Monday begins what feels like a March Madness week for the Ohio State women’s basketball team. In a stretch of four days, head coach Kevin McGuff’s squad takes on both the Iowa Hawkeyes and Indiana Hoosiers. Both teams are dangerous, and both games give different dangers for the Buckeyes.
Ohio State can’t look past the first game, with the Hawkeyes entering the game as the No. 10 ranked team in the nation. There’s a lot of hype around this game — for good reason.
The only downside of Ohio State versus Iowa is that it doesn’t happen twice this regular season. Last season, these two teams scored 180 combined points, with the Buckeyes earning only their second win against a ranked opponent the entire regular season.
This game has all the makings of being even better than the first. Last year, it was guard Caitlin Clark and center Monika Czinano hurting the Buckeyes. Combined the two scored 66 of the Hawkeyes’ 88 points. On most nights, that’s more than enough to beat an opponent, but it was the rest of the Iowa roster who struggled.
Buckeyes guards Taylor Mikesell and Jacy Sheldon led Ohio State with 24 and 20 points respectively, but all seven members of the Scarlet & Gray who made it onto the court contributed. Forward Rebeka Mikulášiková shot 5-of-6 from three. Guard Rikki Harris had six rebounds, four assists and three steals.
The visiting Buckeyes stole a 92-88 win over the then No. 21 team in the country. That win eventually became what secured Ohio State their regular season co-championship with the Hawkeyes.
Now in 2023, both teams return most of the same players who are now a year older, a year wiser and a year improved.
The Hawkeyes bring back all five starters from last year’s matchup, led by likely Naismith National Player of the Year finalist Clark. The Iowa native scored 43 on the Buckeyes last season, and has the ability to do it again this season.
For anyone joining the college basketball train as it rages down the tracks of the sports narrative, there’s no one else like Clark in the Big Ten, or maybe the country. Clark almost averages a triple-double in the 2022-23 season. In 19 games, the guard averages 26.7 points, 7.6 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game.
These numbers slightly down in all three categories from last season. Even so, Clark doesn’t only hurt opponents through scoring. What makes her dangerous is the ability to grab defensive rebounds, get down the floor quickly and either find the open outlet or take the shot herself.
This play is the perfect example. While it wasn’t Clark getting the rebound, the first person to get it after the change in possession was the guard.
That was Wednesday against the Michigan State Spartans, but similar plays like this can be found anytime Clark is on the court. The Buckeyes will need to either make shots more efficiently, grab more offensive rebounds or make it hard for Clark to get the ball or move once she has it.
Of those three choices, the third is the most likely scenario. The Buckeyes are third in the conference with 48.5% shooting from the floor, but that means over half the shots Ohio State takes likely lands in the hands of the opponent. This season, Ohio State’s rebounding margin is at 0.1, improving it from in the negatives for most of the 2022-23 campaign.
There are players who can make rebounding and guarding Clark easier. Guard/forward Taylor Thierry is a good candidate for the job. The 6-foot playmaker is athletic, quick and has long arms. Thierry leads the Scarlet & Gray in rebounding with 56 of her 124 rebounds on the season coming on the offensive glass.
Needing that one-on-one attention, and possibly some double teams, is contingent on how well the full court press works. If Ohio State hits shots and can run their press to the level of competitive character called upon by coach McGuff, Clark could be slightly less effective.
When Clark does eventually find space, the guard has teammates who make her job easier. Mainly center Monika Czinano.
Below Clark in all team statistical categories is Czinano. The center is powerful inside the paint, grabbing 6.6 rebounds per game. Also, Czinano can score at a high level. This season, the center is shooting 65% from the floor with 17.9 points per game. Against those same Spartans, Czinano went a perfect 11-for-11 from the floor for 22 points.
Ohio State can partially neutralize Czinano with a strong defensive and shooting game from forward Mikulášiková. In the last two games, the Slovakian’s fared well against Nebraska Cornhuskers forward Alexis Markowski and Northwestern Wildcats’ Caileigh Walsh, holding them both below average rebounding and didn’t allow either to take over the game offensively.
Also, Czinano isn’t a deep threat like Mikulášiková. If the Buckeyes’ five hits her shots, especially from deep, it can pull Czinano out of the paint enough for someone like Mikesell, Thierry or forward Cotie McMahon to take over the open space.
Those two only scratch the surface for Iowa. Guards Kate Martin, Gabbie Williams and forward McKenna Warnock (who’s doubtful according to Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder) are all upperclassmen, with Martin a redshirt senior alongside the other two fourth year seniors. If any of the three can turn on a big game, it makes an already tough opponent for Ohio State that much more difficult.
For Ohio State, there’s a question hovering over the entire game plan: Is Sheldon going to play? The guard’s missed 14 of the Buckeyes 19 games this season with a foot injury. It began with Sheldon on a boot, then a boot with crutches, but against Northwestern she was free from both.
Does that mean the guard can play even a few minutes, or is Sheldon’s return further away than expected? If Sheldon does play, how will she fit into the team initially after not playing a game since Nov. 30 in Louisville, Kentucky?
Sheldon or no Sheldon, Ohio State’s saying the right things about being ready and focusing on just the next game.
- Guard Rikki Harris has 5.2 assists per game since taking up the starting role on Dec. 21.
- Guard Taylor Mikesell is 14 points away from scoring 2,000 in her NCAA career.
- Ohio State’s defense allows the fourth fewest points in the conference at 62.9 points per game.
- This group has started all 19 games for the Hawkeyes this season.
- Warnock is doubtful tonight, but a rib cage injury from the second half of Wednesday’s win over Michigan State could keep her out
- Iowa makes the most three-point shots in the conference with 8.7 per game.
With the anticipated crowd — more on that later — and the talent level of both of these teams, no ending would be surprising. The Buckeyes can score at will and the Hawkeyes’ defense is outscoring the opponent.
With that said, the Hawkeyes are a veteran team, just like the Buckeyes, but the same full court press might not be as effective against Iowa like other teams. They aren’t like the Tennessee Volunteers who started two transfers to tip off the season or the Illinois Fighting Illini who went through a total offseason revamp.
The Hawkeyes are one of a few teams who might be able to take the punches the Buckeyes throw their way.
This game is going to be close. Both teams will hit their shots, but its about limiting Clark as much as possible and not letting her teammates hurt you too. Ohio State will keep some shooters at bay but Czinano will have a strong night.
Maybe a close to sold out Schottenstein Center can tip the scales?
How to Watch
Date: Monday, Jan. 23, 2023
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Where: Schottenstein Center, Columbus, Ohio
Stream: ESPN app
LGHL Prediction: 85-80 Iowa Hawkeyes
Big Crowd Anticipated
Monday’s game looks like it’ll give the Buckeyes a deservedly large home crowd. As of Sunday night, 24 hours before the game tips, there aren’t many tickets left at all.
All season the program’s invested more into marketing for the team and it’s been paying dividends. After a McGuff tenure-low 3,274 per game last year, this season that average is 5,012 before Monday’s game and future home games against ranked Maryland Terrapins and Indiana Hoosiers.
Part of that is of course having a top team in the nation, but they’ve also been inventive with some of their giveaways. The Buckeyes gave away championship shirts honoring last season’s Big Ten regular season co-championship against Purdue. On Jan. 29, they’re giving away socks, and Monday the first 2,000 get dub chain shirts, an honor bestowed upon a player after each Ohio State win.
The Buckeyes and the packed Schottenstein Center are hoping a player gets a dub chain too and not just the fans.