As the de-facto CEO of Ohio State basketball, one would think that Thad Matta has total autonomy over his program.
The Buckeyes’ 10th-year head coach has final say over most things that happen in relation to his team inside the walls of the Schottenstein Center. But when it comes to introducing his team’s starting lineup, Matta would rather his players just take the court, rather than partake in the pre-game celebrations that have become the norm across the college basketball landscape.
“I wish they didn’t turn the lights out and have dry ice and fireworks and all that stuff,” Matta said. “Because it’s not that big of a deal to me who starts the game.”
But while it may not seem as important to Matta as it does to the fans, figuring out who will make up his starting lineup will occupy a good amount of his time in the days remaining before Ohio State’s season opener against Morgan State on Nov. 9.
And this season, Matta’s decision seems as difficult as ever.
The Buckeyes only lost one starter from last season’s squad that advanced to the Elite Eight in Deshaun Thomas, a spot that seems to have been inherited by the similarly skilled LaQuinton Ross. But a junior class with four proven rotation players has complicated Matta’s thought process, as seen evident by the first five that he trotted out in OSU’s preseason exhibition against Walsh University.
Ross wasn’t the only new starter in the Buckeyes’ lineup, as he was joined by junior guard Shannon Scott, who effectively pushed classmate Sam Thompson to the bench to start the 93-63 OSU victory. Alongside Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith Jr., and Amir Williams, Ross and Scott gave the Buckeyes a smaller, quicker lineup than they used for most of last season, although Matta wasn’t completely impressed by what they provided against the Cavaliers.
“I did in the first half, not the second half,” Matta answered, when asked if he liked what he got from his starters in the exhbition. “We’ve got a lot of pieces and I think one of the big keys is it may be predicated on match-ups. We’ll go back tomorrow and open everything up and see who plays well leading up to the opener on Saturday.”
The biggest conundrum that Matta seems to currently be facing is whether to start Thompson or Scott, each of whom have staked a claim to the right with impressive play this preseason.
“From a standpoint of the starting lineup today, Shannon had played so well leading into it,” Matta said on Sunday. “Sam Thompson has played unbelievable in terms of practice and how much better he’s gotten, but I guess I can only start five of them. We’ll rotate it I guess.”
Matta was only half-kidding when he said that.
With so many pieces and parts to move around, Ohio State might not have a set starting five this season, as its head coach may opt to change his lineup depending on the Buckeyes’ opponent. The only certainty for Matta right now is that there is no certainty when it comes to who will be taking the floor to spotlights and dry ice this Saturday, which could serve a purpose deeper than catching opponents off-guard.
“We’ll figure that out this week,” Matta said of his lineup. “I definitely want to keep practice as competitive as we possibly can. I think we’ve got some pretty good depth and we’ve seen that not only today, but we’ve seen it throughout the camp that we’ve been in.”