The women’s basketball season gets underway this Friday as the Ohio State women’s basketball team takes on Notre Dame in the first ever women’s Carrier Classic game. The Buckeyes are coming off of a 25-7 season that got off to the best start in program history, winning their first 15 games, but fizzled down the stretch, ending in a disappointing first round loss in the NCAA tournament and a 16th place ranking in the polls. This season OSU opens at 19th in the rankings and despite that show of confidence by voters, many questions remain about the team.
Ohio State only lost one player to graduation last season but when that player is Samantha Prahalis, the major question for your team is obvious, how will the Buckeyes replace the production and leadership of the 2012 Big Ten Player of the Year?
Answering that question starts with Big Ten preseason Player of the Year, senior guard Tayler Hill. Hill had been the leading scorer in Minnesota girl’s high school basketball history and after two fairly good seasons as a Buckeye, Hill really burst onto the scene last year as she led the Big Ten in scoring with 20.4 points per game. Hill has improved her scoring dramatically each season, going from 8 points per game her freshman year to 12 her sophomore year to over 20 last season. Her huge jump last year came in large part due to her being featured more in the offence but also was a result of her improved shooting, Hill shot 47.5% overall last season and 41% from beyond the arc. Hill can score from pretty much anywhere on the court, obviously she is deadly from beyond the arc but she can also create off the dribble and attack the basket. This season there will be more pressure and defensive focus on Hill thanks to Prahalis’s departure and she is going to have to work harder to score. It would be nice to see Hill attack off the dribble more, she is very capable of doing it and it would increase her ability to get to the free throw line. The extra defensive attention that Hill will draw will open up opportunities for other teammates and while Tayler has always been primarily a scorer, she will have to look to pass more this coming season in order to let her teammates take advantage of those opportunities.
The other experienced returning guard is senior Amber Stokes. While Hill is an offensive force, Stokes is a defensive force, as indicated by her being the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Stokes doesn’t put up ridiculous steals numbers, averaging just over 1 per game last season, but she is a tenacious defender that frustrates opposing players and takes them out of their game. She does possess quick hands which generate lots of loose balls and her speed makes her deadly when she gets her hands on a loose ball. While primarily looked at as a defensive player, Stokes actually is a good shot, shooting over 43% from the floor in all three seasons as a Buckeye and average 20 points per game in her senior year of high school. In college Stokes has tended to disappear on offense, preferring to get the ball to teammates rather than looking to score herself. This is a shame as her speed and athleticism means that she is very good at slashing to the basket and this season she is going to have to look to score more with the loss of Prahalis.
The rest of the Buckeye guards are very young and while they lack experience, there is a lot of potential. Sophomore Raven Ferguson is the youngster who got the most playing time last season, averaging 12.1 minutes per game. While Ferguson averaged only 3.1 points per game, she shot 40% both overall and from three-point land. Ferguson was a prolific scorer in high school, totaling over 1,739 points during her career and if she used the offseason to better adjust to the pace of the college game, could be poised to have a major increase in production this year. Sophomores Maleeka Kynard, Shelbi Honeycutt, and redshirt sophomore Amy Scullion all saw limited playing time last year and will be expected to contribute more this season. Kynard will likely see major time at point guard as the Buckeyes look to replace Prahalis and Scullion is finally healthy after an ACL injury her freshman year.
Ohio State also added a pair of freshman guards in Ameryst Alston and Cait Craft. Alston was a two-time AP Ohio Ms. Basketball who Canton, McKinley’s all-time career scoring leader with 2,032 points. Craft is the sister of men’s basketball player Aaron Craft and in addition to averaging 21.4 points per game her senior season, she appears to have some of her brother’s defensive abilities as she averaged 4.3 steals per game. Craft now makes two OSU women’s basketball players who have brothers that played on the men’s team, Tayler Hill is the sister of PJ Hill, and hopefully Cait can turn out as well as Tayler.
The biggest news in the frontcourt for Ohio State concerns sophomore Kalpana Beach. Beach impressed everyone last season with her athleticism and fiery play and was poised to become a star this season. Unfortunately Beach injured her ACL in practice and will miss this season.
Junior forward Darryce Moore will likely be the first option to replace Beach; the two pretty much shared the four spot last season even though Beach got almost all the starts. While Beach is the more athletic option, Moore’s style of play and body type is more physical which is always good in Big Ten play. Moore averaged 4.6 points per game while shooting an impressive 58% from the field and pulling down 2.9 rebounds. She can definitely shoot and she will need to look to score more often this season. In addition to looking to score more, the biggest improvement Moore needs to make is on getting in better defensive position; opposing guards were often able to slash past her last season.
Senior forward Emilee Harmon is the third senior on this year’s squad and while she has not made a major impact on the court, Coach Foster has praised her leadership during the offseason in getting the team better prepared than normal. While she played less than 7 minutes per game and averaged just 2.4 points per game last season, Harmon did pull down almost 2 rebounds per game in that limited time and shot 44% from the floor. Harmon has been hampered by problems with her left knee since arriving at Ohio State and this summer was her first fully healthy summer since graduating high school, it will be interesting to see if this allows her to realize some of the potential that got her named as a top 100 recruit by ESPN when she was in high school.
Junior Ashley Adams will be starting at center for the second straight year and was an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten selection last year. Adams averaged 7.1 points and 6.9 rebounds per game and led the Big Ten with 96 blocked shots. Adams’ biggest strength is her passing ability; she averaged 2.2 assists per game last season and is one of the best passing centers I have ever seen. Adams’ biggest weakness is that she does not move well, often finding herself out of position as a result, the fact that Adams still led the Big Ten in blocked shots despite this speaks of her tremendous potential. If Adams can get in better shape and improve her ability to get in proper position, she could be a deadly center thanks to her passing ability which makes it harder for defenses to collapse down on her when she has the ball in the post.
Junior forward Martina Ellerbe and redshirt junior center Aleksandra Dobranic each saw only limited action last season. Ellerbe has the best range of the Buckeye forwards, hitting 30% of her three-point shots last season, and has the ability to open defenses by drawing her defender to the perimeter. Dobranic has good size and could see more playing time this season with Beach out, possibly in the four spot rather than at center.
Freshman Lisa Blair is the only newcomer in the OSU frontcourt, a 6-6 center from Brooklyn, New York, Blair got Coach Foster’s attention due to her defensive abilities. Blair comes from the same AAU team that produced Prahalis and her size and defensive abilities will be needed by an Ohio State team that got pushed around by teams with good post play last season, such as Penn State and Florida.
Optimism among Ohio State and women’s basketball fans regarding the Buckeyes season is not terribly hard and it is easy to see why. OSU lost Samantha Prahalis, one of the most dynamic women’s college basketball players in several years. As point guard Prahalis was in charge of running the offense and she, along with Tayler Hill, was the go to scorer for the Buckeyes. Prahalis’s graduation raises questions about who will run the point for OSU and where the scoring will come from. Neither of these questions will likely be answered by only one person.
Expect to see Tayler Hill get some time bringing the ball up the court as point guard. Hill had a deadly three-point shot that she does not need a lot of time to set up and she has the athleticism to attack off the dribble, thus bringing the ball up the court does not eliminate her ability to score. Sophomore Maleeka Kynard will also likely see time at point. Kynard was a talented point guard in high school and much talk last season was about how Foster hoped she would learn from Prahalis. Freshman Cait Craft may also see some time at point thanks to her defensive abilities.
The Buckeyes will also look to multiple players to step up and replace Prahalis’s scoring. With the injury to Kalpana Beach, expect Foster to employ a three guard, forward, center line-up most of the time. Hill and Ashley Adams will obviously be the focal points of the offense but other players will get their chances. Raven Ferguson will likely get a large amount of time at shooting guard and the extra defensive attention that Hill will attract on the perimeter should enable Ferguson to get some good looks if the team can move the ball well. Darryce Moore showed that she can be a physical presence inside last season and Adams is a threat to both score and dish the ball from underneath which makes her hard to defend. Freshman guard Ameryst Alston has been compared favorably to former OSU star Brandie Hoskins and her ability to attack the basket should see her get a chance at playing time in the shooting guard spot. Amber Stokes will see a large amount of playing time and is going to have to look to score more; she can attack off the dribble and needs to be more confident in her ability to do so. Freshman center Lisa Blair presents an interesting situation, with Adams and Aleksandra Dobranic on the team Foster could redshirt Blair but Dobranic hasn’t seen too much playing time and Foster has been known to use two posts before; Blair and Adams on the floor at the same time could be an interesting combination.
It is hard to tell how this season will go for Ohio State, there are a lot of questions regarding this team and how it will deal with the graduation of Prahalis and the loss of Beach to injury. Tayler Hill remains a star, she has been named one of the top 5 shooting guards in the country by ESPN, and she will have to lead the team. Other players will have to step up and contribute; hopefully it will be more of a team effort than the one or two star player model that the Buckeyes have tended to exhibit in recent years. While people may complain about Foster and how his teams struggle in the postseason, you have to admit that he is a great coach when it comes to getting his players to develop in the offseason and every year someone takes huge leaps in the offseason; I look forward to seeing who it will be this year.
The non-conference portion of the schedule is rather easy this year, with the opening game against Notre Dame and star point guard Skylar Diggins being the biggest test. While the schedule is on the easy side, it does set up nicely for giving the newer players time to get comfortable in their new roles and will give Foster the ability to experiment with line-ups. Look for some early struggles before the team figures things out come December. The top of the Big Ten is formidable this year so finishing 3rd in the conference is the most likely outcome, Penn State and Nebraska are too loaded. The Buckeyes will make it to the NCAA tournament as a 6-8 seed where hosting the first two rounds will hopefully give them a boost.