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The make or break week in Ohio State women’s basketball schedule

The Buckeyes have a tough road to the NCAA Tournament, but one week plays a lot like a deep March Madness run

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Joseph Scheller/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

With the start of the regular season within reach, it's ok to look ahead into the schedule to see the type of games that await Ohio State women’s basketball. From Nov. 6 all the way to March 3, the road for the scarlet and gray is not a smooth one. No one can look at the schedule and think that head coach Kevin McGuff has got it easy.

Ohio State has games against the UCLA Bruins, Tennessee Volunteers and USC Trojans on the docket. However, there’s one eight-day span that will show the identity and fight of this edition of the Buckeyes. It comes in January during Big Ten play. That’s when Ohio State goes up against three teams who all have an argument for being near the top of the conference.

Jan. 17 - at Maryland Terrapins

The stretch starts on a Wednesday night in College Park, Maryland. It’s the first time the Buckeyes take on the Maryland Terrapins, a side that’s had Ohio State’s number over the past two seasons. In four games, the scarlet and gray are 1-3, with McGuff’s side on a three-game losing streak to Brenda Freese’s Terrapins.

There’s an argument that this iteration of the Terrapins isn’t the same because it doesn’t include forward Angel Reese and guard Ashley Owusu, who played for Maryland during the 21-22 season. Or even last year’s side that featured now WNBA guard Diamond Miller causing issues for the Buckeyes.

Maryland’s next star is one Ohio State’s already faced multiple times: Ohio-born guard Shyanne Sellers. In a 90-54 win for Maryland (not a typo) last year in College Park, Sellers scored 19 points and added nine assists and four rebounds. With Miller gone, Sellers’ responsibilities will increase, and she’s a player who’s up for the additional work.

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament Greenville Regional-Maryland vs South Carolina Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Plus, the Terrapins return graduate seniors Brinae Alexander and Lavender Briggs in a team heavy with upperclassmen leadership. Not to mention a 6-foot-7 center named Hawa Doumbouya who will have a few months of NCAA basketball under her belt by the time the teams meet.

To Ohio State’s credit, it adjusted well the second time the two teams played, and a potential game-winning shot by Cotie McMahon was a fraction of a second too late to give the Buckeyes a win on the final day of last year’s regular season.

McGuff’s group returns home after the Maryland game in January, but four days later it gets exponentially more difficult.

Jan. 21 - vs. Iowa Hawkeyes

Of all the games on the basketball calendar, this one is circled, highlighted and circled again. It’s against superstar Caitlin Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Last year, the team that continued to get in Ohio State’s way was the Hawkeyes. When the Buckeyes were 19-0 and close to breaking a program record for wins in a row, it was a home game on Jan. 23 against Clark that ended with the guard racking up a triple-double and Ohio State suffering their first loss of the season.

That first loss turned into the Buckeyes’ only losing streak of the season, dropping the next two as well against the Michigan State Spartans and Indiana Hoosiers.

Fast forward to the Big Ten Tournament. A day after coming back from a 24-point deficit to the Hoosiers, the Buckeyes faced none other than the Hawkeyes in the final. It wasn’t really a game. Like the day before, Ohio State went down big, but this time there was no comeback. Clark had another triple-double (30 points, 17 assists and 10 rebounds) in the 105-72 demolishing.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament Championship - Ohio State vs. Iowa Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

If Ohio State is in the same position on Jan. 21 as they were last year, expect this game to be one with even more national attention. Tickets already sold out within moments of going on sale, and at time of publishing are up to $148 for the cheapest available seat.

Iowa lost center Monika Czinano and forward Kate Martin, who ended their NCAA careers, and the Hawkeyes were quiet in the transfer portal. However, they still have the reigning Naismith Player of the Year in Clark, plus the Big Ten Sixth Player of the Year in Hannah Stuelke.

The Hawkeyes aren’t a test for Ohio State. They’re the test. It goes back to the old wrestling adage of, “If you wanna be the man, you’ve got to beat the man.”

Jan. 25 - at Illinois Fighting Illini

At this point of the eight-day stretch, the Buckeyes could be riding high or trying to pick themselves back up. Either way, Illinois isn’t a team Ohio State can take lightly.

While McGuff’s team has had Illinois’ number in recent years, it wasn’t easy last year. With 6:56 remaining in the third quarter against Illinois, the Buckeyes were down 17 points to first-year Illinois head coach Shauna Green.

Green turned the Illini around in a short period of time. After not making the NCAA Tournament since the 02-03 season, Illinois’ 20-10 record was the program’s best since the late 90s.

Up 17 points to the Buckeyes though, it turned into the McMahon show. The freshman forward scored 11 of Ohio State’s 28 third quarter points to enter the fourth quarter with a one point lead. It was the lone matchup between the two teams last season, and its not a stretch to think that Illinois is looking forward to seeing the Buckeyes twice this year to make up for it.

Illinois gets one more year with Green at the helm, which means more time to build out her system. The players who got the Illini to that point last year are back too. All of the starting lineup is back, including guards Makira Cook and Genesis Bryant who combined for 32 points and 13 assists in the defeat last year. Also outstanding forward Kendall Bostic, who rocked the Buckeyes on the boards grabbing 15 rebounds on top of 27 points.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Joseph Scheller/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

In the last six years, only one team has won the conference regular season with more than five losses. That team was the 21-22 Ohio State Buckeyes. If McGuff and the scarlet and gray hope to add more to its trophy case, it could come down to this stretch of three games.

The last week of the season doesn’t get any easier, with the Buckeyes facing Maryland, rival Michigan Wolverines and the Iowa Hawkeyes to end the season.

This year, there are no weeks off in Big Ten play.