COLUMBUS – For the first time in nearly three years, Ohio State is ranked in the Associated Press top 25 men’s basketball poll.

The Buckeyes made their debut in the newly released poll at No. 22, their first appearance since March, 2015 and highest rank since February, 2015.

RELATED: AP poll reactions as Virginia moves to No. 2, Oklahoma climbs

Ohio State has been arguably the biggest surprise in college basketball halfway through January.

Seven months ago, the Buckeyes fired Thad Matta, the winningest coach in program history, and returned only six scholarship players to the roster from a team that finished 7-11 in Big Ten play last season and missed the NCAA tournament for the second straight year.

The Buckeyes have thrived under first-year coach Chris Holtmann anyway. Ohio State is 15-4 and the Buckeyes have won their first six games in the Big Ten, including victories against Michigan and Michigan State, both of which are ranked this week.

Only Ohio State and No. 3 Purdue remain unbeaten in Big Ten play.

Elsewhere in the conference, the Spartans fell to No. 9 after being ranked No. 1 two weeks ago. Michigan re-entered the poll at No. 23.

The Buckeyes have crafted a solid resume with the Big Ten tournament six weeks away. Ohio State, which is also ranked No. 22 in RPI rankings, has five wins against teams in the RPI top 100.

Further, all four teams that beat Ohio State are in the top 60, and three of them – North Carolina (5th), Clemson (7th), and Butler (27th) – are ranked in the top 30.

Ohio State’s start has been largely fueled by the play of forward Keita Bates-Diop, who missed nearly all of last season with a stress fracture in his leg.

This season, Bates-Diop ranks first in the Big Ten with an average of 20.3 points and second with 7.5 rebounds. Bates-Diop has scored 20 or more points in four straight games and won Big Ten player of the week twice in a row.

The Buckeyes play two road games this week, first traveling for Wednesday night game at Northwestern, then to New York for a matchup with Minnesota on Saturday at Madison Square Garden.

This article is written by Nicholas Piotrowicz from The Blade and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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