No. 18 Wisconsin pounded Ohio State into oblivion on Thursday night, jumping out to an 18-point lead at the break and eventually going up by more than 30 points before winning 89-66.
And frankly, based only on what we’ve seen out of the Buckeyes this season, that result isn’t all that surprising. They’re now 0-4 in Big Ten play and 10-7 on the season, already having lost to Florida Atlantic at home before conference play even started.
But based on what the Ohio State program has been under Thad Matta – and, frankly, what Thad Matta has been as a head coach throughout his career – this result is surprising, but not quite as surprising as what has happened to Ohio State basketball.
Let’s start with the here and now: This slow start to the season is coming a year after Ohio State made a trip to the NIT. That came after back-to-back years where Ohio State lost double-digit games and failed to finish in the top four of the Big Ten.
And while Ohio State basketball doesn’t have the same reputation as Ohio State football, prior to this recent drop off, the Buckeyes has arguably more success on the hardwood under Matta than they did on the football field. Matta’s first season in Columbus was in 2004-05, when the program was still ineligible for the NCAA tournament. But in five of the next seven seasons, Matta won at least a share of the Big Ten regular season title and three outright Big Ten regular season titles. He went to the national title game in 2007 and another Final Four in 2012. He reached the Elite 8 in 2013, when the Buckeyes finished second in the conference, and made another pair of Sweet 16s.
And that was after a four-year coaching career when Matta won the Horizon in his one season at Butler before winning two Atlantic 10s in three seasons, reaching the Elite 8 in the year he didn’t win the league, with Xavier.
In other words, the fall from grace for Ohio State and Matta was both sudden and unpredictable.
Because this is not a good basketball team right now, and with games coming up against Michigan State, at Nebraska, Northwestern and Minnesota, it’s not going to get easier anytime soon.
So what happened?
Well, the easy answer is that they’re not getting the same level of talent into the program that they were before. They reached the national title game with Greg Oden, Mike Conley and Daequan Cook on the roster. The reached the Final Four in 2012 with Jared Sullinger, Aaron Craft and DeShaun Thomas. Evan Turner won a player of the year awards. D’angelo Russell was an all-american.
They don’t have anyone anywhere near that level right now, unless you have a drastically different opinion of JaQuan Lyle than I do.
Then there is the issue of the guys they actually do bring in. Their 2015 recruiting class consisted of Lyle and four players that have transferred out of the program. Outside or Russell, who left after one season, no one in the 2014 class turned into much more than a role player in the Big Ten. None of the 2016 recruits Ohio State landed have been instant impact guys, and this is all while the most talented players in the state of Ohio – Luke Kennard, Carlton Bragg, Nick Ward, Nigel Hayes, V.J. King, Omari Spellman, Devin Williams, Esa Ahmad … do you get the point by now? – have ended up elsewhere.
Three straight lean recruiting classes combined with the fact that the best players from the program’s natural recruiting base have gone elsewhere is an easy way to drive a Big Ten title contender into the conference’s cellar.