At his introductory press conference in early July, new Ohio State coach Thad Matta admitted that he was pulled over by a police officer shortly after interviewing for the job in Columbus.
The officer told the coach he was clocked at 58 in a 40 mph zone and asked what the big hurry was.
"Right now I'm kind of torn," Matta claims to have told her. "I'm thinking about taking a new job."
"She said, 'What do you do?' I said, 'I'm a basketball coach.' She said, 'Oh really, where?' I said, 'Xavier University.' She said, 'Really, I went to Ohio State.' I said, 'Well, I just took the job.' And she said, 'Have a great day.'"
The 37-year-old Matta takes over a program that was 14-16 a year ago, may be facing future NCAA sanctions and is littered with players who profess a loyalty to former coach Jim O'Brien.
"I do realize that we've got challenges, but I'm here to roll up my sleeves, go to work and bring this thing back," Matta said.
On the plus side, Matta inherits a team with eight players who started games last season, including three -- Tony Stockman, Terence Dials and J.J. Sullinger -- who were double-figure scorers.
FRONTCOURTThe loss of 7-foot center Velimir Radinovic, who led the Big Ten in field goal percentage last season at 65.3 percent, appears devastating on paper. However, Dials should have more room to operate, and that could open up his game even more. He put up consecutive 22-point, nine-rebound performances in the final two games of the season and appears to have his best basketball ahead of him. A team captain with a model work ethic, Dials may have to carry the Buckeyes' inside game.
Who plays the four-spot when Dials is in the pivot is a mystery. Ivan Harris, a 6-8 lefty with shooting range out to the arc, will get every opportunity. However, he was woeful on the boards last year (45 rebounds in 285 minutes). Matt Terwilliger is a natural power forward, but he is a green freshman, as is combo forward Jermyl Jackson-Wilson.
When the Buckeyes want to go big, 6-10 Matt Marinchick can man the middle with Dials at power forward. Marinchick, though, is not a defensive intimidator.
BACKCOURTStockman's inconsistent play frustrated O'Brien. He was the Buckeyes' leading scorer (13.6 ppg) and top outside threat (73 treys) last season, and he far and away led the team in steals with 61, but his quick hands and gambling nature have gotten him into trouble on defense. He seems to finally understand what he needs to do to be an asset on both ends of the court, but it won't be easy to stifle his quick trigger and reach-around habits.
A lefty with strength and a patented jump-stop, Sullinger still needs to learn when to force the action and when to mesh with others. Either way, he needs to be more in a flow, especially since a fast-improving Ricardo Billings is capable of earning much more time on the wing. Billings is an athlete deluxe who is most explosive along the baseline.
Also not to be forgotten is Matt Sylvester, who may at last be ready for an injury-free, productive season. He is a good shooter, and he rebounds well for a wing player, but his defense still needs work.
Point guard again will be an interesting puzzle. Senior Brandon Fuss-Cheatham is a better ball-handler, open-court player and distributor, but he sorely lacks the perimeter skills of freshman Jamar Butler. Nick Dials' transfer to Akron leaves those two to sort it out unless junior college transfer Je'Kel Foster can provide help.
FINAL ANALYSISMatta is already preaching "the Ohio State way" to his new players and has promised them a trip to the NCAA tournament if they follow that path of commitment, togetherness and daring yet smart play. Look for the Buckeyes to show a four-out, one-in look and to push the ball more as compared to last year's edict to feed the post on every possession.
Matta inherited some nice talent, especially on the perimeter, but this team has too many issues to be considered a strong candidate for the NCAA tournament.