Originally Published: June 9, 2014

Top 50 coaches: No. 20 Thad Matta

By ESPN.com

Thad MattaJamie Sabau/Getty ImagesThad Matta came to Ohio State from Xavier, where he led the Musketeers to an Elite Eight appearance.

Editor's note: Over the next five weeks, we will reveal the top 50 coaches in college basketball as decided by our ESPN Forecast panel. Today we unveil No. 20: Ohio State's Thad Matta. On Tuesday, we release No. 19.

Last week, we revealed the first 30 coaches in our ESPN Forecast Top 50 rankings -- a list we devised by asking almost 50 ESPN college hoops writers, editors, broadcasters and analysts to vote on coaches' overall current performance in every facet of their job. And it went pretty well! There were some surprise omissions and a few under- and over-ranked names, but, as the person responsible for presenting the list to the reading public, things weren't so crazy as to be awkward. The wisdom of the crowd has thus far proved, well, wise.

If there is one overriding criterion that has defined the rankings, it is recency. Confusing as that has been for some readers, it was also by design. This isn't a legacy list. We're not ranking coaches on their careers. We're ranking these guys based on how well they're performing right now, and how well they've primed their programs for the season(s) to come.

This preamble bears repeating, if only for purposes of clarification. But it's also especially relevant today, in regard to the No. 20-ranked coach on our list: Ohio State's Thad Matta.

A few years ago, Matta would have been higher. No. 20 is nothing to sniff at, given the names on deck these next four weeks, but there's zero question in this humble author's mind that if we ran this drill back in, oh, spring of 2012, Matta would have cracked the top 10.

Thad Matta
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsWhile eligible, Matta has missed the NCAA tournament only once since arriving at Ohio State.

The 2013-14 season was not Ohio State's finest hour in recent history. The Buckeyes were dreadful offensively; LaQuinton Ross never broke out the way his 2013 NCAA tournament seemed to portend; Amir Williams' struggles still left Ohio State without a reliable post presence; the Aaron Craft Twitter backlash was in full bloom; and the Buckeyes ended their season, and Craft's career, by giving up a layup to Dayton in the closing moments of their first NCAA tournament game. In the context of Matta's tenure at Ohio State, the 2013-14 season was a disappointment. And the Buckeyes were among the two or three best defensive teams in the country, and won 25 games in the process.

That's how good Matta has been at Ohio State for pretty much his entire tenure -- which began, it should be noted, at a program ineligible for the NCAA tournament thanks to former coach Jim O'Brien's recruiting violations. Within three years, Matta led Greg Oden and Mike Conley to the cusp of a national title. He won the NIT the next season. From 2009-10 to 2012-13 -- as the Evan Turner era gave way to that Jared Sullinger-led 34-3 monster in 2010-11 -- the Buckeyes went 123-27, won three straight Big Ten titles, went to four Sweet 16s, two Elite Eights and one Final Four. The best team, that 2010-11 group, was a Brandon Knight buzzer-beater away from the Elite Eight, because the NCAA tournament is cruel. A year later, Sullinger got back to the Final Four, but had to try to score over Kansas center Jeff Withey. In 2013, Matta coaxed a mostly average Buckeyes team into a destructive defensive force, the kind of late-season surge that defines great college coaches. Unfortunately, it ran into Wichita State in the Elite Eight, because, you guessed it, the NCAA tournament is cruel.

Matta has taken a program from the brink of scandal and made it one of the elite destinations in the country. And he's invigorated a fan base that, let's face it, was only marginally more interested in basketball than Texas fans. Value City Arena is a legitimately difficult place to play now. There are maybe six or seven programs in the country that have been as consistently successful as the Buckeyes under Matta. If we were ranking coaches on the past decade, Matta might be top five.

It's tough to know what next season holds. Craft is gone. So, surprisingly enough, is Ross. Matta has three four-star recruits en route. There are no guarantees he'll rank higher in this list at the end of next season, but it's hard to imagine him falling any lower. Under Matta, the 2013-14 season -- successful by any reasonable measure -- is as close to a down year as the Buckeyes have ever had.

-- Eamonn Brennan

Previous: Nos. 50-25 No. 24: McKillop No. 23: McDermott No. 22: Amaker
No. 21: Brown No. 20: Matta

Full Top 50 Coaches List

No. 50: Tie -- Randy Bennett, Saint Mary's; Scott Drew, Baylor

No. 49: Richard Pitino, Minnesota

No. 48: Stew Morrill, Utah State

No. 47: Bob Hoffman, Mercer

No. 46: John Thompson III, Georgetown

No. 45: Mike Brey, Notre Dame

No. 44: Rick Barnes, Texas

No. 43: Chris Mack, Xavier

No. 42: Josh Pastner, Memphis

No. 41: Ed Cooley, Providence

No. 40: Bruce Weber, Kansas State

No. 39: Tubby Smith, Texas Tech

No. 38: Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech

No. 37: Rick Byrd, Belmont

No. 36: Steve Alford, UCLA

No. 35: Phil Martelli, Saint Joseph's

No. 34: Tad Boyle, Colorado

No. 33: Fran McCaffery, Iowa

No. 32: Tim Miles, Nebraska

No. 31: Lon Kruger, Oklahoma

No. 30: Bob Huggins, West Virginia

No. 29: Jim Crews, Saint Louis

No. 28: Jim Larranaga, Miami

No. 27: Mick Cronin, Cincinnati

No. 26: Archie Miller, Dayton

No. 25: Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh

No. 24: Bob McKillop, Davidson

No. 23: Greg McDermott, Creighton

No. 22: Tommy Amaker, Harvard

No. 21: Larry Brown, SMU

No. 20: Thad Matta, Ohio State


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