Thad Matta's favorite team at Ohio State wasn't the 2007 national champion runners-up of Greg Oden and Mike Conley, but instead the group of castoffs and misfits that came the year before.
Given the similarities, the 2009-10 team might wind up a close second.
Ohio State's team of misfits and castoffs four years ago went 26-6, won the Big Ten tournament and produced the league MVP in Terence Dials. Only no one really seemed to pay attention, instead salivating over the potential of the following year, when Matta's best-ever recruiting class would bring in Oden and Conley.
Now the Buckeyes are once again closing in on Michigan State for the top spot in the Big Ten. They are 17-6 and enter a Feb. 10 game at Indiana on a four-game winning streak. They will produce not only the Big Ten's MVP again in Evan Turner, but Turner is making a strong run at the NCAA's player of the year.
"I think this team is probably more efficient than that (2005-06) team was offensively," Matta said.
Having such a star hardly makes this a team of unknowns, but the Buckeyes are again expected to be legitimate national title contenders next season, when Jared Sullinger, J.D. Weatherspoon and Deshaun Thomas will give Ohio State its best freshmen class since the days of Oden and Conley.
For guys like Turner and David Lighty, though, next year doesn't matter. Turner will be in the NBA by then and Lighty knows he is quickly running out of time to duplicate the magic of 2007. Lighty is the only player still remaining from that conference championship team that reached the Final Four.
"There's not too many of us on the team with a ring," Lighty said. "Like Evan preached before the season started, we don't want to come to Ohio State and leave without leaving our mark, with someone saying, 'They were a pretty good team, but really, what did they do?'"
This team has another month to keep that from happening.
--Ohio State's final regular-season game has been bumped up a day. The Buckeyes will now host Illinois on March 2 rather than March 3. With Ohio State off the final weekend before the Big Ten tournament, coach Thad Matta said he is looking into a closed scrimmage against another team from a lower division. He doesn't want his team entering the conference tournament after having nine days without a game.
--The Buckeyes are trying to go unbeaten at home for the 12th time in school history. Ohio State is 15-0 at Value City Arena following a Feb. 7 win against Iowa with three more home games left. The most recent OSU team to go unbeaten at home was 2006-07, when the Buckeyes lost to Florida in the national title game.
ON THE SPOT: The Bucks had poor ball movement against Iowa, producing just eight assists and seven turnovers. Evan Turner had five of the assists, leaving the rest of the team with just three. The offense needs better flow against the tougher defensive teams in the league.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "There's not too many of us on the team with a ring. Like Evan preached before the season started, we don't want to come to Ohio State and leave without leaving our mark, with someone saying, 'They were a pretty good team, but really, what did they do?' " -- junior David Lighty, on Ohio State winning the Big Ten this season
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: The Buckeyes have won seven of their last eight to climb back in the Big Ten race. Ohio State has withstood the back injury to Evan Turner this season and a bench with little depth to become one of the league's best teams. Turner leads the team in scoring at 18.9 points, followed by sophomore William Buford at 14.2 and junior David Lighty at 12.9.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- G Evan Turner, G Jon Diebler, F David Lighty, F William Buford, C Dallas Lauderdale. Key Subs -- F Kyle Madsen, G P.J. Hill, G Jeremie Simmons
Ohio State 85, Minnesota 63
Ohio State 75, Penn State 62
Ohio State 68, Iowa 58
at Indiana, Feb. 10
at Illinois, Feb. 14
vs. Purdue, Feb. 17
at Michigan State, Feb. 21
at Penn State, Feb. 24
IN FOCUS: In order for the upcoming game at Michigan State to mean anything, Ohio State must hold serve between now and Feb. 20. That makes the Valentine's Day game at Illinois so important. The Illini their Feb. 9 game at Wisconsin playing much better of late, winning four straight, including an overtime victory against the Spartans. The Buckeyes were swept by the Illini last season.
--Evan Turner tied his career high with 32 points against Iowa, including 18 points during one 17-minute stretch. He added seven rebounds, five assists and four steals. Perhaps more importantly, he did not commit a turnover for the first time in 37 games -- which span 13 months.
--David Lighty could leave Ohio State having played in more games than anyone else in school history. A fourth-year junior, he received a medical redshirt for last season after playing in just seven games because of a broken leg. Lighty has appeared in 107 games. With another year of eligibility, he can break Jamaal Brown's record of 139 games between 1989-92.
--Dallas Lauderdale's 53 blocks lead the league, as does his field-goal percentage of .767 (66 of 86).
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