A team replacing the vast majority of its rotation players might benefit from wading into its schedule, playing a weaker slate of opponents to compensate for the newness of its roster.

The Ohio State women’s basketball team, which has traditionally played a tough nonconference schedule under coach Kevin McGuff, won’t have that luxury.

Ready or not, here come top-25 opponents.

The Buckeyes begin their season Tuesday against No. 22 South Florida, a team that finished last season ranked 24th in the Associated Press poll and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

USF throttled Ohio State 84-65 in Tampa in February, and that was before the Buckeyes lost 90 percent of their scoring offense to graduation and transfer. Now, an Ohio State team with eight new players — three freshmen, four healthy graduate transfers and graduate transfer guard Ashanti Abshaw, who is out for the season with a torn knee ligament — will try to find its form and identity against a quality opponent.

“They’re good, they’re really talented, they’re really well-coached and they’ve got one of the best players we’re going to see all year,” coach Kevin McGuff said. “It’ll be a real challenge for us, but we play a tough schedule and this is part of that.”

That player, senior forward Kitija Laksa, averaged 21.1 points as a junior but nearly doubled that against Ohio State last season. The Latvia native went 15 for 27 for 41 points and made eight of her 13 three-point attempts.

In the absence of consistently dominant scoring options like four-time All-American Kelsey Mitchell, the Buckeyes will have to improve upon their 71.1 points allowed per game from last season, and not just Tuesday night, but throughout the season.

“Just in general we’re going to have to be better defensively than probably we were last year,” McGuff said. “We just don’t have the same natural scoring ability. So that’s gotta be where we make up some of that.”

Ohio State’s tests in November don’t end with the Bulls. They instead grow tougher. No. 2 Connecticut hosts the Buckeyes on Sunday and a trip to No. 7 Stanford follows a week later.

Ohio State has spent the last month building chemistry, but the Buckeyes know that process won’t be complete when they take the floor Tuesday night. Mistakes have happened throughout October workouts and they will continue into the season.

“We talk about that a lot. It’s not gonna come overnight,” redshirt senior forward Makayla Waterman said. “We’re all new to playing with each other, so I think during practice is our time to learn each other. If you make those mistakes, learn how to fix it in practice so in the game it carries over.

“We really have to pound the patience.”

 

aerickson@dispatch.com

@AEricksonCD