Following a long week off the for the Ohio State women’s basketball team, the Buckeyes are back at it in a big way. The scarlet and gray travel south to face a loud crowd of orange, in Knoxville, Tennessee against the Tennessee Volunteers.
While injuries are hurting the Vols to start the season, it's a program that can’t be taken lightly.
Last year, Buckeyes fans were spoiled. Right off the bat, Ohio State faced a top 10 team and beat them convincingly. Compare that to this season, where head coach Kevin McGuff’s side had another top team in the nation on the first day, but fell short. What’s followed is game-after-game where the Buckeyes were heavy favorites, and they fulfilled expectations at the final buzzer.
Sunday’s Tennessee game marks the first ranked opponent in five games, even if the Vols potentially slip out of the top 25 come Monday. Either way, going into a passionate away environment will go a long way for an Ohio State team still adjusting in early season games, A win today, and it sets the Buckeyes up for a tough end of the 2023 calendar.
A week from today, Ohio State welcomes the Penn State Nittany Lions for the first conference game of the season. Usually that’s not cause for concern, but Penn State is different this year. The Nittany Lions have one loss all season, and it was a one-point defeat to the USC Trojans, the same side who dispatched the Buckeyes on Nov. 6.
Fast forward eight days later and the No. 2 ranked UCLA Bruins descend on the Schottenstein Center. A tall task for any team in the nation. The month ends with a potentially tough game against Belmont and a trip to Ann Arbor to tip off the full conference season on Dec. 30. So, Sunday’s game against the Volunteers is big.
The storyline heading into Sunday’s Big Ten/SEC battle is the availability of forward Rickea Jackson. The graduate senior averages 22 points and 12 rebounds per game, although Jackson’s missed the last five games due to an ankle injury. How the Buckeyes play hinges on that availability.
Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper isn’t giving any information away about Jackson’s injury status, except she’s waiting for the medical staff to clear the star.
Either way, it’s not like the Volunteers suddenly shrink to a mid major side without Jackson. Ohio State still has to deal with a talented Tennessee team, led by point guard Destinee Wells.
The former Belmont Bear guard transferred to Rocky Top with two seasons left in eligibility. Before coming to Tennessee, Wells led the way for Belmont with 19.9 points and 4.9 assists per game. When the guard gets in big moments, she has the tendency to respond in a big way.
Take the 2022 NCAA Tournament. The No. 12 tournament ranked Bears defeated the No. 5 Oregon Ducks in double overtime. Wells had 16 points and seven assists in the victory, played coincidentally in the location of Sunday’s game: Thompson-Boling Arena. So it’s no shock that when Wells went into the transfer portal, Harper came calling.
Wells started this season off slowly, but has since started the last four games for the Vols, improving in each contest. In Wednesday’s narrow defeat to No. 18 Notre Dame, Wells had 13 points and five assists. When Wells is dishing, there are players around her who can put away shots, like fellow guard Jasmine Powell.
With Jackson out, Powell’s slid into the primary scorer role for the Vols. The graduate senior, who played her first three years with the Minnesota Golden Gophers, can hurt teams at multiple levels. Powell has a compact three-point shot that given any space will go up, but the Michigan native will also go for the rim, pull up for midrange shots or find an open teammate.
The Wells/Powell combination will give Ohio State a handful, but this year guards Jacy Sheldon and Celeste Taylor have been up to the assignment. Will that continue with a higher quality Tennessee backcourt?
- Forward Taylor Thierry is having her best rebounding season of her three-year NCAA career, averaging 7.7 per game.
- Sheldon and Taylor are second and sixth respectively in the Big Ten in steals per game, with Sheldon averaging 2.4 and Taylor with 2.0.
- Through six games last year, the Buckeyes took 118 three point shots, compared to 99 this year in the same timeframe.
- Tennessee’s played with four different starting lineups in seven games this season, with the above matching Wednesday’s game against Notre Dame where the Vols looked more cohesive.
- Outside of Jackson’s team-leading rebounding, four players average at least five rebounds per game, compared to only one Buckeye averaging at least five on the entire roster.
- Powell played off the bench for three-straight games before coming back into the starting lineup Wednesday against the Fighting Irish, averaging 15.5 points and 5.5 rebounds in the past four games
What will work best for the Buckeyes on Sunday is if three-point shooting is going in its favor — and it will. Ohio State will reach at least 10 three-point shots made in the game, something the side’s done only once in six games. Expect Sheldon to make the most but the length and shooting of guard Emma Shumate should have more chances off the bench following an impressive run in the past three games.
The Buckeyes will lose the rebounding margin, but the speed of the scarlet and gray’s defense will wear down a Tennessee side that’s still getting its bearing with injuries and inconsistent lineups. It’ll be a close game in the end.
How to Watch
Date: Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023
Time: 1 p.m. ET
Where: Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville, Tennessee
Stream: ESPN App
LGHL Prediction: 85-80 Ohio State Buckeyes
A Rare Feat
If the Buckeyes win in Tennessee on Sunday, it’ll be a program first. It’s the fifth time these two teams faced off in Knoxville, and the first since a 97-65 NCAA Tournament defeat in 1996.
Overall, the Buckeyes are 2-10 against the Vols, so not only would it be the first away win for Ohio State in the series, but the first time the scarlet and gray have won two in a row against the SEC giants. Although it isn’t the same caliber of Tennessee side, Rocky top isn’t an easy place for opponents to play.