It is mid-November and that means that even though football is still going strong, it is time to also pay attention to the start of basketball season. The Ohio State women’s basketball team opens the season on Sunday against Tennessee State. This season marks a new joint venture in women’s basketball coverage between Our Honor Defend and The Buckeye Battlecry, you will now be able to find our coverage on both websites. In addition, this joint venture will lead to more in-depth coverage thanks to increased access to the Ohio State program.
For the first time in years Ohio State was not picked to finish in the top 3 in the Big Ten by the coaches or the media at the conference’s pre-season media day. This reflects improvement on the part of several other Big Ten teams, most notably Penn State and Purdue, but also the loss of four time conference Player of the Year Jantel Lavender. Lavender became Ohio State’s all-time leading scorer last season, second place in the Big Ten, and the conference’s all-time leading rebounder last season and her graduation leaves a huge hole in the middle for the Buckeyes. The other big loss to graduation for OSU was Brittany Johnson, the team’s leading three-point shooter last season. These losses leave a lot of question marks for the Buckeyes but the influx of some talented freshmen and a shift to a faster paced offense promise a very exciting season.
Ohio State returns three starters from last season. Senior point guard Samantha Prahalis was selected as the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year, sharing the honor with Penn State’s Alex Bentley. Prahalis already has the Ohio State career record for assists and has the chance to set the Big Ten mark this season. After three years where her playmaking skills were often overshadowed by displays of immaturity on the court. A positive sign that Sammy is maturing and becoming more of a leader came this offseason as she passed up a chance to try out for USA basketball and instead stayed in Columbus to work with the incoming freshmen this summer. Reports have said that this has already paid off as the team is showing more chemistry than last year’s squad which lost out on a regular season conference title thanks in large part to chemistry issues.
Junior shooting guard Tayler Hill, sister of former OSU men’s basketball player PJ Hill, also returns as a starter. Hill showed great improvement last season at creating off the dribble, putting together numerous nice drives to the basket for layups. If Hill can develop a more consistent outside shot, she could become the biggest scoring threat on the team. In addition to her ability to attack the hoop, Tayler has also developed into a very good defender and will get the responsibility of guarding opponents’ best guard or wing this season.
The final returning starter is sophomore center Ashley Adams. Adams worked her way into the starting lineup last season as a freshman and teamed with Lavender to create an impressive inside tandem. Adams very quickly showed that she had an impressive passing ability, easily feeding other players from her position in the post. Ashley also has an impressively accurate shot; she hit 61.5% of her attempts last season. The major area that Adams needs to improve at is her footwork and athleticism. She is a traditional large post that likes to plant in the post and not move; if she can improve her footwork she can become a solid defender and a much better rebounder.
Redshirt junior guard Amber Stokes will be joining the starting lineup after being a key contributer off the bench last season. Stokes is a great athlete with impressive speed but has had her career hampered by injuries so far. Reports out of Columbus say that she is healthy now and in the best shape of her career, which means that she should be scary fast. Stokes is similar to Hill in that she is a very good defender who also can attack the basket.
Over the past couple season Ohio State has picked up its offensive pace and become more of a running team. This year promises to see an even faster tempo out of the Buckeye offense with the combination of Prahalis, Hill, and Stokes on the court together. All three can get up the floor quickly and all three can attack the basket. The Buckeyes added a four player recruiting class that brings in even more athleticisim in the forms of 6’1” forward Kalpana Beach, 5’11” guard Raven Ferguson, 5’10” guard Shelbi Honeycutt, and 5’7” guard Maleeka Kynard. Beach and Ferguson are accomplished scorers who are expected to see significant playing time and even have a chance to crack the starting lineup. Honeycutt is a three point threat while Kynard is a point guard who also can score. OSU should also see redshirt freshman Amy Scullion on the court this season. Scullion is a 6’0” guard/forward who took a medical redshirt last year but was expected to see playing time then. She opens this season with a foot injury but should work her way back onto the court.
This is a very young Ohio State team, Prahalis is the only senior on the squad, so growing pains are expected as players transition to taking on roles of increased performance. The non-conference schedule features tough home games against LSU and Florida State and trips to Oklahoma and California. These games will certainly challenge the Buckeyes and there is little chance for the team to make it through the non-conference portion of the schedule unscathed. This is actually a good thing though as these early tests will help prepare the team for what should be a Big Ten that is more competitive that it has been for the past several years.
The Big Ten schedule makers gave Ohio State a tough start to conference play as they host Iowa in the second game of the conference season and then follow that with a trip to Ann Arbor; Iowa is one of the favorites to win the conference and Michigan is a bit of a sleeper pick. Michigan State, Penn State, and Purdue are the other three favorites to contend for the Big Ten title and Ohio State faces each of them only once, getting Purdue at home but unfortunately having to travel to East Lansing and Happy Valley.
After being favored to win the Big Ten for the past 5 or 6 years, being picked to finish towards the middle of the conference is an unfamiliar spot for the Buckeyes. Being place in more of the underdog role may prove to be a blessing though as it will take some of the pressure of high expectations off of the younger players and let them focus on playing basketball. The development of the young players will determine how well the season goes. If they can step up and start to contribute early in the season, or at least by the start of Big Ten play, Ohio State has a good chance to make a run at the conference regular season title and a 3rd straight Big Ten Tournament title. The more up-tempo, guard oriented offense will take some getting used to from the players but OSU has the athletes now to run that style of offense, which has become more prevalent among the top teams in the country over the past decade. The youth of this team makes it impossible to predict how the team will finish but I guarantee that this should be one of the most exciting seasons in a long time from the Buckeyes.