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Guessing the starting five for Ohio State women’s basketball

There are only a couple weeks until the Buckeyes take on the USC Trojans, so it's time to think about who’s going to start on Nov. 6

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Barbara J. Perenic/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

The start of the 23-24 season is fast approaching. On Monday, Nov. 6, the No. 7 Ohio State women’s basketball team faces the No. 21 USC Trojans at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Playing in the Naismith Hall of Fame Series, the Buckeyes get their first taste of a soon-to-be Big Ten side. The top-25 game tips off a season that, on the surface, features one of the more difficult schedules for the scarlet and gray in recent history.

So, who should be in the starting lineup for the Buckeyes in Vegas?

Land-Grant Holy Land takes a stab at that question, with a predicted starting five to go up against the Trojans, and beyond. While four of the spots seem easy to pinpoint, there’s a position that should grab a lot of attention.

Guard - Jacy Sheldon

Guard Jacy Sheldon is as easy of a pick for point guard as is reading an Ohio State sports site that doesn’t charge you for content.

Sheldon became the Buckeyes de facto point guard in January 2022, when then Ohio State guard Kateri Poole sustained an injury. Head coach Kevin McGuff put Sheldon in the role and, despite Poole’s return a couple games later, kept Sheldon running the offense indefinitely.

That decision was twofold. First, expected 21-22 starter Madison Greene suffered a knee injury that took her out for the entirety of the season. Second, Sheldon pushed the Buckeyes to a new level. With the Ohioan at point, Ohio State earned wins against a Maryland Terrapins team featuring guard Ashley Owusu and forward Angel Reese plus a road win against guard Caitlin Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Ohio State’s win in Iowa City eventually earned the team a share of the conference regular season title.

Sheldon kept the position for the start of 22-23 and led the Buckeyes in wins over the Tennessee Volunteers and Louisville Cardinals. The guard missed most games until the postseason following the Louisville win due to a foot injury and took on point guard duties again, due to another knee injury sustained by Greene.

With Greene still recovering, and Ohio State not trying to rush the point guard back until later in the calendar year, Sheldon’s running the show. Playing in her final season, it doesn’t seem like Sheldon will lose that point guard position either, as long as she stays healthy.

Guard - Celeste Taylor

The next all but guaranteed Ohio State starter is shooting guard Celeste Taylor. When a team transfers in an AP All-American Honorable Mention, First Team All-ACC, ACC Defensive Player of the Year who led her team in points too isn’t going to start on the bench.

Taylor isn’t just getting the spot because of past accolades but listen to how McGuff and her teammates talk about Taylor and she’s already a leader on this team. The guard had a 72.7 defensive rating, allowing only 72.7 points for every 100 opponent possessions, fitting perfectly into McGuff’s 23/24 focus of improving the halfcourt defense.

As much as people talk about Ohio State’s press, it’s not the only defensive set they play. Luckily for Taylor, she can do both. The Long Island native played three different systems with three previous coaches in four years. Each time it ended with the Texas Longhorns and Duke Blue Devils excelling.

NCAA Womens Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament Quarterfinals-Duke vs North Carolina William Howard-USA TODAY Sports

When the press does enter the conversation, Taylor is like Sheldon in that she has an endless motor and never appears to be tired on the court.

The Sheldon/Taylor guard partnership has all the potential to be one of the best guard duos in the country, and that’s not hyperbole. Both are already recognized for their play with additions to their respective position’s awards, Taylor on the Ann-Meyers Drysdale Award watch list and the same for Sheldon and the Nancy Lieberman Award

Guard - Taylor Thierry

In a similar article last season, forward Taylor Thierry made the starting five, but it was not an easy decision by any means. Coach McGuff, likely without reading the article, started Thierry every game last season. What was odd about the decision is that Thierry didn’t start as a forward, but as a guard.

Thierry’s athleticism and court vision makes it difficult to tag her with one position. For instance, Thierry was third in the Big Ten last year in overall steals (74). A fitting stat line for a guard. She also was third in the conference in offensive rebounds (104), which is more aligned with someone playing in the paint.

The hybrid forward/guard plays everywhere.

With Thierry’s wingspan, leaping ability and speed, it's hard to get past Thierry on offense. She’s blocking shooters on the perimeter, sometimes from beyond the arc and gets quick passes up to teammates on the fastbreak.

Offensively, Thierry became a major outlet for teammates. Thierry made a name for herself in scoring inside the paint. When now-Ohio State graduate Taylor Mikesell earned extra attention on defense, it meant Thierry could move towards the basket. The same for forward Cotie McMahon, who over the year attracted attention herself as runs to hoop became frequent. McMahon used Thierry as an outlet when defenders closed in.

In response, Thierry hit 181 two-point shots, good for sixth in the conference. Thierry’s .651 field goal percentage on two-point attempts was ninth best in the country.

The only way Thierry’s name isn’t in the starting five is if there’s an injury. Someone who can slide from the perimeter to the paint with ease, with the ability and work ethic of Thierry, isn’t finding much time on the bench.

Forward - Cotie McMahon

Last season, coach McGuff used the Kentucky Derby as inspiration for forward Cotie McMahon. Labeled “the most exciting five seconds in college basketball,” McMahon was posterchild of the big play. Those moments came in almost every game.

McMahon was a surprise name on the starting roster last year, starting every game like Thierry. After a few games, it was much less of a surprise. McMahon entered NCAA basketball at full speed.

The forward scored 10 in her first game of the season and despite having an inconsistent start to the season, the reason McGuff entrusted McMahon to start hit in December. That’s when the college game began slowing down for the Centerville, Ohio native.

For the remainder of the season, McMahon averaged 17.1 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game for the remaining 27 contests of her freshman year. After winning the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year award, McMahon followed it up with an NCAA Tournament performance not expected of most freshman.

In four games, McMahon averaged 18.3 points and 6.0 rebounds. Against the UConn Huskies in the Sweet Sixteen, it wasn’t only a classic McMahon performance of spinning her way to the rim and earning trips to the foul line, but McMahon showed glimpses of the future.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Barbara J. Perenic/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

McMahon went 2-for-3 from beyond the arc, saying that she worked on long distance shooting throughout the season. Ohio State shocked the Huskies and head coach Geno Auriemma admitted that the Huskies weren’t ready for the night McMahon had against the storied program.

Now before the 23/24 season, the hype can’t get much higher for McMahon. If that trajectory continues in its current direction, with coach McGuff mentioning McMahon’s work on shooting this offseason, plus more Team USA experience at the U19 World Cup this summer, McMahon isn’t a future star for the program. She’s a star now.

Forward - Rebeka Mikulášiková

The position to watch is the No. 5 role. It could go in a few different directions. This prediction is going with the mainstay at forward over the last two seasons in Rebeka Mikulášiková.

McGuff has three players who can start in this role, and a wildcard choice. Competing against Mikulášiková are transfer forwards Eboni Walker and Taiyier Parks.

All three forwards bring different styles of play. For Parks, who joined this offseason from the Michigan State Spartans, its presence in the paint and a direct improvement on the boards. For the past two seasons, rebounding’s alluded Ohio State, especially going up against bigs of the conference like former Michigan Wolverine Naz Hillmon and current Indiana Hoosier All-American Mackenzie Holmes.

With Parks, the Buckeyes add a strong rebounder. In the last four seasons, Parks ended the year in the top 10 in the Big Ten for offensive rebounding. That’s for someone who isn’t a regular starter either, being in the game from tipoff only 13 times in 59 appearances over the past two seasons.

Another option is Walker. After joining the Buckeyes last offseason from Syracuse University, Walker took time to adjust and meet the conditioning needs of a fast-running side but did at the end of the regular season. From Feb. 13 through the Elite Eight, Walker’s name was in the starting five.

NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament - Second Round - Ohio
Walker and Mikulasikova celebrating during the NCAA tournament second round win over the North Carolina Tar Heels on March 20, 2023.
Photo by Tyler Schank/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

The mobile forward rebounded well, averaging 5.2 per game in the final 11 games of the season. Walker’s situational awareness also became a benefit to Ohio State’s offense. In the second round of the NCAA Tournament, at home against the North Carolina Tar Heels, the game-winning play was broken, but Walker fixed it. The forward moved with the ball and gave time for Sheldon to find an opening, hitting the game-winning shot.

So, why Mikulášiková? It’s about the offense.

For the first two months of the 22/23 season, Mikulášiková rivaled Mikesell offensively. The Slovakian graduate senior scored double digits in each of her first eight games of the calendar. Including a 31-point game against Rutgers, leading Ohio State in the victory. Versus the Oregon Ducks on Dec. 21, Mikulášiková hit five three-pointers.

When Mikulášiková is hitting shots, she makes defenses adjust, she shoots over smaller guards off screens and showed an increased ability to move and hit layups in the paint.

With Mikesell gone, Ohio State losses a historically good three-point shooter. With that means less offensive firepower and of the three options, Mikulášiková is the best in that department. However, when the forward’s shooting goes cold, it takes time to find it again.

It’s that needed offensive consistency that McGuff mentioned in media availability last week. When Mikulášiková, she’s starting caliber on most any NCAA team. If Ohio State gets that throughout the duration of the season, Walker and Parks turn into strong options off the bench and in particular matchups, in-game.

The wildcard in all this? Maybe none of the three start or play the role consistently with Thierry getting minutes in their place. McGuff could go small, putting guard Rikki Harris in as a fourth guard and Thierry as the presence in the paint.

Ultimately, it's not Land-Grant’s decision to make but coach McGuff has the luxury or options. On Nov. 6, see who he picks when the game airs live on TruTV and the Max streaming service at 2:00 p.m. ET.