Head coach Thad Matta cares not for the knee-jerk reactions of those on the outside of his program looking in. Rather, Matta is in it for the long haul, and he has the track record to prove it.
Since being hired prior to the start of the 2004-05 season, Matta has preached keeping an even keel throughout the course of a long season. In doing so, the goal is to have his teams playing their best basketball of the season just as tournament time is approaching.
Following a two-game journey at New York City's Madison Square Garden as part of the 2K Sports Classic benefitting Coaches Vs. Cancer, that message was again being preached. Although the Buckeyes defeated No. 13 California in the consolation game of the tournament, they dropped a 77-73 decision to No. 6 North Carolina one day prior.
In the game against the Tar Heels, the Buckeyes trailed by as many as 19 points in the second half before mounting a comeback that fell short. It was the kind of loss that can damage a team's morale, but not on Matta's team.
"As I tell our guys all the time, I don't do bad days," he said. "If you're a guy that does bad days or if the rain affects you or you feel sorry for yourself, you're probably not in the right program. We're more about the now."
In that case, the now meant playing a second game in 24 hours against a team ranked nationally in the top 15. In this case, it means focusing his team for tonight's game against visiting Lipscomb (7 p.m., Big Ten Network).
The 0-3 Bisons from the Atlantic Sun Conference have never played the Buckeyes before, and OSU is 9-0 against the conference to this point. Instead of viewing the game as one against a lesser opponent considering OSU's last two foes, Matta is preaching the fact that it is an opportunity for the Buckeyes to improve themselves against a new opponent.
For Matta, though, keeping a big-picture approach applies to more aspects of his life than just coaching basketball.
"It's kind of how I've tried to live my life," he said. "Things are going to come at you. It's never as good as it seems, it's never as bad as it seems. College basketball, it's such a long season."
The players are buying into the big-picture message being impressed upon them.
"I think he has rubbed off on everyone on the team," junior guard Jon Diebler said. "Coach is always telling us in practice to move onto the next possession. If you make a turnover, just move on. You can't do anything about it now. That's just the mentality that we have in practice and coming in after games."
Matta's track record speaks volumes. In his second year in the program, he guided a senior-laden team to an outright Big Ten title. The following year, he led a freshman class keyed by Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. to an appearance in the national championship game. One year later – during Diebler's freshman season – the Buckeye struggled to replace a number of key players but started playing their best basketball late in the season and peaked with an NIT title.
When the coach talks big picture, then, junior Dallas Lauderdale said the players understand what he means.
"When he's talking about big picture, he's talking about the NCAA Tournament and we've been to the NIT and the NCAA," the center said. "Those two experiences helped us realize what we have to do, so when coach gets on us in practice and says the big picture we know exactly what that means. We know exactly what we're not doing. I think it has rubbed off on us a lot."
For that reason, Matta said he does not feel his players will be worried about the loss to the Tar Heels, the win against California or upcoming games against Butler and Florida State. Nor does he feel Turner's 10-turnover performance against UNC or sophomore guard William Buford's shooting struggles in both games will have a carryover effect going forward.
"We're really trying to get guys to understand the only thing we can control is the now," he said. "I think that we know when there's time to celebrate. We know when there's time to sulk, but every time we take the floor we've got to be as focused as we possibly can."