Monday night, the 2023 NCAA Tournament’s games in Columbus come to an end. Across the country, it was the only city that hosted both the men and women’s tournament, hosting seven games total across the two editions of March Madness
In one of those seven games, the Ohio State women’s basketball team beat the James Madison Dukes, a team from the Sun Belt Conference, needing a 16-point comeback to move into the round of 32.
Now, the opponent gets more difficult and the stakes increase when the North Carolina Tar Heels take the court against the Buckeyes.
While the Scarlet & Gray have come back from numerous deficits this season, it won’t be nearly as easy for Ohio State to do it against North Carolina. Against the Dukes, the Buckeyes cut a 16-point lead down to three points within the same quarter. To JMU’s credit, the first quarter and a half was outstanding basketball from a side looking to shock the college basketball landscape.
Playing the Tar Heels isn’t necessarily like playing the Indiana Hoosiers, who the Buckeyes beat after coming back from 24-points, but North Carolina comes into Monday playing a tough ACC schedule featuring teams like the Duke Blue Devils and one of the four No. 1 seeds in the tournament, the Virginia Tech Hokies.
North Carolina plays a disciplined style defense. The Tar Heels attract a different class of athlete being in one of the premier conferences in the country for basketball, and allow only 59.4 points per game.
Granted, that’s also against teams like Duke who play a full court press that varies from the Buckeyes. Instead of rushing players and getting them stuck in tough areas of the court, the Blue Devils press where everyone is in man coverage and Duke don’t allow plays to set up. Within that 59.4 points are some games where neither side scores more than 50 points.
Monday’s game will be different. Both the Buckeyes and Tar Heels each force turnovers. Ohio State does it with their press and North Carolina does it by anticipating plays and leveraging their athleticism. Each team leads their respective conference in turnovers forced per game.
Within that Tar Heels team is forward/guard Alyssa Ustby. The combo forward/guard is liable to cause issues for the Buckeyes.
“She catches it around the basket and is very patient in reading the floor and seeing where she can make her move and get to the rim,” said head coach Kevin McGuff. “So just a really, really tough matchup. One of the better kind of forwards in the country in my opinion.”
Ohio State’s played this season against talented post presences like Indiana’s Mackenzie Holmes, Iowa’s Monika Czinano and Illinois’ Kendall Bostic. Of those four, Ustby might be the most athletic.
Ustby joined the Tar Heels after playing not only basketball but softball, soccer and track at the amateur high school level. Listed as a guard, Ustby will take up space in the paint and play like a post player. Every so often, Ustby will pull up from three.
It’s a matchup that will require Buckeyes’ forward Taylor Thierry and a combination of forwards Eboni Walker and Rebeka Mikulášiková to play smart and not give the Tar Heel room to move or assess. Ustby averages 8.3 rebounds per game too, leading North Carolina. Also, Ustby’s 13.1 points per game is impressive, but not close to the leading scorer for the Tar Heels: Deja Kelly.
Kelly isn’t a high efficiency shooter, averaging 16.3 points per game on 37.2% shooting. Where Kelly can hurt a team is drawing fouls. Kelly’s gone to the free throw line 182 times this season, hitting 71.4% from the charity stripe.
Deja Kelly's go-ahead bucket wins the game for North Carolina— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 18, 2023
UNC takes down St. John's to advance pic.twitter.com/kpbkwrSg8x
That’s especially worrisome for the Buckeyes who fall into foul trouble from time-to-time. Saturday, both Thierry and forward Cotie McMahon fouled out of the game in the fourth quarter. With Kelly on the court, Ohio State will need disciplined defense, or an officiating crew that isn’t whistle happy, like Saturday’s team that called 52 fouls overall.
Regardless of the fouls, the Buckeyes will need to shoot better. The last three games haven’t seen Ohio State shoot better than 32% in the first half, going down double-digits in all three games.
Guard Jacy Sheldon starting for a second game in a row could help in that department. After coming off the bench for sporadic minutes in the Big Ten Tournament, Sheldon started for Ohio State and found her scoring streak, getting 17 points on top of nine assists and four steals.
Start the game off strong and the Buckeyes and Tar Heels could go down to the wire.
- All five Buckeye starters registered a steal against JMU, with Sheldon and Thierry grabbing four and three respectively.
- Four Buckeyes scored in double figures against James Madison, showing a diverse offensive attack, although the bench provided only seven points.
- Although Mikulášiková didn’t start for Ohio State, the Slovakian played more minutes than Walker on Saturday.
- Kelly scored the game-winning basket Saturday against St. John’s, plus a trip to the line for a third.
- UNC lost to two Big Ten teams this season: the Indiana Hoosiers and Michigan Wolverines.
- Guard Eva Hodgson is the best deep threat for the Tar Heels, making 2.0 shots from deep per game.
No result in this game would be a surprise. If Ohio State doesn’t shoot well, it could be a convincing UNC win. If the Buckeyes get off to a hot start, it could be a tough day for the visitors.
Monday’s game will be somewhere in the middle. The Tar Heels have struggled this season against Big Ten teams, but coach McGuff sees those defeats as more outliers for the Tar Heels.
Even so, Monday will see guard Taylor Mikesell have an improved scoring game from deep, offset by another impressive outing for McMahon. Thierry will also grab a double-double, continuing to set the standard for the Buckeyes in rebounding.
Ohio State will have their problems with Ustby and Kelly, but can control the game enough to keep it close late into the 40 minutes.
How to Watch
Date: Monday, March 20, 2023
Time: 4:00 p.m. ET
Where: Schottenstein Center, Columbus, Ohio
Stream: ESPN App
LGHL Score Prediction: 80-75 Ohio State Buckeyes
Taylor Mikesell’s Farewell
Monday afternoon is the last time Mikesell will play for the Scarlet & Gray in Columbus, Ohio. Since joining Ohio State as a transfer before the start of the 21-22 season, Mikesell has started every game for the Buckeyes.
In those 55 games, Mikesell’s scored 1,164 points for the Buckeyes, and this season shifted from shooting guard to do-whatever’s-needed guard with both Sheldon and guard Madison Greene suffering injuries, taking them out for much of the year.
Regardless of the result of Monday’s game, and Mikesell playing with three teams, the Massillon, Ohio guard will always be synonymous with Ohio State.