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.
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.
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.