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Arguing Ohio State women’s basketball’s way-too-early March Madness No. 1 seed prediction

The Worldwide Leader of Sports still grabs real attention sometimes, and this time it includes the Buckeyes.

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament Seattle Regional-Ohio State vs Virginia Tech Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Until the Ohio State women’s basketball season tips off in Las Vegas, Nevada on Nov. 6, Land-Grant Holy Land has coverage from all angles. Follow along for player previews, schedule release information, and stories from the coaches and players themselves — all getting you ready for the start of the season when the Buckeyes take on the USC Trojans in Sin City.

It was a normal, uneventful, Tuesday with 48 days remaining until the start of the NCAA women’s basketball season. Teams announcing new opponents, media day photos from across the nation making their way onto social media and still waiting for the Big Ten to announce the women’s basketball schedule.

Then ESPN rocked the boat, releasing its first bracketology of the season. Before any rankings or all official schedules surfaced, the Ohio State women’s basketball team found themselves in quite a position: One of the four No. 1 seeds.

Now before reading this turns into social media angst over how far away the tournament is or the fact that there are no games for a month and a half, Land-Grant Holy Land gets it. This bracketology will change. Ohio State will probably lose a game here and there. A bracketology piece and $5 will get you a cup of overpriced coffee.

However, it’s still an idea worth analyzing. Could the Buckeyes really find themselves a No. 1 seed with a slightly less bumpy route to returning to the Elite Eight and making its way to Cleveland for the Final Four? It’s not that crazy of an idea.

The most obvious argument is the fact that this Ohio State team is an Elite Eight-caliber team. Last season, much to the dismay of many New Englanders, the scarlet and gray dispatched the UConn Huskies on national television, with basketball legend and former Husky Sue Bird watching on from the lower bowl.

It wasn't close either. Head coach Kevin McGuff looked more prepared than legendary leader Geno Auriemma, who now knows about forward Cotie McMahon. After being down two points at the end of the first quarter, the Buckeyes outscored UConn 21-9 in the second quarter on its way to a 73-61 victory.

UConn fans and blogs will argue that superstar guard Paige Bueckers was out injured and fellow superstar guard Azzi Fudd was still returning from injury. Sure, it’s valid but look at the makeup of UConn’s recruiting and Ohio State’s classes. It was a remarkable win.

That success came after a too-close-for-comfort half against the James Madison Dukes and needing a game-winner from guard Jacy Sheldon against the North Carolina Tar Heels to even make it that far. Those close victories themselves warrant to the idea that the Buckeyes could be a No. 1 seed. Why? On any given day Ohio State can have an endless supply of fight.

Take the Big Ten tournament semifinal. Facing an Indiana Hoosiers team that cooked the Buckeyes twice in the regular season, even worse at home, Ohio State went down 24 points. The Buckeyes pulled off the biggest comeback in tournament history.

Arguing against the merit of that moment is admittedly easy because of what happened the next day. The Buckeyes faced guard Caitlin Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes, losing 105-72.

However, according to the experts at ESPN, Iowa isn’t a one-seed. Hinting that the Big Ten script could flip. There’s merit to the idea.

In the offseason, while the Buckeyes brought in guard and former Duke ACC Defensive Player of the Year Celeste Taylor and a strong paint presence in forward Taiyier Parks from Michigan State. That’s on top of a freshman guard with international experience in Diana Collins who might see more minutes than usual for first-year players with both Taylor and Sheldon playing their final seasons.

Over in Iowa, guard McKenna Warnock and center Monika Czinano left college basketball with no response from the Hawkeyes in the transfer portal.

The Hawkeyes bring in No. 93 recruit in the country in Ava Jones and in the paint have a strong sophomore in 22-23 Big Ten Sixth Player of the Year in Hannah Stuelke. Of the two, Stuelke will have the biggest impact as the likely starter, but Czinano paired with Clark since the second the Naismith Player of the Year guard stepped foot in Iowa City.

Czinano to Stuelke is not a monumental downgrade by any means, and Stuelke could end up being better than Czinano when it's all said and done, but not right away.

Also, and this may earn the media section at Ohio State a scowl from Clark after a half-court three, but the Buckeyes have the defense to not completely neutralize the superstar, but at least slow her down. It’s in the guard tandem of Sheldon and Taylor.

Ohio State lost its leading scorer of 22-23 and second-leading scorer of 21-22 in guard Taylor Mikesell, but adding Taylor will help the defensive side. A reason Taylor chose Ohio State is the defense itself. Following two seasons of man-to-man full-court press of the Duke Blue Devils, Taylor now joins the most electric press in college basketball. No hyperbole.

When at its best, the press of the Buckeyes is second to none. Adding Taylor makes that even better. The guard had court awareness and is already bonding with new teammates after only being with the team since July.

With Duke, Taylor led the ACC in defensive rating with 72.7. In other words, in 100 possessions, with Taylor on the court, the Blue Devils only gave up 72.7 points. That total is also good enough for eighth best in the nation. With the Buckeyes, whose half-court defense didn’t get nearly the fanfare, Taylor will strengthen it, taking away the press as a one-trick pony.

Taylor and Sheldon are not the splash sisters of two seasons ago on offense, but it's the best defensive backcourt in college basketball.

Last season, Sheldon tied the school record with steals in a game (11) and ended the season averaging 3.53 steals per game. Also, Sheldon was limited, playing just once between the end of November and the beginning of March.

When Sheldon did play, the Dublin, Ohio native was still working through a foot injury. After the season was over, Sheldon was back in the boot too, meaning that the Buckeyes may not have even had Sheldon at her best during the NCAA Tournament. A scary idea for opponents.

What about offense? Well, sophomore Cotie McMahon grew leaps and bounds in one season of NCAA basketball. Imagine what a summer leading Team USA U19 to another trophy at the Women's World Cup can do for the confidence and ability of Ohio State’s rising superstar.

There’s also Taylor Thierry. The forward/guard hybrid started at the three position last year, often moving into the paint too. After seeing limited minutes in Thierry’s freshman season, the sophomore earned spots on the All-Defensive Team, Second Team All-B1G, and Big Ten All-Tournament Team.

Ohio State’s even improved in the paint and have three vastly different bigs to rotate in Parks, Eboni Walker and Rebeka Mikulášiková.

Parks brings necessary strength under the basket, to not only help improve rebounding but also slow down attacks to the basket. For Walker, playing her second season with the Buckeyes, showed vast improvement at the end of the season and secured a starting spot through the postseason.

Mikulášiková is the best shooter of the three too, something McGuff and the Buckeyes value. The Slovakian was arguably the best offensive player on the team too in the first few games of the 22-23 season before ultimately losing the job to Walker following a late season injury.

Rotating those three keeps them fresh and changes the game for opponents at any given moment.

All of this arguing for something as silly as bracketology, but it's never too early to get excited about a new basketball season. Especially when Ohio State is in prime position to go further than last year, making it a short trip to Cleveland for a potential spot in the 2024 Final Four.

It’s not going to be anywhere close to easy. There’s still more to say about the Indiana Hoosiers, No. 3 in the prediction, the rising Illinois Fighting Illini (No. 7) and always dangerous Maryland Terrapins (No. 4), and the overall stacked Big Ten conference. Time for all of that is coming soon.