Sports Today: Failure to attract top-end talent in recent years led to end of Matta era

That Gene Smith's decision Ohio State needs a new basketball coach came down to recruiting is no doubt appropriate.

Procuring talent was Thad Matta's specialty, and he hasn't done it at the same rate recently he once did.

RELATED: Matta era over after 13 years

If you want to compete for national titles and win the Big Ten -- something Ohio State did annually in the first half of Matta's tenure in Columbus but rarely in the second half -- there is no substitute for talent.

Whether that is can't-miss prospects like Greg Oden, Daequan Cook and Jared Sullinger or guys who needed a little seasoning like Evan Turner and Jon Diebler, no coach wins without great players.

Whether he's better at finding them or developing them really doesn't matter as long as he's got 'em when March rolls around.

Unfortunately for Matta, who was always a recruiter first and a game-day coach second, the best classes he brought in since 2011 either disappointed and dragged down the overall squad or imploded before they could be of any help.

Lately the talent pipeline in Ohio hasn't produced as many true blue chippers as it did early in Matta's time in Columbus, but players at seemingly every recruiting ranking level have left the state and prospered.

Of course not getting Ohio Mr. Basketball Luke Kennard of Franklin stung, but so too does seeing Trey Burke (Sullinger’s high school teammate) blossom into the national player of the year.

Wisconsin has happily taken advantage, and the return to prominence of Indiana and Michigan hasn't helped, either.

Big Ten champion Purdue started a pair of Ohioans last year, including honorable mention all-conference forward Vincent Edwards of Middletown.

Overall it was quite a 13 years. 

It would be naive to pretend Matta’s early success wasn’t in part a matter of circumstance. He proved at Butler and Xavier he knows how to coach, but his early star-studded rosters might have looked different if not for the situations in Bloomington and Ann Arbor.

Ohio also happened to kick out McDonald’s All-American big men at an unusual rate there for a few years a decade or so ago.

But Ohio State basketball is kind of an odd duck...

The Buckeyes played in the first Final Four in 1939 and 10 more since then. They have 22 Big Ten titles (counting ones that don't count anymore in their eyes because of NCAA sanctions), tied with Indiana and one behind Purdue for the most in history.

But despite a deep commitment to success and a deep-pocketed department of athletics, Ohio State has only one basketball national championship. It took the best player in Big Ten history (Middletown's Jerry Lucas) plus future Boston Celtics great John Havlicek (among others, including Bobby Knight) to win that one, and it came more than 50 years ago.

They had some very talented 1980s teams that never won anything, and then there were the dizzying highs of the ‘90s that began and ended with great teams but saw some of the worst in school history in between.

Fan support is fairly fickle, particularly compared to the fanaticism for football, and the arena built with seemingly everything but basketball in mind first doesn't help.

The resources are all there, though, including that aforementioned money (thanks, football!) and recently upgraded locker rooms and training facilities that are very impressive. The crowds will come (usually) if the team is good, too.

Matta arrived at Ohio State as the hottest young coach in America.

Can the Buckeyes strike gold again?

The timing is odd, but that didn’t stop them from luring him away from Xavier 13 years ago.

Now the landscape of college basketball is different.

Thad Matta: 5 things to know about former OSU coach

The Musketeers are just one of many programs who have moved up in the world since then. That list also includes Matta’s alma mater, Butler. The coaches at those schools (Chris Mack and Chris Holtmann, respectively) have been on many of the lists of potential candidates floating around out there on the Internet, but however good a job Ohio State is, it is not as much different as it used to be. The Big East produced the national champion two years ago, and both of those schools are recruiting at a higher level than they are used to.

Through its commitment of resources, Dayton was able to hold on to an up-and-coming coach until one of the bluest of the blue bloods in the sport came calling this year. That is significant.

All that is to say it should be interesting what is next. There is no obvious candidate out there, and while the Ohio State basketball job has great potential, it also has some pitfalls…

Just when all hope seemed lost, the Cincinnati Reds rallied late to beat the St. Louis Cardinals 4-2 last night. 

After Scooter Gennett hit the go-ahead double in the seventh inning, I couldn’t help but think about how different the early part of this decade might have been with someone like him coming off the bench.

Oh well…

With this offense and bullpen, this Reds team figures to keep teasing everyone for at least a while longer.

Feel free to jump on and off the bandwagon on a daily basis.

Sometimes it’s more fun that way, to be honest.

And it beats waiting until October like they do in Cleveland…

Lastly don’t look now but we have a series in the Stanley Cup Final. 

The Nashville Predators would have completed a sweep last night if they hadn’t gotten such bad goal tending in the first two games in Pittsburgh.

Has Pekka Rinne turned the corner?

Time will tell, but what is now a best-of-three series should be fascinating to watch play out between a young, hungry Predators team and the defending Cup champs.

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