For four years, Kelsey Mitchell and the Ohio State Buckeyes ran wild over Big Ten defenses.
Starting in her collegiate debut when she scored 26 points against Virginia to her final game when she scored 28 points against Central Michigan, Mitchell helped coach Kevin McGuff’s fast-paced offense hold the Big Ten in a chokehold.
When Mitchell graduated in 2018, that chokehold went with her. Last season, the Buckeyes elected to fill the holes on their roster with graduate transfers, a decision that slowed McGuff’s trademark offense.
In Mitchell’s four years, Ohio State never averaged below 81 points per game for a season. Last year, they averaged 62.1 points en route to a 14-15 finish.
A year after taking their foot off the gas pedal, McGuff and the Buckeyes are looking to get back to their running (and winning) ways.
“We really want to hang our hat on our speed, quickness and spacing,” McGuff said. “I think that’s a big part of our offense.”
He recruited the decorated class of freshmen with a fast-paced offense in mind.
Freshman Kiersten Bell — the No. 6 prospect in the nation who averaged 28.8 points, 7.9 rebounds and 4.4 blocks as a senior at Canton McKinley — is the obvious choice to fill Mitchell’s role as the main scorer. While Bell might not be able to replicate the record-setting 24.9 points that Mitchell averaged her freshman year, the quicker she can take control of the offense, the better off this team will be.
“The key right now is that we really want to establish (our offensive system) and style of play by doing things the right way now so we can lay the foundation,” McGuff said. “It might not look how we want it to early on this year, but as we continue to grow and evolve with it, then we’ll look back to this time as when we put that into place.”
Conditioning was a point of emphasis in the offseason, and multiple players have stated that they feel prepared to play at a fast pace all season.
“Our preseason and summer conditioning were really intense,” forward Dorka Juhasz said. “Even looking at the sophomores, our bodies have changed so much (compared to last year), and we’ve gotten so much faster. I feel like we can run more and be faster this year. I’m looking forward to being one of the faster teams.”
A tweak to Juhasz’s game could end up being the key to unlocking the Buckeyes offense. Last season, she was a mostly one-dimensional player, shooting only 25% from three-point range on 71 attempts. This offseason, however, the 6-foot-4 sophomore worked on improving her three-point shooting.
If Juhasz can be a threat from deep, her presence on the perimeter will open up a plethora of driving lanes in transition for the guards. McGuff also said that he’s toying with the idea of running a two-big lineup in certain situations with Juhasz and 6-foot-4 freshman Rebeka Mikulasikova.
“We have a unique opportunity with post players who can play away from the basket, so we want to utilize that and give them a chance,” he said.
Miller's status unclear
McGuff said it's unknown when guard Braxtin Miller, a Dayton native who transferred to Ohio State in April after two seasons at Oklahoma State, might become eligible to play.
"We might (not know) until when we play our first game or even beyond that," McGuff said. "Usually (the NCAA) tries to prioritize sports that are in season, which we clearly are at this point. It still could be awhile."