What to expect from Ohio State Buckeyes women’s basketball in 2021-22 season
If not for the pandemic canceling the 2020 postseason and a self-imposed postseason ban last year, the Ohio State women’s basketball would be entering Wednesday night’s exhibition against Division II opponent Slippery Rock following back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances.
So at the dawn of the 2021-22 season, the No. 17 Buckeyes feel like they have some unfinished business.
"We're beyond excited,” said junior guard Jacy Sheldon. “Especially last year, not being able to play in the postseason kind of took a toll on us. But that even adds to our excitement for this coming year.”
Coach Kevin McGuff is entering his ninth year with the program. He has led Ohio State to four NCAA appearances and two regular-season Big Ten titles. But the Buckeyes haven’t made it past the Sweet 16, and last made it that far in 2017.
With a trio of guards in Sheldon, sophomore Madison Greene and fifth-year senior Braxtin Miller, McGuff has a group of players who believe they can break that trend and contend in a conference that has four of the top 11 teams in the preseason AP poll.
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"We got a really good group. I think we're fairly deep. We have a very competitive group,” McGuff said. “Obviously with Madison, Jacy and Braxtin and the minutes they've all played over the years, they certainly look really good. But we got a lot of other people coming along, and I think before it's all said and done, depth could be one of this year's team's real strengths.”
Ohio State lacks depth in the post
Making a deep run in the tournament and contending with the likes of Maryland, Indiana and Iowa at the top of the conference, will require not only depth, but also some strength in the post, where the Buckeyes have questions after the departures of Dorka Juhasz and Aaliyah Patty.
Juhasz transferred to UConn while Patty transferred to Texas A&M. Both had spent three years with the program. Juhasz was a two-time first-team All-Big Ten selection and one of the league's best forwards with range to shoot from outside. Juhasz and Patty were the Buckeyes’ top two rebounders last year, respectively averaging 11.1 and 5.8 rebounds per game.
Ohio State didn't bring in any players to replace them. McGuff will instead rely on junior forward Rebeka Mikulasikova and graduate senior forward Tanaya Beacham.
"That's where we're a little thin, in the post,” McGuff admitted. “We got to make sure we're really mindful of our defense around the basket. Rebounding will be a collective effort from all five people."
Buckeyes will rely on guard play
The strength of the roster is undoubtedly guard play, specifically Miller, Greene and Sheldon who collectively averaged 41.6 points per game and were top three in minutes last season. The Buckeyes were in contention for the Big Ten regular-season crown last year until Greene went out after testing positive for COVID-19. OSU subsequently lost four straight games to end the season.
"I think we put a really big emphasis on rebounding so far. Boxing out, that's big for us,” Miller said. “But I think with us being a little bit smaller, we can play really fast, and that can be hard to stop us in transition, things like that.”
McGuff said Greene will not play Wednesday due to a left knee injury, but the team is optimistic she'll be available for the season opener Nov. 10 against Bucknell. The Buckeyes are also waiting on the NCAA to rule on the eligibility of Oregon transfer Taylor Mikesell, who must get a waiver approved to play since she has transferred twice.
The Buckeyes also are hoping for second-year guards Kateri Poole and Rikki Harris along with forward Gabby Hutcherson take a big step forward. McGuff mentioned junior Hevynne Bristow as someone who has impressed him with her play in the backcourt.
“It was hard last year,” Miller said. “And now being able to have that opportunity this year I think just has us super excited to give it all and show everybody what we can do in the postseason.”