Ohio State women No. 1 seed in Big Ten tournament, but still feel like the underdogs
Exactly one year before the Ohio State women’s basketball team beat Michigan State Sunday to clinch a share of the Big Ten title and the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament, graduate senior guard Braxtin Miller was with a group at forward Tanaya Beacham’s house.
They talked about what could’ve been, had the Buckeyes not missed out on the conference and NCAA tournaments due to a self-imposed postseason ban.
Even after playing a full season, that postseason ban has continued to be a motivating factor. And despite entering the Big Ten tournament as the top seed, Ohio State feels like it isn't considered a favorite to win it, compared to the rest of the top seeds — Iowa, Michigan, Maryland and Indiana.
"I think it just gives us more motivation,” Miller said. “Feels like we have more to prove.”
Ohio State faces eighth-seeded Michigan State at 11:30 a.m. Friday in Indianapolis. If they advance to the semifinals, the No. 13 Buckeyes will likely face No. 11 Maryland or No. 14 Indiana.
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There’s reason to believe the Buckeyes (22-5, 14-4 Big Ten) aren’t the favorites in the tournament. Ohio State was able to be the No. 1 seed only because Maryland and Michigan played one less game due to a COVID cancellation. The Buckeyes also are a combined 2-4 against the other four top-five teams.
Now, pointing that out doesn’t take away from everything Ohio State achieved.
Had Maryland and Michigan played one more game and won, the Buckeyes still would be Big Ten co-champs. And they earned that honor with wins against Maryland and Iowa, who might be the favorite with the nation’s leading scorer and maybe the best all-around player in Caitlin Clark, as well as beating Indiana twice and Michigan to end the season.
Though the Buckeyes have two first-team all-Big Ten players in Jacy Sheldon and Taylor Mikesell, they’ve never shied away from leaning into the perception of being overlooked.
“That's just the mentality that we've kind of had all season,” Mikesell said. “I think keeping that underdog mentality and just staying locked in, doing what we've been doing all year going into this tournament, knowing that we won but that doesn't really change anything. That's the regular season. We have another season to win, in that sense.”
Coach Kevin McGuff said his group has succeeded with effort and chemistry they’ve built throughout the year, overcoming a lack of height and interior presence.
"We've gotten better defensively, with our rebounding, but I think those are two areas that we need to have a good week with, just making sure we prepare for whomever we play,” McGuff said. “Other than that, just trying to be the best versions of ourselves.”
Ohio State was dismantled in their one meeting against Indiana and both games against Michigan. Miller and the rest of the team are still fueled by those games, out to prove even more that they can compete with top teams before the NCAA tournament.
“I don't think that was the best representation of ourselves (in those games),” Miller said. “I think we know that and that's something that's big for us and that we need to work on and it's in the back of our minds.”