There are moments that let you know the basketball season is close. On Tuesday, the Associated Press put the 23-24 campaign even closer in the windshield, releasing its first preseason poll. The Ohio State women’s basketball team, after starting last season at No. 14, doubled its place with a No. 7 initial ranking.
Joining the top 25 from the Big Ten conference are four other teams. At No. 3 are the Iowa Hawkeyes, led by guard Caitlin Clark, who led the Hawkeyes to the National Championship game before falling to the No. 1 ranked LSU Tigers. The Indiana Hoosiers follow the Buckeyes at No. 9 with the Maryland Terrapins (No. 14) and Illinois Fighting Illini (No. 23) rounding out the conference.
The last time the Buckeyes had this much hype entering a season, at least from the AP standpoint, was back in the Kelsey Mitchell days. At the beginning of the 17-18 season, the new Buckeyes Athletic Hall of Fame guard Mitchell and forward Stephanie Mavunga led Ohio State following a loss to Notre Dame in the 2017 Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA Tournament.
Head Coach Kevin McGuff’s side entered that year at No. 5, the best starting ranking in his tenure. However, Ohio State’s squad this year comes in off the best season for the Buckeyes in that 10-year McGuff leadership, making it all the way to the Elite Eight.
That run last season, plus a top-10 spot this year adds more expectation on a side that’s coming to the end of a current window of key talent in the squad.
Graduate seniors include five-year Buckeyes in guard Jacy Sheldon and forward Rebeka Mikulasikova. Plus, three names all expecting to make an impact from the transfer portal, like forward Eboni Walker who joined last season from Syracuse University. This year, guard Celeste Taylor, ACC Defensive Player of the Year, and forward Taiyier Parks joined from Michigan State.
Last season, Ohio State’s place in the AP poll started at No. 14 but a program-shifting win against the Tennessee Volunteers to start the season shot the Buckeyes up to No. 8. A week later the scarlet and gray sat No. 4, in a run of 10 weeks in the top five.
It was a 19-0 start to the season with wins against the aforementioned Tennessee, a ranked Louisville Cardinals and the Oregon Ducks in that stretch that grabbed voters' attention. However, a three-game losing streak in January to the Iowa Hawkeyes, Indiana Hoosiers and surprise defeat to the Purdue Boilermakers sent the Buckeyes’ polling back down to preseason level.
Ohio State never beat the Hawkeyes in three games, conference tournament included, along with two defeats to the Maryland Terrapins and two losses to Indiana in the regular season. Despite a landmark victory over the UConn Huskies (No. 2 in the preseason poll) in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament, voters had Ohio State end the season at No. 12.
While it's only Tuesday, the Buckeyes No. 7 ranking isn’t the only teams news of the week. On Monday, the Nancy Lieberman Award for best point guard in the nation released its preseason watch list, including Buckeyes’ guard Jacy Sheldon. The first of many expected watch list names for Ohio State this season.