Buckeyes Nonplussed About No. 1 Shot

A few hours after No. 2 Ohio State completed a tough road victory Wednesday night against Michigan, the nation's top-ranked team went down in a road contest of its own. Now with today's contest against Penn State, the Buckeyes have a shot at being the nation's top-ranked team -- not that they care much about that fact.

With a hard-fought road victory against Michigan in the books, No. 2 Ohio State made the trek home late Wednesday night. Touching down in Columbus, the Buckeyes were en route to campus when someone realized that the nation's No. 1 team – Duke – was about to suffer its first loss of the season at the hands of Florida State.

The game was switched on as the players lounged on the team bus, allowing OSU to watch as it became the favorite to be the next No. 1 team in the nation. Situated near the back of the bus, fifth-year senior David Lighty barely took note.

"I was halfway asleep in the back," he said. "I was tired. Played 40."

Lighty, who was one of two players to go the distance against the Wolverines, said he watched the final minute but nothing more.

So it goes for the Buckeyes, who will take the court today against Penn State (5:30, Big Ten Network) with a chance to improve to 18-0 and solidify their case to be the nation's top-ranked team. But while head coach Thad Matta and his players were barraged with questions on the topic Friday afternoon, the message from the team was one of general ambivalence.

That began when the players exited the bus shortly after the Seminoles completed their upset of the Blue Devils.

"Maybe it was because it was at 11:30 at night, but these guys were like, ‘What do we have to do to beat Penn State?' as they got off the bus," Matta said. "That's what I love about this team."

Prior to OSU's game against Michigan, Matta told reporters that he felt Duke clearly deserved to be the No. 1 team in the nation because they were the undefeated defending national champions.

The Buckeyes have not been the nation's top-ranked team since the 2006-07 squad finished the regular season No. 1 in the polls before losing to Florida in the national championship game. Since that season, the Buckeyes have risen as high as No. 5 and captured one Big Ten title.

This year's team is anchored by four upperclassmen: Lighty, seniors Jon Diebler and Dallas Lauderdale and junior William Buford. Together, they have reached the Sweet 16, won a Big Ten tournament championship and regular-season title as well as a NIT title.

As a result, the potential to be the top-ranked team in the nation in mid-January did not outwardly excite Lighty to a great degree.

"It's early in the season," he said. "We're 17-0 but there's still a long way to go. We're looking at the bigger picture. I don't think it's something that is getting to us. That's a good thing for us."

That attitude has apparently trickled down to the six newcomers on the roster as well. Freshman point guard Aaron Craft, who lost one regular-season game in high school, said it was not odd to hear no cheers as the Blue Devils went down.

"I don't think it's too hard to buy into especially when you have Dave who's been through it already and coach has," he said. "We have that great leadership, that great steady hand to keep us calm. We're just trying to stay focused on the long run and not get caught up in where we're at right now."

Throughout his tenure at OSU, Matta has preached a narrow-minded mind-set to his players of only focusing on what they can control. That has meant a focus of preparing for the next game with the aim of steadily improving throughout the season.

"Let's play our style of basketball and whatever happens, happens," he said. "In terms of stuff outside we don't have any say-so over that. For us, we're still in January. We've still got a long way to go. I don't think they're real consumed with it. It's more about what do we have to do to play our best against Penn State."

Adding to the situation is the fact that the Buckeyes defeated the Seminoles earlier this season as part of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. Again, Lighty said that has little effect on the team.

"It might help in polls or seedings, but it doesn't mean anything really," he said. "I've been No. 1 before. If I'm No. 1 at the end then I'll be excited."

After hyperextending his left (non-shooting) elbow shortly before the end of the first half against Michigan, senior guard Jon Diebler played the entire second half and drilled his first two three-point shots. After taking Thursday off, Matta said Diebler will be full-go for the contest against the Nittany Lions.

Other than that, the coach said he does not expect much to change within the OSU camp even with a shot at the No. 1 ranking looming.

"For me personally the food doesn't taste any different, the prices are still the same," Matta said. "I don't think that's even on their radar screen from the way they acted."

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