Ohio State women's basketball: Seniors Hill, Stokes will set tone
Center Darryce Moore could emerge as a key player.
Key offensive player
Guard Tayler Hill added three-point range (making 41.8 percent of her attempts) to her ability to attack the basket last season and led the Big Ten in scoring at 20.4 points a game. She was voted to the all-conference first team by the coaches and media and is the preseason player of the year. The departure of point guard Samantha Prahalis to the WNBA will expand Hill’s role as a ball-handler and a decision-maker. Opponents will build game plans around stopping her.
Key defensive player
Guard Amber Stokes enjoyed her first fully healthy season and parlayed her 32 starts as a redshirt junior into an award as Big Ten defensive player of the year. The cat-quick Stokes was assigned to guard the opposing point guard, with the intent of causing as much disruption as possible. Her job description will remain the same, but she does have help because of Hill’s on-the-ball defensive ability.
A season-ending knee injury for sophomore forward Kalpana Beach has created opportunities for other front-court players, beginning with juniors Darryce Moore and Martina Ellerbe. Moore’s game is built on power; Ellerbe is more of a finesse player with three-point range and shot-blocking skills. Moore made an impact off the bench last season and could get the first chance. Oft-injured senior Emilee Harmon and redshirt sophomore Amy Scullion are possibilities, as well.
Best offseason move
The senior class of Hill, Stokes and Harmon led summer workouts well enough that coach Jim Foster found that even the freshman class of Ameryst Alston, Cait Craft and Lisa Blair were, from day one, familiar with the team’s practice routine and his expectations.
The pressure is on …
The post players. In the 70-65 loss to Florida in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Gators outmuscled the Buckeyes on the blocks, amassing a 46-35 rebounding edge. They weren’t the first team to do so. The OSU post players looked young, inexperienced and vulnerable because they were. Junior center Ashley Adams, a first-rate passer and shot-blocker, needs help inside for this team to succeed.
Key stretch of the season
February proved ugly for the Buckeyes, who had opened the season with 15 consecutive wins and were 20-1 before losing 76-65 at Minnesota on Jan. 29. The defeat set the tone for a 4-3 February and flat performances in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. How a team finishes matters.
Stat that must change
The Buckeyes were 19-0 at home in 2011-12 — an excellent showing, of course. They were 6-7 away from Columbus, which included a 3-5 mark in the Big Ten regular season. Better toughness on the road is a must.
Ohio State will play host to the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament in St. John Arena. It bodes well that a record seven Big Ten teams received NCAA invitations last season, but 20 wins would surely help the team land a bid. Finishing in the bottom half of the conference standings could cast a pall over the games in St. John.
Where do they end up?
Somewhere behind Penn State (the defending regular-season conference champion) in the Big Ten standings but still in the NCAA Tournament for an 11th consecutive season.