In Ohio State's 78-59 win over Loyola (Md.) in its tournament opener, the No. 2 seed Buckeyes not only did enough to move on and face No. 7 Gonzaga on Saturday, but they won by a decisive 19-point margin.
Ohio State had accomplished everything Matta hoped it would in its first NCAA Tournament game. The Buckeyes, however, gave off a collective aura of disappointment rather than the expected celebration after advancing to the next round.
"If we come out and play like we did (against Loyola) we're going to lose," senior William Buford said. "Gonzaga is probably a better team, they have more depth and they play together. We have to come out and player better or its not going to be good."
A year ago as the top overall seed in the 68-team field, Ohio State opened up the tournament by blowing out No. 16 Texas-San Antonio 75-46. There were no offensive hiccups, costly turnovers, or mental breakdowns.
That team – widely regarded as the best team in college basketball – went on to beat No. 8 George Mason 98-66 to close out the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Riding high and playing perhaps the best basketball of the year, Ohio State's season was cut short five days later in a Sweet 16 loss to Kentucky.
Matta wouldn't attempt to draw parallels to what he's experienced in the past. Playing well, even over the span of an entire weekend, doesn't necessarily lend to favorable results as the tournament progresses.
When addressing the team after Thursday's win over the Greyhounds, Matta's message again was simple – get better in the next 36 hours, win and advance.
"I don't know if we were nervous or what it was, but you have two guys (left on the roster) that started in the NCAA Tournament last year," Matta said. "We've got to get it ready. I think our guys know we didn't play as well as we wanted to play, so hopefully that heightens our awareness."
Ohio State finished the game with 78 points, but Matta admitted the team lacked the offensive flow he would have expected for that type of output. Sophomore Deshaun Thomas had a career-high 31 points, which could have been part of the reason the rest of the team didn't quite look up to snuff.
"We came out and played terrible," Buford said. "I totally think so. We didn't come out with an aggressive mind-set. I don't know if it was just because we're nervous but we have to come out and play better."
If a game where the Buckeyes turned it over 18 times and shot 44 percent from the floor isn't enough to heighten their awareness about what's ahead, Gonzaga's performance in its opening-round win over West Virginia was more than enough.
The Bulldogs had perhaps the most dominant victory of any team in the tournament through the first day, dispatching West Virginia 77-54 on the floor the Buckeyes played on 30 minutes after.
Gonzaga senior center Robert Sacre – a 7-footer – sported dominance in the paint on his way to 14 points, six rebounds and a block. That presence could prove to be a mismatch for the Buckeyes and big man Jared Sullinger, especially given the size discrepancy between the two players.
"We took this one as a loss," Thomas said after the game. "We feel like we come back and are motivated to play better after losses. I know we didn't lose tonight, but we're going to treat it like we did. We didn't play good enough to make a run tonight."
The Buckeyes feel like they have to improve on all fronts, whether it comes from added aggressiveness or a better ability to protect the basketball. Gonzaga could be well equipped to pull off the upset if Ohio State isn't prepared.
Perhaps there isn't a pattern or an equation to making a Final Four run in the postseason. Each game could be independent from one another, which is what Matta will quickly point out when discussing the results from last year's team.
Like Matta typically does – he kept it simple.
"We're going to have to be a lot better," he said. "I think we showed some signs of playing really good basketball, but we let up. I'm glad (they aren't satisfied) and understand they're going to have to play better basketball."