Monday at 4:00 p.m. ET, the NCAA Tournament plays its last game in Columbus, Ohio. Across the men and women’s sides, Ohio’s capital city featured a historic upset, Power Five conferences on display and loud home crowds. It culminates when the Ohio State women’s basketball team welcomes the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Here are four storylines running throughout the game.
Cotie McMahon Causing Problems
The underlying tone of Sunday's media availability for North Carolina was freshman forward Cotie McMahon. McMahon was called everything from a problem to the equivalent of a tight end in football and compared to someone Ohioans, and the world, knows well.
“She’s like LeBron James in a lot of ways. She’s really physical,” said Tar Heels head coach Courtney Banghart. “So her physicality is part of what you’re guarding in that way and she’s playing fearlessly.”
So far this postseason, McMahon has lived up to the hype. Against James Madison on Saturday, McMahon led the field in scoring with 18 points, plus five rebounds two blocks and a steal. For all intents and purposes, a quieter performance as of late.
McMahon averages 20.2 points and 9.5 rebounds in four postseason games. Monday, Ohio State will need more of that from the Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
Inside those numbers, McMahon’s leveraged abilities in and out of the paint. Although the last two games have been quieter rebounding performances, Ohio State will need the version of McMahon grabbing close to 10 boards per game, with the freshman hauling in 26 in the first two games of the Big Ten Tournament.
If shooting from the perimeter continues to be quiet, the Buckeyes hit 2-for-17 from deep on Saturday, the spins and moves towards the rim that McMahon brings will also give the team’s shooting time to heat up.
Quickly, McMahon has become one the most indispensable players not only for the Buckeyes but in the Big Ten.
Ohio State and North Carolina have one thing in common: They can force turnovers. Each team leads their respective conferences, the Big Ten and ACC, in forced turnovers per game. The Buckeyes’ 20.3 forced per game comes from a blistering full-court press. A defensive press that not only leads to steals but 10-second violations and errant passing.
For North Carolina, it comes a little differently.
“I think they game plan really well. So they kind of look at your actions and try to figure out ways to take it away,” said Buckeyes head coach Kevin McGuff. “They have got really, really, you know, fast, quick athletic players who get their hands on a lot of balls and disrupt you, and so make it a little bit harder to run offense.”
That means Ohio State will need to be more careful with their passing. Sometimes, in an effort to move the ball quickly, sloppy passes give opponents extra possessions.
The Scarlet & Gray will have an easier time staying calm if shots can fall. Overall, the two sides protect the ball well, each fourth in their conference in giving the ball away per game. Ohio State has a slight edge, allowing only 13.6 turnovers per game compared to the Tar Heels 14.4.
Even Shooting for Four Quarters
Saturday’s Buckeyes’ win looked like the last two games for Ohio State in the shooting efficiency department. Here are the first half shooting percentages in the last three games for Ohio State:
OSU First Half Shooting
|Team||First Half FG %|
|Team||First Half FG %|
All far below Ohio State’s 46.3% average on the season. In each game, it wasn’t poor shot selection. Instead, the shots for the Buckeyes weren’t falling. To correct that, look for more passing.
To help that, more driving and dishing would serve Ohio State well. This season, the Buckeyes are at their best when McMahon, Taylor Thierry and the more aggressive players in the paint running to the basket, drawing in the defense, and finding open looks from deep.
That means giving guards Taylor Mikesell and Jacy Sheldon space to hit deep shots, but the three-point shot isn’t all Ohio State needs.
“If we’re not getting balance, we’re settling for threes,” said McGuff. “So we have to try to get to the rim, maybe get to the free throw line, just to generate some offense early to allow us to get in an offensive rhythm.”
A Final Home Game for Taylor Mikesell
After playing 155 NCAA games in a standout five-season career, Monday is Mikesell’s final game in Columbus, Ohio. Mikesell is the first to downplay the moment, because after all the guard wants to win more than anything.
Should Monday be the last game overall for the Buckeyes or not, Mikesell’s level of fierce competition will be sorely missed by Ohio State. The guard is stoic in her leadership off the court and always communicating on the court with her teammates during the game.
1.5 hours till tip, and you know who’s out taking extra shots.— Thomas Costello (@1ThomasCostello) March 18, 2023
Taylor Mikesell putting in the work. #MarchMadness #Buckeyes pic.twitter.com/kJbusQkwjh
The best way for Mikesell to go out is having a classic Mikesell performance. Lately, Mikesell’s offensive numbers have been stifled slightly, with defenses committing one player to Mikesell exclusively, keeping a hand in the guard’s face.
Sheldon’s return, McMahon’s presence and Thierry’s consistency will give Ohio State more chances to let Mikesell shoot.
As the end of the season drew closer, Mikesell’s teammates shared publicly that the Massillon, Ohio graduate senior’s final collegiate season is added motivation. The team wants to send Mikesell out on a high note, which would come with five more wins in the 22-23 season.