The names on Ohio State's roster are the same, but this time around David Lighty will be available and ready for action. The junior forward took a medical redshirt last season after suffering a broken foot in the seventh game of the season and missed the remainder of the season.
As a result, the fifth-seeded Buckeyes took care of Wisconsin and Michigan State before falling to Purdue in the conference tournament title game without having one of their key players in uniform. This year, OSU holds the No. 1 seed in the tournament, which gets underway today, and have a fully healthy Lighty ready to go.
"I haven't played there in a while so it's going to be fun for me," Lighty said.
Initially a member of the class of 2006, Lighty has the most games under his belt among any of the current Buckeye roster (114) and could break the school record of 139 sometime next season.
Despite that, he is lacking in recent postseason experience. In addition to missing the Big Ten and NCAA Tournament (four total games) last season, Lighty took part in one conference tournament game as a sophomore before playing in five NIT games that year.
"I'm real excited about it," he said. "I haven't played in the NCAA Tournament since my freshman year and the conference tournament since my sophomore year and that was only one game. It's been a while since I've been in a playoff atmosphere. I'm real excited about it and ready to get it going."
The 6-5, 225-pound Lighty mans the power forward spot in the OSU attack. His combination of speed and strength allow Lighty to play a forward's position with what amounts to a guard's body, helping create matchup problems for opposing defenders. Following a Feb. 27 victory against Michigan, Wolverines head coach John Beilein described Lighty as the one player for whom they had no suitable matchup.
His impact on the game does not always show up on the stat sheet, although he is averaging a career-high 12.4 points per game. Lighty is tied with junior guard Jon Diebler for the team lead in complete games played this season at 14.
His presence in the lineup gives the Buckeyes an extra charge they did not have last season.
"He's been through the battles and the struggles," junior guard Evan Turner said. "He knows what it takes to win. Having him on the team, I think we're really fortunate because a lot of guys have a hard time matching up with him."
As a testament to what he provides for his team, Lighty was named captain of the "All-Glue Team," a squad of unsung heroes annually compiled by Sports Illustrated writer Seth Davis.
"I just go out there and do my job every day and try to win the game," he said. "Whatever my team needs me to do to win, that's what I try to go out there to do. That's what I focus on every day."
One year ago, that involved trying to get back on the court as quickly as possible. The initial prognosis for Lighty's injury put him back in action right around the end of the regular season, but he was never cleared to play. During the league tournament, he expressed hope that he could still rejoin the team at some point.
"I was coming back but I still wasn't ready," he said. "I might have started trying to do a little bit of stuff in practice but I think I didn't really start that until after the tournament was over. When we started getting ready for the NCAA Tournament was when I started practicing a little bit."
Without him in the lineup, Turner slid from his spot on the wing to Lighty's vacated position. Looking back on the season, Matta said he felt like the one person driving home every day who was lamenting the fact that Lighty was not on the active roster.
"If there was five seconds to go and I had to pick one guy in this league to get a stop, I'd put him on it, that's for sure," the coach said. "I just love the kid and think he's a heck of a defender."
Still, without him the Buckeyes were able to knock off two higher-seeded teams before running out of gas in the title game against the Boilermakers. Turner said facing such stiff competition without Lighty was something the team had grown accustomed to during his absence.
"We were used to it," he said. "We knew he wasn't coming back. We were just focused on playing hard each day. We were fortunate enough to make it to the championship game last year."
Now with Lighty back in the lineup, the hope is to not only advance to that game but to win it this time.
"I'm out there now so that is different," Lighty said. "Hopefully we can take it one game at a time and come up with a championship."