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Four Storylines: No. 3 Ohio State vs. No. 14 James Madison

What to watch in the match-up between the Buckeyes and Dukes

Ben Cole - Land-Grant Holy Land

Saturday, the Ohio State women’s basketball team plays their first game of the NCAA Tournament. Facing the James Madison Dukes of the Sun Belt Conference, the Buckeyes are hoping to win their first tournament game inside the Schottenstein Center.

That, increased minutes for guard Jacy Sheldon and more in four storylines for the opening round of March Madness.

Jacy Sheldon Returns Home

Since a Scarlet & Gray route of the McNeese State Cowgirls on Nov. 20, 2022, Sheldon hasn’t played a game at home for Ohio State. The guard returned for a Nov. 30 trip to the Louisville Cardinals before going out with a lower leg injury, later confirmed as a foot injury.

Last weekend, at the Big Ten Tournament, Sheldon made a triumphant return for Ohio State. Sheldon had six points, six assists and six steals across her 15.3 minutes average per game. While the numbers don’t leap off the stat sheet, Sheldon’s defense was integral in the Buckeyes’ 24-point comeback. Also, Sheldon is generally a player who helps in numerous way.

“I feel like she makes all of us better. Without her, we all make each other better as well, but Jacy just adds that extra little push, especially with her game,” said McMahon. “She can create for others but also create for herself. She gives us a lot of opportunities as well as herself.”

For the NCAA Tournament, head coach Kevin McGuff doesn’t have a set number of minutes in mind for the guard but Sheldon will play more. The guard’s comfort back into the game aspects of the team are improved since getting crucial tournament minutes in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

No word if that means a start for the guard or another more minutes off the bench.

Cotie McMahon’s NCAA Tournament Debut

Last season, freshman forward Cotie McMahon came to Ohio State and began practicing with the Buckeyes as a spring enrollee. However, the Centerville, Ohio native didn’t travel with the Scarlet & Gray in their trip to Baton Rouge, Louisiana for the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

This weekend is McMahon’s first March Madness. There won’t be a lot of time to take in the moment for the freshman, because the Buckeyes need what she’s brought to the team, especially McMahon’s second half of the season.

“It’s been awesome just to see her grow, as a person as well as as a player,” said Mikesell. “It’s kind of rare to see a freshman come in and be so vocal, just be so willing to want to do the work and want to come in and work every single day and get better. It’s kind of crazy to think she’s only a freshman.”

Since the start of 2023, the freshman is second on the team in points per game, averaging 16.7, just under Mikesell’s team-leading 16.8 points per game. The impact doesn’t stop there, McMahon is grabbing 6.6 rebounds in the same stretch, ballooning up to 11 rebounds per game when it counted in the Big Ten Tournament.

Against James Madison, a team who rebounds well and could give the Buckeyes problems in getting second chance points. McMahon and forward Taylor Thierry are the two leading in boards for Ohio State.

The two Scarlet & Gray underclassmen will have guard Kiki Jefferson, averaging 7.9 rebounds per game, and center Kseniia Kozlova averaging 5.9.

Quick Adjustments

James Madison’s defense has the ability to give teams problems. The Dukes switch from man to zone coverage frequently, meaning Ohio State will need to make adjustments on the fly. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, they’re a team whose guard play is full of veterans.

If guard Rikki Harris or Sheldon starts the game at point, they each have the ability to run the Buckeyes’ offense effectively. Although the edge goes to Sheldon who’s played in the position more than Harris

It’s also yet to be seen if the Dukes will employ the same strategy against Mikesell as other teams have in the past few months. That’s putting a lone defender on the sharpshooting guard regardless of the defensive set chosen overall.

Either way, playing in the Big Ten affords Ohio State the experience of playing vastly different defenses throughout the season.

A McGuff led team hasn’t lost in the first round of the NCAA women’s tournament and if the Buckeyes adjust there shouldn’t be a reason that changes in 2023.

History in the Schott

With the Buckeyes landing a top-16 seed in the big dance, it affords Ohio State the added incentive of playing at home.

That means a home crowd will be in attendance to root on the Scarlet & Gray for potentially two games, should the Buckeyes win Saturday against the Dukes. It benefits everyone on the team, but it especially gives a handful of players the chance for family to be in attendance.

Of the seven players coach McGuff has played most this season, five are from the Buckeye State. Mikesell, Thierry, McMahon, Sheldon and substitute guard Emma Shumate are each from inside state lines. It creates an extra bonus.

“It means a lot. Last year, we made the tournament, which was great, but we had to take a trip down to LSU and had an unfavorable crowd for both games,” said Mikesell. “It’s pretty cool to have our home fans here with us. Just being able to be in our home state, get to practice in our arena. There’s a familiarity with it and it’s pretty comforting.”

Should the top seeds each win in Columbus on Saturday, that comfort will help against a tough No. 6 seed in the North Carolina Tar Heels of the ACC.