Four storylines: #2 Ohio State women’s basketball with #6 Indiana Hoosiers

To say that this week has been a gauntlet for Ohio State’s No. 2 women’s basketball team is an understatement. For the second time in four days, the Buckeyes meet a team in the AP Top 10, something that normally only happens in the late rounds of the NCAA tournament. This time it’s the No. 6 Indiana Hoosiers.

Before the game, there are a few areas to watch closely in the matchup, including a second straight game against one of the best bigs in the conference, the impending return of guard Jacy Sheldon and more as the Buckeyes travel to Bloomington, Indiana.

Use Monday as motivation

At this level of basketball, which is a notch below the professional ranks, a student athlete doesn’t need much motivation to compete. Especially against a team that is one of the main contenders for the conference title. However, Monday’s loss should give Ohio State an extra boost.

All season head coach Kevin McGuff played competitively. That means playing for 40 minutes at whatever intensity you think the team is capable of.

Outside of the first quarter against Iowa and part of the third, the Scarlet & Gray didn’t have it. The strength of that competitive character after a tough defeat, the first of the season, is crucial.

“I feel like we took the win really well, but now we have to deal with defeat,” said striker Cotie McMahon after Monday’s defeat. “So that’s really going to define who we are as a team in Indiana.”

How the Buckeyes start and finish Thursday’s game and how all the points fall in between is critical to the remaining nine games of the season.

Is the state of Ohio shutting down its press?

Ohio State forced 17 turnovers against the Hawkeyes. Not bad considering Iowa is an experienced team, but it was still below their average. They face a tougher test against the Hoosiers on Thursday.

Indiana’s head coach Teri Moren plays a different style than Iowa’s run-and-gun offense. The Hoosiers are methodical with the ball (but they’ll be quick to exploit space), and outside freshman guard Yarden Garzon there’s a list full of upper-class leaders.

She is led by guard Grace Berger. After missing eight games with a knee injury, Berger returned on January 8 against the Northwestern Wildcats and picked up where she left off. Berger is averaging 13.2 points and 5.4 assists per game, both above her season highs.

If Ohio State is having trouble dropping their shots and therefore needs more time to get their press working, Berger and Indiana can hurt them in half court.

Berger is surrounded by guns on the ground, like the aforementioned Garzon, who is second on the team for scoring (12.3 ppg) and hitting 50% from long range. Alongside Garzon, Sydney Parrish, who originally returned from Indiana for the Oregon Ducks, has returned to her home state and provided the Hoosiers with another perimeter shooter.

Against Iowa, the Buckeyes had some defensive possessions where their semi-court set stopped the Hawkeyes. In the third quarter, they held Iowa in the last 5:56 of the quarter with no points. While it’s a tough yardstick to keep a team unscored, that kind of energy and movement on defense is required for Indiana all game long.

While Berger doesn’t have the same passing ability as Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, she’s still in the top ten in the conference averaging over five assists per game, and many of those go to a player who hasn’t even been mentioned.

The most dangerous of all teammates is center Mackenzie Holmes.

Slow down Holmes

For the second game in a row, Ohio State has to face a player who makes life difficult for him in paint.

In any normal NCAA career in the Big Ten, Holmes is the frontrunner to win the conference’s Player of the Year award, but Clark of Iowa exists. Holmes is second in the Big Ten in scoring (21.9), rebounds (9.4), and blocks (1.7).

Last season, Holmes scored 42 points and caught 10 rebounds in two games against the Buckeyes, 30 of those points coming in the Buckeyes’ first Big Ten conference game of their eventual championship regular season. Ohio State lost that game 86-66 but did better in the B1G tournament.

In Indianapolis, the Scarlet & Gray held Holmes to 12 points and three rebounds in a much narrower 70-62 loss. This game gives Buckeye fans hope that Ohio State can put the brakes on Holmes again while she’s in historical clip.

This season, Holmes is well on his way to becoming just that 11th player in NCAA history Averaging at least 20 points and eight rebounds and shooting at least 60% from the bow. That would put Holmes in the same conversation as former Iowa center Megan Gustafson and Baylor star Brittney Griner.

Against Iowa came the Buckeyes’ moments where they slowed down Czinano when backup forward Eboni Walker was on the ground. That doesn’t mean Walker will get the start over striker Rebeka Mikulasikova, but the Slovakian struggled against Czinano, who scored 22 points in 8-for-10 shooting.

If Mikulasikova’s shot doesn’t come early and Holmes makes a strong start, it could be more Walker in the paint.

It wouldn’t hurt the Buckeyes to have one of their best players available in guard Jacy Sheldon either.

Return of Jacy Sheldon?

This is an unfair story, but it will haunt every game until the Buckeyes’ guard returns. Coach McGuff announced on Tuesday TheNextHoops banned the WBB podcast that Sheldon will be returning “very soon”.

There’s no specific game associated with this “very soon,” but it does bode well for Ohio State.

When Sheldon is on the floor, the full court press is more effective. Sheldon is averaging six steals per game this season, including one game in which she made 11 steals, setting the program record.

The guard has the uncanny ability to be in the right place to stop the opposing team’s forward thrust and the speed to force mistakes and missed passes.

Also, the guard averaged nearly 20 points per game last season, resulting in her failing to score in the 15 games she missed in 22-23.

Sheldon also doesn’t return until she’s 100% healthy. Conditionally, Sheldon swam during her injury to keep her endurance at a high level. So if Thursday is the day, then not for 10 or 15 minutes. The intent is to have Sheldon back and play at a high level.

When Sheldon returns, Indiana will be more disturbed than without her. When the Buckeyes force turnovers, there are more solo layup opportunities and trips to the free throw line in 2v1 situations. Anything that’s keeping the Hoosiers out of their flow is positive for an Ohio State team that hasn’t beaten Indiana since Jan. 28, 2021, a string of three straight losses.