The NCAA Tournament selection committee tipped its hand Monday night for the third and final time before the full tournament field is announced Monday, March 13.
Ohio State wasn’t among the top 16 seeds.
The result was not all that surprising – the committee has demonstrated its value of RPI, which is not a strength of Ohio State and the Big Ten this season – but perhaps somewhat poorly timed for the Buckeyes.
The reveal came at halftime of the Ohio State-Maryland game, meaning the Ohio State (24-5, 14-1 Big Ten) resume reviewed by the committee did not include the Buckeyes’ strongest win of the season, a 98-87 victory over the No. 2 Terrapins.
It was a critical win for a team that has been projected as a No. 5 seed since a January loss at Michigan State, and one of which the Buckeyes will likely not know the full effects until Selection Monday.
.@CoachMcGuff showing a little of his moves. Not all of them tho. More work to do Sunday pic.twitter.com/YbZMs2m2cH
— OSU W Basketball (@OhioState_WBB) February 21, 2017
But it was a double-digit win against the nation’s No. 2 team and the Buckeyes’ first win over a ranked opponent since Nov. 26. Ohio State’s 10th straight win came in front of a national audience (on ESPN 2), and the Buckeyes at least passed an eye test administered by Maryland coach Brenda Frese.
“I thought Ohio State was sensational. That was the best I’ve seen them when you talk about shooting the ball I mean their first-quarter punch really impacted us hard,” she said. “When you shoot 78 percent from the field and (83) percent from the three-point line, I mean they were really clicking on all cylinders.”
The Buckeyes shot 63.2 percent for the game, finished 10 for 18 from three and were the first team to eclipse 90 points against Maryland this season, but the offensive outburst wasn’t due to a lack of defensive effort on Maryland’s part, Frese said.
“You know, I didn’t think they made that many uncontested shots. I thought they did a really good job of attacking us off the bounce and getting us in foul trouble,” she said. “I thought they were tremendous in terms of how they shared the basketball. Five players in double figures and you give up 98 points, you’re not going to win a lot of games.”
Ohio State senior forward Shayla Cooper, who had more than a dozen guests in attendance for her Senior Night, said the performance was a product of the atmosphere as well as Ohio State’s preparation.
“It’s a big night. It’s Senior Night. It’s breast cancer awareness night. We had a great night, we had a great week leading up to this (and) the crowd was amazing,” Cooper said. “When the ball goes through the net and you just hear them like roaring, and it’s just like, ‘OK.’ You see one drop, you see another one drop, and it’s just like, ‘Hey, keep letting it rip.’”
Shayla Cooper and Kelsey Mitchell after the #OhioState win over Maryland. pic.twitter.com/3fgUnNzDJB
— Andrew Erickson (@AEricksonCD) February 21, 2017
Hart steps up
A byproduct of added depth for Ohio State this season has been a reduction in minutes for junior forward Alexa Hart.
Freshman forward Tori McCoy has a regular spot in the rotation, and redshirt junior forward Stephanie Mavunga, sidelined by a foot injury, is the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer.
Hart played 26 minutes Monday night for her highest minutes total since Ohio State’s Dec. 4 win over Cincinnati. She scored 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting and went 3 for 4 from the free-throw line in the final 1:25 despite making just 44.4 percent of her free throws prior to Monday night.
“It shows you a lot about who Alexa is a as a person,” Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff said. “She had been a starter for two years. She hasn’t started as much this year with the emergence of Stephanie and Tori and some other people, but when we needed her tonight, she was ready. She played an unbelievable game.”
On the glass
It was masked by a prolific offensive performance by Ohio State, but Maryland demonstrated in stretches what the absence of a top-10 national rebounder in Mavunga can do to a team’s cumulative rebounding ability.
Ohio State was outrebounded 42-32 for its worst deficit since the loss at Michigan State (-12). The Terrapins had 20 offensive rebounds to the Buckeyes’ four. Maryland had 29 second-chance points to Ohio State’s five.
Cooper led the Buckeyes with nine rebounds.
The road ahead
The win was Ohio State’s first over a team ranked in the top two in the Associated Press poll since March 7, 1993. It means with a win at Rutgers on Sunday, the Buckeyes can lock up the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament and a share of the Big Ten regular-season title.
It’s a spot a lot of teams would like to be in, but it also requires a win at Rutgers to cash in on the Maryland win. The Scarlet Knights (6-21, 3-11) sit 12th in the Big Ten standings but can play the role of spoiler at home.
“For myself it’s almost like you’ve got to go harder or just as hard as you did for this game,” Kelsey Mitchell said. “Everybody’s talking about Maryland. Yeah, we beat Maryland, but now you’ve got some new tests to see where your team is mentally and physically and how poised we can be and how poised we can stay for the rest of the season.”
McGuff said Monday’s win was a big win, but it comes with the understanding that there’s more to accomplish. The Terrapins might be waiting in the March 5 Big Ten Tournament final.
“It’s a big win, but if this is the defining moment to our season, then it really wasn’t what we wanted,” McGuff said.
Coach Kevin McGuff after Ohio State's win over Maryland pic.twitter.com/8S7wWyG9da
— Andrew Erickson (@AEricksonCD) February 21, 2017