Ohio State Recap of the 08-09 Season

Recapping Ohio State's 2008-09 season is a matter of perspective:

Glass Half Empty: Thad Matta again enters the season with a freshman center after last year's freshman declares for the NBA draft. Without the steady hand of Jamar Butler, the Buckeyes struggle all season along with turnovers. The closest thing to a point guard on the roster transfers after becoming frustrated with his playing time. OSU's most experienced player, David Lighty, sustains an injury and misses the rest of the season. West Virginia pounds the Buckeyes at home. In January, Illinois defeats Ohio State for the first time in 4 years, and in February, they beat them again in Columbus. Defensively, OSU ranks behind Penn State. The Buckeyes sweat it on the bubble before Siena bounces them in the first round of the Tournament. Thad Matta does not recruit a single player for the 2009 class. For the third season in a row, the Buckeyes lose their freshman center to the NBA draft.

Glass Half Full: Thad Matta again enters the season with a McDonald's All-American at center. With do-it-all phenom Evan Turner leading the offensive attack, the Buckeyes jump out of the gate with 9 wins to open the season, including impressive victories over Miami, Notre Dame, and Butler. OSU continues its success in Big Ten season, going 10-8 as freshman William Buford puts on a show. Buford ends up as the conference's freshman of the year, spearheading an impressive shooting display. The Buckeyes advance to the title game of the Big Ten Tournament, and are the last team to defeat Michigan State before the NCAA Championship. Miraculously, Evan Turner postpones his payday to return for his junior season in Columbus. Team cancer B.J. Mullens leaves the team, but everyone else comes back.

The real story is some combination of the two. Whether or not the season is a success depends on your expectations, though I doubt very many in Columbus are clamoring for Matta to leave anytime soon. The guy just recruits too well. In the three classes spanning 2006-08, Matta recruited 11 top 100 RSCI players. Imagine a roster with B.J. Mullens as the backup to the backup center behind Greg Oden. A team with Evan Turner, DaQuan Cook, David Lighty, William Buford, and Jon Diebler at the wings. With Mike Conley backed up by Noopy Crater at the point, and with Dallas Lauderdale as a defensive stopper down low. Frankly, that's an NBA team, and that's been the problem: 5 of those 11 are currently in the NBA. Another one transferred. And there's the rub with recruiting top talent, it doesn't stick around for long.

That makes Matta somewhat a victim of his own success. By recruiting superstars, he increases the likelihood he's going to have to continuously overhaul his roster. And despite the success of the 2006-07 team, most freshmen-dominated teams do not go on deep tournament runs. The attrition that Matta virtually guarantees himself also limits the success of his teams.

And that's why Evan Turner's frustration was so important. In fact, one might argue that Siena's upset for Ohio State last year was actually a good thing. After the game, a frustrated Turner remarked that he felt he had unfinished business to take care of, and that the NBA would have to wait for at least another season. Turner is the best player in Matta's tenure that chose to stay in school, and if the Buckeyes had made it past the first weekend, that might not have happened. Suddenly, the team with the revolving door returns 89% of their minutes. And the portion that they lose (B.J. Mullens) will be replaced by another highly-regarded 7-0 newcomer. Some habits are hard to break.