Hooley on Thad Matta

The best thing I saw Sunday came near the end of the Ohio State-Michigan State basketball game. I hope I see it a lot more, but even if I don't. Seeing it one more time helped remind me of something important:

I'm an unabashed Thad Matta fan, and I wont apologize for it.

There were a few seconds left in the Buckeyes' upset win over MSU when the cameras panned to the sideline and Thad Matta stood there, smiling.

The game wasn't over yet, but the win was secure, allowing Matta to smile for the first time in 22 days.

That's right, it had been three weeks and one day since OSU's last win.

Seeing Matta smile reminded me of how much he puts into the job, how well he's done it for 13 seasons and how much of a burden is on him to maintain the expectations he's created.

This team isn't one of Matta's best. In fact, it may end up being his worst. The win Sunday moved Ohio State to 11-7 overall and 1-4 in the Big Ten entering a Wednesday game at Nebraska.

The Big Ten start is the worst ever under Matta. I'm not sure there are nine more wins out there for this team, which would make it the first under his direction not to win 20 games overall, either here or at the other two coaching jobs he held for three seasons combined.

However this goes from here, you'll have to look for someone else to help you run Thad Matta out of Columbus.

I'm just not going to help you do it.

Why?

You can call it a career achievement award if you like, but I believe Thad has earned the right to go out on his own terms.

I know attendance at Value City Arena is way down, and I know OSU needs men's basketball to pay some of the bills for the riduculous number of varsity sports the school offers.

I know Matta is solely responsible for the players wearing the OSU uniform. I'm not absolving him of responsibility for the talent disparity that's evident most nights, nor for the sometimes glaring lack of basketball IQ his players display.

True confession, I like Thad personally. I like him a lot. So, I suppose that colors my view.

But I also know that I've seen a lot of programs over the years assume a certain level of success is automatic, only to find out it isn't.

That's a very real possibility in my mind if you get rid of Thad Matta.

I saw this happen years ago in football at Minnesota and Indiana. Both programs started to win more than they ever had, so alumni hungered to get to the, "next level."

So, Minnesota fired Glen Mason and Indiana fired Bill Mallory. And you know what? Both schools did indeed get to the next level -- only it was the next level down.

It took both programs more than a decade to dig out of running off the guy who raised the expectations that Minnesota and Indiana should win every year in football.

Thad Matta has been so good for so long at Ohio State that many fans forget how uneven the team's success was under the coaches who preceded him.

OSU made three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances once under Randy Ayers and went to four straight NCAAs once under Jim O'Brien. Neither Ayers nor O'Brien ever went to the Big Dance again after their initial success.

Until missing the NCAA Tournament last year, Matta had the Buckeyes in the field nine times in 10 years, including seven in a row.

He won five conference championships, four league tournaments and went to two Final Fours.

It's not automatic that the next coach will equal, or surpass, that success.

Hopefully, the Buckeyes win on Sunday will spark a resurgence the prompts a long post-seaosn run. But even if not, that won't change my opinion of whether I'll continue to roll with Thad Matta.

You see, I don't need to know what he's done for me lately, because I haven't forgotten what he's already done so far.

(Listen to Bruce Hooley 6-9 a.m. Monday-Friday on 1057 The Zone)

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