Men's Cagers Coping With National Ranking

This week marks a first for the likes of Evan Turner, Dallas Lauderdale and Jon Diebler. The sophomore trio can now turn on the television and see the No. 21 in front of their school name, as Ohio State is now ranked for the first time since the 2006-07 season. Now the task is making sure that ranking does not affect the Buckeyes as they prepare for Butler this weekend.

This week, Evan Turner and the majority of his teammates find themselves in an unfamiliar position.

They are nationally ranked. Following back-to-back wins away from home against ranked opponents, the Ohio State men's basketball team is now listed as the No. 21 team in the country. It is the first time the Buckeyes have been ranked since they ended the 2006-07 regular season as the No. 1 team in the country before eventually falling to Florida in the national championship game.

Just one player who saw action on that year's team remains on the OSU roster in junior forward David Lighty. Junior forward Kyle Madsen was on the roster that season, but was ineligible to play due to NCAA transfer rules.

But immediately after dispatching then-No. 7 Notre Dame on Dec. 6, Turner was not in the mood to wax poetic about ending the team's streak of being unranked. His focus was on what would be soon appearing at the bottom of television screens from coast to coast.

"It's always nice to have that number in front of your school name," he said with a laugh. "It's pretty cool."

Owing to finals week at the university, none of the Buckeyes have been available for comment since the latest rankings were released. Following the win against the Fighting Irish, though, the fact that they would be was a foregone conclusion.

Either way, Turner said there would be no difference in how the Buckeyes approached the team's Dec. 13 game with Butler.

"One thing people don't understand is every team is trying to make themselves proven," he said. "Every team wants to win the game. It's not just about skill level anymore or anything like that. The tougher team is going to win every single day.

"It's not about hunted or hunter or any of that. It's really easy to lose but it's real hard to win."

Freshman center B.J. Mullens admitted to feeling like the underdog heading into the Notre Dame game, adding that beating the Irish would impress voters more because OSU was unranked.

"That's on the voters," he said about being ranked. "We're not worried about ranks. If we're not ranked, that's better for us because we can come out and surprise a team. We're the underdog, and to tell you the truth, I like being the underdog."

Leading up to the start of this season, the Buckeyes talked about being a cohesive unit that was already closer than last year's team ever was. That faith in each other before practice even began led sophomore center Dallas Lauderdale to boldly proclaim that he did not see this year's team losing as game as long as each member played to his potential.

Now five games into the season, Lauderdale said he feels this team is progressing the way it needs to in order for it to be successful.

"I think we're maturing early," he said. "The saying of ‘we're such a young team,' I think we're growing up, we're maturing real quick. I'm just glad we're getting the victories. We're practicing hard, we're playing hard and we're getting better every day."

The confidence this team possesses is not hard to spot. Facing a 14-point halftime deficit to Miami (Fla.) on Dec. 2, the Buckeyes rallied for a 73-68 victory. Four days later, OSU found itself holding onto a 10-point second-half lead and emerging with a 67-62 victory against the Irish.

Now the trick is to keep building on the body of work the Buckeyes have put forth thus far.

"It's like I told them: We've played five games and we've got a long, long way to go," head coach Thad Matta said after the Notre Dame game. "Just like from the Miami game, we sat down on (Dec. 4) when we watched the film and when it ended I said, ‘Can we play better? Yeah we can.' There's going to be things in this game that we've got to get better at. As I told them, I want to enjoy this. We go into finals, but this is a great week for us to keep getting better."

Matta then added that he thought it was important to his players that the team earn a national ranking, but said he would rather be ranked in March than in December.

Not surprisingly, Turner echoed his head coach's sentiment.

"We just work hard to do what we have to do to be successful," he said. "It's just about playing our system, getting better and building each day for the next game before March."

As the last OSU team to be ranked proved, the only ranking that truly matters is the last one.

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