The Ohio State head coach deployed six players in Sunday's victory against Iowa and seven players four days earlier in a win against Penn State. As of Feb. 8, the four Buckeyes who could be classified as wings – juniors Evan Turner, Jon Diebler and David Lighty and sophomore William Buford – are all averaging at least 32 minutes of action per game.
The minutes-per-game average of each of those four players ranks among the top 13 in the Big Ten. No other team boasts that many members of the league's top 15 most-used players.
But with his team riding a seven-game winning streak in conference play, Matta said he is confident that he is capable of winning both a Big Ten and national championship with only six players guaranteed to see game action in a given night.
"You look across the board, any time you get to this stage (of the season) rotations start to shrink down," he said. "Obviously I want to play more guys, but you look at the two games we just played and both of them were very slow-paced games. Penn State and Iowa held the ball for extended times on the shot clock. As a coach you're reading into that."
Matta has often said that he manages games on an almost second-by-second basis, going by feel as much as by what the numbers say. Throughout a game, his substitutions are predicated by how many dead balls there are, who has the most fouls and when timeouts take place more than anything.
In the victory against the Hawkeyes, each of the aforementioned players went the full 40 minutes. The last time none of them went the distance was a 20-point victory Jan. 19 against Northwestern, and it marked the second consecutive game during which more than one of them played 40 minutes.
Diebler leads the team in minutes per game at 35.9, but Lighty has gone the distance the most among his teammates: 11 times. Diebler has 10 complete games under his belt including a four-game stretch during which he did not come out of the game.
Turner and Buford have six complete games each, although Turner missed six games with two fractured vertebrae in his back.
The lone reserve to see action in each game is senior center Kyle Madsen, who spells junior Dallas Lauderdale. Senior guards Jeremie Simmons and P.J. Hill dwindle in recent games: Hill has played one minute in the team's last three games while Simmons has averaged 4.3 minutes during the same stretch.
Simmons has been affected by an undisclosed nerve issue, but Matta gave the primary reason why neither Hill nor Simmons has played much.
"Honestly, Evan Turner," he said. "Evan's been playing so well, it's just a coach's decision, really."
The problem is that although the Buckeyes keep winning, some of the numbers are starting to point to a team feeling the effects of too many minutes to its key players. Heading into the team's Jan. 31 home contest against Minnesota, OSU's opponents were shooting a combined 40.3 percent from the field.
In the three games since, foes have shot better than that. Minnesota hit on 51.0 percent of its shots, Penn State 47.9 and Iowa 42.6.
In addition, OSU entered the game against the Golden Gophers shooting 38.5 percent from three-point range. It hit on 45.0 percent against Minnesota but has since gone 7 for 20 (35.0 percent) and 2 for 13 (15.4 percent) in the last two games.
Both Turner and Lighty said the team's recent struggles in a few categories have nothing to do with tired legs. Lighty said it is simply a case of a lack of sustained defensive intensity.
"(It's about) not losing the focus on what our goals were at the beginning of the season and having the same mind-set to go back out and do what we were doing then," he said. "Teams have been shooting a high percentage on us … and that's something we try to focus on and maintain and try to get it back down to where we want it."
Turner said that the minutes during games are not as detrimental because the team's practices generally last about an hour and fifteen minutes – half as long as other teams, he said.
"We're basketball players," Turner said. "This is what we signed up for. I think if anybody is sitting around saying they're tired then they're mentally weak and shouldn't be on the basketball court. None of us are complaining about it at all."
The Big Ten standings might have something to do with that as well. The Buckeyes are in a three-way tie for second place, one game behind Michigan State.
"I feel normal," Turner said. "I'm starting to get a little bit anxious because I know we're in second place in the conference and we're about to have some fun games coming up. We're trying to be ready for that."