COLUMBUS, Ohio – A half century has gone by since the last time Ohio State started a basketball season so well.
But rest assured, the player who was the central figure on that 1960-61 team knows what today’s top-ranked Buckeyes are going through.
“You’re the last ones standing and when you’re the last one standing, everyone’s gunning for you,” said Jerry Lucas, Olympic gold medalist and an NBA champion with the New York Knicks who took three Ohio State teams to a national championship game. “You’re the focal point of everybody’s attention. Every team that plays against you is trying to knock you off your perch. So, it’s a very, very difficult situation. But they’ve handled it very well so far.”
These Buckeyes (24-0, 11-0 Big Ten) have gone where no Ohio State team has gone since Lucas and John Havlicek led their Fred Taylor-coached defending national champions to a 27-0 record, before falling to Cincinnati in the 1961 NCAA championship game.
A lot of eyes are on today’s Buckeyes, and everyone seems to have an opinion on just how good they are.
“I’m actually not too surprised. I saw them this summer and knew that they’d be a team to contend and be in the top 10 and have a successful season,” said Mike Conley Jr., point guard for the Memphis Grizzlies and the floor leader on Ohio State’s last No. 1-ranked team, in 2006-07. “It’s tough to go undefeated. They can do it. I hope they can.”
Before the season started, Baylor coach Scott Drew brought his squad to Columbus for a closed-doors scrimmage. Ohio State’s players and coach Thad Matta decline to say much about the practice game, although word has leaked out that freshman center Jared Sullinger dominated and that the Buckeyes, for the first time, showed they were special.
They controlled both ends against a Baylor club that stands 16-7 and has a star of its own in LaceDarius Dunn, averaging 20 points a game.
“I know when we got done scrimmaging them I was worried. Because at that time I knew they were good, but I didn’t know how good,” Bears coach Scott Drew recalled. “After we got done, I was like, ‘We’ve got some work to do.’ But after seeing them play, none of this surprises me.”
Matta’s lucky seventh Ohio State team – one that has been a unanimous choice for No. 1 the past two weeks – is a unique blend of savvy, experienced players and freshmen who have made startling contributions.
The last Division I men’s team to go unbeaten throughout a season was Indiana in 1975-76. The coach was Bob Knight, a member of those great Ohio State teams that featured Lucas and Havlicek.