Who will Ohio State hire to replace Thad Matta?

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On Monday afternoon, in a hastily called together press conference, Thad Matta and his athletic director, Gene Smith, announced that they had come an agreement that the former would no longer be the head coach at Ohio State.

The decision came, according to Smith, after Matta’s program had started to fall apart. It’s been four years since the team finished better than fifth in the Big Ten standings. The Buckeyes went two just two NCAA tournaments in that span, winning just a single game, and finished last season with a 17-15 record. Throw in JaQuan Lyle’s transfer, Trevor Thompson’s decision to go pro and a decommitment from a four-star prospect in the Class of 2018, and the two had decided enough was enough.

Matta wasn’t going to get this thing turned around any time soon, and with the constant health issues he’s had regarding his back and his foot, it was time.

That means that, as of June 5th, one of college basketball’s 15 best jobs is now on the market, which is a shame for Buckeye fans. It was one of the worst kept secrets in college basketball circles that Archie Miller, the new Indiana head coach and former Dayton head man, wanted the Buckeye job, and by waiting until June 5th to part ways with Matta — instead of, say, in mid-March, when he issued Matta a vote of confidence — Smith cost himself a shot at Archie.

Is that something that he will come to regret in the next five-to-ten years?

And who, now, will Ohio State hire as a replacement for Matta?

Chris Jent, Ohio State assistant coach: The big question now is whether or not the Buckeyes are going to hire an interim head coach for the 2017-18 season and take their time trying to find a coach to hire or jumping head-first into a June coaching search. If it’s the latter, it’s hard to imagine Jent, a well-respected and longtime assistant for Matta, will be able to beat out some of the names that you’ll see listed below.

Ohio State is a great job, one that some will tell you is the best in the Big Ten. They have money, they have facilities, they have a recruiting base, they have a winning tradition and they don’t have the pressure that comes with being a ‘basketball school’.

But if the Buckeyes do opt to go with an interim coach, Jent is the guy that would be expected to earn the chance to audition his way into the job a la Greg Gard at Wisconsin. For what it’s worth, Smith made it sound awful unlikely that this would be the direction he would be willing to go in.

A current NBA head coach?: Billy Donovan’s name is already being bandied about. The like of Fred Hoiberg and potentially even Brad Stevens, former college coaches that are now running NBA organizations, will also be mentioned. It seems unlikely that any of the three would actively make the decision to return to the collegiate ranks.

Sean Miller (Arizona), Archie Miller (Indiana), Tony Bennett (Virginia), Jay Wright (Villanova): Don’t hold your breath, although that likely would have been different had this change happened in April, before Archie accepted the Indiana job.

Gregg Marshall, Wichita State: You cannot have a coaching search at a high-major program without mentioning Marshall’s name. It makes sense. Marshall is one of the top ten coaches in college basketball and may very well be the best coach currently outside of the Power 5 conferences. That said, he gets paid mountains of money — more than $3 million annually — at a school that will never fire him and that just jumped from the Missouri Valley into the AAC for the 2017-18 season. With the Koch Brothers providing the funding for the Shocker program and a top ten program for the upcoming season, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Marshall makes the leap. But Smith needs to make Marshall say no. This is the kind of job that he would take.

Shaka Smart, Texas: Smart is a native of the midwest that began his coaching career in Ohio. After a tough first two seasons with the Longhorns, there was some speculation that Smart was unsettled in Austin and was considering heading to Georgetown. But that was before Mo Bamba committed and Andrew Jones returned to school, giving the Longhorns a tournament caliber team. Ohio State checks the boxes for Smart — winning basketball program at a football school — but it doesn’t seem like the job he leaves for.

Chris Mack, Xavier: This is where is starts to get interesting. Mack is a Cincinnati native and a Xavier graduate that has spent the last eight years steering the Musketeers to the point that they are routinely getting ranked in the preseason top 20. He’s also just 47 years old and one of the nation’s best coaches, and there is always going to be speculation that he’s looking to move on to bigger and better things. Mack would be a good fit — he clearly knows how to recruit Ohio and the Midwest, and the Big Ten is a step up from the Big East — the question is whether or not this is the job he would want to leave home for.

Mick Cronin, Cincinnati: Cronin, like Mack, has spent a long time coaching in the state of Ohio, having spent the last 11 seasons building Cincinnati back into a top 25 program in the sport. But there also is something of a ceiling with the Bearcats — they’re arguably the best program in the AAC, but Cronin has only been out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament once, back in 2012. Cronin can recruit the area, and flirted with leaving Cincinnati for UNLV after Dave Rice was fired.

Chris Holtmann, Butler: Holtmann is one of the hottest names in coaching after the year that he had with Butler in 2016-17. He took a Bulldog team that was projected to finish in the bottom half of the Big East and turned them into a top 15 team in the country. In three seasons as Butler’s head coach, he’s never finished worse than fourth in the Big East — he finished second in the league twice — and has won a game in all three NCAA tournaments, including getting to the Sweet 16 this past season. That was enough to earn him a raise and an extension with a handful of high-major programs sniffing around back in April, but is it enough to keep Holtmann at home if the Buckeyes come knocking?

Ed Cooley, Providence: Cooley, like Mack, would have to be convinced to leave his hometown program, but he’s also one of the most underrated coaches in the country. He’s led the Friars to four straight top four finishes in the Big East and four straight NCAA tournaments, and the expectation is that that streak will continue in 2018. If he can do all that while recruiting to Providence, what can he do when he is able to recruit to a program like Ohio State?

Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech: Buzz would be an expensive hire, and given his Texas and Oklahoma roots, the assumption has been that his next move will send him to the Big 12; if Oklahoma State wasn’t pinching pennies after the Travis Ford debacle, he may have been hired by the Pokes in either of the last two springs. That said, Williams built Marquette into a Big East power and took Virginia Tech to the NCAA tournament last season. It would be interesting to see what he could do in a place like Ohio State.

Tom Crean: How ironic would it be if the man Indiana fired to hire Archie Miller was the guy Ohio State hired at the end of the day? That might be enough to keep it from happening, to say nothing of the fact that Ohio State and Indiana are Big Ten rivals, but Crean is probably the best coach currently out of work.

Troubled No. 14 Arizona loses 98-93 to Oregon

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EUGENE, Ore. — No. 14 Arizona played without coach Sean Miller and lost 98-93 to Oregon in overtime at the end of a difficult Saturday for the troubled Wildcats program.

Miller sat out a day after ESPN reported he was heard on an FBI wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment to current Wildcats freshman Deandre Ayton. The Wildcats also were without guard Allonzo Trier, who tested positive for the same banned substance that cost him 19 games last season.

“I believe it is in the best interest of our team that I not coach the game tonight,” Miller said in a statement. “I continue to fully support the university’s efforts to fully investigate this matter and am confident that I will be vindicated.”

The school did not specify why Miller didn’t coach against Oregon or if he will sit out any other games.

Ayton had 28 points and 16 rebounds for Arizona (22-7, 12-4 Pac-12), and Rawle Alkins added 24 points.

Oregon (19-10, 9-7) used a stellar performance at the line and a balanced attack to pick up its second straight win. Elijah Brown scored 22 of his season-high 30 points after halftime. MiKyle McIntosh added 20 points, including a key 3-pointer with 1:02 left.

Brown made 15 of 17 free-throw attempts as the Ducks connected on 20 of 24 foul shots overall. The work at the line helped them over a 58.6 shooting percentage and a 35-30 rebounding edge for the Wildcats.

Arizona also committed 17 turnovers.

Dylan Smith’s 3-pointer for the Wildcats tied it at 83 with 22 seconds left. Oregon’s Payton Pritchard missed a driving layup with 2 seconds remaining, sending the game into overtime.

BIG PICTURE

Arizona’s immediate future isn’t clear beyond its last two games of the regular season at McKale Center. The Wildcats can clinch a share of the Pac-12 title with one more win.

Oregon push for relevance in the postseason discussion got a boost by beating the Wildcats, though the Ducks’ only route to NCAA Tournament may rest with winning the conference tournament in Las Vegas next month. Oregon closes on the road against the Washington schools.

Saturday College Basketball Recap: Bagley’s back, Miller’s gone, and Kansas got 14

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PLAYER OF THE DAY

It should have been Deandre Ayton.

He spent the first 30 minutes of No. 14 Arizona’s date with Oregon absolutely dominating the Ducks. He had 17 points, 11 boards and two blocks in the first half. He finished with 28 points, 17 boards and four blocks. But he didn’t score in the last five minutes of regulation and he didn’t get a shot in overtime until he shot a three with 15 seconds left as Arizona lost 98-90 at Oregon.

Which is why Elijah Brown is the Player of the Day. He finished with 30 points in the win.

It’s worth noting here that Arizona’s day was so much more than just a basketball game. Sean Miller did not coach the team in Oregon. We don’t even know if he was in Oregon. Ayton had to release a statement to say he was not involved in anything that had appeared in recent reports. Oh, and in case you’ve forgotten, Allonzo Trier is still not eligible after he tested positive for another banned substance.

THE REST OF SATURDAY’S STARS

  • WENDELL CARTER, Duke: Marvin Bagley was back, but Carter still posted this line: 16 points, 10 boards, four assists, four steals and two blocks. And he anchored the paint in a game where Duke allowed an ACC team to score 44 points. Not bad.
  • KEVAUGHN ALLEN, Florida: It feels like Allen has been in a season-long slump, but the junior guard, coming off the bench, went for 24 points and made two critical threes down the stretch as the Gators knocked off No. 12 Auburn in Gainesville.
  • MARKIS MCDUFFIE, Wichita State: We’ve been waiting for him to show up, and he did on Saturday at SMU. He went for a season-high 26 points to lead the Shockers to a win on the road and keep them in the mix for an AAC regular season title.
  • KEVIN KNOX, Kentucky: Knox finished with 21 points as Kentucky won their third-straight game over an NCAA tournament team by double-digits. They beat Missouri by 22 points.

BUBBLE BANTER: Everything that happened on the cut-line

TEAM OF THE DAY

No. 8 Kansas knocked off No. 6 Texas Tech, 74-72, to clinch at least a share of the Big 12 regular season title. And it begs the question: Is this the best coaching job that Bill Self has ever done?

They lost Billy Preston. They have absolutely no depth, particularly in the front court. They had to bring a recruit into the program a semester early to make sure there were more than two front court players on the team. They lack toughness. They play small-ball without a small-ball four. They lost three games in Allen Fieldhouse, two of them by double-figures.

And they might win the toughest league in the country by two full games.

GAME OF THE DAY

Creighton knocked off No. 3 Villanova, 89-83, in an overtime thriller on Saturday afternoon.

Marcus Foster led the way for the Bluejays with 28 points while Khyri Thomas finished with 24 points, but Jacob Epperson was the revelation, finishing 12 points, five boards and two blocks in a season-high 23 minutes.

Villanova led by eight points late in regulation before Creighton, who had been inching closer to the bubble after struggling down the stretch in the last couple of weeks, all-but ensured that they will be dancing.

WTF???? OF THE DAY

Pitt had absolutely no chance to win at home against No. 1 Virginia tonight.

I’m dead serious.

No chance, according to ESPN’s win probably graph. Look at this. It is 100 percent real:

ESPN win probability graph

That’s what happens when you shoot 1-for-22 through an entire half of basketball, scoring a full seven points. They were down 30-7 at the break. They lost 66-37. What an embarrassment.

WHAT ELSE DO YOU NEED TO KNOW?

No. 6 Gonzaga put six players into double-figures as they went into the Marriott Center and knocked off BYU, 79-65. The Zags won a share of the WCC title as a result, splitting the title with No. 22 Saint Mary’s, who de-pantsed Santa Clara. Can we get a Round 3 in the WCC tournament final?

Jevon Carter became the first major-conference player in NCAA history to record more than 1,500 points, 500 rebounds, 500 assists and 300 steals in a career as No. 21 West Virginia beat Iowa State.

Trae Young is back. He had 27 points and hit six threes as Oklahoma snapped a six-game losing streak.

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman finished with 28 points, eight boards, seven assists, two blocks and a steal as No. 21 Michigan mollywhopped Maryland. They were up 54-24. On the road. Ouch.

Gabe DeVoe scored 25 points as No. 15 Clemson erased a halftime deficit to knock off Georgia Tech, 75-67, at home.

Admiral Schofield finished with 25 points as No. 19 Tennessee knocked off Ole Miss in Oxford, 73-65, to move to within a game of first place in the SEC.

Young’s 27 help Oklahoma top Kansas State, end 6-game skid

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NORMAN, Okla. — Trae Young’s entertaining act wasn’t translating into wins for Oklahoma, and desperation had set in.

Finally, a more collective effort helped the Sooners snap their six-game losing skid. Young scored 28 points, his teammates chipped in, and Oklahoma topped Kansas State 86-77 on Saturday.

Young, the freshman point guard who leads the nation in scoring, was coming off a season-low 11 points in a loss to Kansas earlier in the week. He bounced back with a smart floor game — he made 7 of 10 shots from the field, including 6 of 9 3-pointers, and added seven assists.

Christian James scored 15 points and Brady Manek and Jamuni McNeace each added 10 for the Sooners (17-11, 7-9 Big 12), who shot 53 percent from the field.

“I talked to them and told them that I felt like our season was on the line,” James said. “We needed this. We came out and competed, and that showed tonight.”

Oklahoma hadn’t won since Jan. 30 and had dropped two straight at home.

“When you haven’t won in a while, it’s tough to stay plugged in and keep the right frame of mind,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “Happy for the guys. Proud of the way they made shots and got some stops and did the things they needed to do to get one in the right column.”

Kansas State handled Young in the first meeting and forced him into 12 turnovers as the Wildcats rolled past the Sooners 87-69 on Jan. 16. In the rematch, Young had five turnovers, though two came well after the Sooners had the game in hand. Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said Young’s efficiency was the difference.

“Normally, he’s got 21 shots or whatever it is,” Weber said. “He still turned it over a few times, but he made shots and then made plays for them.”

Barry Brown scored 28 points and Dean Wade added 15 points and 11 rebounds for Kansas State (20-9, 9-7). The Wildcats made just 4 of 21 3-pointers.

Young matched his 11-point total from the Kansas game in the first eight minutes against Kansas State. He hit a 3-pointer late in the first half to close out an 18-point first half and give the Sooners a 43-35 lead at the break.

James scored in close and was fouled, and he made the free throw to put the Sooners up 52-38 with 15:45 remaining. Young hit a deep 3-pointer to put the Sooners up 55-40, and it looked like Oklahoma might cruise.

Kansas State worked its way back into the game and cut its deficit to 63-56. A 3-pointer and a short floater by Manek helped put the Sooners up 10. Another three by Young made it 71-59 with just under six minutes left, and the Sooners remained in control from there.

Kruger said he could sense a different approach from the start.

“General focus and the sense of urgency,” he said. “The awareness that we are running out of games and you got to line up and play better. I thought we played with that focus and that awareness throughout the game.”

BIG PICTURE

Oklahoma: The Sooners desperately needed this one to strengthen its NCAA Tournament resume. Though the Sooners have numerous quality wins, the losing streak was enough to raise questions.

Kansas State: The Wildcats were getting votes for the Top 25, but probably won’t get there with this loss. Overall, a road loss to a solid team likely won’t hurt the Wildcats’ NCAA hopes.

STAT LINES

Oklahoma shot 62 percent in the second half to maintain control of the game. The Sooners made 16 of 26 field goals and 4 of 10 3-pointers after the break.

QUOTABLE

Weber, on why Young shouldn’t be Big 12 Player of the Year: “To me, the Big 12 player of the year should be from the people who win the league. That’s just me. You know winning is what dictates who should be the Big 12 player of the year. But that is my opinion. Everyone has different opinions.”

No. 6 Gonzaga earns WCC title with 79-65 win over BYU

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PROVO, Utah — Johnathan Williams scored 16 points, and No. 6 Gonzaga clinched another West Coast Conference championship with a 79-65 victory over BYU on Saturday night.

The Bulldogs (27-4, 17-1) have won at least a share of 18 of the past 19 regular-season conference championships, including each of the past six seasons.

Zach Norvell Jr. had 15 points and five rebounds for Gonzaga, which got off to a fast start and also played well right after halftime.

Yoeli Childs led BYU (22-9, 11-7) with 19 points and eight rebounds. Elijah Bryant overcame a cold start to contribute 16 points, four rebounds, and three assists.

Gonzaga started the game with 10 straight field goals on its way to a 23-10 lead. BYU closed to 43-38 at the break, but the Bulldogs outscored the Cougars 32-18 over the first 16:30 of the second half.

BIG PICTURE

Gonzaga: Leads 13-6 in the all-time series against BYU, including four straight wins in Provo.

BYU: Is set for the No. 3 seed for the WCC tournament.

UP NEXT

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs earn some time off before playing the winner of the Loyola Marymount-Portland game in the WCC tourney.

BYU: The Cougars also are off before beginning play in the conference tournament.

Kentucky uses balanced scoring to blow out Missouri 88-66

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Outside shooting helped get Kentucky going against Missouri before the Wildcats started hitting from inside the arc. On both fronts, baskets came consistently with many contributions.

Kevin Knox had 21 points, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander added 14 and Kentucky made 10 3-pointers and shot 55 percent to blow out the Tigers 87-66 on Saturday night.

The Wildcats (20-9, 9-7 Southeastern Conference) outscored the Tigers 16-6 over the final 4 1/2 minutes before halftime for a 44-32 lead. Several more spurts stretched the advantage to as many as 24 as they avenged a 69-60 loss three weeks ago, a game in which baskets were hard to come by.

This time, Kentucky seemingly couldn’t miss.

Knox succeeded more from inside the arc than behind it, but his one 3 helped the Wildcats’ strong start and symbolized his focus after a couple of rough days.

Mentioned Friday in a Yahoo! Sports story as having had a meal with an agent, the freshman forward started after an internal review determined there were no eligibility issues. He made 6 of 13 from the field and all eight free throws in a game that initially seemed destined to be decided from outside.

“With everything going on it has been a good week,” Knox said, “just been blocking everything out. I had two good days of practice before this game. Last time they gave us a good one at their place, so we just made sure that we focused on the game going on.

Quade Green and PJ Washington each added 12 points, while Jarred Vanderbilt had a career-high 15 rebounds and 11 points for his first career double-double. Hamidou Diallo made all three 3s for 11 points as six Wildcats scored in double figures. Kentucky was 10 of 16 from long range and shot above 50 percent for the first time since Jan. 13 at Vanderbilt.

Kassius Robertson had 26 points including six 3s, and Jordan Barnett had 11 points for Missouri (18-11, 8-8), which made 10 of 31 from long but shot 36 percent in losing its third in a row.

BIG PICTURE

Missouri: The Tigers started with promise offensively, especially from outside, before cooling off to finish 21 of 58 from the field. Failing to contain Kentucky as well from the perimeter hurt the most, and getting beat 36-31 on the glass was an issue of toughness for coach Cuonzo Martin.

“They set a tone that we could never match their toughness level,” he said.

Kentucky: The Wildcats followed up their impressive victory at Arkansas by doing many things right, especially with 27 defensive rebounds. Long-range shots got them going offensively and led to frequent chances at the foul line, where they made 21 of 28 free throws. They also shared the ball well with 17 assists, while their bench dominated 38-15.

More importantly for coach John Calipari, the Wildcats are coming together just in time for the postseason.

“Right before your eyes, we’re becoming a better basketball team,” he said. “It was only a month ago, three weeks ago, half the team, it was a fight to get them to play how we were trying to get them to play.”

PORTER UPDATE

Freshman forward Michael Porter Jr. did not play after returning to practice Friday following back surgery. Martin said the team is going to make sure he’s healthy enough to take contact before bringing him back and did not set a timetable for his return.

CHAMPS REMEMBERED

Members of Kentucky’s 1978 NCAA championship squad held their 40th anniversary reunion this week and were recognized in a halftime ceremony. The Wildcats beat Duke to claim the program’s fifth title and end a 20-year drought. Surviving members or their relatives, including MVP Jack “Goose” Givens, received replicas of the championship plaque that was displayed on a table. Former coach Joe B. Hall said, “it gets better and better every year.”

UP NEXT

Missouri visits Vanderbilt Tuesday in the season’s lone meeting between the schools.

Kentucky hosts Mississippi on Wednesday, seeking its ninth straight series win against the Rebels.