Then and Now Preview: Ohio State

WNUR’s Michael Stern (@MichaelJStern23) previews each of Northwestern’s opponents by looking at how each team did for the first few years under their current head coach. Today: Ohio State and Thad Matta.

Exhibit A for quick turnaround of a college basketball team: Ohio State. In three calendar years, the Buckeyes went from a losing record to the NCAA title game. Seven years later, the team remains a strong contender under coach Thad Matta and welcomes Northwestern to Columbus Wednesday night.

Ohio State fired head coach Jim O’Brien after the 2003-2004 Buckeyes finished with a disappointing 14-16 record. Former Butler and Xavier head coach Matta was named the team’s new head coach, and in an insanely fast turnaround, Matta had the Buckeyes in the national title game in three seasons.

Then: Matta made do with what he had in his first season (2004-2005), and the Buckeyes finished the season 20-12 overall and 8-8 in the Big Ten. The team only had two double-figure scorers (senior Tony Stockman and junior Terence Dials), but also get 9.7 points, 5.4 rebounds and a recruiting boost in later years from junior JJ Sullinger (you might have heard of his brother). In 2005-2006, the Buckeyes won the Big Ten and finished 26-6, but got upset in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Dials and Sullinger scored in double-figures as seniors, and Bowling Green transfer Ron Lewis added 11 points per game. As if a Big Ten title in his second season wasn’t enough, the magic really happened for Matta in 2006-2007. That season’s Buckeyes featured the best recruiting class in the country, finished 35-4, and lost to Florida in the National Title game. Freshmen Greg Oden (15.3) and Mike Conley (11.3) averaged in double figures, while future three-point shootout champion Daequan Cook, also a freshman, chipped in 9.8 a night.

(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Lewis returned for his senior season, averaged 12.7 points per game, and hit a miracle three-pointer to send an NCAA second-round game against Xavier to overtime. Despite a successful season, questions remained: could Matta build a perennially contending program or was his one-and-done laden team of 2006-2007 an aberration?

Now: The answer appears to be a resounding yes. A couple of one-and-dones (Kosta Koufous, BJ Mullens, a notable two-and-through (Sullinger), and several players in it for the long haul (Evan Turner, William Buford, Deshaun Thomas) have turned the Buckeyes into an elite team. This season is a bit of a down year for Ohio State, but a down year now means 20 wins and a number 24 ranking heading into Wednesday’s game against the Wildcats. This year’s Buckeyes are young and deep, as Matta plays nine players at least 10 minutes. That being said, Ohio State has six key players. Junior LaQuinton Ross is the team’s leading scorer, at 14.4 points per game. Ross shoots 44 percent from the field and is also second on the team with 5.6 rebounds a game. Seniors Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Aaron Craft are the next-highest scorers. Smith averages 11.7 points per game and is the team’s best long-range shooter at 37 percent. Besides being mentioned twice a game as the player Dan Dakich would take first overall in a college basketball draft, Craft is the unquestioned leader of the Buckeyes. He contributes 9.5 points per game, and leads the team with 4.6 assists and 2.5 steals a contest. Junior Amir Williams is the team’s main post player. Williams averages 9 points and 6 rebounds, and shoots 60 percent from the field. Junior Shannon Scott almost serves as a second point guard for Ohio State, averaging 7.4 points, 2.2 steals, and 3.5 assists. Junior Sam Thompson quietly chips in 7 points a night.

Ohio State is a tough matchup for Northwestern. The Buckeyes like to press and pressure the ball, two things Northwestern’s offense does not fare well against. Craft and Scott are plus defenders who will not leave their men open, and Williams will be a load for Olah to handle down low.

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