Friday night is the final night of the Ohio State women’s basketball regular season, and it’s a fitting bookend to the stories of the 2022-23 campaign. After starting the year with the No. 5 Tennessee Volunteers, it ends with a match-up against the No. 7 Maryland Terrapins. The Buckeyes are hoping it looks more like that win over the Volunteers than the 34-point drubbing to the Terrapins in Maryland on Feb. 5.
Here’s what to watch for on Friday.
A Different Buckeyes
The February defeat to Maryland isn’t a game where head coach Kevin McGuff could bring up the tape and pinpoint small details to correct. It was more like a game where the tape should be burned altogether.
Ohio State had no answer for Maryland at the start of the month. Guards Diamond Miller, Shyanne Sellers, and Abby Meyers could seemingly do no wrong. Miller showed why she’s a likely lottery pick in the upcoming WNBA draft, scoring 29 points with 10 rebounds and three steals.
Coach McGuff’s side had no answer for her and Sellers attacking the paint. The Terps scored 48 points in the paint. It wasn’t just the post presence that was lacking but allowing Maryland players to make moves to get into positions where they could attack the basket.
Poor defense from Ohio State and only scoring 54 total points made for a disastrous afternoon overall.
That doesn’t mean there’s no hope on Friday. Last season, the Buckeyes used a game against the Terrapins, in Columbus, to propel a late run in the season. This year is a different Maryland side, a side with better chemistry and perimeter play, but if Ohio State shoots closer to their 47% average (hit only 33.7% in their lopsided defeat) and plays strong in the press, it’s a game Ohio State can win.
If the Scarlet & Gray show the same intensity they did against the Wolverines, and string together shots, it’ll be an interesting and exciting end to the Big Ten regular season calendar.
A win wouldn’t just help momentum going into the tournament either.
Aligning Strong Scoring Nights
All season it seems like one or two Buckeyes pull away from their teammates in their 23 wins this season. Most of the time. it has been either forward Cotie McMahon, guard Taylor Mikesell, or guard/forward combo Taylor Thierry.
Lately, point guard Rikki Harris has shown the scoring prowess the Indiana-born Buckeye had in high school. Over the last two games, Harris has a stat line of 15 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in a win over the Penn State Nittany Lions and a career-high 23 points and five assists versus Michigan.
Harris has shown an increased ability to make shots, to which Harris credited slowing down and not rushing shots as how it improved significantly.
At the same time though, McMahon had a more frustrating night not getting calls as she attacked the basket consistently versus Michigan. Thierry was also stifled in the paint without much reward from the free throw line. For Mikesell, the guard hit big shots as part of Ohio State’s eight three-pointers made-in-a-row streak on Monday.
Should Harris continue her form, and her teammates respond with stronger performances of their own, Friday is anyone’s game to win.
That doesn’t even include forward Rebeka Mikulasikova. After suffering a high ankle sprain against Minnesota on Feb. 8, the Slovakian hasn’t started a game. However, on Monday the forward showed that when she’s healthy she can be dangerous. Mikulasikova picked up the Buckeyes' scoring in the third quarter when others received more focus on the defensive side of the court.
The motivation of sitting out games, combined with Ohio State pushing for home games in the NCAA tournament, means the planets could align and the Buckeyes return to scoring like they did to start the season.
Fighting for Top-16
Thursday night, at halftime of the No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks game against the Tennessee Volunteers, the NCAA Committee will release their second and final top-16 ranking before the NCAA March Madness selection show on March 12.
In the first iteration of the ranking, the Buckeyes were No. 16 on the list. That means they held onto the final spot to host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Since that Feb. 9 release, Ohio State’s won two out of three, with the loss being a 24-point defeat to the No. 2 Indiana Hoosiers.
It’s hard to know if that means the Buckeyes fall out of the top-16 though, losing to an obvious No. 1 seed. The confusion comes with the Scarlet & Gray following the loss up with a dominating, 13-point, win over the No. 12 Michigan Wolverines. The same Wolverines were No. 11 in the initial NCAA Committee rollout.
A win Friday would strengthen the argument, even more, that coach McGuff’s Buckeyes should be in the top-16. Maryland was No. 9 in that committee unveiling earlier in February and has since followed it up with convincing wins over the Illinois Fighting Illini and a shocking 28-point win over the No. 6 Iowa Hawkeyes.
Friday, Maryland has seeding to play for in the Big Ten Tournament. They can jump Iowa for the second spot, meaning a higher-ranked opponent in the third round of the tournament, already securing a double-bye.
For fans in attendance especially, the tradition of Senior Night takes place before tipoff. That’s when graduate senior Mikesell, along with senior team managers, will receive pregame recognition.
Mikesell’s been a force for Ohio State in only two seasons. Her transfer from the Oregon Ducks to Columbus before last season pushed the Buckeyes to the conference regular season title and within two possessions of moving into the Elite Eight.
It’s an honor fitting for a player who consistently avoids the attention and shifts it back to her teammates. With professional basketball up next for the guard, it might be the last time fans can see Mikesell play in Columbus in her fantastic five NCAA years.
Also, a worthwhile note about Senior Night is the absence of guard Jacy Sheldon. While there’s no official word of Sheldon’s return to college basketball for a final season, not being part of the festivities is as good a sign as any.
Making that potential news more exciting would be if Sheldon suited up healthy. The Maryland defeat at the beginning of the month was the only time Sheldon played for the Scarlet & Gray since Nov. 30.
Return tonight with a win and a past month of up-and-down emotions surrounding the team creates unparalleled excitement going into the postseason.