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tBBC Future is Bright for OSU Women’s Basketball


Future is Bright for OSU Women’s Basketball
via our good friends at Buckeye Battle Cry
Visit their fantastic blog and read the full article (and so much more) here


Earlier this week fellow tBBC writer Scott took a look at the Ohio State women’s basketball team following their loss to Tennessee in the Sweet 16. While I agree with Scott that the loss was very disappointing, I disagree with his assessment of head coach Kevin McGuff who he sees as a lateral move from former coach Jim Foster and one who isn’t dramatically improving the OSU program.

Before I take a look at McGuff’s performance at Ohio State, it is important to get a bit of historical perspective on the OSU program. While they were never a national, iconic program like Connecticut or Tennessee, the Buckeyes are not a newcomer to success in women’s basketball. The Big Ten started proper conference play in women’s basketball during the 1982-1983 season and Ohio State won the first 5 regular season conference championships, losing only 7 conference games during that time. The program went into a decline in the 90s despite the great Katie Smith and at the end of the 2002 season OSU had failed to get a better than .500 record in conference play for three straight seasons. The 2002-2003 season saw the hiring of Jim Foster and immediate improvement as the Buckeyes made the NCAA tournament that season. Under Foster OSU would win 6 Big Ten regular season titles, 4 conference tournament titles, and make the NCAA tournament 10 straight years though they only made 3 Sweet 16s and never advanced further.

Jim Foster was a successful coach at Ohio State, the Big Ten titles, NCAA tournament appearances, high rankings, and a .700 win percentage attest to that. However, the bigger problem was that the game was passing him by and he was failing to adjust. In the early 2000s the key to success in women’s basketball was largely rooted in post play with the key being having big, strong, physical post players. As time went on, the game became more and more athletic and the importance of having not only athletic guards but athletic front court players dramatically increased. While Foster made some adjustments, he never truly got into the new style of the game as evidenced by a drop off in his last few seasons and recruiting struggles late in his tenure.

When Kevin McGuff was hired before the start of the 2013-2014 season he inherited a team that had no clear identity, one that was stuck between two eras in many ways. He also had no incoming recruiting class and was facing an upcoming season with a very short bench. McGuff quickly made an impact on the recruiting trail, signing one of the nation’s top classes. While McGuff’s first season didn’t go well, the team showed signs of hope by shocking 11th ranked Penn State in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament. OSU made the NCAA tournament last year, losing at the last second to North Carolina in the second round.

McGuff has done a great job of transforming Ohio State’s offense into a more modern, up-tempo one and that has resulted in a dramatic increase in scoring. During Foster’s final two seasons, OSU only hit the 80 point mark in 15 out of 63 games while the first two seasons of McGuff’s tenure saw the team hit that mark in 25 out of 70 games; this season the team hit the 80 point mark in 26 of their 34 games.

Perhaps the biggest impact McGuff has had has been on the recruiting trail. Ohio produces a solid amount of talent and in the past most of the players left the state, ending up at Notre Dame, Tennessee, and UConn. While McGuff hasn’t built a wall around the state the way the football program, he has done a much better job of keeping top talent in state, most notably in his first season when he signed 4 Ohio players ranked in the top 100 of the recruiting rankings; the upcoming recruiting class includes the top player in the state. McGuff has also managed to grab high level talent from other states and is starting to get recruits who also have offers from current powerhouses like South Carolina and iconic programs like Tennessee. McGuff’s first recruiting class was one of the best in the country and the upcoming 2017 class is ranked anywhere between 3rd and 8th depending on which service you want to listen to. A lot of this success has been due to the hiring of assistant coach Joy Cheek who has shown that she is one of the best recruiters in the country. In addition to doing well on the recruiting trail, this coaching staff has landed several high profile transfers including Shayla Cooper who has had a notable impact already, Kianna Holland who was voted captain despite facing injury issues, and Stephanie Mavunga, an intimidating center from UNC who should be a force on the inside when she is eligible next season.

A lot of the negativity toward this program probably comes from how this season ended which saw the team lose the a Big Ten title after dropping their final two games of the season, suffer a blowout loss in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament, and then the disappointing loss in the Sweet 16. There is no explanation for the regular season losses but injuries played a major role in the other two losses. Ohio State had just lost Ameryst Alston, their second leading scorer, in the previous game before their Big Ten Tournament loss and just as she was ready to return against Tennessee, the Buckeyes lost Cait Craft, their top defender. Not only would Craft’s defense have had a big impact against a turnover prone Volunteer team, you have to question how losing another player to an injury effected the team mentally. It is also important to note that while Tennessee was a 7 seed, they weren’t a scrub team as they had picked things up late in the season and already beaten 2 seed Arizona State on the Sun Devils’ home court in the second round.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t issues that need to be addressed with the team. Rebounding continues to be an issue but it showed some improvement this season. Defense also is still a problem. OSU does a great job of pressuring ball handlers and jumping passing lanes but they don’t do a good job of getting out on and pressuring shooters. While Alexa Hart and Shayla Cooper are both great athletes on the inside and they can both score, they do lack a bit of physicality which is an issue against teams that are more willing to bang on the inside.

Injuries have been an issue for Ohio State the past two seasons as well, forcing McGuff to play with a short bench. Several of these injuries have been knee related which does raise some concerns though it isn’t clear if this is bad luck or something else. Knee and ACL injuries are much more common in women’s sports than in men’s so it isn’t unusual to see a higher occurrence rate of these injuries but the strength and condition program for the team may also need to be reviewed.

While the loss of Ameryst Alston and Cait Craft will hurt, the future is still bright for Ohio State. Every other major contributor returns, including sophomore star Kelsey Mitchell who was named first team All-American and one of the five Wooden Award Finalists this week. There is also more help on the way with a highly rated recruiting class coming in and transfers and injured players ready to get into the action. Size was an issue at times this season, notably against Tennessee, but Mavunga at 6’3” being eligible, Theresa Ekhelar at 6’6” returning from academic issues, and the addition of 6’4” power forward Tori McCoy should go a long way to improving the size issues as well as OSU interior game and hopefully rebounding.

This season ended on a disappointing note but this was an upset filled tournament that saw two number 1 seeds fall in the Sweet 16 and a Final Four that features three first time participants including a 4 seed and a 7 seed; this represents a major swing toward parity in the women’s game. McGuff’s program is clearly on the upswing, showing improvement in each of his three seasons and he continues to bring top talent to Columbus which will help a team that was still pretty young this season. The future of women’s basketball is bright in Columbus and I fully expect to see the scarlet and grey on the court when Columbus hosts the Final Four in 2018.

The post Future is Bright for OSU Women’s Basketball appeared first on The Buckeye Battle Cry: Ohio State News and Commentary.

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