Michael Parkman / Lantern photographer
For the first time in almost four years, the Ohio State men’s basketball team has earned the top ranking in the country.
Duke, who was No. 1 in all major polls this season, suffered a 66-61 loss Wednesday to Florida State and opened the door for OSU to claim the top spot with a win Saturday against Penn State. The Buckeyes survived the Nittany Lions and walked away with a 69-66 victory.
OSU is now No. 1 in both the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today coaches’ polls.
But the team was not focused on the No. 1 ranking.
“Honestly, as a team, we really didn’t say nothing after the game about that,” freshman center Jared Sullinger said. “We just focused on we have Iowa on Wednesday night, and that’s our next matchup.”
Coach Thad Matta acknowledged the ranking but said he was more focused on the big picture.
“The thing that excites me the most is it’s the second time we’ve been there in a few years, and I think it is great for the program,” he said. “I don’t know how many schools can say that they have been in that position, and we are definitely one of them.”
Prior to having the top spot in the AP poll March 5, 2007, the Buckeyes had not claimed that position in 45 years.
Senior David Lighty was on the team in 2007 and is the only Buckeye who has been on a No. 1-ranked team.
With veteran players at his disposal, Matta said he is not concerned with the new poll.
“I think they’re experienced enough to just say, ‘Hey, it is what it is,'” he said. “We have to go out and continue to play basketball to win basketball games.”
With their 18-0 record, the Buckeyes have the third best start in school history. The 1960-61 squad started 22-0 and the 1961-62 team opened with 27 straight victories.
OSU was ranked fourth in the first AP poll of the season. The team moved up to No. 2 in the fourth week of the poll after then-No. 2 Michigan State and then-No. 3 Kansas State suffered their first losses Nov. 23.
Though they acknowledged the rankings at this time of year are not important, the players said they hope they are worthy of the lofty location.
“It’s really early, but I think we are very talented,” senior Jon Diebler said. “It’s hard to tell if we are No. 1 or not. Again, we are just going to try and keep getting better every day, and we’re not really going to worry about the rankings.”
To maintain the top spot, the Buckeyes likely have to keep improving. Its last four games, against Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan and Penn State, were the team’s only contests this season that ended with single-digit score differences.
OSU will host Iowa at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, and Matta said he knows the rankings won’t matter when his team steps on the court.
“It doesn’t get you more points; it doesn’t get you stops,” he said. “We have to go out and honor it.”