Key offensive players

The youth movement is officially on. For the second straight season, Ohio State has a roster that consists of eight new players, seven of whom are freshmen. All-American Kierstan Bell (28.8 points as a senior at Canton McKinley) and Ohio Division I player of the year Jacy Sheldon (28.3 points at Dublin Coffman) are two first-year players who will be playing big minutes for the Buckeyes from the start of the season.

Key defensive players

On a team with so much inexperience, the strong defensive play of sophomore Aaliyah Patty (25 blocked shots and 19 steals last season) will be crucial for the Buckeyes. Patty’s length and athleticism on defense not only allow for her to take on an opponent’s best guard, but it also means the Buckeyes can limit some defensive responsibilities for some of the freshmen.

Secret weapon

While Rebeka Mikulasikova might have slipped through the cracks in the Buckeyes' star-studded freshman class, she could end up being just as important as anyone. The 6-foot-4 Mikulasikova, who’s played on four Slovakian national teams, has shown impressive range from the perimeter during the preseason. She averaged 8.5 points and 6.5 rebounds for her Slovakian club team last season.

Biggest offseason move

The influx of freshmen. A season after having a roster that consisted of eight upperclassmen, the Buckeyes will trot out a roster with one senior. Of the players who graduated, the losses of Carly Santoro (11.3 points), Carmen Grande (5.0 assists) and Makayla Waterman (5.3 rebounds) could sting the most.

Pressure's on

The upperclassmen. The Buckeyes' three upperclassmen are Braxtin Miller, Savitha Jayaraman and Jensen Caretti, making them one of eight schools in the country with three or fewer upperclassmen on the roster. Leadership from those three will be vital once the Buckeyes hit their first bump in the road.

Key stretch

While the Buckeyes have a strong nonconference schedule, the start of Big Ten play should serve as a tangible litmus test for how far this team can go. Four of their first six conference games are against opponents (Purdue, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State) who were in the top five of the Big Ten preseason rankings.

Stat that must change

Free throws. Last year, Ohio State was 286th in the nation with a 65.5% free throw percentage. If the Buckeyes can get out and run like they’re hoping to, chances are they’ll end up at the line more often. Whether or not they can take advantage of those opportunities remains to be seen.

Bottom line

While this Ohio State team might not have experience, it has no shortage of talent. Coach Kevin McGuff and his staff knew that they needed freshmen who would be able to make an impact immediately, and almost all of them will get a chance to try to earn a spot in the rotation during the nonconference slate.

Buckeyes go dancing if …

The freshmen step up. An upset or two in nonconference play gives Ohio State some momentum that carries over into a strong start to conference play. Sheldon and Bell are as good as advertised, Dorka Juhasz and Patty take a step forward, and the Buckeyes’ conditioning keeps their legs fresh into February and March.

Buckeyes suffer if …

The lack of experience proves fatal. The rough nonconference schedule sends Ohio State into a tailspin that they never get out of, and their fast-paced offense fails to get off the ground. The back half of the conference slate ends up being about development and not results.

Where they end up

19-10, 11-7 and fourth in the Big Ten, No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

hpalattella@dispatch.com

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