Thad Matta to part ways with Ohio State

3 Comments

Ohio State announced on Monday Thad Matta “will no longer be the head men’s basketball coach.”

Matta, who has been at Ohio State for 13 seasons, has won 337 games with the Buckeyes. He has a career 439–154 coaching record, including stints at Xavier and Butler.

“This has been the greatest 13 years of my life,” Matta said through tears at a press conference on Monday. “I completely understand it. We mutually agreed to do this.”

When asked if he was finished coaching, Matta said, “Never say never. But honestly my whole focus right now is trying to get healthy.”

Gene Smith, Ohio State’s athletic director, said during the press conference that after the season, the plan was to bring Matta back for the 2017-18 season, but due to some losses on the recruiting trail, Smith did not think that the Buckeyes were recruiting well enough to turn this around. The Buckeyes had their top recruit in the Class of 2018 decommit from the program in April.

“It was time,” Smith said.

Over the course of the last decade, Matta has dealt with the complications of a botched back surgery in the summer of 2007 that left him with “drop foot”, a condition that requires him to wear a brace because nerve damage has left the muscles and tendons in his foot are too weak to hold the foot up on their own. The back pain the surgery was supposed to correct hasn’t dissipated, either; he still needs help doing things as simple as putting on his shoes.

When asked if he would still be coaching Ohio State if he was 100 percent healthy, Matta said, “yeah, probably.”

Matta has had a tremendously successful tenure as the head coach of the Buckeyes, although he’s run into hard times in recent seasons. From 2006-2012, Matta won at least a share of five of the seven Big Ten regular season titles, reaching the 2007 national title game with a team composed of Greg Oden and Mike Conley and the Final Four in 2012. From 2010-2013, the Buckeyes never won fewer than 29 games and made it to at least the Sweet 16 all four seasons.

The last four years, however, have been a different story. Ohio State has missed the last two NCAA tournaments and, in 2014 and 2015, failed to make it out of the first weekend. They did not finish better than fifth in the Big Ten during that stretch, getting progressively worse with each passing season. It culminated in a 17-15 year in 2016-17 and, since the season has ended, the Buckeyes have lost JaQuan Lyle to a transfer, Trevor Thompson to the professional ranks and saw their prized 2018 recruit, Darius Bazley, decommit.

“Ohio State, they didn’t make the NCAA Tournament this year,” Bazley said at the time. “They didn’t even make the NIT, which is unfortunate, but I looked into the recruits they have coming into next year, they didn’t look too good for the future.”

“So I felt like when my class came in, yeah, we would’ve been OK, but good enough to make the tournament? I don’t know. I just felt as if I was to de-commit, actually take my time, figure everything out it would just be a lot better.”

Earlier this spring, prior to the start of the Big Ten tournament, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith released a statement giving a vote of confidence to Matta.

“While we are not currently where we aspire to be with our performance on the court,” the statement read. “Thad understands better than anyone that component has to improve. I am confident in his leadership to return the program to the winning ways that we have all enjoyed during his 13-year tenure.”

“I think it’s ridiculous that we have to do stuff like that. Gene and I met a couple weeks ago. It’s amazing what people do nowadays. This is a very fickle business that we’re in,” Matta said in March after Ohio State lost to Rutgers in the Big Ten tournament. “Unless you’re intimately involved on a day-to-day basis, people choose the negative side of things. It’s what they do.”

“Obviously, gas is poured on the fire,” he added. “It’s sad that sports has come to where you got to do stuff like that.”

Ohio State is considered one of the best coaching jobs in not only the Big Ten, but nationally as well. As with programs like Florida and Texas, the Ohio State is an athletic department with all the money you can ask for, a fertile recruiting ground and the proven ability to win with a fan base that doesn’t really pay all that much attention until college football comes to an end. In other words, you get paid and you fly private without having an entire state coming for your head if you lose a game or two in November and December.

As such, don’t be surprised to hear big names get linked with the job. Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall and Xavier’s Chris Mack are probably the two biggest names out there now that Archie Miller is at Indiana and Shaka Smart has things trending in the right direction at Texas. Throw in Butler’s Chris Holtmann and Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin, and there likely won’t be a shortage of big names with an eye on that gig.

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports
Leave a comment

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
4 Comments

INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
7 Comments

LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

Getty Images
4 Comments

The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.