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With Ohio State women’s basketball, looks may be deceiving

After a letdown in Minneapolis, the Buckeyes have March Madness to reacquaint college basketball with their true identity.

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

For the casual sports fan who's uninitiated to the NCAA selection show, here’s how it goes. Teams set up cameras in their gyms, meeting rooms, or even a local restaurant, all feeding into the ESPN broadcast. As teams are announced, dreams are fulfilled and some hearts are broken, the goal of each individual team feed is to show the viewing audience the excitement of earning a spot in the big dance: March Madness.

Sunday night was no different. There was cheering, poor wifi signal, and The Griddy — a lot of people doing The Griddy. The Ohio State women’s basketball team was part of the final section of the bracket to be called by the network. After around 50 different live feeds, and the commentators rating and pondering out loud about the quality of each one, the No. 3 seeded Buckeyes heard their name.

No cheering. No jumping up and down. No Griddy. The commentary team didn’t know how to react, hoping for another ecstatic display.

“We honestly just practiced, so we were really tired,” said guard Jacy Sheldon, with a laugh. “We might not look that excited but we’re definitely excited.”

Ohio State has a list of reasons why they should be excited. After all, their 22-23 season was one for the record books. A 19-0 start is the best in program history, despite losing players to injury they achieved a top-4 finish in a highly competitive Big Ten conference. Also, the future of the team is bright with a pair of underclassmen becoming the foundation of the Buckeyes’ roster.

All that led to Ohio State’s first home NCAA Tournament game since 2018.

However, from the outside looking in, especially from an audience of fans who may have only just recently gotten into the basketball campaign with the postseason in full swing, the Buckeyes are the team who were historically demolished. Not only defeated 105-72 but at the hands of the Iowa Hawkeyes and superstar/media magnet Caitlin Clark.

Like that selection show response, don’t judge appearances so quickly.

Following the Scarlet and Gray’s lopsided Big Ten Tournament title game defeat to Iowa, the Buckeyes didn’t have a lot of time to get down on themselves. In the first of two consecutive weeks off, head coach Kevin McGuff kept the Scarlet & Gray moving.

“Honestly, staying in shape, continuing to go up and down every day.” said Sheldon. “We condition a lot. We play really fast so keeping that same momentum, that same pace that we play at, and making sure it’s still there for the tournament.”

The Buckeyes are at their best while running the floor. In the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, that conditioning paid off when Ohio State pressed the Indiana Hoosiers for much of the second half. The Buckeye full-court pressure turned into changes in possession and then bolting toward the basket.

That conditioning played part in erasing a 24-point deficit against the Big Ten regular season titleholders. Against the Hawkeyes though, early struggles lingered.

Ohio State shot 25% in the first half, and as shots kept clanging off the rim and backboard, body language slumped and the Hawkeyes went on the offensive. Even if the Buckeyes outscored the Hawkeyes in the second half, the damage was done.

None of it matters now, the past is the past, but Ohio State can make people forget about that game the further they get in the NCAA Tournament. Up first are the James Madison Dukes.

On paper, a No. 3 seeded Buckeyes should win against a No. 14 mid-major side, but no one in the program is taking Saturday’s game lightly.

“James Madison, I have respect for their program. They’re used to winning,” said coach McGuff. “I know they do a really good job. They’ll be prepared and they have some really good players. So, it’ll be a tough challenge for us but we’re excited to have the opportunity.”

The Dukes are a team that rebounds well. JMU has a strong presence in the paint with 6-foot-4 center Kseniia Kozlova and guard Kiki Jefferson grabbing 7.9 rebounds and 18.3 points per game. Another side features strengths the Hoosiers and Hawkeyes each possess. Strong post play that has given the Buckeyes fits for spells this season.

The time for the gritty is over. It’s tournament time.