The Ohio State Hoops Team Provides Buckeye Fans With an Increasingly Rare Underdog Story

By Kevin Harrish on March 13, 2018 at 10:10 am
Ohio State is a Cinderella team.

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

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There are few things in sports more compelling than an underdog story.

Sports fans love underdogs, Davids and Cinderellas. It's as though our brains are tuned to cheer for the Americans against the Soviets, Rocky against Apollo Creed and even Average Joe's Gym against the evil Globo Gym.

But underdogs are becoming few and far between throughout the Ohio State athletic department. With the flourishing success of the athletic department over the last few years, Ohio State routinely fields some of the nation's best teams led by the nation's top athletes with expectations of competing for national championships.

The Buckeye football team is one of the top programs in the nation led by one of the best college coaches of all time. Ohio State has won one national title recently in 2014 – which was an underdog story in itself – and since then has been one of the dominant forces in college football.

Ezekiel Elliott hold the trophy.

Since Urban Meyer's arrival in Columbus, the Buckeyes are an unrealistic 73-8 and are almost always in the national championship conversation. It seems more newsworthy when Ohio State is left out of championship contention – like this year – than when they're in. And with their two best recruiting classes of all time coming in back-to-back seasons, the Buckeyes aren't going away anytime soon.

On the mat, Ohio State currently boasts arguably the top wrestling team in the country led by the best pound-for-pound wrestler in the world in Kyle Snyder. The Buckeyes have won three Big Ten Titles in four years and one national title. The expectation is for Snyder to win every match in dominating fashion. When he lost for the first time in three years, it was international news.

Then there are the smaller non-revenues, which don't generate the same headlines, but are no less dominant. The synchronized swimming team is the defending national champion and has won 75 percent of the national titles since its inaugural season in 1977. The fencing team has posted a top-five finish an absurd 15-straight seasons. The rowing and pistol teams have each won three-straight titles recently.

The expectation is for Ohio State to dominate and take home championship trophies. More often than not, the Buckeyes are the Soviets – not the Americans – in the classic David versus Goliath storyline.

That's what makes this basketball team so damn fun.

The only thing that would make this sound more like a movie is Holtmann went with his original plan, which was literally to sign players from a local summer recreational league to add depth to his roster.

As of June, the Buckeyes had a brand new coach, just seven scholarship players and recently lost their top-three scorers from the previous season. Expectations for the upcoming season were low, to say the least.

Ohio State was picked to finish as low as 13th, and no higher than ninth in the Big Ten Conference. At best, the Buckeyes were a fringe NCAA Tournament team. Even the team's top player, Keita Bates-Diop, was underrated heading into the season, not even making The Athletic's preseason list of the top-27 players in the Big Ten.

Still, Chris Holtmann tried to put together the best team he possible could – or at make sure he had enough players to play. The new head coach filled his roster with a recruit who signed his letter of intent to another school, a kid who should still be in high school, and a former walk on at the rival school to the north.

The only thing that would make this sound more like a movie is Holtmann went with his original plan, which was literally to sign players from a local summer recreational league to add depth to his roster.

Fast forward a few months, and the Buckeyes finished second in the Big Ten Conference, and Bates-Diop is the Big Ten Player of the Year. The team that was supposed to finish no higher than ninth in the conference came back from a 20-point deficit to beat Michigan, pummeled top-ranked Michigan State and outlasted No. 3 Purdue on the road.

It's been a hell of a ride so far, but with the NCAA Tournament beginning, there's still time for more magic. The Buckeyes are a true Cinderella this season, and it's not quite midnight yet.

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