Ohio State has high aspirations in women's basketball, but banner items like conference championships and deep runs in the NCAA Tournament will only be achieved with more experience for this young group of players and having their flaws exposed.
That first bit of exposure is a daunting one. Coach Geno Auriemma and his latest edition of a championship-contending Connecticut team visit Value City Arena on Sunday.
“They bring it every night,” coach Kevin McGuff said. “They play the same way, they play incredibly hard, they share the ball and (do) all the things we're trying to get this young team to recognize.”
The fourth-ranked Huskies (4-0) aren't runaway favorites as in previous seasons, but they're still among the top contenders. They also aren't the only top team the Buckeyes will face ahead of what should be a tough Big Ten season. The Buckeyes (3-1), coming off a 75-65 win at Kent State on Thursday, play No. 8 Louisville on Dec. 5 at Value City Arena and No. 3 Stanford in Palo Alto, California, on Dec. 15.
McGuff doesn't believe in having an entire nonconference schedule of cupcakes, even with a team as young as this one. To him, there's no way this group can meet its goals without finding out how it matches up against the elite.
"It really does expose where you have to get better,” McGuff said. “It can be really tough when you're going through it. But you just very rarely see teams that reach their potential that didn't play a tough schedule.”
Other than two seniors who have not played, the most experienced player on Ohio State's roster is junior Braxtin Miller, a transfer from Oklahoma State. Then it's sophomores and a bevy of freshmen who play the most.
The biggest thing for the Buckeyes, McGuff said, is getting them to relax and rely on each other to execute on both ends instead of being anxious to make a play. Seeing the name UConn across the chest of the other team can unravel inexperienced players, which makes composure a key.
"Just stay mentally focused,” Miller said. “Stay true to what we're going to do and then really lock in on defense, because that'll be a huge aspect for us as well.”
Forward Dorka Juhasz, the Buckeyes' leading scorer and rebounder last season and through four games, is questionable. She missed the Kent State game because of a right leg injury.
No one is expecting an inexperienced Ohio State team to knock off a team led by All-America caliber players Crystal Dangerfield, Megan Walker, Christyn Williams and Olivia Nelson-Ododa. But the Buckeyes will never know where they stand if they don't take a swing.
"It'll be a good recognition for us of where we are for this season,” said guard Janai Crooms, who had her second double-double of the season against Kent State. “Whatever happens, it'll be really good for us in the beginning of the season."