Ohio State surprised everyone on Monday, announcing that longtime basketball coach Thad Matta was stepping down effective immediately. It sent shockwaves through the college game with its suddenness and potential impact on the overall landscape. Make no mistake, while Ohio State is very much a football school, its resources, facilities and fertile recruiting ground also make ideal conditions to succeed at basketball. Parting with Matta, the school’s all-time wins leader, says the administration is unwilling to allow the program to languish in mediocrity. And his replacement will surely show that.
The question, at least for Wisconsin, is what kind of impact will Matta’s departure have on the Badgers, specifically on the recruiting trail. While the two rarely battled for top prospects, few Big Ten programs have reached into Ohio in recent years more than Wisconsin. Multi-year starters such as Traevon Jackson, Nigel Hayes and Vitto Brown came from the state, while two likely starters this fall, junior Khalil Iverson and sophomore D’Mitrik Trice, also call Ohio home. Former assistant coach Lamont Paris was a big factor in those recruitments, and it remains to be seen if the Badgers continue attacking the state the way they have in the past with Paris now coaching at Chattanooga.
If they do, will the new coaching situation in Columbus become an issue? Probably not.
Ohio State will never be a regional recruiter. Not in football and not in basketball. The school has such a huge profile on a national level that the Buckeyes can compete, assuming they have the right person in place, for the best players in the country. If there is a top player in Ohio, of course they are going to want them. But the guys Wisconsin has taken were largely afterthoughts or not even on the radar for Matta. Hayes got an Ohio State offer but was not a top priority, which bugged him. Jackson, Brown and Iverson weren’t offered at all.
All of this is to say that while Ohio State very well may push its way back into the Big Ten title picture and be a challenge in that respect for the Badgers, the chances it suddenly cuts off the supply of players from Ohio doesn’t seem all that high.
J.J. Watt was a near non-entity during the 2016 NFL season. The Houston Texans defensive end, a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, played through a back injury in the first three games of the 2016 season then underwent surgery and missed the final 13. So it was a tad surprising Monday when the former Wisconsin star came in at No. 35 in NFL Network’s Top 100 players of 2017. The list, voted on by the players, has included Watt every year since 2013. But it’s difficult to justify it this time around.