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What is top-seeded Ohio State’s road to a Big Ten women’s basketball tournament title

How Ohio State celebrated before shifting focus to the upcoming B1G Women’s Basketball tournament.

Syndication: HawkCentral Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

Sunday, the No. 17 Ohio State women’s basketball team became the co-Big Ten regular season champions. The 22-5 Buckeyes beat Michigan State 61-55 in a tightly contested matchup fulfilling their part of the equation to earn the title. Ohio State was in the air when the No. 6 Michigan Wolverines filled in the final part.

The No. 21 Iowa Hawkeyes had to beat the Wolverines to earn a split of the championship with Ohio State, and did that and then some. Iowa decimated the Scarlet and Gray’s rivals 104-80. The Buckeyes found out they were champions in a less than traditional location: The cabin of a plane.

It’s safe to say that the Buckeyes were excited. It’s an accomplishment that might come as a surprise to those outside the program, but inside the team day-by-day focus on improvements propelled a squad that had plenty of excuses to fall back on this season if things didn’t turn out well.

“We had immense disappointment the last two years because of COVID cutting the season short and last year we had a postseason ban,” said head coach Kevin McGuff, safely on the ground back in Columbus. “We have great kids who just kept fighting and scratching and clawing, so I am super happy for them and couldn’t be more proud.”

That excitement, clawing and scratching doesn’t end with the conference title. After the final regular season B1G game ended, the conference announced the official seeding and bracket for the B1G Tournament, running from Wednesday through Saturday. The Buckeyes earned the No. 1 seed due to their single head-to-head victory over Iowa in the regular season.

Here’s how it looks for Ohio State and the B1G:

Photo from B1G Women’s Basketball on Twitter @B1GWBB

Because of the Buckeye’s top-four finish, they don’t start play until Friday, in the conference quarterfinals. This double-bye was already clinched on Thursday, with a big home win against the Penn State Nittany Lions, but the title means that the road gets a little easier to a tournament title, but only a little.

Ohio State faces either the Purdue Boilermakers or the same Spartans that they just beat on Sunday. Their first opponent will be decided on Thursday morning. The Buckeyes won all three games against the two sides in the 2021-22 regular season, but tournament time is different. Also, the two games against the Spartans were both close contests until the final quarter.

On Sunday, the Buckeyes trailed the Spartans in the fourth. Ohio State was out-rebounded on the offensive boards 24 to 10, and 60 to 38 overall. Also, the Buckeye’s shooting was lower than their season average; Ohio State shot 34.9% from the floor, over 10% lower than their NCAA ranked sixth-best percentage of 46.7% entering Sunday’s contest.

Sunday’s win was a double-edged sword because they won without a lights-out shooting performance. The Buckeyes are showing the nation that they can win games with either their calling-card shooting or now by out-hustling their opponent.

If the Buckeyes win on Friday, they have the potential to face one of the two conference teams that beat them. The No. 10 ranked Indiana Hoosiers slipped as the season ended, entering the conference tournament as the fifth seed. They face either Rutgers or the Nittany Lions. The winner of that Thursday game then faces the Maryland Terrapins, who the Hoosiers lost to in their final game of the season.

The Scarlet and Gray split the season series with Maryland, and only lost by five points in their defeat on Feb. 17. It’s the Indiana side that could cause the most frustration for the Buckeyes. Indiana beat OSU by 20 points on Dec. 12.

Ohio State has trouble facing teams with dominant players in the paint, like the Hoosiers’ forward/center Mackenzie Holmes. Fortunately for Ohio State, teams change.

“We really went to work and got so much better from start to finish and we’re such a different team now,” said McGuff. “That’s because our kids kept showing up and putting the work in and committing to improvement.”

From December to now, role players have shifted. Freshman Taylor Thierry has turned into one of the first Buckeyes on the court because of her defensive ability and fellow bench forward Tanaya Beacham has come on strong as of late with her energetic style of play. Guard Rikki Harris joined the starting lineup on Jan. 12 and hasn’t lost the position since.

This group of Buckeyes is a team full of stories; tales of players showing immense talent in the face of losing teammate after teammate to transfers and injuries.

If this Ohio State team advances to Saturday’s championship game, they have the potential to face the two favorites on the other side of the bracket: The Wolverines or the Hawkeyes.

Win it all or come up short, the results of this tournament won’t change the fact that the Buckeyes are an NCAA Tournament team, but where they fall in the seeding could come down to how they play this week.

Finally, presented without comment, coach McGuff’s “McGriddy:”