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Ohio State women’s basketball coach, players on No. 3 ranking

Sure, the Buckeyes feel excited, but there’s a bigger focus beyond their ranking in a poll.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 04 Women’s Ohio State at Rutgers Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Monday afternoon, the Ohio State Buckeyes women’s basketball team earned an achievement they haven’t had since Nov. 30, 2010 — a No. 3 AP Poll ranking. It’s a memento of hard work over the past two seasons that saw Ohio State transform from a team losing multiple starters in the transfer portal to a 2021-22 B1G Regular Season Co-Championship and now on the precipice of greater things. It’s a standing worth boasting.

“It’s so early, it’s hard to tell what being ranked third even means,” said head coach Kevin McGuff. “It’s good publicity for the team. Probably helps for recruiting right now.”

It’s not exactly the response a fan expects for an achievement 12 years in the making, but it’s the right answer for a head coach. Any successful coach is focused on the next game.

Thursday and Sunday’s games are a perfect example. In an early, 11:00 a.m. ET tip, Ohio State faces the University of New Hampshire. The 4-6 New Hampshire Wildcats are in second to last place in the America East conference. It’s a game that looks like another triple-digit Buckeyes win.

Sunday, Big Ten conference play continues — an obvious focus for fans, media and team alike, but not to coach McGuff and the Buckeyes. When asked about the Michigan State Spartans, he hasn’t looked that far ahead. Coach McGuff’s players are the same way.

“We just play,” said guard Rikki Harris, speaking about the ranking. “If we don’t win, we can’t be No. 3, so we just focus on playing and winning games.”

Even when prompted about the added motivation for opponents seeing a high ranking, Harris is realistic with how teams view Ohio State. Knowing that the Block O and scarlet and gray already brings with it extra attention from its critics and rivals.

While the coach and team won’t let the ranking get in their way, it’s unrealistic to think that it isn’t on the team’s mind at all. A source of motivation came in their No. 14 AP Poll preseason ranking entering the 2022-23 season.

“I feel like we’d be top-10 for sure,” said Harris. “We weren’t happy with the rankings from the jump, because we felt like we did a lot and just look at what we had coming back this year. We definitely felt we were a top-10 team.”

Now the Buckeyes are working towards cementing that No. 3 ranking by focusing on the next game. Also, underlying their season are hopes of going further than McGuff and the Buckeyes have ever gone. That mean’s getting further than that 09-10 team.

At the turn into the millennium’s second decade, the Scarlet and Gray were led by All-American and future WNBA All-Star Jantel Lavender. The four-time B1G Player of the Year led Ohio State to a sweep of the conference.

Former head coach Jim Foster led that edition of the Buckeyes to a 31-5 record, winning the conference and tournament championships. Ohio State entered the 2010 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament as a No. 2 seed, but didn’t go further than this current slate of Buckeyes went in last year’s tournament.

The Buckeyes of 2010 played the No. 7 ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs and lost in a big way. Lavender scored 17 points in an 87-67 defeat, and after the game said the Buckeyes got “outworked.”

It’s a classic example of rankings not meaning much. It’s how teams show up game after game. The Scarlet & Gray’s personified that spirit, beating No. 3 LSU in Baton Rouge in the 2022 NCAA Tournament and against No. 5 Tennessee Volunteers to open the 22-23 season.

Despite initial hype by the Buckeyes, the highest an Ohio State team’s gone is No. 2, achieved back on March 13, 2005. Even so, for coach McGuff, there will be one ranking that does matter to him.

“I’ll be more interested where we’re ranked when its all said and done in March or April.”