barry Hinson have taken head coaching jobs at Tulsa and Southern Illinois respectively, Bill Self assured the public that all of Manning and Hinson’s attention is on Kansas this weekend.
  • Kevin Young compiled a career-best 14 points when Kansas defeated Ohio State on December 10. Young, a transfer from Loyola Marymount, arrived at Kansas via some unusual circumstances.

Louisville

  • Assistant coach Richard Pitino noted that there has been a pretty prominent change in the way his father, Rick Pitino coaches. The younger Pitino believes his father has a much better relationship with his players than he used to.
  • News broke that Rick Pitino will not be a member of this year’s Naismith Memorial National Basketball Hall of Fame class. Considering Pitino’s resume, this is a bit shocking.
  • Rick Pitino has been through a lot in his coaching career and his life, so it would be unfair to define the man solely based on the Karen Sypher extortion scandal.
  • Gorgui Dieng and Russ Smith might be the most unlikely roommates of all-time, but the two are great friends and are keys to Louisville’s success.
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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: National Semifinals

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 30th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

For even more analysis of these fantastic games, check out Zach Hayes’ ultimate breakdowns for each matchup. UK-UL can be found here and OSU-KU here.

#1 Kentucky vs. #4 Louisville – National Semifinal (at New Orleans, LA) – 6:09 PM ET on CBS

The RTC NPOY Is Two Wins From a Championship

Kentucky. Louisville. In the Final Four. Armageddon in the Commonwealth. Yep, it’s well worth the hype. The 44th meeting between these bitter in-state rivals comes to us from the ultimate setting in the national semifinals at the Superdome on Saturday night. Kentucky leads the all-time series, 29-14, and has won six of the past eight meetings dating back to 2004. The Wildcats enter this game with just two losses on the season and the heavy favorite to cut down the nets on Monday night. In order to advance to the championship game, Kentucky must continue to defend at a high level. By no means is Louisville an offensive juggernaut and that’s where the stifling UK defense must take control of the game. With shot blocker extraordinaire Anthony Davis on the back line of its defense, Kentucky and its #1 eFG% defense should be able to limit the Cardinals offensively. Do that and you would think the Wildcats have enough offensive weapons to win the game. But it’s not always that simple. While John Calipari and his team have a huge edge in talent, all the intangibles favor Louisville. When Rick Pitino said they would need to put fences on bridges in Lexington if Kentucky loses to Louisville, he wasn’t kidding. All of the pressure is on Kentucky, a team expected to win a national title. Louisville, a team that went 10-8 in a down Big East, certainly wasn’t expected to make it this far. The Cardinals have absolutely no pressure on them in this game and Pitino would love nothing more than to stick it in the face of Calipari and Kentucky fans. Pitino and his players couldn’t wait to talk about the matchup last week while Cal and his squad kept on saying this is just another game. That’s pure BS. They know the stakes and the weight on the collective shoulders of this young team could perhaps be Louisville’s best chance to win. The Cardinals boast the top defensive efficiency in the land so a grinder-type game should be expected. Three of the last four games in this rivalry have been decided by nine points or less and, despite the talent gap, we’d be surprised if this one isn’t as well given the stakes. The key for Louisville will be to push the pace and score in transition without allowing Kentucky to do the same. UK is lethal in transition but a game with fewer possessions favors the Wildcats. They excelled at a slower pace in the second half of the SEC season and we’re just not sure Louisville will be able to score enough points in a low possession half court game. That means Louisville, and Peyton Siva specifically, can’t turn the ball over. If the Cardinals wait and let Davis and UK set up in half court defense, their task becomes incredibly tough. Scoring in transition takes the Davis defensive threat away and allows the Cardinals to set up their zone press. Pitino is a master at morphing his matchup zone into man-to-man defense in the blink of an eye and changing defenses could throw Kentucky off balance. The best way to beat UK is to take away Davis inside (Gorgui Dieng can do that, provided he stays out of foul trouble) and force them to make jump shots. Kentucky doesn’t take many outside shots but Louisville’s defense could force them into contested mid-range looks that might not fall. One problem area for the Cardinals could be the defensive glass. If UK is taking lots of jumpers (a good thing for Louisville), UL must block out and prevent Davis, Terrence Jones and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist from crashing the offensive glass. Louisville has struggled all year in this department but must come up with a better effort on Saturday night. Siva makes everything go for Louisville and it’ll be interesting to see if Calipari puts Kidd-Gilchrist on him at times as he has done with other point guards this season. The freshman with an unquenchable motor could frustrate Siva and force him into turnovers, fueling UK’s transition attack. While we feel the intangible aspect of this game favors Louisville in a big way and we’d love to pick the Cardinals just for that (and to be different), Kentucky’s superior talent is undeniable. Louisville will make it close but Kentucky simply has too much in the end and should advance to play for all the marbles on Monday night.

The RTC Certified Pick: Kentucky

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2011-12 Rush the Court All-America Teams

Posted by zhayes9 on March 29th, 2012

If there’s one thing to take away from this year’s Rush the Court All-America team, it’s that none of us are as smart as we think.

Back in November, our voters were on the same page as the majority of national writers, pegging Jared Sullinger, Harrison Barnes, Jordan Taylor, Terrence Jones and Tu Holloway for our preseason All-America first team. Only Sullinger followed that up with a spot on the postseason squad. As for our Ashton Gibbs-John Jenkins-Jeremy Lamb-Perry Jones-Tyler Zeller second team, only Zeller lived up to the billing. Nostradamus is not walking through that door.

Rather than discussing players who failed to match those high hopes, let’s delve into the players who exceeded or met expectations. After tallying the votes and discarding any hanging chads, here are our postseason 2011-12 RTC All-Americans:

Note: voters took conference and NCAA Tournament results into consideration.

Anthony Davis edged out Thomas Robinson for player of the year

First Team All-America

Anthony Davis, Kentucky (RTC National Player of the Year)- A near-unanimous player of the year selection, Davis made more of an impact on the defensive end of the floor than any other contender for the award. His 4.6 blocks per game doesn’t adequately account for how many shots he altered, turnovers he caused and general fear he struck in the minds of opponents. Causing havoc on defense is one thing, but Davis also showed off a rapidly improving post-up and face-up repertoire, displaying incredible offensive versatility in an efficient manner. Davis picked his spots well on a loaded Kentucky team, shooting 67% from inside the arc, grabbing 10 rebounds per game and shooting 71% from the charity stripe. From overlooked recruit to McDonald’s All-American to Final Four to Player of the Year frontrunner and soon the number one overall pick, it’s been quite the magical ride for Davis.

Thomas Robinson, Kansas- After coming off the bench behind the Morris twins last season, Robinson was pegged as the popular pick to break out in a big way in 2011-12. Robinson delivered on those predictions and more, averaging 17.9 points, 11.8 rebounds and shooting 51% from inside the arc. Robinson, who was asked to carry the load for a Jayhawks squad ravaged by early entry and graduation, quickly emerged as the premier low-post scorer in America. Robinson is flush with gifted athleticism, an NBA veteran’s body and unstoppable post moves. For a player who overcame indescribable adversity a season ago, any neutral observer during this year’s Final Four could do a lot worse than root for Robinson.

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Big Ten Morning Five: 03.29.12 Edition

Posted by jnowak on March 29th, 2012

  1. Could this nightmare of a coaching search finally be coming to an end for Illinois? According to the Chicago Tribune‘s Shannon Ryan, the hire of Ohio’s John Groce as the next Fighting Illini coach is “imminent.” Donors and alumni at Ohio have been scrambling over the last few days to find ways to offer Groce a pay bump to stay in Athens, but it seems that it’s only a matter of his contract at Illinois that is keeping Groce from officially donning a new school’s colors.
  2. So what does this whole circus say about Illinois, the state of its basketball program, and the coaching job itself? The Tribune‘s David Haugh doesn’t sugarcoat it when he writes that it just goes to show that Illinois is not the prestigious program perhaps it thought it was. It wasn’t so much the number of mid-major (and even power conference) coaches who turned the job down, but the way in which Groce was able to negotiate the terms of his pending contract. It’s humbling for Illinois fans but surely the next coach will be looking to restore that luster.
  3. Minnesota was left out of the NCAA Tournament, but Tubby Smith’s club is making the most of its postseason. The Golden Gophers have worked their way into the NIT championship game tonight in New York, where they’ll take on Stanford. Coincidentally, that’s the same program that Minnesota freshman point guard Andre Hollins nearly played for. Thursday, Hollins — who had 20 points and five assists in Tuesday’s 68-67 overtime win over Washington — will have the chance to show Stanford what it missed out on.
  4. With all the attention paid toward All-American Jared Sullinger, X-factor Deshaun Thomas, and feisty point guard Aaron Craft, senior William Buford has practically fallen by the wayside. The Ohio State veteran has big-time capabilities that we’ve seen before. The problem is, we’ve also seen him go unnoticed. If those former qualities emerge in New Orleans, it could mean big things for Ohio State.
  5. Speaking of Sullinger, Ohio State’s big man has done what he came back to do, taking the Buckeyes to a Final Four with a reasonable shot at a national title. And, as Michael Rosenberg writes, in doing that, he’s silenced some of his critics. But most importantly, the extra year in college has allowed him to mature and prepare himself for a professional basketball life ahead.
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Thad Matta: Great Recruiter… and Coach

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 28th, 2012

Tom Izzo’s teams rebound the ball and play tough defense. Bo Ryan trains his players to adhere to a disciplined offensive system for every minute of the game. Matt Painter seems to be cut from the same wood as his former coach and Big Ten icon, Gene Keady. He instills confidence and toughness into his team, regardless of the talent level. Tom Crean is a dynamic recruiter and has the advantage of being at one of the blue-blood programs. Every established coach in the Big Ten has a specific brand of basketball associated with them. What about Thad Matta? What separates him from the rest?

Thad Matta deserves credit for player development and management.

For years, Matta was known as just a dynamic recruiter – a coach who can consistently bring in a top 25 class of freshman, most of whom would not stick around for more than a year or two in college. Nobody was surprised to see Greg Oden leave for the NBA but few expected Mike Conley and Daequan Cook to join him after just one season in Columbus. Matta recruited the likes of B.J. Mullens and Kosta Koufos, both centers who took their talents to the NBA but didn’t really pan out at the next level. Even though Matta led the 2006 class to the 2007 Final Four, the run was largely just credited to the talent on the team, not necessarily his coaching prowess. But after a second Final Four in six seasons, that image needs to change. Thad Matta is more than just a recruiter; he has shaped himself into a dynamic coach as well. Let’s examine his career at Ohio State to understand why he should be considered a complete coach in college – one who can recruit and is excellent at molding his team into a cohesive unit based on the talent available.

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The Ultimate Breakdown: Ohio State vs. Kansas

Posted by zhayes9 on March 28th, 2012

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court. You can read his Louisville-Kentucky breakdown here.

It was clear from the first game of the season that everyone’s favorite breakout player, Kansas’ Thomas Robinson, was going to live up to the hype. At the same time, Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, a first team All-American as a freshman and preseason All-American as a sophomore, was widely viewed as the premier big man in the country. It only took a quick glance at the calendar for December 10 to stand out: Ohio State at Kansas. Or more accurately: Sullinger at Robinson. Unfortunately, Sullinger’s body would spoil all our fun. The Buckeyes’ leading scorer sat out the visit to Allen Fieldhouse with painful back spasms and Ohio State limped to an 11-point loss.

Barring a freak accident in the next three-plus days, the Ohio State-Kansas sequel won’t lack one of its biggest stars. Sullinger is healthy and Robinson is ready, two exceptional talents and future lottery picks banging bodies in the post with a trip to the sport’s brightest stage on the line: Monday night at the Final Four. Of course, Ohio State-Kansas is about much more than two players. It’s about Tyshawn Taylor trying to take Aaron Craft off the dribble. It’s about Travis Releford chasing William Buford all over the floor. It’s about Bill Self and Thad Matta matching wits on the sidelines. Heck, I’m sure Jeff Withey will be matched up with Sullinger for a good portion of Saturday’s game.

Louisville-Kentucky may be the Final Four main event, but you may want to stick around for the after party.

Sullinger and Robinson will finally go toe-to-toe. Oh, and it's at the Final Four.

Backcourt- The much-maligned Tyshawn Taylor posted a redemptive senior season, staying out of Bill Self’s doghouse, limiting turnovers and shooting a robust 39 percent from three. Taylor is a tough cover due to his blazing speed, swift crossover and irrepressible confidence, a characteristic never more evident than when Taylor pulled up for a 3-on-1 three-pointer late in Kansas’ Elite Eight win over North Carolina despite the fact he hadn’t made a shot from behind the arc in the entire tournament. His running mate is the much-improved Elijah Johnson, a bit player turned double-digit scorer and clutch shot-maker. We might be talking about Robbie Hummel’s unprecedented run to the Final Four if Johnson didn’t bail out the Jayhawks during a Robinson/Taylor no-show in Kansas’ second-round escape against Purdue. Travis Releford is Bill Self’s go-to perimeter defender. He’ll receive the challenging task of chasing William Buford around screens for 40 minutes. Buford underachieved relative to inflated expectations this season, coming off an extremely efficient junior campaign, but ask Michigan State if he’s capable of exploding at any moment. Lenzelle Smith is essentially Johnson’s clone, a 6’4” glue guy who’s canned his fair share of clutch shots this tournament. The matchup to track is Aaron Craft, far and away best perimeter defender in the country, and Taylor with his athleticism and quickness. Taylor went 1-of-4 from the floor with six turnovers guarded by Craft in their December meeting. Slight Edge: Ohio State.

Frontcourt- Equally tantalizing are the frontcourt matchups: DeShaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger vs. Jeff Withey and Thomas Robinson. Thomas is the leading scorer in this year’s NCAA Tournament, a versatile southpaw who shot a phenomenal 61 percent from two and has never met a shot he didn’t love. That irrational confidence is to Thad Matta’s benefit on the offensive end, but the kindest way to describe Thomas’ defensive effort is the anti-Aaron Craft. It’ll be interesting to see if Self shows some triangle-and-2 or zone so Robinson or Withey don’t have to chase Thomas around the floor. The scenario is similar to when Kansas faced Missouri’s four-guard attack, but there’s no Matt Pressey on Ohio State you can leave unguarded. The one-on-one scrap we all want to witness is Sullinger vs. Robinson. According to Synergy and Luke Winn’s tournament blog, Sullinger is much more efficient away from the block than Robinson. The Buckeye star is fully capable of utilizing the mid-range jumper he perfected last summer, while Robinson is a superior overall rebounder. Withey actually posted a higher block percentage than Anthony Davis, but isn’t much of a low-post scoring threat outside of dunks and put-backs. Slight Edge: Ohio State.

Bench- Much like Louisville and Kentucky, the bench simply isn’t a major factor for either side. Remember 2012 the next time somebody denounces a team’s Final Four chances because of their lack of depth. While Matta has always rejected using more than six or seven players, backup big men Evan Ravenel and Amir Williams simply holding the fort while Sullinger was on the bench for 13 minutes during the first half of Ohio State’s regional final win over Syracuse may have saved their season. It’s doubtful that Williams, backup point Shannon Scott or backup wing Sam Thompson will see more than a few minutes combined because of the stakes, unless of course foul trouble is a factor. Kansas doesn’t have a bench due to a combination of early entries, recruiting whiffs and graduation, an obstacle that renders the job Self did this season even more remarkable. Connor Teahan has the reputation of a solid shooter, but he’s canned only 34 percent from deep on the season. Kevin Young will spell Robinson or Withey. His 6’8” frame is actually a better matchup opposite Thomas. Slight Edge: Kansas.

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