Big Ten basketball coaches and media members assembled in Chicago this morning for Big Ten Media Days to unofficially kick off the basketball season; one that begins with surprisingly lower expectations for the Ohio State basketball program. The Buckeyes do not have a single senior on the roster, and junior forward Marc Loving is the only upperclassman. When you mix that with the fact that Ohio State doesn't return a player who averaged double digit scoring last season, is breaking in virtually an entirely new big-man rotation, and could have up to five true freshman potentially joining the rotation this season, plus a challenging conference, you have what could be a rare rebuilding season for the Buckeyes.
Thad Matta doesn't disagree. When asked what he would say to those who categorize this as a rebuilding year, Matta replied, "Well, there is probably a lot of truth to that."
He continued. "In terms of rebuilding, I think that's a good thing because that means our program has been at a pretty high level. You've got that confidence. But I -- I kind of like the standpoint of the unknown with this team."
Having almost an entirely new team, after all, isn't completely without advantages. Other coaches don't have reams of tape on Ohio State's players. Plus, there aren't as many bad habits to undo. With some of the new rule changes coming to college basketball this season, Matta agreed that having new players could be a benefit, since they don't know any other way to play college basketball, while also insinuating that maybe it isn't quite that simple.
"It's funny you say that, because we're even a step further or a step back because we had a situation where I had two freshman that didn't move until the ball hit the rim. I said, "Hey, timeout. This is not high school. When the ball releases, you can go into the lane now." So in terms of the block charge and timeouts and all that, we're not quite ready for that yet. We're still learning the old college rules, if you will."
Matta has had the benefit of running with much more experienced teams over the last few seasons, and a roster of mostly newcomers means that he's also had to tweak his practice approach a little bit. "I think we've had to slow things down a lot. I've always been a coach that we practice extremely fast....with this team, we've really had to slow the process down. We've had to break down more in terms of getting the concepts down defensively as well as offensively. But the good thing is there aren't a lot of veteran players who know how it used to be so they're going right in line."
One player who will need to have a big season for the Buckeyes is Jae'Sean Tate, who had a big second half of the season, and is the squad's leading returning rebounder. Matta added, "Well, I think a lot of people forget that Jae'Sean was out for six months before the season. And you know, he's been healthy. Got a sprained ankle right now, but he's been healthy for the most part all the off season. And I think he's made tremendous gains in terms of just his overall game.
"There's -- there was areas that we talked about that he needed to work on, and what I've seen to this point, he's done a good job with it. Jae'Sean is a fierce competitor. He's a kid that's accustomed to winning at everything that he's ever done, and he's come to the realization that he's got to be a big-time part of this team and he has to play with great consistency. And he wants to."