Men's Cagers Claim No. 1 Ranking

The Ohio State men's basketball team has ascended to the top of the national polls on the strength of an undefeated record. BuckeyeSports.com has more including thoughts from head coach Thad Matta (pictured) and Michigan State head man Tom Izzo.

When it comes to outside perception of his basketball team, Ohio State men's basketball coach Thad Matta only gets feedback from a limited number of people. Aside from his players and family, Matta has said the only other people he interacts with on a regular basis are the people who serve him his usual cups of coffee.

The coach might keep a low profile when it comes to the outside world, but the outside world has now firmly taken note of Matta and his players. After occupying the No. 2 spot in the nation for the past six weeks, the Buckeyes have now climbed to the summit of the polls on the heels of an 18-0 record and defending national champion Duke suffering its first loss of the season.

Speaking with reporters on the Big Ten's weekly teleconference a few hours before the polls were released, Matta downplayed the significance of being the nation's top-ranked team at this point in the season.

"With this team, we don't have to talk about it because I think they're all pretty aware that we didn't play as well as we needed to play this week," he said Monday morning. "We're more focused on how we can play better basketball. That's where the focus has to lie with this group of guys. We want to be playing our best basketball as the season continues. That's the biggest challenge for us right now is getting our guys to understand that."

One week earlier, the Blue Devils garnered all the first-place votes in both polls.

In the Associated Press poll, the Buckeyes garnered 49 of a possible 65 first-place votes. They were followed by No. 2 Kansas with six votes and No. 3 Syracuse (eight). Duke and Pittsburgh check in at Nos. 4 and 5, respectively, with one first-place vote apiece.

In the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll, the Buckeyes landed 28 first-place votes. No. 2 Kansas earned two and Syracuse landed one first-place vote. The Blue Devils fell to fifth, behind No. 4 Pitt.

As part of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, Michigan State dropped an 84-79 decision to the Blue Devils on Dec. 1. Spartans head coach Tom Izzo said he feels the Buckeyes compare favorably to the team they are replacing atop the rankings.

"They're different kinds of teams from the standpoint where I think Ohio State might have a little bit of an edge right now is they have great shooters but an incredible post player and Duke's got great shooters but not the post presence that Ohio State has," he said.

However, Izzo, who is the Big Ten's longest-tenured coach now in his 16th season with the Spartans, said he does not feel there is one team clearly ahead of the others in the nation this season.

"I love Duke because they play so well as a team and they pass the ball so well," he said. "I thought they were really good but I don't think they were head and shoulders above (everyone else). Two years ago I thought North Carolina was (far) ahead of everybody. Last year I thought Kentucky and Kansas were maybe head and shoulders above. I'm not sure anybody is head and shoulders above (this year)."

The Buckeyes were last ranked No. 1 at the conclusion of the 2006-07 regular season. That year's team advanced to the national championship game before losing to Florida. Fifth-year senior David Lighty was a freshman on that squad.

Since then, OSU has risen as high as fifth in the national polls, which was where the team ended last year's regular season.

Following Saturday's home win against Penn State, senior guard Jon Diebler was asked if he felt like he was playing on the No. 1 team in the nation.

"I hope so," he said with a smile. "It's really early but I think we're very talented. To start off 5-0 (in Big Ten play), that's pretty good, especially (playing) three of our first five on road. I think we can be a very good basketball team. It's hard to tell if we're No. 1 or not. We're going to keep trying to get better every day and not worry about the rankings."

The Buckeyes will host Iowa on Wednesday.


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