Ohio State is 20-5, has won six straight women's basketball games and would have to lose at least three of its final five to not receive a bye to the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament.
In that sense, coach Kevin McGuff said, an upcoming stretch is a challenging one, even though the No. 14 Buckeyes will face three teams — Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska — with a combined record in conference play of 6-22 before taking on third-ranked Maryland.
“Really it’s harder when you win. I think it comes back to you have to have a focus on the process and not necessarily the outcome,” said McGuff, whose team plays at Wisconsin today. “Because it’s real easy when you win games to say, ‘Hey, we’re doing fine, we’re where we need to be.’ But if we’re not truly focused on how we’re practicing and how we’re playing, you can kind of get off the rails.”
McGuff said he occasionally talks with his players about a sense of urgency that comes with the regular season nearing its conclusion. His players know there isn’t much time before the Big Ten tournament. They have goals of competing for a Big Ten title and playing their best basketball in mid to late March. They also have a general awareness of the conference standings but echo McGuff’s thoughts on keeping background goals like end-of-season achievements at bay.
“The Big Ten is a good conference and everyone comes with their best shot, so we have to set the tone from the start, otherwise it’s going to be a good ballgame up until the end,” forward Stephanie Mavunga said after Ohio State’s 20-point win Wednesday over Penn State. "Though Maryland, yes, they are a good team, and they’re No. 1 currently in the conference, we have to make sure we take it game by game, otherwise, if we’re looking too far ahead, we can be losing all the other games in between and that’s not what we want to do.”
An ESPN projection of the NCAA Tournament this week slotted the Buckeyes as a No. 5 seed traveling to DePaul for the tournament’s first two rounds.
McGuff didn’t see that projection. He said he’s an anomaly among coaches in that he doesn’t concern himself with brackets.
“I just never really felt like it had much meaning because we don’t have any control over where that sits right now,” he said. “If we kind of stay focused on (practices and games), I think what’s going to happen is it’s going to take care of itself.”