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The biggest concern holding back Ohio State women’s basketball from the next level

It’s not a new issue but if its addressed it could push the Buckeyes to an even higher level

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament Semifinals - Indiana vs Ohio State Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

From now until preseason camp starts in August, Land-Grant Holy Land will be writing articles around a different theme every week. This week is all about our Biggest Concerns. You can catch up on all of the Theme Week content here and all of our Biggest Concerns here.

This week, Land-Grant Holy Land begins a series of theme weeks, running through August. Kicking things off for week one is identifying the biggest concerns for the Scarlet & Gray. Now sure, this whole theme week idea is focused around football but I’m historically somebody who doesn’t like being told what to do. Let’s talk Ohio State women’s basketball and a continuing lack of strength in the post.

Big Ten women’s basketball, historically known as a type of basketball that’s methodical and wears opponents down has changed dramatically. Now it’s a conference of high scoring with three sides, the Buckeyes, Iowa Hawkeyes, and Indiana Hoosiers, all in the top 10 in the NCAA in scoring offense.

Each team arrived at that buzzsaw-like offense in different ways. For the Iowa Hawkeyes, there’s an underrated guard named Caitlin Clark who you may or may not have heard of. Clark was second this season in scoring and led all college basketball (men and women) with five triple-doubles.

Part of that dominance is Clark’s country-leading 8.6 assists per game. Who are those assists going to the most? Forward Monika Czinano famously scored 20 points against the Georgia Bulldogs in the NCAA tournament without dribbling the ball once.

Below the Hawkeyes in scoring was the Indiana Hoosiers. While Czinano’s scoring figures benefit heavily from the play of Clark and the Hawkeyes, forward Mackenzie Holmes is the backbone of Indiana’s offense.

If it wasn’t for Clark, Holmes would be the player crowned Big Ten Player of the Year season after season.

Ohio State is still in that top 10, at one point leading the country in points per game. The Buckeyes do it their own way though, scoring off forced turnovers and relying on a group of skilled players like now WNBA guard Taylor Mikesell and 22-23 B1G Freshman of the Year, forward Cotie McMahon.

This season, the Buckeyes struggled defensively against both Czinano and Holmes. In two games against the Hawkeyes, Czinano put up 22 and 26 points in a regular season game and Big Ten Tournament final respectively. With Holmes, the Hoosier scored 33 and 26 against Ohio State in two regular season games.

To put it simply, there was no answer for their movement and scoring in the paint. In one game, the Buckeyes had more success against Holmes, holding the forward to 12 points in the conference tournament semifinal.

In the historic 24-point comeback, McMahon clogged passing lanes and made Holmes ineffective, but later it came out that Holmes was injured in the game, not returning to action until the second round of the NCAA Tournament, in an upset defeat to the Miami Hurricanes.

Now, the Buckeyes don’t need to have someone like Holmes or Czinano to compete. It’s clear that those players are at a different level and the Scarlet & Gray doesn’t have to change how they play, which earned them a spot in the Elite Eight. Ohio State needs someone who can slow dominant bigs down.

During the 22-23 season, that job went to forwards Rebeka Mikulasikova and Eboni Walker. Each had moments of success like Mikulasikova getting Tennessee Volunteers’ center Tamari Key in foul trouble early and effectively taking her out of the first game of the season.

In the NCAA Tournament, Walker put up a strong performance against the North Carolina Tar Heels to earn the Buckeyes a trip to Seattle.

Also, guard Taylor Thierry, who slides into the five position frequently throughout the season, was a rebounding presence and consistent scorer on second-chance buckets and passes into the paint.

However, the size, leaping ability, and speed of players like Holmes and Illinois’ Kendall Bostic need consistent defensive attention. Through recruiting, Ohio State’s landed one forward/center: Graduating high school senior Faith Carson.

Carson, a 6-foot-4 center, averaged 20.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 5.8 blocks per game in her senior season with Division III Buchanan High School, winning D3 Player of the Year honors.

With Carson finishing her senior season, and not enrolling early at Ohio State, it’s hard to tell how the center adjusts to the college game. Also, outside of someone like McMahon who came in with Team USA experience, head coach Kevin McGuff hasn’t leveraged as many underclassmen in their freshman seasons.

It feels more likely that Carson takes a route like Thierry. The Cleveland, Ohio guard/forward joined the Buckeyes last season, played limited minutes, but worked in the gym and made the most of limited time on the court to earn a starting spot she never relinquished in the 22-23 season.

Transfer portal-wise, Ohio State hasn’t added any forwards to fill the hole. All the top-ranked centers/forwards, outside of Aneesah Morrow who’s already shared her top three schools that don’t include the Buckeyes, are out of the portal. It’s feeling more likely that a starting-caliber forward, ready to compete in a Power Five conference, isn’t happening in Columbus.

The answer might be in the roster already.

The three likeliest names to step into that more dominant defensive role in the paint are Walker and Thierry. Last season, Walker came into the Buckeyes’ program after almost two years of not playing or practicing consistently and towards the end of the season stepped in to start and had moments of energy and intensity in the paint.

For Thierry, the forward made a leap that’s as impressive as her own leaping ability last season. Should that growth continue into Thierry’s junior season, the 6-foot forward could slide into that role when needed to make an impact.

However, the portal hasn’t been completely silent. As of publishing, Ohio State hasn’t lost any starters to transfer and added National Defensive Player of the Year finalist in guard Celeste Taylor. That boost of defense in a team already heralded for scary full-court pressure will make it harder for those dominant post presences to get the ball in the first place.

In addition, McMahon's success against Holmes was practiced for the first time on the day of the game against Indiana. If Coach McGuff explores that set more, could athleticism be the key to matching a player like-for-like?

It’ll be six months before anyone knows for sure.