Top 50 coaches: No. 20 Thad Matta
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.
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
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
THE TOP 50 COUNTDOWN
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COACHES WHO JUST MISSED
Some big names missed our list of top 50 coaches. Here are the 25 names who just missed, listed in alphabetical order.
- Dana Altman, Oregon
- Tim Cluess, Iona
- Tom Crean, Indiana
- Keith Dambrot, Akron
- Johnny Dawkins, Stanford
- Fran Dunphy, Temple
- Leonard Hamilton, Florida State
- Ben Jacobson, Northern Iowa
- Derek Kellogg, Massachusetts
- Larry Krystkowiak, Utah
- Mike Lonergan, George Washington
- Cuonzo Martin, California
- Chris Mooney, Richmond
- Craig Neal, New Mexico
- Matt Painter, Purdue
- Dave Paulsen, Bucknell
- Bruce Pearl, Auburn
- Steve Prohm, Murray State
- Dave Rose, BYU
- Herb Sendek, Arizona State
- Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt
- Andy Toole, Robert Morris
- Brad Underwood, Stephen F. Austin
- Brian Wardle, Wisconsin-Green Bay
- Michael White, Louisiana Tech
- How They Got Here
- O'Neil: The road back for Pearl, Sampson »
- Medcalf: What happens after coaching? »
- Brown: Capel is comfortable at Duke »
- Medcalf: College basketball's bad jobs »
- Experts' Takes
- Fraschilla: Underrated coaches in top 50
- Fraschilla: Challenges for new coaches
- Goodman: Replacing Mike Krzyzewski
- Finkelstein: How to outrecruit blue bloods
- Goodman: Grading the 2014 coaching hires
- Greenberg: Poised for breakthroughs
- Goodman: Best coaches for NBA preperation
- Bilas: Why Bennett, Virginia are here to stay
- Goodman: Who's after Boeheim at Syracuse?
- Greenberg: John Belein's winning formula