The stunning news on Monday that Thad Matta’s coaching tenure is done at Ohio State opens one of the best jobs in all of college basketball. Sitting in the middle of a fertile recruiting ground and with an ample budget, the Buckeyes are positioned to compete annually for the Big Ten title and occasionally for the national title. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said he’ll launch a national search immediately. Although he didn’t rule out using an interim coach next season, that prospect appears unlikely, as he made clear in his comments that he’s looking for a permanent replacement. Smith declined to speculate on whether candidates from Matta’s tree will be shown any favor. But he did indicate that recruiting the state of Ohio is a priority. “The next person that we will attract will have a major focus in Ohio,” he said. Here’s a look at seven potential candidates to fill the job.
Chris Mack, Xavier
The last time Ohio State hired the Xavier coach, things turned out pretty well. (It was Matta.) Mack’s national profile doesn’t match his prolific results, as he’s led Xavier to seven NCAA tournaments and four Sweet 16 appearances in eight years. He’s won 67% of his games, too. The geographic familiarity fits Smith’s criteria.
Sean Miller, Arizona
Miller is sitting on the preseason No. 1 team. The country’s best prospect, DeAndre Ayton, is headed to campus this week. For Miller, who is a former Matta assistant and longtime friend, this move would be about geographic familiarity. (Miller is from Pennsylvania and attended Pitt.) Has Arizona simply run its course after three athletic directors and three presidents in nine years?
Shaka Smart, Texas
Smart has Ohio roots from his time as an assistant coach at Akron under Keith Dambrot. Much like Miller, this would be tricky timing for a job that’s likely a better fit than his current one. The issue here is that Smart is coming off a last-place Big 12 finish and has the recruiting class, including centerpiece Mohamed Bamba, to quickly reverse the Longhorns’ fortunes.
Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
At the risk of being repetitive here, the timing is awful for Marshall. He returns a preseason top-10 team that’s poised to debut in the American Athletic Conference. There are few better pure coaches in the country. But Marshall is drastically different than Matta, as he relishes the spotlight and attention nearly as much as Matta shunned it. Hard to imagine someone like that thriving in the shadow of Big Football at Ohio State. His hiring would certainly make a splash.
Mick Cronin, Cincinnati
He’s won nearly 64% of his games at Cincinnati and reached the NCAA tournament in each of the past seven seasons. That resume, his low-key demeanor and vast experience in the Midwest make him an attractive candidate on paper. Few have proven more capable of coaching a consistent winner. What Cronin’s Bearcats lack in aesthetics, they make up for in production and victories.
Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech
The feeling around Williams has always been he’d end up back in the Big 12 if he left the Midwest, as he has extensive roots in Texas and Oklahoma. He executed an impressive resuscitation of Virginia Tech’s program and his five straight tourney appearances at Marquette give him one of the most impressive resumes in college basketball. His acumen and Ohio State’s brand would be a compelling combination.
Chris Holtmann, Butler
Quietly, Holtmann has put together as impressive of a resume at Butler as predecessors like Brad Stevens, Matta and Barry Collier. He’s led the Bulldogs to three consecutive appearances in the NCAAs in his three seasons as head coach. Considering that Butler was playing in the Horizon League in 2012, he’s done it in a completely different paradigm than former Butler coaches. Holtmann has helped make the program’s transition to the Big East appear nearly seamless, the product of savvy evaluation and judicious selection of transfers. He’s beloved at Butler and has earned the right to be picky, as numerous schools have checked in the past few years.