Ohio State coach Thad Matta sees improvement in team’s zone defense


COLUMBUS, Ohio — Jae’Sean Tate didn’t get exactly what he was hoping for on Christmas.

“I wanted some home-cooked Christmas dinner,” Tate said. “But my mom kind of burned the turkey.”

He settled for some chicken tenders and french fries.

Some OSU basketball fans aren’t getting their wish, either.

They were hoping that coach Thad Matta might discard the 2-3 zone defense with the gift wrap after the holidays.

But Matta said Friday that he likes “where the zone is” as his team concludes non-conference play Saturday night against Wright State at Value City Arena. Ohio State begins its Big Ten season at home on Tuesday afternoon against Iowa.

“The zone is more suited for our team in terms of who we’re able to put on the floor and what they’re able to contribute,” said Matta, who has 10 players, including four freshmen, averaging at least 12 minutes. “We play a lot of combinations that, if we were playing man-to-man, I don’t think we could play in terms of guarding other people.”

I like where the zone is today, statistically speaking. As we head into the new year, we’re going to see a lot of new things. But there’s still more we can do both offensively and defensively.
— Thad Matta

Playing faster on offense than it did last season, Ohio State is averaging 84.1 points, or nine more than in its first 12 games last season. On defense, it is yielding 58.8 points, or three more than at this point last season.

Matta did not say whether he felt one side of the ball was ahead of the other at this point.

“I like where the zone is today, statistically speaking. But I also like where the offense is statistically, as well,” he said. “I think we’ve still got major areas to improve in both. As we head into the new year, we’re going to see a lot of new things. But there’s still more we can do both offensively and defensively.”

Marc Loving, who last season as a freshman had to absorb the various responsibilities that come with playing man-to-man at the college level, said the zone has been more difficult to master.

“There are a lot of rotations and different slides, and you have to adjust to other teams’ style of play,” he said. “I don’t have a preference between the two. I think they’re both difficult for opponents to score on at times. Any defense you play has its holes. You just need to cover up those gaps and try to prevent teams from getting easy plays.”

Two teams have averaged more than a point per possession against the Buckeyes: Morehead State and North Carolina. Morehead State is the only team to make at least half its shots (55.3 percent) against the Buckeyes and also benefited from 17 turnovers. North Carolina had 18 offensive rebounds and shot 50 percent inside the arc.

“I think we’re doing pretty well,” Loving said. “It’s just [a matter of] cleaning up some rebounding issues.”

The two teams that have beaten the Buckeyes, Louisville and North Carolina, are the only teams that have outrebounded them. Each had 18 offensive rebounds.

“I like the strides this team has made,” Matta said. “On the two nights we’ve been defeated, I haven’t seen a lot of teams that were going to beat those two teams.”