'We haven't had the chance to do this in a while': Ohio State women's basketball back in NCAA Tournament as No. 6 seed

No. 6 seed Ohio State will face the winner of the play-in game between No. 11 seeds Missouri State and Florida State on Saturday at 2:30 p.m.

Jacob Myers
The Columbus Dispatch
The Ohio State women's basketball team enters the NCAA Tournament with a record of 23-6.

The Ohio State women's basketball is returning to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2018, selected as a No. 6 seed to play Saturday at 2:30 p.m. on ESPNU in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, against the winner of a tipoff between Missouri State and Florida State.

Missouri State, an at-large bid out of the Missouri Valley Conference, and Florida State, an at-large bid out of the ACC, will play Thursday, also in Baton Rouge. This is the first NCAA women's tournament under the expanded field, from 64 to 68 teams, to model the men's tournament.

The Buckeyes (23-6) won a share of the Big Ten regular-season title with a 14-4 conference record, then lost in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals as the top seed to Indiana.

Though the Buckeyes won a share of their first conference title since 2018, their 2-5 record against the other top four teams in the Big Ten undermined their case to be one of the top 16 seeds in the tournament. Those teams host games in the first two rounds.

"I'm just really pleased with where we were and where we are now," McGuff said. "It's an exciting time for us, and we've talked enough about it where we had the Covid, the postseason ban, so we haven't had the chance to do this in a while. Our kids are excited, and they should be."

If the Buckeyes advance, they will take on either No. 3 seed LSU or No. 14 seed Jackson State. Stanford is the No. 1 seed in the region.

"Florida State or Missouri State, both extremely well coached. Both have had success in the postseason. Obviously LSU in the bracket at home. (LSU coach) Kim Mulkey, one of the best to ever do it. Really got LSU playing extremely well this year. But we're only going to be focused on the first game because we know both those teams are very, very good. We'll have our hands full there."

The Buckeyes' postseason hopes took a major hit before the season began.

Starting point guard Madison Greene, who was the team's best defender in the 2020-21 season, suffered a season-ending knee injury in November. Coupled with a last season's starters Dorka Juhasz and Aaliyah Patty transferring, the Buckeyes appeared to be severely handicapped.

McGuff added an impact transfer in sharpshooter Taylor Mikesell, and Ohio State got enough of a lift from role players like Rikki Harris to carry the Buckeyes to a league title.

"I'm happy for our team. I'm happy especially for our upperclassmen, Braxtin Miller and Tanaya Beacham," McGuff said. "They've earned it. They've worked extremely hard. They've provided great leadership ... Just really happy for them."

Coach Kevin McGuff guided Ohio State to a Big Ten regular-season title this year.

Mikesell (18.8 points per game) and Jacy Sheldon (19.5) have carried the Buckeyes offensively throughout the season, and they are one of the best duos at guard in the country. For Ohio State to go on a deep run, they will need these first-team all-conference players to be at the top of their games.

After missing the 2019 NCAA Tournament in the first year after the program's all-time leading scorer Kelsey Mitchell graduated, Ohio State made a run to the Big Ten final to secure their spot in the NCAA Tournament before the pandemic caused it to be canceled.

The Buckeyes also were in a position to be in the tournament last season, but they had a self-imposed postseason ban due to a former assistant coach violating the university's sexual harassment policy.

This is Ohio State's fifth NCAA Tournament appearance under McGuff and 25th overall appearance. The Buckeyes haven't reached the Sweet 16 since 2017 and haven't reached the Elite Eight since 1993.

What to know about Missouri State and Florida State?

Missouri State (23-7) has key wins this season over Virginia Tech, South Dakota State and Missouri and is ranked No. 44 in the NET rankings, compared to Ohio State at No. 31. The Lady Bears finished second in the MVC regular season, then lost to Northern Iowa in the MVC Tournament semifinals. They are led by first-team all-conference players Brice Calip and Abi Jackson.

Now in her third season, coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton guided the Lady Bears to a No. 5 seed and the program's first-ever Sweet 16 appearance last year. In Agugua-Hamilton's first season, Missouri State won the MVC regular-season title before the pandemic shut things down.

Before joining Missouri State, she spent six years in the Big Ten as an associate head coach at Michigan State. During that time, the Spartans made four NCAA Tournament appearances.

Calip was the MVC player of the year in 2021. She's averaging 11.6 points and 5.4 rebounds per game this season. Abi Jackson averages 13.0 points and 6.7 rebounds. The Lady Bears' top scorer and rebounder, Jasmine Franklin, tore her ACL this season, in December.

If the Buckeyes end up facing Missouri State, it could make for an intriguing matchup, with Ohio State averaging the sixth-most points per game while Missouri State ranks 10th in fewest points allowed.

Missouri State also ranks 23rd in the country in rebounding margin. The Buckeyes rank 212th in the country with a minus-one average rebounding margin.

Florida State (17-13) is ranked No. 51 in the NET rankings and just barely squeaked into the tournament. The Seminoles have beaten NCAA Tournament teams Notre Dame and Georgia Tech this season. Florida State guard Morgan Jones leads the team with 14.1 points per game and was named second-team All-ACC.

In her 24 seasons at Florida State, coach Sue Semrau has a track record of success. The Seminoles have made nine straight NCAA Tournaments and have only missed one since 2005. They have made three Elite Eights and two other Sweet 16s under Semrau. Last season, they were a No. 9 seed and lost in the first round.

Florida State has an average rebounding margin of plus-2.5, ranked 115th in the nation. The Seminoles finished right in the middle of the ACC with an average of 65.8 points per game, while allowing 61.6 per game.

jmyers@dispatch.com

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