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Five Storylines: No. 8 Ohio State women’s basketball vs. No. 10 Indiana Hoosiers

Some storylines to get you ready for Sunday’s action.

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

The Big Ten schedule changes year-after-year, and that means Ohio State women’s basketball faces the Indiana Hoosiers only once this season. An unfortunate byproduct of a rotating schedule of opponents keeps two of the best teams in the Big Ten from playing more than once.

Unless the Buckeyes and Hoosiers meet in the postseason, Sunday’s noon tip is the only chance to see not only an intriguing matchup in the conference standings, but the last time to see forward Mackenzie Holmes face Ohio State.

Those topics and more to get you ready for a game that could decide who wins a trophy and who doesn’t at the end of the regular season.

Mackenzie Holmes

The Maine native who took her basketball craft to Indiana is no stranger to playing the Buckeyes. In five seasons, Holmes faced Ohio State eight times, averaging 19.3 points per game. That efficiency’s grown in the last three years, bumping up to 22.6 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.

That’s because at the start of the 21/22 season, the Buckeyes lost post presence in forwards Dorka Juhász and Aaliyah Patty transferring out of the program. Since then, the paint has been a sore spot for Ohio State defenses over the past three seasons. Sunday, Holmes comes in as good as ever.

Holmes is a 6-foot-3 forward who can play strong near the basket, use finesse to find space against defenders and now increasingly finding room on the perimeter to hit midrange shots. If not for the existence of Iowa Hawkeyes guard Caitlin Clark, the All-American Holmes would be a shoo-in for Big Ten Player of the Year.

Ohio State has shown recently that when it doesn’t play to its needed energy levels, bigs hurt the Buckeyes even more. Thursday showed that yin-yang style difference in defending against Wisconsin Badgers sophomore Serah Williams, that you can read more about here.

Can the Buckeyes show that second half style of defense against Holmes? Getting in the forward’s face before the ball gets to her and making it increasingly difficult to get baskets, while simultaneously stop shooters who benefit from that added coverage?

Three-Point Shooting

Indiana’s head coach Teri Moren uses a four-in style offensive set. Holmes is the lone player inside the arc when plays begin to develop in half court offense. The four Hoosiers playing on the outside are lethal in their own rights.

Senior guard Chloe Moore-McNeil, heralded more for her defense than offense, is the new point guard for Moren after the graduation of Grace Berger. Moore-McNeil’s offense is increasing to career highs in her fourth season in Bloomington, scoring 10.1 points per game but leading Indiana with 4.5 assists per game. The Buckeyes allowing Moore-McNeil to shoot from deep is the team’s best option if a player is to be left more open with attention shifting to Holmes.

However, the point for Indiana has plenty of options outside of Holmes. A pair of guards in Sara Scalia and Yarden Garzon are not afraid to shoot from beyond the arc.

Scalia, playing her second year in Indiana after transferring from the Minnesota Golden Gophers in 2022, is second in the conference in three-pointers made and efficiency, hitting 63 at a 44.4% clip. If Scalia is given any space whatsoever, she’ll take the shot. It’s not at Clark levels of “no thinking, just shoot,” but Scalia will push the Ohio State defense to not leave her open in the slightest.

Syndication: The Herald-Times Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times / USA TODAY NETWORK

In Garzon’s case, the dynamic freshman is having something of a sophomore slump, but not much of one. The 6-foot-3 wing’s impact is down slightly this season, scoring less points and grabbing almost two less rebounds per game, but Garzon showed the Buckeyes what she was capable of during the 22/23 season.

Garzon had her best game as a freshman against Ohio State, when the scarlet and gray traveled to Bloomington, Indiana on Jan. 26, 2023. The guard scored 20 points, adding 10 rebounds for her only NCAA career double-double, going 4-for-9 from deep.

The final guard spot would go to Sydney Parrish, except a foot injury has the senior wearing a boot on the bench. Ohio State fans know how that goes with Guard Jacy Sheldon missing most of last season with a foot injury herself.

Parrish is Indiana’s best defensive and rebounding guard, second only to Holmes in rebounds per game and defensive rating. With her likely out Sunday, look for sophomore guard Lexus Bargesser to likely fill the role.

Bargesser’s started the last three games with Parrish out, helping in different ways each game. The sophomore’s only scored points in one of those three games, nine in a win over the Maryland Terrapins, but averages 4.7 rebounds and 4.6 assists as a starter. It also wouldn't be a surprise to see freshman Lenée Beaumont get substantial minutes or even start. The first year Hoosier has the courage of an upperclassmen, not afraid to attack the paint and provide a scoring spark for Indiana.

Buckeye Intensity

Speaking of spark, the way Ohio State plays defense, intensity is as important as a tangible statistic like rebounds or steals. The Buckeyes will try to use its full court press, especially against a side like Indiana where Holmes won’t get back as quickly as others and youth coming off the bench who might struggle against the defensive pressure.

Against the Illinois Fighting Illini, Purdue Boilermakers and Wisconsin Badgers, Ohio State wasn’t dangerous when it was playing down to opponents. In this case, playing like they assumed things would go their way. Things go the Buckeyes’ way when they’ve got the the pedal to the metal.

As corny as the phrase might be, it’s right. Look at the second quarter against Illinois and the third quarter against Wisconsin. Before halftime in Champaign, Illinois, head coach Kevin McGuff’s side looked lethargic. Fresh off a program-shifting win against the No. 2 Iowa Hawkeyes, the then 9-10 Fighting Illini was a different kind of opponent. The Buckeyes scored four points in the quarter, best for the worst scoring quarter in program history.

Then on Thursday, after McGuff had a “spirited” team talk with the Buckeyes at half time, showing another slow half against the Badgers, played its needed level of intensity and scored a program record-tying 39 points.

For Ohio State to be effective against the Hoosiers, all five Buckeyes on the court will need that focus to stop passes from getting into the paint or not missing assignments when the ball finds one of Indiana’s dangerous shooters on the perimeter. Should that happen, it bodes well for the scarlet and gray on the final scoreline and in conference standings.

Big Ten Implications

Sunday’s game features two of the three teams tied for No. 1 in the Big Ten standings. The conference awards the regular season title with no tiebreakers, depending entirely on in-conference standings to decide a winner.

Fans of the scarlet and gray shouldn’t be a stranger to this idea, with the Buckeyes and Hawkeyes sharing the Big Ten regular season conference title in the 21/22 season, even though Ohio State beat the Hawkeyes in Carver-Hawkeye Arena during the regular season.

So, if the season ended today, Indiana, Iowa and Ohio State would share the honor. Except, there’s still more basketball to be played. Whoever wins Sunday creates work for the losing side. Especially when those remaining games join the conversation.

Indiana welcomes Iowa to Assembly Hall on Feb. 22. After an 84-57 blowout defeat to the Hawkeyes on Jan. 13, Indiana shouldn’t be short any motivation to have a better performance. The Buckeyes also enter the equation.

Even though Ohio State doesn’t play the Hoosiers again in the regular season, the final game before the playoffs pits the Buckeyes and Hawkeyes against each other in what could be a Pay-Per-View event if it decides the conference champion.

So, yeah. Sunday is pretty important for both Associated Press top 10 teams.

The Schott Expands Again

After the Jerome Schottenstein Center saw a capacity crowd against the Iowa Hawkeyes on Jan. 21, 2024, the program is opening the upper deck again to face the Hoosiers. At the time of writing this article, only general admission upper deck seats are available for face value. All lower bowl seats are resale, meaning paying a little bit more to get closer to the Buckeyes.

However, it’s not the inflated resale prices brought on the by the presence of superstar guard Caitlin Clark. Fans can get seats in the lower sections starting at $45.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

After the Jan. 21 game, the Buckeyes shared how much the experience meant, playing in front of a capacity crowd. It doesn’t seem like the Iowa attendance will be met, but it's another matchup that deserves similar attention.