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Buckeyes Reflect, Look Toward Next Year


Never Forget 31-0


Thad Matta

Buckeyes Reflect, Look Toward Next Year
By Steve Helwagen Managing Editor
Date: Mar 15, 2005​

We look back at Ohio State's 2004-05 men's basketball season with comments from Thad Matta and several players. Plus, we examine how the Buckeyes may look next season and also handicap which Big Ten teams may contend next year. Click this free link for more.

The NCAA Tournament will begin on Thursday and, for the third year in a row, it will begin without Ohio State.

The last two seasons, Ohio State’s final records were short of what the NCAA selection committee was looking for when it was filling out its field.
This year, the Buckeyes finished the year 20-12 overall and 8-8 in Big Ten play. Those numbers in most seasons would put Ohio State squarely on the bubble. According to collegerpi.com, OSU’s final regular season RPI was 51st. UAB made the field as an at-large at No. 49, while Iowa State (62nd) and N.C. State (63rd) also got in.
But the Buckeyes were not eligible for postseason play beyond last weekend’s Big Ten tournament due to a self-imposed postseason ban. That ban was put in place after former OSU head coach Jim O’Brien admitted he loaned money to a one-time recruit.
Ohio State’s regular season was punctuated by a 65-64 upset of previously unbeaten and No. 1-ranked Illinois on March 6 at Value City Arena. If the Fighting Illini – given the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament – go on to win it all, Ohio State will be the answer to quite a trivia question.
The Buckeyes then went to Chicago this past weekend as the sixth seed in the Big Ten tournament. OSU had to rally from down 15 in the second half to hold off 11th-seeded Penn State in an opening round game. Then, third-seeded Wisconsin broke open a tight game late and advanced with a 60-49 win over the Buckeyes.
OSU had hoped to make a big splash at the conference tournament. The Buckeyes fell short of that. But they had little to apologize for after notching the school’s first 20-win season since the 2001-02 team won a share of the Big Ten title as well as the conference tournament crown.
The Buckeyes accomplished a few things in coach Thad Matta’s first year on the job. Matta, formerly of Xavier, was selected as the OSU coach in early July. But he and assistants John Groce, Alan Major and Dan Peters went to work quickly and put together a winner.
“I think that’s a testament to Coach and his staff,” said junior forward Matt Sylvester, whose three-point shot with 5.1 seconds left sank Illinois. “I can honestly say they are one of the best staffs in the country. I’m glad we got them in here. We had a couple of losing seasons and then we got them in here. We didn’t even have an off-season with these guys. It was just bam bam. We just went with the flow and put things in on the go.”
Junior center Terence Dials emerged as one of the best players in the Big Ten, averaging team highs of 15.9 points and 7.9 rebounds.

“You lose a game and you’re going to be upset,” Dials said after the loss to Wisconsin. “We have a long time to think about this one and we just want to make sure we work hard in the off-season.”

Matta was asked following that season-ending defeat to sum up his first year in Columbus.
“I look forward to sitting down and recapping this season in my mind,” he said. “Since the day we got here, we’ve been going 100 miles per hour. I look forward to sitting down and seeing what we accomplished. I told them this was the funnest team I have coached. That’s a tribute to them. Out of 107 practices, we didn’t have five bad ones.
“They have gotten a lot out of themselves and enjoyed the season. I go back to the beginning of the season and trying to pick them up and get them to believe in themselves, and I think they do now. I also look at the seniors. I asked them in September to help us lay the foundation for this program and I couldn’t be happier in that regard.”
Matta began his head coaching career by leading his only Butler team as well as his three Xavier squads to the NCAA Tournament.
When asked after his team bowed out of the Big Ten tournament whether OSU deserved an NCAA bid, Matta joked, “We would be in the tournament and we would win the NCAA championship. I can say that now because nobody would ever know.”
A reporter then shot back, “But you’d be down by 11 at halftime of every game.” (The Buckeyes trailed by 11 points at halftime of each of their final three games, the Illinois win as well as their two Big Ten tourney games.)
“Yeah, that’s like the common theme, to be down 11,” Matta agreed, smiling.
“But I do think we would have been in the NCAA Tournament,” he added. “I think the win (over Illinois) solidified it. We didn’t have a bad loss. There’s not one game out of 32 games this year that you can say, `They got kicked tonight.’ Even at Illinois (a 19-point loss), we were down seven and had the ball with 10 minutes to play.
“I know there aren’t 64 more teams in the country better than us.”
One area that hurt Ohio State down the stretch was shooting. Over the season’s first 17 games, the Buckeyes averaged 29.4 field goals per game in building a 12-5 record. OSU averaged just 23.1 made shots in finishing the year 8-7.
Obviously, the quality of competition was stronger as the Buckeyes went through the Big Ten portion of their schedule. But OSU had all four of its sub-40 percent shooting games down the stretch, including a season-low 34.4 percent in the final loss to Wisconsin.
“I told you in late January I went back and looked at some of the shots we were getting early in the season and I felt pretty comfortable,” Matta said. “I know coming in when we did on Sept. 22 that shooting was going to be a high priority for us and it was. I love teams that can flat out shoot the ball.

“In late August, I finally told people when they came into my office, `If you’re here to tell me something bad, I don’t want to hear it. I only want the good stuff.’ I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I think this team, as they came together, probably one of the biggest keys was not turning the basketball over. We finished with 120 more assists than turnovers. That was important.”
Matta did what he could with the group he inherited. He intends to mold the players he will have back next year even further.
“There are obviously areas that I watch that we couldn’t get corrected during the season,” he said. “We need strength. They days of us getting outmuscled are over. We have to get stronger. We need to be more athletic. We have to get in better shape. We were climbing a mountain from day one. I think that cost us in what we had to try and do.
“Every place I have been, I have tried to have a great off-season. I know we need some time off. I need time off. I know I’ll probably take a day off and be right back at it on Monday. But we have finals coming up and then spring break and 10 more weeks of school. We also need to do the things we need to do recruiting as well.”
In some regards, OSU’s final record could have looked much better. The Buckeyes dropped three games in overtime and lost a total of eight games by eight points or less, including three by three points or less.
“I go back to Creighton, Clemson and LSU,” Matta said. “I’d like to have some of those things back again. For me personally, my expectation was to make this team better every day and they did that. The kids had a great passion and they cared. From my perspective, we played to the level I wanted us to, but you could say there is also a lot of room for improvement.”
Besides the improvement from a 14-16 mark last year, just the competitive nature of the defeats was a big step up: A year ago, the Buckeyes had 13 losses by 10 points or more.
“They’re a great group of kids,” Matta said. “We structured a lot of practice to make it competitive. There may have been a time or two when I had to set a fire. They came to compete and they learned to compete. You take a program coming off a losing season, to quit is easier than to fight.”
Ohio State will look toward next season with all five of the starters from the end of the year returning. That group includes Dials inside as well as freshman point guard Jamar Butler (3.6 points per game), junior shooting guard Je’Kel Foster (7.7 ppg, 42.8 three-point percentage), junior small forward J.J. Sullinger (9.7 ppg, 5.4 rebounds per game, 44.6 three-point percentage) and sophomore power forward Ivan Harris (7.3 ppg, 42.7 three-point percentage). Sylvester became one of the best sixth men in the Big Ten, averaging 8.0 points per game.
OSU also figures to have back two more true freshmen from this past year in inside players Matt Terwilliger and Jermyl Jackson-Wilson.
The Buckeyes lose three seniors in guards Tony Stockman (12.0 ppg) and Brandon Fuss-Cheatham (5.1 ppg, 3.1 assists per game) and center Matt Marinchick.
OSU will welcome three new faces next year in Utah high school center Brayden Bell, Oklahoma junior college guard Sylvester Mayes and Bowling Green transfer Ronald Lewis. Lewis, a guard, is a native of Columbus Brookhaven. He averaged 17 points per game at BGSU last year.
The staff has as many as two open scholarships for next year, meaning they could opt to add more help for next year – a big man, perhaps – in the late signing period.
“We are constantly recruiting,” Matta said when asked if he might add to his roster for next year this spring.
But if the staff does not find another scholarship player this spring, they would have as many six scholarships to offer to current high school juniors.
It is clear that early in his tenure at Ohio State, Matta and his staff are at somewhat of a crossroads. They know they need to land some quality players beginning this spring and summer to set the program up for the next several years.
“I think (prospects) are getting a feel for who I am and who our staff is and what we want to try to get done and how we play,” Matta said of the task ahead. “I think this is one of the best jobs in the country. We have to do our part now and get the job done.”
One variable in all of this is the ongoing NCAA investigation into possible misdeeds that occurred on O’Brien’s watch. A pair of civil lawsuits may have to run their course before OSU knows its final fate with the NCAA.
The school may be asked to return some NCAA Tournament money or face a scholarship reduction. But Matta believes any future sanctions will not include another postseason ban.
“I don’t honestly know,” he said. “I’m hoping it’s soon that it’s ended. With what has gone down – and I’m not Mr. NCAA – but I would be shocked if there were further penalties with regard to our current program. That’s my initial thought. I couldn’t see that would happen.”
In the meantime, Matta will continue to bask in the glow of pulling off the biggest upset in Big Ten basketball in recent memory.
“The greatest moment I’ve had with this team was (after the Illinois game) watching our players embrace at halfcourt,” Matta said. “That was the ultimate from where this team started and what it’s been through. I have probably watched that 100 times on videotape.”
Big Ten In 2005-06
Illinois is among five Big Ten teams that made the NCAA Tournament. The Illini will be joined in The Big Dance by Michigan State, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. Indiana will make its first NIT appearance since 1985.
Here is a team-by-team glance at how the Big Ten schools may look a year from now (all class designations this year):
* Illinois -- The Illini may well be decimated. They lose star guard Luther Head (16.1 ppg) and power forward Roger Powell (12.1 ppg) to graduation. It was also possible that junior guards Dee Brown (14.2 ppg) and Deron Williams (12.4 ppg) could head to the NBA a year early. Junior center James Augustine (10.0 ppg) figures to return. Coach Bruce Weber could have to turn to sophomore forward Warren Carter and sophomore guard Rich McBride to pick up a lot of the slack.
* Indiana -- Coach Mike Davis’ status was somewhat shaky after IU missed the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year. But the Hoosiers’ growing pains could pay dividends next year, when all five starters could return. Junior guard Bracey Wright (18.5 ppg) faces a decision on whether to return or declare for the NBA. Davis started three freshmen much of the year, including forwards D.J. White (13.3 ppg; Big Ten freshman of the year) and Robert Vaden (10.4 ppg). Plus, Davis has national top-100 recruit Joey Shaw, a 6-6 guard, coming in next fall.
* Iowa -- Steve Alford solidified his hold on the Iowa job after his Hawkeyes won five of their last six games to slide into the NCAA. That was a fine finish after Pierre Pierce’s suspension at midseason. Pierce (17.8 ppg) was a senior and Iowa will also lose forward Greg Brunner (14.5 ppg) and guard Jeff Horner (14.0 ppg). Sophomore guards Adam Haluska (14.5 ppg) and Mike Henderson will be back, as will junior center Erek Hanson.
* Michigan -- The Wolverines ended up 13-18, losing 13 of their last 14 games. Much of UM’s troubles coincided with the loss of suspended junior guard Daniel Horton (12.4 ppg). Horton is due back as are the rest of the starters, most notably sophomore guard Dion Harris (14.2 ppg) and sophomore center Courtney Sims (9.3 ppg). Coach Tommy Amaker also has top-100 recruit Kendric Price, a 6-7 power forward, coming in.
* Michigan State -- The Spartans lose senior forward Alan Anderson (13.4 ppg), senior sixth man Kelvin Torbert (9.5 ppg) and senior guard Chris Hill (9.9 ppg). But three starters are due back – junior guard Maurice Ager (13.6 ppg), junior center Paul Davis (11.7 ppg) and sophomore guard Shannon Brown (10.3 ppg). Plus, coach Tom Izzo has national top-100 prospect Maurice Joseph, a 6-5 shooting guard, coming in the fall. MSU’s string of eight straight NCAA appearances is the Big Ten’s longest active string.
* Minnesota -- Coach Dan Monson saved his job after taking a collection of JUCO transfers and young players all the way to an unexpected NCAA bid. The Gophers will lose three senior starters, most notably center Jeff Hagen (11.5 ppg). But do-it-all junior guard Vincent Grier (17.9 ppg) figures to return as well as freshman forward Dan Coleman (8.6 ppg).
* Northwestern -- The Wildcats took a step back, falling to 15-16 this season. But Bill Carmody should have four starters back, most notably junior forward Vedran Vukusic (17.2 ppg) and junior guards T.J. Parker (9.8 ppg) and Mohamed Hachad (7.9 ppg).
* Penn State -- It was an agonizing second year at the helm for PSU coach Ed DeChellis, whose team finished 7-23. The good news is the Lions’ top eight scorers return. The biggest hurdle is to get sophomore guard Marlon Smith (11.8 ppg) healthy again. He missed the last 17 games due to blood clots. Freshman forward Geary Claxton (12.4 ppg) was quite a find and junior forward Aaron Johnson (12.0 ppg) is a big space eater in the middle.
* Purdue -- The 25-year Gene Keady era came to and end with a wildly disappointing 7-21 season. Former PU player Matt Painter takes over as the new head coach. A late-season injury drove key junior forward Carl Landry (18.2 ppg) out of the lineup. He would be one of four returning starters. Junior guard David Teague (14.2 ppg) returns, while guard Brandon McKnight (11.6 ppg) is a departing senior.
* Wisconsin -- The Badgers reached the NCAA for the seventh straight year, including four straight under coach Bo Ryan. He will have to turn over his roster as UW loses four of its top six scorers, including forwards Mike Wilkinson (14.8 ppg) and Zach Morley and guards Sharif Chambliss and Clayton Hanson. But sophomore forward Alando Tucker (15.0 ppg) and freshman guard Kammron Taylor (8.5 ppg) return in the lineup and freshman center Brian Butch was a key reserve. Ryan also has a pair of national top-100 players coming in 6-7 small forward Joe Krabbenhoft and 6-7 power forward Marcus Landry.


Looking ahead is fun again for OSU
But better guard play, help for Dials is needed
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
Bob Baptist

It seemed as if most people could not wait for the previous two Ohio State men’s basketball seasons to end. Even those intimately involved.

Two years ago, exhausted by a four-games-in-four-days run in the Big Ten tournament, the Buckeyes sputtered to a 17-15 stop at Georgia Tech in the first round of the NIT. Then-coach Jim O’Brien walked out of the locker room smiling after the game and playfully punched athletics director Andy Geiger in the chest. The gesture as much as said, "Finally. It’s over."

Last year, the Buckeyes went through the motions against Indiana in the first round of the Big Ten tournament and, with a 14-16 record, did not even qualify for the NIT. A confounding season was followed by a shocking off-season, when O’Brien was fired after admitting he arranged a $6,000 payment to the family of a former recruit.

Thad Matta was hired in July to, among other things, reinvigorate the program. That he did. When his first tour of duty ended Friday with a loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament, the prevailing feeling seemed to be, "How soon does next season begin?"

Here are some other questions to ponder until then:

When will the NCAA complete its investigation of the program and issue its findings and penalties?

No one is saying for sure, but some suspect it could be before summer. Former assistant coach Paul Biancardi, the alleged director of the Boban Savovic soap opera, is scheduled to be interviewed by the NCAA today. He is thought to be the last figure in the case to submit to NCAA questioning. If so, judgment could come swiftly. Whether it’s good or bad, it at least would clear up the uncertainty that is clouding Ohio State’s chances with a number of top-tier high-school recruits who are crucial to the program’s revival.

Who are the starting guards next season?

Jamar Butler and Je’Kel Foster took over midway through the Big Ten season because they defended better than Brandon Fuss-Cheatham and Tony Stockman. But neither proved able to attack defenses and create better scoring opportunities for themselves and others. If that doesn’t change, they could give way — at least at the start of games — to Brookhaven product Ron Lewis, ineligible this season after transferring from Bowling Green, and incoming junior-college transfer Sylvester Mayes.

Lewis is 6 feet 4 and a slasher who got to the free-throw line a lot at BG and worked all winter at developing his jump shot. Mayes, at 6-1, was once rated by one recruiting service as the 19 th-best prospect nationally in his high-school class. Matta says he likes the way Mayes pressures opponents — whether he has the ball or they have it. On offense, Mayes is said to penetrate and hit the pull-up jumper or the open man. As an on-the-ball defender, he is said to hug his man like a second waistband.

What’s the solution to the power outage at power forward?

There might not be a solution next season unless Ivan Harris develops a willingness to mix it up inside and both he and Matt Sylvester add some pounds so they are able to rebound better. Beefing up Sylvester, though, could cost him the little bit of quickness that helps him penetrate and create scoring opportunities. He did that better than any guard the Buckeyes had this season. Harris, meanwhile, has more on his plate than just developing a mean streak. He also has to learn to dribble-drive to complement his three-point shooting. Incredibly, he was on the floor for 626 minutes this season and shot eight free throws.

Who’s Plan B next season when Terence Dials gets in foul trouble?

Unless the coaches land a center this spring — and they are seriously fishing — Matt Terwilliger needs to pack a lunch and bring it. He lost out to Matt Marinchick early this season in their competition to be Dials’ backup because Marinchick seized the opportunity with his work ethic in practice. It took Terwilliger awhile to understand that, unlike high school, you have to compete hard every day in college to earn your time on game day. If he has learned that lesson, he has the offensive skills away from the basket that can stretch defenses and open more driving lanes for his teammates.

What’s keeping J.J. Sullinger from being more consistently productive?

Hopefully just an off-season of further accepting what his true value is on this team. Sullinger transferred to Ohio State thinking of himself as one of those acrobats he’d watched too many nights on SportsCenter. This season, he seemed to grasp that the team was better off if he reduced the degree of difficulty of his moves to the rim, crashed the boards to help the cause and took advantage of his athleticism on defense as well as on offense. It’s not highlight reel stuff, but if Sullinger wants to play on an NCAA Tournament team before he leaves Ohio State, that’s his ticket.

How can the Buckeyes shoot the ball better and score more points than they did in the Big Ten this season?

Get more shots inside the three-point arc for players other than Dials. This team had too many one-dimensional guards of the same dimension: three-point shooters who could not or would not drive the lane and create chances for three-point plays inside the arc. The Buckeyes actually improved their free-throw accuracy by 8 percent (to 69.3) as the Big Ten season went on, but for the entire season they shot fewer free throws per game (15.27) than any other conference team. Lewis and Mayes could remedy that weakness, as could a more aggressive approach by others.

What has to happen for the Buckeyes to win more games in the final minutes than they did this season?

It might have started to happen before this season ended. Matta constantly preached for his players to have "confidence in the system" more than in themselves. That belief started to manifest in February, though usually against teams Ohio State was expected to beat. The Buckeyes’ defense improved, and they averaged 10.9 turnovers per game in Big Ten play, nearly 2½ fewer than they were committing entering January. By putting themselves in position to win more games at the end, it then came down to making plays to win those games. They didn’t make enough, but better guard play next season would improve that ratio.

Tougher play would help, too. The Buckeyes need more players who compete with the passion that erupted from Matta as he chewed their hide during a timeout with 3:03 left in the first half against Wisconsin on Friday. He should not have had to resort to that with a team facing the end, but it was great entertainment for the 30 seconds it lasted.

Can’t wait to see that again next season, too.

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I think the basketball team next year is getting short shrift in our eyes because of the potential promised by the class of 2006. Yet, if we step back and analyze what is coming in next year, there is EVERY REASON to believe the team will vastly improve on its already respectable 20-12 record.

It would seem that two of our top three scoring options will be brand new faces: Ron Lewis and Sylvester Mayes. Both have proven they can go for big numbers against advanced competition, and averages in the low teens are not out of the realm of the expected. TD will be the main option down low, and a ppg average around 15 should be expected from him.

Couple those three with the proven ability of the role players on the squad like Ivan Harris (maybe ten a game?), Sullinger, Sylvester, Jamar Butler, and J'Kel Foster, and you have legitimate offensive weapons all over the place. This team should average about eight or nine more ppg this year than last year. One thing I am concerned about is "chemistry," as I hope to see J.J. have a bit of a reduced role in the lineup this year just because the other talents assert themselves.

The back-up for Dials will be key, as the article noted, and we'll need some quality minutes from Terwilliger. I could see him coming in and dominating against a Penn State, and being dominated by a Michigan State.

Let's give the 2005-2006 Buckeyes some love before slobbering over the team the year after. If things go well for this team, I don't see why 24 wins is out of the question. Again, they should be vastly improved with Sylvester Mayes and Ron Lewis getting minutes where Tony Stockman and Brandon Fuss were getting them last year. They are a sleeper.
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Sounds to me that Lewis and JJ are going head to head in work outs and that they are very interesting/competitive. My prediction is that only one of the two will start next year [3 spot] and the other one will not be happy about it. I don't see either one buying graduation gifts for each other. LOL. Isn't it great that there is intense competition for every spot [except center].
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JMHO, but you just are not a good team if JJ is getting heavy minutes in your rotation. He should be like Reesie on the Final Four team, a spark off the bench. His athleticism and strength are great assets, though, and I don't see how him banging with Ron Lewis is going to do anything but make the team stronger.

Hey, Lima, you got any friends or connections that are enthusiastic about Jamar this year?
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