What Ohio State will lack in numbers on its women's basketball team it hopes to make up for in experience.
The graduation of forward Shayla Cooper, transfers of freshman guard Kiara Lewis and forward Tori McCoy, and the medical retirement of guard Kianna Holland means the Buckeyes should enter the season with nine players, only seven of whom played significant minutes last season.
All nine are returnees, so coach Kevin McGuff found himself not needing to do too much drilling of team concepts during the offseason, when teams are allotted two hours of individual skill instruction per week. Instead, the coaching staff focused on improving specific skills, including three-point shooting.
Senior guard Kelsey Mitchell said she has worked on moving away from the ball.
“I have to learn how to move and come off (screens) and play differently, and I like it,” Mitchell said recently. “I’ve liked the fact of having to do different things and not having to be head honcho all the time. It’s cool.”
Limited depth also means fewer discussions about playing time. After a 2016-17 season in which the Buckeyes regularly played 10 players — Mitchell (34.1 minutes) was the only player to average more than 20 minutes — it’s generally understood most players will get on the court more.
“I think they’ll all be excited about the opportunity to have a little bit longer leash and to play more,” McGuff said. “I think everyone will be kind of hyped about that.”
The Buckeyes return four of their five leading scorers from last season, including Mitchell (22.6 points), forward Stephanie Mavunga (11.4) and guards Sierra Calhoun (9.5) and Linnae Harper (8.4). Guard Asia Doss and forwards Alexa Hart and Makayla Waterman are again expected to be key rotation players.
On paper, the Buckeyes (28-7 last season) have the potential to compete for a Big Ten title and make a run in the NCAA Tournament, but there’s less wiggle room in terms of foul trouble and injuries.
Many teams will enter the season with limited margin for error because of transfers. In addition to McCoy and Lewis, the Big Ten lost several high-profile freshmen during the offseason, including Destiny Slocum, who transferred to Oregon State from Maryland, and Kysre Gondrezick, who left Michigan for West Virginia.
McGuff likened the high transfer rate in women’s basketball to the one-and-done setup in the men’s game.
“You have to be recruiting people to anticipate some of this stuff’s gonna happen because it’s happening everywhere to everybody,” McGuff said. “We’re going to continue to try to add the right people to the program and we don’t always get that right. Sometimes we miss on what would be a good fit, but we just make sure we’re doing the best job we can to get kids that fit our program and our university.”
For Ohio State, putting together effective seasons beyond 2017-18 will require strong and large recruiting classes in 2018 and ’19. This season, the Buckeyes will try to capitalize on collective experience.
“It just seems like the chemistry and the camaraderie is as good as it’s ever been and so I’m excited about that,” McGuff said. “I feel like right now we have the right group of kids heading into this year.”