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Thad Matta’s exit could have recruiting implications for Northwestern

OSU is looking for a coach at an critical time.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

It’s June, and Ohio State needs a men’s basketball coach.

As peculiar as those words sound, they are the reality right now after the Buckeyes parted ways with longtime head coach Thad Matta on Monday. The two sides agreed that it was time for a change, even though Matta wanted to continue coaching, ESPN’s Jeff Goodman reported. Matta has had health issues throughout his coaching career, but it’s fair to say that he had some years left. Ohio State didn’t want them.

It isn’t so much the move itself that’s puzzling — Matta has now failed to make the NCAA Tournament in two straight seasons despite having top 10 recruiting classes in both 2014 and 2015 — but it’s the timing of it. It’s middle of recruiting season, and the coaching carousel that spins fervently upon the conclusion of the March Madness has come to a halt.

From a Big Ten perspective, Matta’s exit is a big deal. He made two Final Fours during his 13-year stint in Columbus and was perennially one of the best recruiters in the conference. The Buckeyes haven’t been elite in some time, but OSU is still a big-time job. Seeing a new face sitting on the bench for a job of that caliber will be weird for a little while. There’s something to be said for a coach as good as Matta was leaving the conference. I mean, Jake Delhomme was playing in a Super Bowl the last time Matta wasn’t coaching Ohio State.

Where the OSU coaching change will most directly impact Northwestern, at least in the short term, will be recruiting. Chris Collins and Matta were competing for some high-level recruits, so taking Matta out of the equation will send an unexpected jolt to those recruitments.

The two biggest recruiting battles that pit Northwestern and Ohio State are Pete Nance and Dwayne Cohill, both of whom would be huge gets for Chris Collins.

Nance has said that Northwestern, Michigan and Ohio State are his top three, and Ohio State is favorite to land Cohill, according to 247Sports. (Northwestern was the favorite to land Cormac Ryan and he’s heading to Stanford, so keep in mind that the projections are, well, projections).

The other overlaps the two programs have in terms of offers are Tim Finke, Robby Carmody and Jaelin Llewellyn. Of those three, Finke appears to be the highest priority for Northwestern, but it also looks likely that he’ll follow his brother to Illinois. Carmody would be a great pickup for Collins, but he looks like more of a long shot than even Finke.

It’s difficult to determine whether the Matta news will help Northwestern — Illinois beat Northwestern to Mark Smith even though John Groce, who was originally recruiting Smith, was fired. A lot of how recruits view the Buckeyes will obviously depend on who Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith brings in to replace Matta. While Creighton coach Greg McDermott is in the running and would be a big-name replacement, we obviously don’t know the situation just yet. But for 2018 recruits, the instability associated with a coaching change, especially in June, and the news of several talented players leaving the program could prove problematic.

There has been some negative momentum in recruiting for the Buckeyes lately, which was part of the reason Matta is now gone. Notably, Matta swung and missed on his prized 2015 class; none of the five members of that class, all of whom were four-star recruits, are still with the program. Plus, four-star forward Darius Bazley de-committed from Ohio State back in April. The program has already lost the commitment of three-star forward Justin Ahrens since the Matta news broke.

But even with recent recruiting woes, Ohio State has a major opportunity with its impending hire. How that hire will impact some of Northwestern top recruiting targets? There’s no way to definitively know, but it’s certainly a story to follow as recruiting heats up for the 2018 class.

Beyond that, any new coaching hire at Ohio State will have important ramifications in the Big Ten standings as Buckeyes try rebuild the team into a perennial Big Ten contender once again.