Buckeyes back at No. 1 in Top 25

Updated: January 17, 2011, 7:21 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

David Lighty, the Ohio State Buckeyes' sage veteran who started his career in 2006-07 as part of the acclaimed "Thad Five" recruiting class led by Greg Oden, is seeing his fifth year shape up a lot like his first.

On Monday, Ohio State ascended to No. 1 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll.

An odd mix of mostly seniors and freshmen, the Buckeyes returned to the top spot in the nation by beating Penn State at home Saturday after Duke lost at Florida State on Wednesday.

The Blue Devils fell to No. 5 as Kansas, Syracuse and Pittsburgh each advanced a spot to take the second, third and fourth positions in the poll. San Diego State remained in sixth.

The accuracy of the top 10 will be promptly tested Monday when No. 7 Villanova plays at No. 8 Connecticut (3:30 p.m. ESPN), Syracuse visits Pittsburgh (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) and Big 12 force Baylor hosts Kansas (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Ohio State (18-0) next plays Wednesday night against visiting Iowa as the Buckeyes' Big Ten slate continues. They cap the week at No. 22 Illinois on Saturday as seven of their next nine games come against ranked teams, including the Fighting Illini and No. 13 Purdue twice.

But Lighty has been here before. As a freshman in 2007, he averaged 16.3 minutes per game as Ohio State went 35-4, finished the regular season ranked No. 1 and lost to Florida in the 2007 national championship game.

Ohio State was on a bus ride home from the airport after a Wednesday night victory at Michigan. The TV sets were tuned in, yet there was no celebration when the Blue Devils lost 66-61. Mostly there was silence.

"There wasn't one word said," coach Thad Matta said Friday. "Maybe it was 11:30 at night, but these guys were kind of like, 'Hey, what are we going to do to beat Penn State?' as they got off the bus. That's what I love about this team."

Since that 2007 title game loss, the Buckeyes have constantly been in the top 10, even though the cast of characters has changed with several players jumping to the pros.

[+] EnlargeLighty
Greg Bartram/US PresswireDavid Lighty, a fifth-year senior who was part of the acclaimed "Thad Five" recruiting class, has come full circle with the Buckeyes' top ranking.

Their 18 victories this season include five Big Ten tests (three on the road against down teams but at tough venues -- Indiana, Iowa and Michigan), the latest a 69-66 triumph at home over Penn State on Saturday. Oh, and they waxed Florida State on its home court, 58-44, back on the last day of November.

They've done it with four returning starters supplemented by a solid group of first-year players led by Aaron Craft, Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas.

The 6-foot-9 Sullinger, who leads the team at 17.5 points and 10.1 rebounds a game, has been tabbed by some publications as the best player in the nation through the first half of the season. Craft runs the offense like a fifth-year senior and is a shutdown defender. Thomas comes off the bench tossing up shots and is the fifth Buckeye averaging in double figures at 10.1 points a game.

Yet no one seems to have a big ego. And much of that stems from Matta, who never seems to take winning for granted even though he's done a lot of it in his seven years in Columbus. He's a sparkling 174-54 despite losing Oden, Mike Conley Jr. , Daequan Cook, Kosta Koufos and B.J. Mullens to the NBA after just one season each, and last season's consensus national player of the year, Evan Turner, a year early.

Lighty has seen how the program has become a perpetual national contender. And rightfully so.

Lighty, granted a fifth season of eligibility after a foot fracture knocked him out of the 2008-09 season after just seven games, refractured the same bone in the same left foot in May. But that gave him six months to recover before his senior season.

"I think it's great for the program," Matta said Saturday of the Buckeyes' return to the top ranking. "I don't know how many schools can say that they've been in that position. We're definitely one of them."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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