Full court press
Last season wasn't one to remember for fans of Ohio State men's basketball. A year after reaching the NCAA championship game with a recruiting class that included stars like Greg Oden and Mike Conley, the team fell to a 24-13 record and failed to make the March Madness tournament. Excitement surrounding the Thad Five was replaced with the patience to survive a rebuilding year.
But good things are happening again in Value City Arena. Under head coach Thad Matta, now in his fifth season, new stars are shining and the team is climbing the major polls after defeating top-20 teams Miami and Notre Dame.
This week, Ohio State became the highest-ranked team in the Big Ten. (All stats in this story are through Dec. 15.) Here's more about the 2008-2009 Buckeyes as they take the court Saturday afternoon for the third of a six-game home stand.
Keys to success
A strong start often belies a long season ahead. Here are two things the Bucks will need to maintain their winning ways.
Play defense: So far, the Bucks have held opponents to 50.2 points per game. That's fourth in the country and second in the Big Ten. As the level of competition intensifies, they'll need to continue besting foes in rebounds, blocks and steals.
Three-point shooting: OSU averages a dismal 31 percent from beyond the arc. Down the stretch, struggling shooters David Lighty and Jeremie Simmons will need to improve their long-range game.
Players to Watch
#21 Evan Turner
Turner's playing more than 30 minutes per game this year - and for good reason. The Chicago recruit leads the Buckeyes in points, rebounds, steals and assists. He's dominated in crucial games, dropping 19 points against Miami and 28 against Notre Dame. If OSU makes a run, look for Turner, named conference player of the week Dec. 9, to be among Big Ten MVP candidates.
#32 B.J. Mullens
Even with lackluster performances early in the season - including a paltry two points against Bowling Green - ESPN.com thinks this seven-footer could be a top-10 pick in the 2009 draft. Scouts insist he needs to develop a killer instinct. If he does, the Bucks are golden.
#23 David Lighty
The only remaining member of the Thad Five, Lighty is a seasoned veteran and a leader on a team with no seniors. After a slow start, the captain's averaging 7.8 points and 5.5 rebounds in a team-high 32.3 minutes.
Dec. 20 Iona 12 p.m.
Dec. 22 North Carolina-Asheville 7 p.m.
Dec. 27 West Virginia 4 p.m.
Dec. 31 Iowa 4 p.m.
Jan. 9 Houston Baptist 7 p.m.
Jan. 13 Indiana 7 p.m.
Jan. 25 Michigan State 3:45 p.m.
Jan. 28 Michigan 6:30 p.m.
Feb. 3 Purdue 7 p.m.
Feb. 7 Minnesota 8 p.m.
Feb. 21 Illinois TBA
Feb. 24 Penn State 7 p.m.
March 8 Northwestern 5 p.m.
Purdue, Feb. 3
Ranked in the top 20, the Boilermakers have a balanced attack with four players averaging at least 10 points per game. They've already dropped more than 80 points four times this year.
Michigan State, Jan. 25
The Spartans are a perennial conference powerhouse. This year is no different. Coach Tom Izzo and his squad remain one of the major threats for the conference crown. Standout forward Raymar Morgan is putting up nearly 16 per game.
Michigan, Jan. 28
Unranked but dangerous, the Wolverines upset UCLA and Duke this season. They've also been known to confound teams with a tight zone defense.
Buckeyes in the NBA
OSU doesn't have an especially strong NBA presence, but several Buckeyes currently ball at the highest level.
Guard, Memphis Grizzlies
Rookie season: 2007
The starting guard for Memphis is having the best career of any Thad Five recruit: 8.1 points and 3.8 assists per game.
Center, Portland Trailblazers
Rookie season: 2007
Talented, though apparently made of Ritz crackers, Oden's just starting to have an impact with the resurgent Trailblazers.
Guard, Milwaukee Bucks
Rookie season: 2000
Redd is a reliable scorer, averaging 20.5 points on better than 45 percent shooting. More importantly, he's been a stand-up dude for a mediocre franchise.