Ohio State coach Thad Matta isn’t going to let the Final Four pass him by. Not this year.
In fact, he’s so determined to savor the Final Four at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans that he’s taken to communicating with woodland wildlife about helping lead the Buckeyes to the final weekend of the college basketball season.
As strange as it sounds, that commitment to enjoying the ride might be rubbing off on Matta’s players.
OSU, the NCAA Tournament’s East Regional Champion, will battle Midwest Regional Champion Kansas Saturday with a berth to the National Championship game on the line.
The Buckeyes (31-7) defeated East Region No. 1-seed Syracuse, 77-70, to advance to New Orleans while the Jayhawks (31-6) upended No. 1-seeded North Carolina to punch their ticket to the Big Easy.
Matta’s been here before, though, having led the Buckeyes to the 2007 Final Four. There, his Buckeyes defeated Georgetown to advance to the national title game before losing to Florida in the last game of the season.
The OSU coach said he didn’t take time to appreciate his last trip to the Final Four.
“In 2007, it was just like, ‘OK, we’re going to Atlanta. We’re playing Georgetown. Princeton offense. We’re going to sprinkle in a zone. They won’t know what’s coming,” Matta said. “I never really took a deep breath and said, ‘Hey, we’re in the Final Four.'”
During a Tuesday press conference, Matta said he took a step toward enjoying his current team’s accomplishments Tuesday when he spotted four deer in his backyard and decided to share the news of OSU’s Final Four run with them.
“I was sitting out back of my house having a cup of coffee and there were like four deer in the woods behind the house. I said, ‘Hey, fellas. The Buckeyes are going to the Final Four.’ And they took off running,” Matta said. “At that point, I said, ‘OK, that’s a step in the right direction to enjoy this.'”
For any non-believers among the gathered media at the press conference, Matta confirmed that his story was true, saying, “It did happen.”
“I thought that was good for me,” he said.
The deer took the news of OSU’s postseason run and ran off, but Matta has still been able to recognize how special this run has been.
“I think just the realization of where you are at the juncture of the time it is of college basketball,” Matta said.
That approach might be allowing for some of Matta’s players to enjoy the stage, especially William Buford.
Any of OSU’s first four NCAA Tournament games could have been the final game in Scarlet and Gray for Buford.
The senior guard, who is one of five Buckeyes to average double-digit scoring in the tournament with 11.3 points per game, said he and his team have to enjoy these moments.
“This is our last week practicing in here and this is my last week practicing in here,” Buford said. “So we’re just trying to make the best of it. Just live in the moment.”
OSU’s national semifinal game against Kansas will tip at about 9 p.m. Saturday.