Author: Nick Fasulo

Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Thad Matta cuts down the net after defeating the Syracuse Orange in their men's NCAA East Regional basketball game in Boston

Thad Matta, Buckeyes embrace Ohio St. as a ‘football school’


Thad Matta is an honest man.

Aside from that one time back in 2004 when he told the entire Xavier University community he was staying at the Atlantic 10 school, only to sneak out in the middle of the night and head up to Columbus, Matta is a guy that doesn’t seem to shy away from telling it like it is.

In just this season, he’s been openly critical of Deshaun Thomas’ lack of defense and got out in front of the idea that the Buckeyes were a shell of their December selves in February.

When the discussion of being a basketball coach at a football school is broached, Matta just smiles, and doesn’t mince words.

“I’ve always felt that we could have the best of both at Ohio State,” Matta told the last weekend. “With all the trials and tribulations that have gone on with football over the past year, I’m elated for the university, probably most importantly, that we have some great things happening.”

There have been a number of instances, in both print and television, where Matta has openly embraced the notion that he’s almost never front and center of the proverbial Ohio State marquee.

Here’s a story that’ll make you cheer for Matta

What once was Jim Tressel’s role as unofficial face of the university has now been passed off to Urban Meyer, and there were few people thinking that the school’s head basketball coach should claim that distinction.

But eight years into his tenure at Ohio State, whether it be piggy backing off a brand name or taking full advantage of his school’s athletic budget, Matta has delivered results: five Big Ten regular-season titles, four Sweet 16 appearances, and now two Final Fours; all with the help of 10 McDonald’s All-American’s who Matta and his staff recruited has truly turned football-first school into a pretty well-oiled basketball machine.

It’s cliché, but you could argue that Matta took the Ohio State job with the idea that if he can build it, they will come.

“We’re still a football school, according to people.  We’ll live with that,” said Jared Sullinger “I think this program, ever since coach Matta came, he changed it around from what it came from.”

Ohio State is a big school, actually the third largest in the country in terms of undergraduate enrollment. With thousands of sports-crazed fans running around Columbus and outposts around the state yelling “hang on sloopy”, there’s plenty of people to support basketball, and plenty of money to help keep it growing and turning into a national powerhouse.

Together, football and  basketball should have no problem sharing the majority of the attention this athletic department receives, and both can compliment each other in different ways.

“There’s nothing greater in the fall than being in the shoe,” said Aaron Craft during the Buckeyes second and third round NCAA Tournament games in Pittsburgh.  “Watching our guys play football, especially with the buzz that’s going around right now with the new hires and all the recruits we have coming in.”

“It’s awesome to see Buckeye Nation come together through football, understanding the same fans back us during basketball season.”

Whether it be basketball, football, swimming, or synchronized swimming, everyone loves a winner and a reason to swell up with pride, and you’d be hard pressed to find a cluster of Buckeye fans who completely ignore the other success this school achieves.

Sports are sports, and college basketball should be treated as a pretty big deal, even in this football crazed part of the country.

Rick Pitino learning he can change, still find success

Rick Pitino, Russ Smith
Leave a comment

On the surface, Rick Pitino is a bad man.

He dresses slick, is incredibly sarcastic with the media and rarely wastes an opportunity to use punishment as a teaching opportunity.

It’s this approach that makes him one of the more recognizable, if not best, head coaches of the past 25 years.

But if there’s one thing I’ve noticed as this season has moved along, it’s how increasingly affable Pitino has become. Suddenly, he simply just seems happier. He’s flaunting his charismatic personality far more than his patented snarl.

A demanding and sometimes manipulative guy, the 59-year-old has had a number of well defined stages to his life. Perhaps the next stage is Pitino closing out his career at peace.

ESPN’s Rick Reilly sees it that way too:

Pitino’s life has more chapters than the Red Cross. He has been the whiz kid (the 1987 Final Four at Providence), the savior (at Kentucky in 1989 after Eddie Sutton left it in ruins), the goat (leaving Grant Hill unguarded in the infamous 1992 loss to Duke), the hero (the redemptive 1996 Kentucky title), the NBA answer (jumping to the pros for a second time in 1997 after two straight NCAA title games), the NBA failure (five losing seasons of six at New York and Boston), and, now, the dreamer (at Louisville, forever Robin to Kentucky’s Batman).

So this moment, this Saturday, with the commonwealth of Kentucky in flames all around him, should be the close-up of his life. Yet it’s not. He might be the least wound-up person in the entire state.

While it’s a great read – and includes a few fantastic anecdotes on Russ Smith on Gorgui Dieng – Reilly’s article should be taken with a grain of salt.

Let’s be realistic: you could probably attribute a measurable amount of Pitino’s more tolerable personality to his Cardinals overachieving the last month of the season.

Remember, this is a team that lost by 31 to Providence in the middle of January; the most helpless part of the season where you start to get sick of the grind but realize you’re not even halfway up the mountain. Pitino wasn’t so happy then, and neither were his players. It appeared the quirky personalities on the Cardinals roster were clashing with the aging coach.

So could it have been at that point where Pitino, a guy with more than 800 wins between both college and the NBA, five Final Four appearances and one National Championship at the time, made a concerted effort to just … calm down?

“[Rick] told us the other day he doesn’t have that many years left,” Kuric told Reilly after the Cardinals won the West Region. “He said he’s going to enjoy it. He’s going to be around people he likes.”

While a berth in the Final Four was well deserved, the Cardinals could have easily been bounced at any point in this tournament.

Pitino knows these are the breaks of a 68-team playoff system. Sometimes you get Kenneth Faried grabbing 17 rebounds, other times you get Florida shooting 0-9 from beyond the arc in the second half.

He’s happy to be in New Orleans, yes, but probably thrilled at the opportunity to show his self-reformation may be the primary reason this team is still standing.

Hard to root for John Calipari, but not because of his past


When John Calipari trots out to “On, On, U of K” in the Mercedes Benz Superdome on Saturday night, a nation will stand unified and root against him.

While Kentucky is unquestionably the wildest and loudest college basketball fan base in the country, not even the state they represent will be completely behind them. Unless you bleed blue or are in position to win your tournament pool, you don’t want this team to cut down more nets.

That’s not a knock on freshmen phenoms Anthony Davis or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, or senior Darius Miller, or the soft-spoken Doron Lamb.  They’re all well deserving of a National Championship, and players a casual fan could develop a rooting interest for.

The reason for the venom being thrown around is all about Cal. He’s a fantastic basketball coach, no doubt, but as long as he’s the face of Big Blue Nation, few want this program to achieve excellence.

We’re not trolling, we’re just a culture that chooses to believe the bad and gloss over the good. You can’t sensationalize Calipari’s charitable deeds  (and there are a number of them), but you can sensationalize all the speculation as to just how and why two of his former programs were put on probation but Calipari got off clean.  You are also free to draw your own conclusions as to how he gets the pick of the litter from each high school recruiting class.

Whatever Cal did or didn’t do that crippled UMass and temporarily handcuffed Memphis I don’t care about. Perhaps there are a few members of the NCAA still flummoxed trying to prove something they’re quite certain of, but for the most part life goes on.

No, whatever Calipari may or may not be hiding in his closet isn’t why I’d prefer to see him lose, it’s what we see when the bright lights are shining: Cal’s effort to be charismatic sends shivers up and down my spine.

His personality borders on con-artist friendly, too-good-to-be-true charming, which raises red flags and prevents me from trusting him and his motives.

He reminds me of a used car salesman.

From giving back-handed compliments to Charles Barkley after beating Iowa State, to telling Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg that Anthony Davis was just being a “momma’s boy” when he banged knees with Perry Jones III during South Regional finals, Calipari’s method of interpersonal communication rubs me the wrong way, and it leads me to believe he’s overcompensating for something. Whether or not it’s for allowing someone not named Derrick Rose to take Derrick Rose’s SAT, I don’t know. I haven’t been in the thick of this long enough to confidently formulate an educated argument, but I do know I would never send my kid to play basketball for John Calipari.

Sure he’d do his best to get my kid to the NBA if that was the best place for him, but there’s other schools that produce pro players too … and I’m probably not going to raise a professional athlete.

Fair or unfair, my dislike for Calipari has nothing to do with basketball, and everything to do with what I see through a number of mediums.

Maybe he really is a genuinely nice person. Maybe he’s cordial and doesn’t do things public figures are forced to do for the sake of maintaining a favorable perception with the masses, but I don’t buy it.

I could be way off, ridicule me if you’d like, but if Kentucky wins the 2012 National Championship, I’d prefer it if we didn’t hail Cal.

We don’t need him gabbing anymore than he already does.

Follow Nick Fasulo on Twitter @billyedelinSBN