May 31, 2023 

State of the Program: Ohio State ready for more following Elite Eight run

The Buckeyes have Final Four potential in 2023-24

By early February, it looked like Ohio State had already played its best basketball of the 2022-23 season. After climbing as high as No. 2 in the AP Poll after a 19-0 start, the Buckeyes lost five of their next seven games.

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Injuries to Jacy Sheldon and Madison Greene seemed to be catching up to them. Ohio State grinded its way across the finish line in the regular season. Then, Sheldon returned for the Big Ten Tournament.

Trailing 46-26 at the half of the tournament semifinal against Indiana, the Buckeyes stormed back to a 79-75 win. Though they lost the championship game to Iowa, that performance reignited a team that had been missing the jolt of energy that propelled the group to its unbeaten start.

From there, Ohio State beat James Madison in the NCAA Tournament’s first round, survived a nailbiter with UNC and took down Geno Auriemma’s UConn Huskies before coming up short in the Elite Eight against Virginia Tech.

But that win over UConn carried extra special meaning for the program.

“What UConn has done for women’s basketball is just nothing short of remarkable,” head coach Kevin McGuff told The Next. “I love Geno, and he was certainly gracious like he always is, win or lose. It meant a lot to have a chance to beat them. It meant a lot because of how much I respect them and all that they’ve accomplished and all that they’ve done for women’s basketball. Huge win. We beat the best program in the history of the game, and so that was a big win for us and just a really exciting game.”

With Sheldon back, it allowed Ohio State’s other key players, like Rikki Harris and Taylor Mikesell, to return to playing to their strengths, and first-year Cotie McMahon displayed how she’ll be a force in the Big Ten for the next few years.

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“Just the chemistry and the camaraderie amongst the team was really, really special,” McGuff said. “This is a great group of kids, and they really like each other. They like playing with each other, they like spending time with each other, and I think that was really the key to our success.”

2022-23 record: 28-8 (12-6 Big Ten); lost in Elite Eight to Virginia Tech, 84-74.

Big Ten finish: 4th

Notable wins: vs. Tennessee (87-75), @ Louisville (96-77), @ Oregon (84-67), vs. Michigan (66-57), @ Michigan (74-61), vs. Michigan (81-79), @ Indiana (79-75), vs. North Carolina (71-69), @ UConn (73-61).

Key Departures: Taylor Mikesell (WNBA Draft), Mya Perry (transferring to Florida Atlantic), Hevynne Bristow (transferring to James Madison).

Additions: Celeste Taylor (transferring from Duke), Taiyier Parks (transferring from Michigan State), Kennedy Cambridge (transferring from Kentucky), Faith Carson (first-year), Diana Collins (first-year).

Key Returners: Jacy Sheldon, Cotie McMahon, Taylor Thierry, Madison Greene, Rikki Harris, Rebeka Mikulasikova.

While the Buckeyes lose Mikesell heading into next season, a top-tier 3-point shooter in the sport, McGuff wasted no time adding to his roster through the transfer portal. Aware of how quickly injuries can derail a season, building up their depth was front of mind.

“I thought we had a chance to be the best team in the country this year, and then we got hit with some injuries, and it really impacted us,” McGuff said. “I’m really excited about all three of the kids we’ve added. We’ll be a little different, but I think Celeste Taylor obviously is an elite player with great athleticism; I think will be great in transition and great in our offense and also just an incredible defender who I think will be really impactful in our press.

“Taiyier Parks gives us a great presence with her physicality and so forth around the basket, and I think she’ll also be able to play a little bit away from the basket. And then Kennedy may give us a little more shooting on the perimeter, especially losing Taylor Mikesell. So I think that they’re all good additions. We like to press, we play really fast, so us being a deep team is really a great thing for us.”

McGuff’s vaunted press requires elite endurance to work consistently. In fact, the Buckeyes’ loss in the Elite Eight largely stemmed from the fact that the press could not be as disruptive as it had been against UConn.

It’s a style of defense few teams in the country employ, especially to the extent that McGuff does. But, he said, it helps him identify the types of players that will be strong fits for his program during the recruiting process.

“I’m very clear in the recruiting process about what we do, how we do it, my belief in it,” he said. “It usually helps either weed people out or get the right people here that want to do that. Everybody knows what they’re walking into when they come here.”

Few understand the style better at this point than Sheldon, who announced after the season’s conclusion that she’d return to Columbus for a fifth year. The stability she brings to the point guard position on offense and her quickness and ability to disrupt on defense epitomizes the type of player that perfectly fits McGuff’s system.

During the NCAA Tournament run, Sheldon averaged 17.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.3 steals per game.

“The thing about Jacy that makes her so special: she makes everybody better,” McGuff said. “It’s been awhile since I’ve had a kid that does such a good job of making everyone around her better. Everybody plays at a higher level when she’s on the floor.”

As such, finding out she’d be returning for one more season greatly boosted the team’s prospects.

“Can’t wait to coach her one more year. She’s an incredible kid,” McGuff said. “Just love being around her. She does anything she can to help this program on or off the court, and so it’s going to be really exciting to have her for one more year.”

Paired with McMahon, entering her second year, the duo will create havoc for every opponent Ohio State faces.

In her first season as a Buckeye, McMahon looked like a seasoned veteran, displaying poise in the post and bringing great passion to the team. She averaged 15.1 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.

One area McGuff said is a key focus for McMahon: her perimeter shooting. She shot 26% from beyond the arc in 2022-23. Still, she’ll almost certainly be a player the program can build around for the foreseeable future.

“The thing that kind of surprised me: She practices so hard and plays so hard,” McGuff said. “Sometimes it’s an adjustment for kids to get used to the intensity of practice and games and all that. But she plays and practices extremely hard, and I think that’s the key to her making so much progress in her first year. It’s just how hard she practiced from day one. She’s a special kid, and we’re certainly excited about her future.”

Ohio State will also add two first-year players, including Faith Carson, a 6’4 post from Michigan, who should provide more depth and physicality to that position. Meanwhile, Diana Collins should help solidify McGuff’s backcourt.

2022-23 was a year of tremendous ups and demoralizing downs for Ohio State, culminating with that Elite Eight appearance, the school’s first since reaching the Final Four in 1993. With more injury luck in 2023-24, there’s no reason that this can’t be a Final Four program for the first time in three decades.

Written by Eric Rynston-Lobel

Eric Rynston-Lobel has been a contributor to The Next since August 2022. He covered Northwestern women's basketball extensively in his four years as a student there for WNUR and now works as a sports reporter for the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire.

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