Rebuilding project involves both offense, defense

Andrew Erickson
Makayla Waterman is one of the few current Buckeyes to have experienced Big Ten play. The forward will be asked to take on a larger role offensively; she averaged 3.5 points in 32 games last season. [Brooke LaValley]

Key offensive players

The Buckeyes no longer have the services of four-time All-American Kelsey Mitchell or double-digit scorers Stephanie Mavunga and Linnae Harper. Instead, they will need contributions from a handful of players new to Big Ten basketball, including Bowling Green transfer Carly Santoro (12.8 points in 2017-18) and freshman post player Dorka Juhasz. Redshirt senior forward Makayla Waterman, meanwhile, will transition into a more prominent offensive role.

Key defensive players

Ohio State’s reputation on defense only has room to grow after a talented 2017-18 team finished 299th in Division I women’s basketball in scoring defense (71.1 points allowed per game). McGuff has said in recent weeks that his team, while new, is further ahead on the defensive end. Look for Waterman and Juhasz and freshman Aaliyah Patty to lead the charge on the glass.

Secret weapon

She has not yet played a minute of Big Ten basketball, but Ball State transfer Carmen Grande, Ohio State’s likely opening day starting point guard, will be a key part of a new-look offense. The native of Madrid, Spain, averaged 9.2 assists per game for a strong Ball State team in 2017-18 and finished third nationally with 294 total assists.

Biggest offseason move

It was more a mass exodus than a move. Ohio State must replace more than 90 percent of its scoring from a season ago as Mitchell, Mavunga, Asia Doss, Alexa Hart and Harper graduated, and Sierra Calhoun transferred to Rutgers. Seven new players — four graduate transfers and three freshmen — will try to pick up the pieces.

Pressure is on …

Coach Kevin McGuff and staff. An outstanding 2019 class that features four top-60 players comes to Columbus next summer, but the Buckeyes can’t fall flat in a gap year between a 28-win, round-of-32 team and the arrival of a deep freshman class.

Key stretch

McGuff has said it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that his team has a better chance of reaching its potential later in the season than early, when rotations, chemistry and skill sets are still developing. If the Buckeyes hope to make the NCAA Tournament, they will need to find their rhythm by the end of their first full month of Big Ten play, which includes a Jan. 20 game at Michigan, a Jan. 24 game against Maryland and a Jan. 28 game at Minnesota.

Stats that must change

Ohio State hopes to change its identity and project a toughness and grit that hasn’t necessarily been commensurate with its talent in recent years. Improving on effort plays — like closing out in the perimeter — will be key. Last season, OSU finished 308th in Division I in three-point field goal percentage defense (34.6).

Bottom line

What the Buckeyes lack in returning talent, they will look to make up for in basketball knowledge. Graduate transfers such as Adreana Miller, Najah Queenland, Grande and Santoro come from non-Power Five conferences but among them have hundreds of collegiate games under their belt.

Buckeyes go dancing if …

Their depth stays deep. In the absence of the No. 2 all-time scorer in women’s college basketball, the Buckeyes could play as many as nine players on a regular basis, but they will need continued good health from the rest of the roster after Ashanti Abshaw went down with a torn knee ligament.

Buckeyes suffer if …

They get discouraged. With South Florida, Connecticut and Stanford on the schedule in the opening month, the Buckeyes could experience a few lopsided losses, especially as they learn to play together. Ohio State needs to learn from those defeats, not be derailed by them come January and February.

Where they end up

17-16, 9-9 and eighth in the Big Ten, miss NCAA Tournament