With added personnel, Thad Matta looking for more production from low post for Ohio State men’s basketball
For a time early in Thad Matta’s career as the Ohio State men’s basketball coach, his teams were built around the center position.
Terence Dials, Greg Oden, Kosta Koufos, B.J. Mullens and Jared Sullinger were all standout post presences that helped carry the Buckeyes under Matta.
But over the last two seasons — since Sullinger left for the NBA after two seasons in Columbus — the Buckeyes have had a bit of a crisis in the post.
With junior centers Amir Williams and Trey McDonald — who averaged a combined 9.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game last season — trading time down low, the Buckeyes have been forced to rely on their guards and forwards to provide the bulk of the offense.
Before a game against Illinois Jan. 23, Matta said having Williams playing at his best is something the team desperately needed.
“We need Amir to play well,” Matta said. “We need Amir to play consistently on both ends. We gotta get him back to tracking the ball, we gotta get him back to blocking shots more actively around the rim in terms of challenging shots … When he’s played well, we’ve played well. I know that.”
But ever since the end of the 2013-14 season came at the hands of Dayton in the second round of the NCAA Tournament March 20, Matta has been on a warpath to help improve his team’s much maligned post players.
So far, it has paid off.
Two players, Temple’s Anthony Lee and Virginia Tech’s Trevor Thompson, have announced their transfers to OSU since the season ended.
It was announced Lee would join the program March 29, a day after forward LaQuinton Ross, the team’s leading scorer, announced his decision to forgo his senior season and make the jump to the NBA.
In an interview with Cleveland.com, Lee said he joined the program because of Matta’s presence as coach.
“He was talking about how much I could have added,” Lee told Cleveland.com March 30. “That if I were on the team, maybe we’d still be playing (this year).”
Lee, who averaged 13.6 points per game last season for Temple, is 6 feet 9 inches tall and is more likely suited for the role as a power forward, but said in the interview he’s open to helping the team in any way possible.
“I’m a stretch-four, someone who can help out inside or shoot a three,” Lee told Cleveland.com. “It is about expanding my game and helping the team in more than one area. That is really important to me.”
Matta has shown his willingness before to switch to a “small-ball” lineup, playing Ross — and, before he left for the NBA, Deshaun Thomas — in the post instead of a true center like Williams or McDonald when they struggled.
Although by NCAA rules a player is usually required to sit out a season after transferring, Lee can play immediately as a graduate transfer, since he is set to graduate from Temple in May.
Thompson, on the other hand, will have to sit out for the entirety of the 2014-15 season.
Although he didn’t play much during his freshman year at Virginia Tech — only averaging five points and 4.7 rebounds in 16.2 minutes played per game — Thompson is 6 foot 11 inches and, compared to Lee, built more as a center.
Thompson announced his decision to transfer to OSU from his personal Twitter account, @TrevBallinTrey2.
“Well it’s official I’m a Ohio State Buckeye Show Me Love #BuckEyeNation !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Thompson tweeted at 1:29 p.m. April 13.
Matta said in an OSU press release April 18 that he is excited to bring Thompson into the program, even if he won’t be able to play until 2015-16.
“Trevor has proven he is capable of competing at our level,” Matta said in the release. “He will be a very athletic big man for us. We are looking forward to having Trevor in our program.”
2014 recruit David Bell will also look to factor into the Buckeyes post game, coming in as a three-star recruit according to Rivals.com.
But another player could prove to be the wild card in the discussion about centers next season.
Myles Turner, senior at Trinity High School in Euless, Texas, is a consensus five-star prospect and one of the top players at his position.
Turner has yet to declare to a school yet, but has shortened the list to seven teams, one of which is OSU.
In an interview with Jeff Borzello of CBSsports.com, Turner said OSU needs help at center and that he likes what Matta is doing as coach.
“They need a big as well. They don’t have a true center at this point,” Turner said in the interview. “Coach Matta, I really like him and his whole coaching staff. I’ve talked to them, they’re one of the schools that I’ve talked to the most.”
Turner is set to announce his decision April 30, with the final seven schools being Duke, Kansas, OSU, Oklahoma State, Southern Methodist, Texas and Texas A&M.
If Matta does manage to bring in Turner, it would bolster an already highly ranked class that includes guard D’Angelo Russell, forwards Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate and Bell.
Matta said back in November that he was happy with the way the class was shaping up.
“(I’m) just very, very excited about this class,” Matta said Nov. 13. “I think the biggest thing with this particular class is we got what we wanted.”
Whoever it is that does take the reins for OSU at center next year likely will be helping the team attempt to improve on its earliest postseason exit since the 2009 NCAA Tournament.
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