More than 10,000 people officially joined the ranks of Ohio State alumni over the weekend, a group that included more than 150 scholarship athletes.
Out of the latter group, three names stood out above the rest: Aaron Craft, John Simon and Katie Smith. Two defensive standouts and the player who has scored more points as a pro basketball player than any other woman in the U.S.
(Should note Smith already received her undergrad degree a few years ago as part of OSU’s degree completion program.)
Stanford’s win over North Carolina in the second regional final game played Tuesday night means a fourth Final Four in five years for Beavercreek’s Mikaela Ruef, who redshirted because of a foot injury early in her career.
Ruef joins Malina Howard (Twinsburg) and Chloe Pavlich (Cincinnati Sycamore) of Maryland as the three players from Ohio to earn a trip to Nashville.
Meanwhile, Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer is headed to her 11th Final Four with the Cardinal since leaving Ohio State after the 1985 season, when she led the Buckeyes to the Elite 8.
VanDerveer coached Ohio State as women’s basketball became an officially sponsored Big Ten sport and led the Buckeyes to the first conference title.
Her top assistant at Stanford is Amy Tucker, the captain of the 1982 Ohio State squad that played in the first NCAA women’s basketball tournament.
Ohio State came in second for Ruef, who has family on the West Coast and was also swayed by the opportunity to get a Stanford education. Interestingly, back then Ruef’s father told me VanDerveer talked to them about what great memories she had of her time at Ohio State.
The Buckeyes also went hard after Howard, who was ESPN’s No. 1 center prospect in her class two years ago, but she did not have Ohio State among her finalists when she chose the Terrapins.
Ohio State 2014 signee Makayla Waterman personally tied Springfield 11-11 Wednesday night in Greater Western Ohio Conference girls’ basketball action. Meanwhile, Waterman’s Kettering Fairmont teammates outscored the Wildcats 91-0 as the defending Ohio Division I state champions improved to 14-1 on the season (H/T).
As you might expect, the 102 points for the Firebirds is their season high, but they have rolled early in GWOC play with an average margin of victory of 43.2 points during a 5-0 start.
Their level of competition will ramp up considerably this weekend when they head to Berlin, Ohio, for the annual Classic in the Country, where they are scheduled to play Toledo Notre Dame and Solon. TND (despite what ESPN might think) is led by Tierra Floyd, one of the top junior prospects in Ohio.
New head coach Kevin McGuff inherited an Ohio State women’s basketball roster with only 13 players for this season, and it shrank to 11 available after one decided to transfer and another suffered a likely season-ending injury.
He signed five players in November for the 2014 class, and this week added two more who were part of the 2013 class when top 50 recruits Kianna Holland and Shayla Cooper decided to transfer to Ohio State from Duke and Georgetown, respectively.
Tierra Floyd is a highly regarded junior guard from Toledo who figures to get plenty of looks from big-time programs between now and next fall when she can sign a national letter of intent.
Hopefully big-time schools already recruiting her such as Ohio State don’t rely on information from the ESPN database to find her, though, because the Worldwide Leader erroneously lists the Notre Dame Academy standout’s school as St. John’s (Actually it says, “Saint Johns,” but we’ll assume that’s a typo).
A new season is almost ready to start, so I thought I would share this analysis of where the Ohio State women’s basketball program has been over the past decade under former head coach Jim Foster and where it could be going in the future under new head coach Kevin McGuff.
Like most of our women’s basketball coverage, it appeared in the print edition along with our annual team preview.
The process might have taken longer than they hoped, but Ohio State administrators finally got their man to lead the women’s basketball team.
Kevin McGuff was introduced Wednesday in a press conference at Value City Arena and represented himself well in front of the OSU press during his first appearance as head coach of the Buckeyes.
A native Ohioan who built Xavier into a 30-win team and mid-major power before two solid years at Washington, he brings a lot to the table as the new leader of the Scarlet and Gray.
He promised to field a defense-minded team that will hit the boards while playing an aggressive, attacking style on offense. The latter is probably what will appeal most to Ohio State fans, who used to grouse about the post-oriented, sometimes plodding style of predecessor Jim Foster.
Foster, of course, tried to change with the times by recruiting flashy point guard Samantha Prahalis from the New York City area five years ago and giving her some athletic wings to fill the lane, but by then it might have been too late from a perception standpoint. Stung by disappointing postseasons in 2006, ‘’07 and ’08, the Ohio State fans were skeptical Foster would really give a guard the keys to the attack and let her go.
He did just that, however, and the early returns were promising as the precocious East Coast native helped carry the Buckeyes to the Sweet 16 as a freshman in 2009, a tournament run that came to an end at the hands of a powerful Stanford team that was not only awarded a No. 1 seed in the tournament but ranked No. 2 at the end of the season. The Buckeyes hung tough for about 35 minutes in that game before succumbing, but the future looked bright, especially when they signed five-star prospect Tayler Hill less than three weeks later.
Hill was supposed to put the Buckeyes over the top, giving them a third elite player to go with Prahalis and All-American post player Jantel Lavender. It didn’t work out that way, though. Ohio State earned a No. 2 seed in the 2010 tournament but bowed out to No. 7 Mississippi State in the second round, another disappointing showing that had fans howling for Foster’s head despite an existing six-year string of Big Ten titles.
In many ways, that was the beginning of the end for Foster’s program in Ohio State. The big three came back for one more season together, but the 2011 team suffered through a rough patch in the middle of the season brought on by chemistry problems and a young, unreliable bench. They did not recover in time to preserve their Big Ten title streak, but they got rolling at the end of the season, crushing three consecutive opponents to take the Big Ten tournament title and earning a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament.
That squad earned Foster’s third Sweet 16 at Ohio State, but a trip to the Elite Eight was denied by No. 1-seeded Tennessee. A look at the Lady Vols’ roster was an easy enough indication of what difference still existed between the Buckeyes and the best of the best – Ohio State had four McDonald’s All-Americans while Tennessee countered with nine.
The trio of stars didn’t draw great crowds to OSU home games, either, as attendance began a three-year decline that continued to this past season.
Hill, whose brother being a Buckeye probably helped her conclude Columbus was the place for her college years, was the seventh and final McDonald’s All-American to sign with Ohio State during the Foster regime. She just finished her career as a four-year starter and was drafted fourth overall in the WNBA draft after leading the Big Ten in scoring the past two seasons.
Foster pulled in highly rated Ohioans Kalpana Beach, Raven Ferguson and Ameryst Alston in the past two classes but lost McDonald’s All-Americans Ally Mallott and Malina Howard, among others. He signed no one in the early period of this recruiting cycle, though the Buckeyes were in the running for a handful of highly regarded national prospects as the state of Ohio’s crop was unusually thin.
McGuff takes over a team that went 18-13 last season and lost Hill to graduation as well as fellow starting guard Amber Stokes. Beach missed the past season with a torn ACL and could be out another year after she suffered the same injury again this week.
Ferguson and Alston give him two nice building blocks who can score, but he will have his work cut out for him getting this team back to the NCAA tournament in a transition year. Those two have All-Big Ten talent, but they will need some help from a group of post players that has played inconsistently to this point in their careers.
McGuff has a chance to hit the ground running, though, with a very deep and talented class of juniors available in Ohio. The headliner is Cincinnati Princeton’s Kelsey Mitchell, a guard who preps in McGuff’s old stomping grounds from his days as head coach at Xavier. Also highly coveted are athletic forwards Makayla Waterman (whose grandfather was an OSU men’s basketball assistant under Fred Taylor) and Kathryn Westbeld of defending Division I state champion Kettering Fairmont along with forward Alyssa Rice of Reynoldsburg.
He did not rule out adding someone in the spring signing period, but that is probably unlikely. That would mean he has seven scholarships to give out for 2014 if he so desires, though he may bank some for 2015 and ’16 classes that are already receiving rave reviews from recruiting analysts in and around the state.
Despite some trials and tribulations since letting Foster go, Ohio State appears to have found a great fit to lead its program. A proven winner at the mid-major level, McGuff had Washington going in the right direction with a pair of WNIT appearances and two McDonald’s All-America signings. That was without the luxury of recruiting in his home state, where he spent a lifetime building relationships not only in Ohio but also Indiana during his tim as a Notre Dame assistant.
For all the postseason frustration, Foster left the program in better shape than he found it. He ended an 11-year Big Ten title drought by winning six in a row, an unprecedented run that left no doubt Ohio State is the pre-eminent program in the conference, at least as far as the regular season is concerned. The Buckeyes’ 14 Big Ten championships are five more than anyone else.
Postseason success has not only eluded Ohio State but been relatively scarce for the rest of the conference as well. Purdue has the only national championship for the conference, and the Boilermakers are the only Big Ten team to make multiple Final Fours. They have two while Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State and Iowa all have one apiece.
Can McGuff make a difference in college basketball’s most important month? Only time will tell, but he had all the right answers on his first day on the job.
Kind of a weird game for Ohio State to open the Big Ten tournament, but then that should probably not come as a surprise given the opponent.
Michigan’s women’s basketball team, kind of like the men’s team, plays a bit of an odd style and it showed in a 57-48 Buckeye victory. The Wolverines under head coach Kevin Borseth want to grind out long possessions and play a European style that sets up a lot of outside shots for the post players. This has given the Buckeyes a lot of problems the past couple of years, as evidenced by the three-game winning streak Michigan brought into the game.
Again they seemed to have the Buckeyes discombobulated defensively from time to time, but there was a consensus in the post-game interview room that they did not do enough to take advantage.
Michigan shot 34.5 percent from the field but missed a lot of open shots inside and out. They took 25 threes and made only seven.
That offset a good defensive effort that tried to replicate what had worked for them in a 73-62 win in Ann Arbor in January. They concentrated on trapping star Ohio State guards Samantha Prahalis and Tayler Hill while playing off of Amber Stokes, the third guard, and taking their chances with power forward Kalpana Beach and center Ashley Adams.
The strategy worked pretty well, especially in the first half as Beach took as many shots (seven) as Prahalis and made only two. Stokes went 1 for 4 from the floor while Adams was 2 for 4 but committed three turnovers as she never seemed quite sure where the defenders were going to be while surveying the offense.
That Prahalis and Hill, one of the most dangerous guard combinations in the country, tried to share the wealth in the first half was not all Michigan’s doing. Ohio State head coach Jim Foster also wanted to see them get a variety of teammates involved, and he said after the game he was happy they were able to do it. However, I’m not sure that confluence of strategies from the separate huddles didn’t make things more difficult than they had to be for the Buckeyes to advance.
Michigan controlled the tempo of the game for maybe 35 minutes, but they paid dearly for the part they let it slip. Ohio State scored the first 11 points of the second half to take a 16-point lead. Michigan managed to get stabilized – and started hitting shots for a change – but never could get closer than five. The damage was done, and it came via more open-court play than the Buckeyes were able to force in the first half. Hill and Prahalis had the game in their hands at that point, and it was easy to see why that is a good thing for Ohio State.
Taking advantage of four early misses by the Wolverines, the Buckeyes struck back quickly with a pair of Hill fastbreak layups, a put-back by Beach and a Hill three that came out of the halfcourt offense. They also got a jumper from Beach, who seemed to have more room to operate once the game turned into more of a scramble.
Even after the tempo returned to a pace more Michigan’s liking, the Buckeyes seemed more comfortable on offense. They slowed things down themselves while protecting the lead, feeling comfortable letting the clock run down before attacking, and it worked well enough to hang on.
They also got the defense going late as the athletic Beach blocked a shot and Stokes and Hill both came up with steals in the final minutes.
Hill finished with 19 points, all but three of which came in the second half. Prahalis had 11 points and five turnovers but turned the ball over seven times. She was 4 for 15 from the field while Hill went 7 for 12. The star duo fell about 10 points shy of what it usually averages total, but Beach picked them up with 12 points while Raven Ferguson had a sneaky five off the bench.
The post players have been something of a work in progress all season, and Beach had her ups and downs while Adams seemed to struggle the farther she was pulled away from the basket. The sophomore center looked lost on more than one occasion on both ends of the floor, but classmate Darryce Moore provided some quality minutes off the bench in relief of her. Adams is a gifted passer with a good touch from 15 feet and in, but she has drifted in and out of games and this was not one of her better ones. The Buckeyes will need more from her in the future if they want to win many more postseason games.
Beach was an efficient 3 for 4 from the field in the second half, but can the freshman sustain that kind of consistency for a full game let alone multiple games? That remains to be seen. She’s brought a lot to the lineup, but she’s still going through some growing pains.
In the first half, I felt like Prahalis and Hill were trying too hard to get their teammates involved. They are the two best players and their teammates didn’t have much luck in taking advantage of the opportunities they had.
In the long run, they will need help to take the Buckeyes deep into the NCAA tournament, but there is something to be said for dancing with those who brought you. It will be interesting to see how they maintain that balance the rest of this most critical month.
Ohio State begins Big Ten tournament play at 11:30 Friday morning in Indianapolis against Michigan. The Wolverines beat Illinois on Thursday to earn the right to play the second-seeded Buckeyes.
A few notes on the tournament and the matchup:
- Ohio State has won three consecutive Big Ten tournaments and is looking to become the first team to win four in a row. The Buckeyes have played in the final game five out of the last six years.
- No one on the Ohio State roster has lost a Big Ten tournament game. Point guard Samantha Prahalis, just named the conference player of the year for the regular season, is 12-0 in Indy. She is the team’s only senior.
- Ohio State has dominated the all-time series with Michigan 47-9, but the Wolverines are enjoying a three-game winning streak against the Buckeyes that is the longest in program history. They swept Ohio State for the first time last season and won the only meeting this year 73-62 in Ann Arbor on Jan. 7. That was the first loss of the season for Ohio State, ending a program-record 15-0 start.
- Prahalis and fellow guard Tayler Hill led OSU with 17 and 15 points, but they combined to make only 10 of 34 shots. Prahalis was 1 for 10 from the three-point line.
- The loss was the second straight time Prahalis struggled in Ann Arbor. She was 1 for 13 and 0 for 6 during a 64-51 loss at Crisler Arena in 2011. In between those two games, however, she torched the Wolverines for 25 points in a 69-66 loss at home.
- The Buckeyes have struggled on the boards in Big Ten play this season, but they have out rebounded the perimeter-oriented Wolverines in all three of the recent losses.
Pat Summitt’s team has four double-digit scorers, all of whom were McDonald’s All-Americans in high school.
Junior forwards Shekinna Stricklen and Glory Johnson go 6-2 and 6-3, respectively, and both made the All-SEC first team. Stricklen averages 12.6 points and 7.3 assists per game. She shoots 38.5 percent from three-point range and has 73 assists.
Johnson averages 12.1 points per and 9.5 rebounds per game. She has 47 steals and shoots 54.6 percent from the field.
The team’s leading scorer is 5-9 freshman Meighan Simmons, who averages 13.7 points per game and has a team-high 98 assists.
The only senior starter is 6-0 guard Angie Bjorkland, the team’s best shooter from long range. She is hitting 45.9 percent of her treys while averaging 11.0 points per game.
The fifth starter for a little more than half the season was 6-6 junior Kelley Cain, but 6-1 sophomore Taber Spani started both NCAA tournament games last weekend as Summitt opted for a smaller lineup (Both of them are also McDonald’s All-Americans, in case you wondered.)
The 33-2 Volunteers went undefeated in the SEC and won the conference tournament. They have not lost since a setback at Baylor on Dec. 14, and they finished the season ranked No. 2 in the RPI.
Summitt had a teleconference Wednesday morning that was not terribly enlightening, but here’s a summary anyway:
“Marquette gave us pretty much all that we wanted,” she said of the Vols’ second round game. “I thought they did a great job. Thank goodness we had halftime and that gave us a chance to regroup.”
She felt perhaps being at home her team might have felt some anxiety, which is not all bad, and she was pleased to get a win in front of a great home crowd.
Asked about facing Ohio State head coach Jim Foster, she said, “Obviously I think Coach Foster has done a great job with this team. It will be kind of like old home week from being at Vanderbilt and going to Ohio State. He’s got a really good solid team. Jantel Lavender obviously is the go-to inside. The guard play is pretty solid too. They do a great job of getting the ball inside.
“They’ll push when they can, but just from watching them I think they prefer more of a half-court because they execute so well in the half court. They’re very, very schooled in that and do a great job with ball movement.”
She said 6-1 junior forward Alicia Manning (another McDonald’s All-American) is an X-factor for UT off the bench.
“She’s the one who comes in and can play multiple positions. She’s got a toughness to her game and I really like what she brings to our team. She’s just got a lot of grit and a lot of focus and I think she’s a very strong vocal leader as well.”
Asked if she might consider using a taller lineup against Ohio State, who starts 6-4 Jantel Lavender and 6-5 Ashley Adams, she said maybe.
Regarding Lavender, Summitt said, “She likes the paint. It’s not like she’s going to step way out but she’s really good at running the floor and getting paint points. We’re going to have to match up early and avoid transition.
“She’s got a good skill set and she does take things simple but she’s also very aggressive.”
Then the local reporters harped on the “anxiety and expectations” thing for a while, but she kept saying she didn’t think it was a big deal, and she sounded pretty convincing.
Her players seem to have taken it upon themselves to put the focus where it needs to be, but they are deep enough they don’t have to rely on any certain person.
“I don’t mind shortening the bench this time of the year. The bench has been a plus, but we’ll wait and see.”
She acknowledged the SEC has been down this year.
“What goes around comes around, but unfortunately we haven’t been as strong in the SEC. Hopefully in the future that will change. I think it’s all about getting the players and getting them to play together. We’ve had our struggles with that but I think we’re in a pretty good place right now.”
Asked about tourney games being more physical, she laughed and said, “They let you play in the postseason. Watching some games, it was pretty brutal at times. I do feel like it’s more physical at this time of the season than the regular season, by far.”
Individuals must adjust to that on their own.
“At this point in time you’ve got to have that mental attitude and not worry about anything but getting your job done.”