In the NCAA Tournament, opponents come at you quickly, and since the women’s game isn’t nearly as well covered as the men’s, it can be difficult to know exactly what you’re walking into. Fortunately, we have someone who can provide some perspective.
Thomas Cosetllo from our sister site Land Grant Holy Land has been following the Buckeyes closely all year, and graciously accepted the chance to answer a few questions about today’s opponent for the Tar Heels. I returned the favor, and feel free to pop on over to their site to see what they are focusing on.
Here’s our back and forth on getting to know the host Ohio State Buckeyes:
Tar Heel Blog: Perhaps the biggest thing that sticks out when I was doing my preview of the Buckeyes was how many players averaged in double figures. Six players averaging double figures seems rare. It appears like you have a star in Taylor Mikesell, but how has it worked out to where so many can put the ball in the hoop?
Land Grant Holy Land: Of those six, one of them is point guard Madison Greene, who’s out injured for the rest of the season with a knee injury. Even so, there are still five on the roster who consistently score. The only blanket statement I can make is that everyone on the Buckeyes is so active in the press and transition offense that it gives everyone a chance to score.
However, once you break it down to the individual, it changes by the person. Mikesell will hurt teams in two ways: from deep and with her floating layup. Unfortunately for Ohio State, Mikesell’s been neutralized because of injury issues making her the only consistent deep threat. Teams have begun putting one person on Mikesell exclusively, regardless of the defensive set of the other four.
What’s changing slightly with guard Jacy Sheldon back. Sheldon isn’t as prolific from beyond the arc but can drive to the basket with the best of the Big Ten. The Central Ohio native played only once since Nov. 30, nursing a foot injury. She started against James Madison though, and played off the bench for all three Big Ten games. Sheldon should give Mikesell some more space.
Then there’s freshman forward Cotie McMahon. I’ll share what UNC’s coach said about McMahon Sunday at NCAA media availability: She’s like LeBron James. McMahon is physical. To start the season, McMahon was like a freight train but quickly became someone who can hurt you by attacking the basket and turn that extra attention into passes to her teammates.
Forward/guard Taylor Thierry doesn’t have as dynamic of play as a Mikesell, Sheldon or McMahon but she’s the most consistent player on the Buckeyes. After coming out of relatively nowhere, an Ohio Division II standout, Thierry’s become the person who cleans up offensive rebounds and scores in the paint with high efficiency. Of Thierry’s 222 rebounds this season, 46% are in the paint. The forward’s also grown in confidence and will drive to the basket. Oh yeah, she’s also working on her long range game and is liable to hit one a game.
THB: Was Saturday’s rough start more about two weeks off than anything else?
LGHL: I think it was part rough start and part concerning trend. The Buckeyes last three games came with poor first half shooting. Against Indiana in the Big Ten tournament they shot 25%. Against Iowa in the final it was 28.5%. Saturday against JMU it was 31.2%. Ohio State’s shooting wasn’t from bad shot selection but really just poor shots.
With the poor shooting, the defense sometimes follows. Shoulders will slump and usually a half time team talk is needed to rite the ship. It worked against Indiana and JMU, but Iowa showed that when a team is on and the Buckeyes don’t hit shots, it can get ugly quickly.
THB:What’s been the common theme in the losses, besides that the teams were ranked?
LGHL: Honestly, after going 19-0 it felt like the Buckeyes were used to winning a bit too much. That’s when Caitlin Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes came to Columbus and knocked Ohio State off their perch. Then three days later they went to the Indiana Hoosiers.
Those two huge games so close together, each ending in defeat, hurt the morale of the team. Then, on Feb. 5, they were trounced by the Maryland Terrapins by almost 40 points. That “woe is me” attitude went away towards the end of the season.
Ohio State closed the season losing to Maryland by two points, with McMahon potentially tying it if she had .3 seconds more on the clock. Then the Big Ten Tournament proved that renewed attitude, minus the hole dug against Iowa in the conference tournament final.
Saturday’s game was a middle of the road result. Going down 16 points to a mid-major isn’t great but the comeback is indicative of what Ohio State’s done for a lot of the year. The Buckeyes can get down but rarely are they out.
THB: Courtney Banghart ideally likes to run, and most everyone in the ACC plays against that. Are we about to see a track meet in Columbus?
LGHL: Oh for sure. Ohio State will need good transition defense but if the Buckeyes can shoot better, that means the press could be in full swing. Should the efficiency not be there again, Ohio State is vulnerable in half court defense.
THB: Who scares you the most on this Carolina team?
LGHL: Ohio State should be scared of forward Alyssa Ustby and guard Deja Kelly. Ustby because the Buckeyes have trouble against strong bigs. Fortunately for the Scarlet & Gray, all season they’ve played stars like Indiana’s Mackenzie Holmes and Iowa’s Monika Czinano. Ustby seems more athletic than those two though, which puts a wrinkle in the game plan for sure.
Also, Kelly seems like a natural playmaker and game changer. While Ohio State did play against Clark twice this season, the guard lit up the Buckeyes with a triple-double each time. Kelly isn’t Clark but she’s dangerous.
THB: What’s the one stat we should keep an eye on to see who’ll win?
LGHL: It won’t be rebounds. The Buckeyes seem to sacrifice rebounds for turnovers. Look at who gets the most steals and turnovers overall. If not for Sheldon’s injury, she might be up for Defensive Player of the Year for the entire NCAA. Sheldon has 41 steals this season. That’s 41 steals in only 10 games.
Most everyone who will get ample minutes for the Buckeyes is quick and athletic. McMahon, Thierry and substitute Rikki Harris will each play their part in the press and cause problems. If Ohio State can’t force turnovers, it’ll likely be a UNC trip to Seattle for the Sweet Sixteen.
Many thanks to Thomas for taking the time to chat. Today’s game should be fun!