OSU women back on road vs. Purdue

Ray Stein The Columbus Dispatch

An atypical season for the Ohio State women’s basketball team is about to go in a different direction, though not necessarily a less-challenging one.

After a nonconference schedule that saw OSU rack up frequent-flyer miles with games in Connecticut, Seattle and Florida — another trip, to California, for a pair of games was canceled by wildfires — the Buckeyes on Friday begin a two-months-plus stretch against Big Ten teams.

What Ohio State gains in familiarity in opponents and travel, however, may be offset by a high degree of difficulty in conference competition. Ohio State (4-5) opens an 18-game league schedule at Purdue (9-4).

“It’s going to be a very challenging Big Ten season,” OSU coach Kevin McGuff said. “There are a lot of great teams and no easy nights.”

Truth be told, nothing has come easy this season for the Buckeyes, who enter Big Ten play with a sub-.500 record for the first time since the 2001-02 season.

Some drop-off was expected after McGuff had to replace the top six scorers from last year’s team, including All-American guard Kelsey Mitchell. But injuries and inconsistency has plagued Ohio State this season, especially on offense.

OSU averaged between 81 and 86 points per game the past four seasons with Mitchell running an up-tempo attack. This year, the Buckeyes average 59 points per game, ranking last in the Big Ten and tied for 276th nationally among 349 Division I teams.

“We’ve gotten better defensively (but) we don’t score the ball like we have in the past,” McGuff said. “We’ve got to rely more on a slower pace and more execution in the halfcourt. And our defense and rebounding have to be consistent to give ourselves a chance to win.”

OSU’s first nine conference games include a combined five games against Maryland, Minnesota, Michigan State and Indiana, who together have only two losses.

“It’s going to be tough. The Big Ten is as strong as it’s ever been,” McGuff said. “But I’m excited for this group. I still think our best days are ahead of us.”