NCAA Tournament Bound?

By Jeff Rapp, February 14th, 2014

Welcome to what we like to call the Ruckus, but only because this segment of the site leads to lively discussion and debate, not because anyone is trying to shake up the world.

In this installment, editor Jeff Rapp sits down with Matt McCoy, the renowned sports director at 610 WTVN (AM) in Columbus. They got together just prior to a recent on-air session of  “Bucksline” along with WTVN basketball analyst Tony White.

Rapp and McCoy took a closer look at an Ohio State men’s basketball team that was floundering a bit and in danger of posting the first losing Big Ten record in the Thad Matta era with a dangerous stretch run of the schedule afoot.

A former OSU swim team captain, McCoy has been covering Ohio State basketball for basically two decades and also serves as the PA announcer for home games at the Schottenstein Center. He was there when the Buckeyes made Final Four runs in 1999 and 2007 and he was there for the lean years as well.

Rapp has been to every Big Ten Tournament since its inception in 1998 and his coverage of OSU basketball dates all the way back to the days of Gary Williams.

We pick up their conversation at the WTVN studios with the Buckeyes trying to fight their way back into the national polls and a forceful position.

Rapp: Well, I guess to simplify the conversation, since everyone seems to look at it this way – are they an NCAA Tournament team? Are they not?

I was talking with a colleague after the really bad loss to Penn State and he asked my opinion and I said, “You know what, I think it’s really close.” I don’t understand brandishing them to the NIT even before the halfway point of the season.

Actually, Matt, when you look at the standings you realize Ohio State is not playing well and they have a mediocre record in the conference but there’s a huge clump there that they could emerge from with a just a couple good wins.

What do you think about that?

McCoy: If the tournament started after the Penn State game, I would have said, “no they’re not,” because I don’t see quality win No. 1 there.

Rapp: And 3-5 in the Big Ten is no good.

McCoy: Yes. And, frankly, Shannon Scott, when he was talking about the team’s team meeting, even he said “We’re not an NCAA Tournament team right now.”

Having said that, when you reset it as you talked about, there’s a long way to go and a lot of time to prove things. I know Wisconsin’s struggling. And I know they’ve lost three in a row at the Kohl Center for the first time, but that’s a good win. So right now today, yeah, I think they are back in, and I think they have enough opportunity.

There are opportunities enough for them to stamp it and not even make it a question that we’re asking, but the fact that it is a question right now is a little bit of a surprise given the fact that this team was 15-0.

So right now, yes, I think they’re an NCAA Tournament team and right now, yes, I think they’re going to make it because I still believe that Thad Matta will get them turned around to a point where … I mean, if they get to 9-9 in the Big Ten that should be enough.

Rapp: I totally agree. And I don’t believe that there is some horrid camaraderie issue or something going on that is tearing this team apart. I’m sure that there are always things going on behind the scenes that we don’t know and it’s not probably as ideal as we would like it to be in terms of their togetherness.

But have you seen any signs that this team is completely inept and the wheels have come off the spokes? Because I haven’t seen that. I see a team that is just not making plays at the end of ballgames for whatever reason. Maybe that is a trust issue.

McCoy: There were a couple comments, like Lenzelle (Smith Jr.) after the Penn State game saying, “I don’t know if these losses hurt enough.” There are some slight red flags, but mostly I think that comes from frustration of a lost.

Rapp: That’s a senior who’s trying to deal with the fact that this isn’t going well.

McCoy: Well, they had that team meeting and I specifically asked Shannon Scott if there is a chemistry problem and he said – and I’m paraphrasing – that it’s not that we don’t like each other. We’re brothers, we’re a family, but we just needed to talk things out and try to make sure that we’re all on the same page.

So it’s more that they’re not playing well together for stretches of games for some reason. Maybe we need to come to the conclusion that they’re just not that good. I don’t know. But they should have been able to beat Penn State at home and play better than the way they’re playing.

But I don’t think it’s some glaring deal where this guy’s a cancer or whatever. I don’t get that feeling. I think they like each other. I just think they’re trying to figure out what’s going on.

Rapp: There might be a leadership issue that’s got to get sorted out but …

McCoy: … Here’s what I think it is: I think at the end of game they don’t know where to go.

Rapp: Yeah. And Thad is the kind of coach that wants you to figure that out unless he’s got a surefire option like “We’re going into Jared (Sullinger)” or “We’re clearing out for Deshaun (Thomas).” Otherwise he just wants them to play and sort through that.

McCoy: I want to be careful how I say this because I don’t want to sound like I’m bashing LaQuinton Ross because he’s come a long way, but he, I think, is their best offensive player – he’s got the most skill, he’s got the most ability to score – but when your best offensive player is passive …

I think he’s passive. For example, when they played Nebraska and Penn State, two of the (conference’s) traditional bottom feeders, they were the more confident team down the stretch with the game hanging in the balance. They had a player, in Penn State’s case it was D.J. Newbill and in Nebraska’s case …

Rapp:Terran Petteway.

McCoy: That’s right. And Tarran Petteway is not a better player than LaQuinton Ross. But in that game, at that moment, with the game on the line, those two guys were like, “Give me the damn ball” and they took charge.

They had that attitude. And I don’t see that from anyone (at Ohio State). That’s what I think LaQuinton needs to develop – or somebody. I say him because I think he’s the most likely candidate.

I think they got by (at Wisconsin) because Aaron Craft made a couple plays. He hit a three, got some confidence, drove to the lane and got a basket and that kind of got them through. But I still think long-term they need somebody else to come up and make those plays late in games.

Rapp: I’m not saying they’re definitely not an NIT team because we don’t know yet. They may, in fact, end up in the NIT because they could still use some quality wins. I just don’t believe they’re incapable of beating a good, quality team. I think they hinted at that (at Wisconsin) and obviously beating Iowa is huge. And they’ve got winnable games coming up.

To immediately brand them an NIT team after losing to Penn State, well, two hours after saying that Wisconsin lost of home to Northwestern. And you can’t say they’re going to the NIT because they’re never going to win at Wisconsin and then when they do say, well, Wisconsin is terrible. You can’t have it both ways.

That’s a quality win, in my opinion. And Wisconsin is going to figure it out, too, by the way, and make that tournament.

What struck me after all of those games on that evening was that they were just a game-and-a-half out of being where they need to be, and like you said even finishing 9-9 is going to get them there.

McCoy: You look at the standings and Michigan, Michigan State and to some degree Iowa have separated themselves and then there’s a glut of teams – and Ohio State is in that glut. So, yeah.

To me, it’s protect your home court the rest of the way. You’ve slipped up at home …

Rapp: And you need to pay back Penn State.

McCoy: Yes. But if you just protect your home court, look at the wins you’re getting. Minnesota is a good team. They’re not great but pretty good. Michigan State would be a huge win. So if they protect their home court, I think they’re good.

Rapp: And how about this – and let’s just say it outloud because it’s funny to say: They don’t have to go to Northwestern. (Laughs)

McCoy: Isn’t that funny. That’s kind of big. Who would have thought that?