Cinderella Men

By Ramzy Nasrallah on January 20, 2018 at 4:00 pm
cinderella men

New York, NY - There's a scene in the biopic Cinderella Man where heavyweight John Henry Lewis is fighting James J. Braddock for the second time.

Lewis had easily defeated a washed-up Braddock in a 10-round decision a few years earlier, but the rematch - in Madison Square Garden - was not following the same script.

"What are you doing?" His trainer shouts at him in between rounds. "You beat this guy easy last time!" 

Lewis catches his breath, and then responds in protest: "He ain't the same guy!"

Braddock defeated Lewis on points that night on his way back from oblivion, which accurately describes Ohio State men's basketball one year ago at this time. The Buckeyes were 3-5 in Big Ten play at this point in 2017 and the prevailing question - in the face of a multi-year slide - was how much longer can this continue?

Ironically, one year later we are asking the exact same question. Only the inflection has changed.

Ohio State's 67-49 win against Minnesota on Saturday at Madison Square Garden was layered, improbable and fascinating. Layered: The Golden Gophers jumped out to a 20-10 lead before the Buckeyes went on a 24-2 stretch before finishing off the game off on a 57-29 run. They were moving the ball just fine in the early going and taking good shots; they just weren't going in. 

The game changed once the ball started falling through the hoop. You'd be hard-pressed to find a big strategic adjustment in there; the Buckeyes simply stuck to their strategy and didn't allow an early double-digit deficit to act as an anchor.

Improbable: Minnesota coach Richard Pitino dedicated much of his postgame commentary to bemoaning his team's fatigue and travel schedule, as the Gophers spent the week on the East Coast playing games at Penn State and Maryland before heading to NYC. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes were across the river on Sunday playing Rutgers, then flew to Chicago to take on Northwestern mid-week before meeting up here on Saturday. 

Six flights, three different hotels and a 3-0 record on the road in six days. When you win, nothing hurts. You also get excused from making excuses.

Fascinating: Micah Potter was one minute away from Ohio State having nine players registering double-digit minutes on the court this afternoon. There is no magic trick capable of giving this roster the depth that it sorely needs, so what Chris Holtmann and his staff have done is meticulously configure the impact fatigue has on it by distributing the bodies accordingly.

Six flights, three hotels and a PERFECT record on the road OVER six days. When you win, nothing hurts.

Those bodies have made them look like geniuses. The Buckeyes took down top-ranked Michigan State two weeks ago and should have, by all conventional wisdom, suffered a hangover. Instead, they annihilated Maryland and Rutgers, survived the Wildcats and then made simple work of the Gophers.

This isn't simply ahead of schedule. That's too dismissive of what's taken place here - this does not resemble Ohio State basketball of the past five seasons. We grew accustomed to flat, uninspired basketball, guards dribbling the ball off their feet, minimal effort and no toughness in the paint.

These Buckeyes play well inside and outside; their defense is relentless - and when something goes south - like an early 10-point deficit on the sixth day of a road trip - they don't sweat it. They don't panic. They don't make drastic changes. They just figure it out.

The last time Ohio State won eight straight B1G regular season games, Jim Tressel still coached the football team. Holtmann's program wasn't supposed to be this upgraded this quickly, and while the halfway point of the regular season schedule isn't until this week, it's easy to see that this team - despite the familiar faces, lacking depth and downward trend of the past several seasons - barely resembles the previous editions the stumbled through the season.

"They seem very, very connected," Pitino said of the Buckeyes following the game. "They seem like they like each other. They've got good chemistry. It's easy to be in a good mood when you're winning a lot too."

Ohio State men's basketball, 2018: He ain't the same guy.

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