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February 28, 2013

Matta impresses with 13th 20-win season

Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Thad Matta hasn't had the time to reflect on his accomplishments yet, but he's certainly aware of them.

With Ohio State's win over Michigan State last Sunday, Matta successfully recorded a 20th win in a single season for the 13th time in as many years. The Buckeyes head coach trails just Gonzaga's Mark Few, who has won 20 or more games in 14 consecutive years, for the record for the most 20-win seasons to start a head coaching career.

Asked about his streak of success, Matta couldn't pinpoint just one factor that has gone into his string of 20-win seasons.

"I've been extremely fortunate the places that I've coached and the players that I've had, in terms of the capability of winning," Matta said. "I guess just luck or fortune or good fortune or whatever it is."

Starting at at Butler in 2000 and then moving to Xavier in 2001 for three seasons, 20 or more wins seemed to come easy for Matta, who never won less than 24 games in the first four years of his head coaching career. In fact, it wasn't until he got to Ohio State that reaching that mark got a little more difficult.

Coaching a team that was ineligible for the postseason in his first season at OSU, the Hoopeston, Ill. native had fewer games to work with to reach the 20-win mark. In fact, it wasn't until a last-minute Matt Sylvester three-pointer knocked off No. 1 and unbeaten Illinois in the Buckeyes' season finale that Matta was able to up his 20th win in his debut season in Columbus.

"I think saying this would be a big win would probably be the understatement of the world today," Matta said at the time.

In part, Sylvester's shot helped set the stage for what would be a pair of Big Ten regular season championships in 2006 and 2007, with the latter team advancing all the way to the NCAA Tournament's national title game before falling to Florida. It took a win in the first round of what was ultimately a successful run at an NIT championship to get the Buckeyes to 20 wins in 2008, and in 2009, OSU won its regular season finale against Northwestern to get to the same mark.

That was the last time that a 20-win season ever seemed in doubt for the Buckeyes.

Since then and prior to this season, Ohio State has rattled off three-consecutive Big Ten regular season titles, never winning fewer than 29 games in a season while reaching three Sweet Sixteens and one Final Four in 2012. Reaching 20 wins in the Buckeyes' 27th game of the year, this has been the longest that it has taken Matta to get there since 2009, and yet OSU still finds itself in the hunt for a fourth-consecutive conference crown.

While Matta's individual success speaks for itself, his growing coaching tree- Sean Miller, John Groce, Alan Major, and Archie Miller- and recruiting track record shows that he's had plenty of help along the way. Asked why he thinks his head coach has had so much success, OSU sophomore forward Sam Thompson pointed to the family atmosphere that brought the Chicago native to Columbus in the first place.

"Coach Matta's a great coach. He's obviously had some great players over the years. But just the way that he gets the most out of his guys and the most out of his teams," Thompson said. "He brings teams together from all around the country, really, to play as one unit. It's just a testament to his ability to build teams, and it's shown with his 13 twenty-win seasons."

Although Matta doesn't put much stock into records and honors- at least publicly- he also knows that they usually come as a result of sustained success. Perhaps that's why while the OSU coach won't bring up his streak of 20-win seasons on his own, he also doesn't want it to come to an end any time soon.

"Hopefully we can do it again next year," Matta said with a smile.

Given Matta's track record, it'd be tough to bet against that.



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