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Women’s basketball: Kelsey Mitchell, No. 5 Ohio State are ready to take the next step this season

Hopes are high for the fifth-ranked Buckeyes.

Kelsey Mitchell
Aaron Doster

Expectations are at an all-time high in Columbus as the No. 5 Ohio State women’s basketball team gets ready to kick off the 2017 season.

Led by standout senior guard Kelsey Mitchell, the Buckeyes return a loaded roster with one of the most efficient starting lineups in the country.

Mitchell’s a preseason Big Ten Player of the Year and was named to the preseason first-team All-Big Ten team. A two-time Big Ten Player of the Year, she paced the conference with 22.6 points per game last season.

Junior guard Sierra Calhoun chipped in 9.5 points per game and is set to take on a bigger role as the team’s resident sharpshooter. If senior forward Stephanie Mavunga can build on a junior campaign that saw her average a double-double – averaging 11.4 points and 10.8 rebounds per game – it’ll really open things up for the Buckeyes.

Senior guard Linnae Harper continues to get it done on the court and, along with Mitchell, was selected to play with the U23 National Team over the summer. Fellow senior guard Asia Doss is a classic glue player, rounding out a speedy unit.

While their smaller lineup may look different than in years past, head coach Kevin McGuff believes it could make the Scarlet and Gray a difficult matchup on both ends of the floor.

“I thought the small lineup was really good offensively. And, at times, fine defensively and at times not as good as I’d like,” McGuff said, per The Columbus Dispatch. “I think at times we can be really fast, and it can be really hard to guard our offense. And we should be really good defensively, too. Because when we play a little bit smaller defensively with Linnae (Harper), she can make up for that with her physical play and her knack for rebounding.”

The highest ranked team in the Big Ten, Ohio State has championships squarely on the mind in 2017.

After going 28-7 (15-1 in conference) during the 2016 regular season, the Lady Buckeyes fell to Purdue in the B1G Semifinals. A few weeks later, the team would find themselves on the opposite end of a 99-76 loss to Notre Dame in the Sweet 16.

Despite their shortcomings, Mitchell’s confident that titles are in store this season.

“Hopefully we can win the conference tournament championship,” Mitchell said. “You only get one time to do it and I guess this is the right time. There are so many more achievements we can make as a team. I think we can make it happen. It’s going to take a lot of growth, but I think we can do it.”

That growth will be vital if Ohio State hopes to hang more banners at season’s end.

They’ll need consistency across the board, which means getting buckets and playing solid defense. It’s something the team struggled with when facing tougher competition. And with McGuff rolling with a smaller starting five, there’ll surely be growing pains defensively.

Luckily for the Buckeyes, they have one of, if not the best player in the nation in Mitchell. She’s an absolute wizard on the court and oftentimes dictates the flow of the game.

Back in March, Mitchell passed on the opportunity to go pro, a decision she’s never second-guessed.

“It was one of those things where it wasn’t about being a player at the next level,” Mitchell said. “It wasn’t about the materialistic things in life, it wasn’t about anything you can think of that makes life lavish at the next level. It was just more about myself, my family and friends. I just don’t play for me. I have best friends on this team and there’s more we can accomplish.”

This is one of the better basketball teams Ohio State has trotted out to begin a season with.

Behind Mitchell is a strong lineup capable of keeping pace with any opponent in the country, let alone the Big Ten. Their roster is riddled with upperclassmen and players that’ve firsthand experience of what it takes to make a postseason run.

Is a championship, conference or otherwise, in the cards for Ohio State?

We’ll have to wait and see.

The Lady Buckeyes open the season tonight at 6 p.m. against No. 10 Stanford at St. John Arena.