The Ohio State women's basketball team doesn't get any chance to ease into the new season, as it will take the court against the top two teams in the country in the preseason polls in its first two games. In a season with lofty expectations, the Buckeyes will get a great idea of how they stack up against the nation's elite programs right off the bat.
Tipping off the season, Ohio State travels to Columbia to take on second-ranked South Carolina. The Gamecocks were 34-3 a season ago under head coach Dawn Staley, making a run to the Final Four in the NCAA tournament before losing by a single point to Notre Dame. Led by All-American guard Tiffany Mitchell, a Wooden Award finalist as a junior last season, Staley looks to have her team ready for big things this season. Mitchell won the award named for her coach as best guard in the country in 2014-15, leading South Carolina in scoring at 14.4 points per game.
The Buckeyes have a Mitchell of their own, though, as sophomore guard Kelsey Mitchell, herself an All-American last season and this year's preseason Big Ten Player of the Year, leads a versatile, balanced roster for head coach Kevin McGuff. As a freshman, the Cincinnati Princeton High School product led the country in scoring at 24.9 points a night, and teams with senior Ameryst Alston (19.8 points per game) to form one of the most dangerous backcourt scoring duos in the land.
Ohio State, which lost four of its first eight games last season, finished the 2014-15 campaign 24-11. With goals set higher this year, McGuff's squad needs to get out of the gate quicker. But South Carolina, followed shortly after by top-ranked Connecticut, won't make that easy.
Numbers to know
Ohio State returns all five starters from a season ago, with sophomores Alexa Hart and Asia Doss back in the fold along with senior Cait Craft. But McGuff has other options, as redshirt freshmen Kianna Holland and Makayla Waterman and sophomore transfer Sierra Calhoun join the rotation. The Buckeyes depth is a departure from last season's team, which routinely dressed only seven or eight players, and should help keep energy levels high.
South Carolina returns its three top scorers from last season's national semifinal team. In addition to Mitchell, sophomore A'ja Wilson (13.1 ppg) and junior Alaina Coates (11.1 ppg) are back for Staley in Columbia. Wilson and Coates also led the Gamecocks in rebounding last year, combining to bring down 14.5 boards a night.
Cast of characters
On top of leading the country in scoring, Mitchell also topped the Buckeyes in assists last season, dishing out over four dimes a game, added over four rebounds a game, and set an NCAA single-season record with 127 three-point field goals made. The 5'8" guard is the total package on the offensive end, and will be looking to avoid any indications of a sophomore slump.
Often lost in all of the hype surrounding Mitchell is the year Alston had last season. Earning her second straight first team All-Big Ten nod as a junior, the Canton McKinley product put up nearly 20 points, five rebounds, and four assists per game, and led all scorers in the country during the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. A two-time Ms. Ohio selection in high school, Alston has put together one of the most prolific, and underappreciated, careers in program history.
South Carolina's heart and soul is looking for her third consecutive All-American season and a return trip to the Final Four. A former Ms. North Carolina pick in high school, Mitchell has a chance to go down as one of the most highly-decorated players in the program's rich history, potentially becoming just the third Gamecock to score 2,000 points in a career.
After being named the Gatorade National High School Player of the Year in 2014, Wilson became a mainstay of Staley's rotation as a freshman last season. Despite starting only one game, the South Carolina native was second on the team with her 13.1 points and 6.6 rebounds, and led the team with just under two blocked shots per game. For her efforts, Wilson was named a third-team AP All-American and SEC Freshman of the Year.
How to watch
The game tips off at 7:00 p.m. ET, and will be televised live on the SEC Network+. Live audio will also be available at ohiostatebuckeyes.com.