Big Ten Women's Basketball Preview: No. 6 Ohio State

The all gas, no brakes team

This is the seventh of an ongoing series of previews for all 14 teams in the Big Ten heading into the 2021-22 season. This is the fifth full preview of one team, and focuses on my projected No. 6 team in the conference.

Here is last week’s preview of No. 7 Nebraska

Oh, hello.

It is now time to preview the team that I have covered for two seasons and the team that is the reason I have started this newsletter in the first place. Ohio State has been at or near the top of the Big Ten in almost every season since head coach Kevin McGuff took over in 2013.

The Kelsey Mitchell era was a big factor in this, and yet even when Mitchell, one of the best scorers in collegiate history, was there, the furthest the Buckeyes ever made it in the NCAA Tournament was the Sweet Sixteen.

Somehow, Ohio State has remained in the top half of the conference standings in each of the three years since Mitchell’s departure, finishing fifth, fifth and seventh.

Ohio State

Last year’s record: 9-7 Big Ten | 13-7 Overall

The Buckeyes had their lowest Big Ten finish since McGuff’s first year in charge, but there are some clear reasons to why that are not indicative of the talent this team possessed.

Ohio State started the year 12-2, earning signature victories over No. 11 Michigan, No. 7 Maryland and No. 15 Indiana, each of which came in back-to-back-to-back games. At this point in the season, the Buckeyes were playing as well as anyone in the country, but then the losses started piling up.

Thanks potentially to a lack of motivation with no postseason to play for, Ohio State lost five of its last six games, including some back-breaking losses to teams at the bottom of the conference like Penn State and Wisconsin.

It is easy to imagine a world where the Buckeyes finish much stronger than they did if they had NCAA Tournament aspirations to strive for, but instead the team was left with a middling record that does not display the remarkable highs that it did have during the year.

But, there was a bright side. Ohio State had two seniors on the team, both of which used the free year of eligibility to return in 2021-22. The Buckeyes just had to avoid any major losses in the transfer portal and they could run it back next year, tournament in play, at full strength.

Rats.

While it is only two players, they were two of the most important players to Ohio State’s success last season. Dorka Juhasz has been a consistent All-Big Ten talent since arriving to Ohio State in 2018-19. She is a walking double-double who has shown the ability to stretch the floor (39.6 3PT% in 2019-20). I am very excited to see what she contributes to a truly disgusting UConn team, even by the Huskies’ standards.

Juhasz’s transfer got all the headlines, and I understand why, but Aaliyah Patty’s departure should not be overlooked. She made one of the biggest jumps from 2019-20 to 2020-21, upping her stats across the board and becoming another reliable threat from beyond the arc (37.8 percent). There’s a reason Patty also joined an elite program, and I don’t expect her to simply sit on the bench there.

Losing both starting forwards who both play well in McGuff’s style hurts, there is no doubt about it. But because of it, Ohio State was faced with a decision: hunt down some forwards in the transfer portal or go all in on speed. Whether it was by choice or not, the Buckeyes chose the latter, and man it should be fun to watch.

McGuff is getting Year 3 of the Jacy Sheldon-Madison Greene-Braxtin Miller back court, and this year it should be even more of what the whole team revolves around.

Without Juhasz and Patty, the Buckeyes have just three true forwards: Tanaya Beacham, Gabby Hutcherson and Rebeka Mikulasikova. Beacham is the other senior, along with Miller, who returns, and she should be the team’s strongest interior presence. But both Hutcherson and Mikulasikova work more on the outside and could be used in a lineup that simply drives to the hoop or shoots from deep.

With that in mind, these three guards should be running the show all year, and each of them bring crucial attributes. Miller and Greene both are very safe with the ball, and while Miller is the stronger defender, Greene was constantly the go-to player down the stretch if the team needed a late score.

Both play huge roles, but I think this is the year where Sheldon becomes one of the best players at least in the conference, maybe in the country.

The former five-star prospect had a strong freshman season and became the team’s top scorer as a sophomore, and did it while remaining efficient both overall (48.6 percent) and from deep (34.4 percent). Sheldon is one of the best players in the nation at scoring in transition, and that specific role should come into play much more this season.

Ohio State has played fast under McGuff for many seasons, ranking in the top 30 in the NCAA in pace 5 of the past 7 years. In 2020-21, the Buckeyes finished in 15th with 76.3 possessions per 40 minutes, and all the talk around the team this offseason has been to get even faster.

This could be a modern rendition of the Fun and Gun, with the Buckeyes featuring a lineup of all shooters who either take the easy layup or get a good look from deep to simply outscore their opponents.

I think saying Ohio State will be better without Juhasz and Patty would be stretching it, but I do think there is a chance if the team fully sends it into this vision, a vision that seems like it is straight out of McGuff’s ideal vision.

And, to help this, the cohesion should already be there, with the lineup past the two departures looking mostly the same from what it did last year.

Ohio State brings in a pair of commitments with Taylor Thierry and Kaitlyn Costner, while also adding another guard in Kaia Henderson, who is enrolling early starting on Jan. 1. But, honestly, I don’t expect any of them to be major players this season, considering who is in front of them.

Taylor Mikesell absolutely would be a major player considering her knockdown shooting and veteran experience, but she is currently ineligible because this is her second transfer after leaving from Maryland to Oregon last offseason.

Ohio State is looking into ways to get her eligibility, but as it stands, we will assume she is out.

The new arrivals may not be the flashiest, but I think where the Buckeyes will grow is from their younger talent that didn’t get as many chances last season. Hutcherson is the player I am looking at the most here, as she really impressed me in her limited minutes with the sheer amount of energy she brought every single time. Along with that, Hutcherson shot 41.7 percent from three, pretty good.

The other big name on the radar is former five-star point guard Kateri Poole. She had some freshman jitters in the turnover department, but overall displays some tremendous vision and got a few valuable starts down the stretch of the season with Greene out to injury.

If Ohio State fully dives in to going for pace, I would start both of these players in a lineup that looks like this: Poole-Greene-Sheldon-Miller-Hutcherson. There is a clear flaw with this lineup and that is in the rebounding department, but the amount of speed and shooting here would give any team in the country serious fits.

I’m not sure this is the route the Buckeyes go, at least not consistently. But if one thing is for sure, it is that Ohio State is going to try and outrun its opponents this season. I think this could lead to one of the highest scoring teams in college basketball, even if it does not directly lead to more wins because of the key losses the Buckeyes took in the offseason.

Regardless, this team has a postseason to play for now and should be in line to make it there. The larger question becomes if Ohio State can do more than just make it there, and I think that answer will come from if the Buckeyes live and die by the pace, or if they simply do what they have been doing just without any true forwards. I really hope it is the former and not the latter.

Next week, we will look at the No. 5 ranked team for the Big Ten preview. Before that, I will have a new post on a random topic for you this Thursday.

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