2023 Ohio State University
The Women's Basketball team at The Ohio State University has put together a historic and memorable regular season. Now they will look to build on the success of the past few months and climb the ladder to cut down the nets in Los Angeles on Sunday, April 2nd to become the NCAA National Champions for the first time in school history. The closest the Lady Buckeyes have come to winning the big dance was 30 years ago when they were the NCAA Runner-Up in 1993.
2023 Ohio State University (1993 Ohio State Women's Basketball Team Photo)
While the goal for the No. 3 seeded scarlet and gray is clear. The path is not, the tournament is called March Madness for a reason and the Buckeyes will have to traverse an ever changing landscape to claim the throne. What is for certain is who they play to start things off. Their first matchup will have them take on the No. 14 seeded James Madison Bulldogs who are coming in off a 26-7 season that saw them win the Sun Belt Championship over Texas State by 30 points. Which was the largest margin of victory in Sun Belt Championship game history. The Bulldogs also have two of the hottest shooters in the nation in Peyton McDaniel and Kiki Jefferson who combined for 52 of the teams 81 points in the championship game. Their 52 points was more than their opponents total. They come in with a stellar defense that has held opponents to about 60 points per game on the season.
Ohio State in this postseason will have to rely on their shooting to lead the way. They rank top-10 in the nation in offense with over 80 points per game and showed off their shooting when they upset Indiana after a 24 point comeback in the Big Ten Semifinals last week. Taylor Thierry has taken her place as one of the best shooters on the team next to Taylor Mikesell and they will certainly look to carry the load with the help of their phenomenal teammates. But as great as the offense is, the Buckeyes brought back their defensive leader in Jacy Sheldon, who also led the team in scoring last season. The addition of Sheldon was pivotal in the Buckeyes run to the Big Ten Championship game as her defense and leadership raised the program to new heights. As in the two games where she played over 15 minutes in the Big Ten Tournament the Buckeyes forced 34 turnovers against two of the top teams in the nation in Iowa and Indiana. The other two games of the tournament the Buckeyes were able to forced just 21. As the saying goes, "defense wins championships" and that will likely be the case again this postseason if the Buckeyes can run the table and play the upset card a couple of times.
While nothing is certain in March we can certainly speculate who the Buckeyes will play in the second round if they can avoid the upset minded Bulldogs in round one. Round two is likely to feature the Buckeyes taking on the No. 6 seeded UNC Tarheels who will have to go through the winner of the First Four matchup between St. Johns and Purdue. But if all goes according to the seeding than the Buckeyes will matchup against the Tarheels in a game that features two teams with fairly even resumes. Both teams feature top-30 strength of schedules and both have more than 10 games played against top-25 opponents and each have a winning record in those top-25 matchups. The difference between the two is how they win. The Tarheels have one of the best defenses in the nation as they have held opponents to an average score of under 60 points per game. Meanwhile the Buckeyes are allowing almost 70 per game. But offense is the opposite, as the Buckeyes average over 80 points per game while the Tarheels average under 70 points per game. Whoever can play their style of basketball and dictate the tempo will likely emerge as the victor.
If the Buckeyes can take down the Tarheels than either the 2-seeded UConn Huskies, 7-seeded Baylor, 10-seeded Alabama, or 15-seeded Vermont. For the purposes of this article we will assume the favorites will win early on and the Buckeyes will take on the Huskies who are appearing in their 34th consecutive NCAA Tournament. Much like the Buckeyes they feature one of the hardest strengths of schedule in the nation, have 10 or more games played against top-25 opponents and have a winning record in those games. However, unlike the Buckeyes last opponent in UNC, the Huskies can score. They average about 75 points per game and play stellar defense allowing just 58 points per game this season. They have both the defense that UNC features with the offense that has propelled the Buckeyes to the third seed in the tournament. This is where the Buckeyes must begin to pull the upset card. The defensive onslaught the Buckeyes unleashed at the beginning of the season where they were forcing well over 20 turnovers a game must come back if they want to take down the Huskies in the Sweet 16. The Buckeyes were knocked out of the tournament in the Sweet 16 in three of their last five NCAA Tournament appearances. They have not made the Elite Eight since 1993 when they made it all the way to the NCAA Championship game.
If the Buckeyes can grab their first Sweet 16 win in the last 30 years, and only their fourth all time, then they will likely be matched up against the No. 1 seed in Virginia Tech who finished the season as the No. 4 ranked team in the nation with an outstanding 27-4 record and an ACC Championship. There is little doubt that this would be one of the hardest matchups the Buckeyes have faced all year long, but yet again the Buckeyes will have an offensive advantage. The Hokies offense was still good as they averaged about 73 points per game during the season, but the Buckeyes will have the upper hand. However, once more they will have to overcome a strong defense. The Hokies allow just 57 points per game, which is one of the lowest points allowed averages in the nation. Ohio State has made the Elite Eight just three times in program history (1985, 1987, 1993) and have only gotten past once (1993).
What awaits them in the Final Four is likely a familiar foe, and one that is bound to be looking for revenge. They will see the No. 1 seeded Indiana Hoosiers, the team the Buckeyes completed the largest comeback in Big Ten Tournament history on just last week. Indiana were the favorites to win the conference tournament before the Buckeyes pulled the upset card in the semifinals. Once again they would meet in the semifinals if both teams can run the table. This would be one of the most exciting matchups of the tourney with both teams knowing each other so well after playing each other three times over the last three months. The Hoosiers are one of the top teams in the nation, but the Buckeyes just beat them. This game will come down to which team wants it more and the last time these two met with similar circumstances, it was the Buckeyes who wanted it more and they came out with the win.
Now if the Buckeyes can manage all of that through the first five rounds and continue to make history in 2023, than what awaits them in Los Angeles is the reigning, defending, undefeated South Carolina Gamecocks. A team that hasn't lost since March 6th of 2022 in the SEC Championship game. The Gamecocks lost just twice that season en route to the schools second NCAA Championship. Both of which have been won in the last ten years. Coming in to this postseason the Gamecocks are ranked as the No. 1 team in the nation and have won most of their games by double digits. South Carolina also has the No. 4 ranked defense in the nation allowing just over 50 points a game. If that wasn't enough to intimidate their opponents they also bolster the No. 7 rated offense in the nation averaging over 80 points per game. They are the odds on favorite to win the entire tournament. They are favored so much that FanDuel's National Championship betting for the Women's tournament is simply "South Carolina vs. The Field." Not only will Ohio State have to run through a gauntlet just to get here, they must also play perfect basketball if they have any chance to take down of the best teams in basketball history.
They don't call this tournament Madness for no-reason. No one is safe and seeding means nothing. All that matters is the game that you are playing at that very moment. If Ohio State can stay locked in and play their style of basketball that Buckeye fans have come to love this season. Then, and only then can the Buckeyes defy the odds and do what has never been done before in Ohio State Women's Basketball history and that's win the Championship. The Buckeyes have been chasing history all season long and now they have a chance to a make some history that will hang in the rafters for the rest of time.