Courtside with Marty Bannister
Returning for an unprecedented fourth season is Courtside with Marty Bannister! The play-by-play voice of the Ohio State women's basketball team for the past 11 years will be keeping a blog once again throughout the season to provide fans with insight on the team and give his take on the Buckeyes, the Big Ten and the rest of the college basketball landscape. In addition to his duties with the women's cagers, Marty also has served as the football sideline reporter for The Ohio State Buckeyes Radio Network since 2006 and shares play-by-play duties with the baseball team in the spring.
March 5, 2014
An Ohio State basketball season that's had its shares of ups and downs hits "one and done" time starting Thursday. The 15-17, 8th-seed Buckeyes open B1G tournament play against the 9-seed Northwestern at Noon in Indianapolis.
A quick look back at what might have been is relevant, I believe, when assessing the teams chance for a long stay in Indy. Yes, most are fixated on the rough stretch run that shattered any realistic post-season hopes Ohio State may have had. A 14-10 ledger entering February became a 6-loss-in-7 games stumble towards the finish line.
Think for a moment, if you will, about the following: this team won AT West Virginia (the same current top 10 WVU team that won at Baylor over the weekend), the Buckeyes were missed free throws away from winning at likely NCAA-bound Georgia ... they battled down the stretch at Maryland (another current top 10 team) before coming up short ... Gonzaga, NCAA-bound, escaped Columbus with a one-point win in December ... the Buckeyes hammered Purdue in the B1G opener in January. Bust shoulda, woulda, coulda gets you nothing. What the aforementioned outings prove, when motivated and playing with the right mind set, this is better than a 15-win team. Yes, it also is the same group that lost to a bad Cincinnati team, struggled with FAU and lost at Wisconsin. The margin of error is slim, but with the proper focus, a nice little Indianapolis run is not all that far fetched. Winning four games in four days? Well, lets not get ahead of ourselves. That is a tough hurdle for any team to clear. The pressure is off. So let's just go play and see what happens.
Thursday's game with Northwestern will be the second match-up with the Wildcats. They possess as good a freshman as this league has in Nia Coffey. She runs the floor well, can score around the basket, and is force rebounding (she collected 18 rebounds in the first meeting). Ashley Deary makes up for her diminutive 5'4" frame by playing with almost reckless abandon in the backcourt. She is among the league leaders in assists. In the first game, Ohio State had one of those 20-minute halves that Coach Kevin McGuff loved. He said on our network post-game radio show that first half may have been as good a half of basketball as his team had played. Ohio State led 41-21 at the break. The second 20, well, let's just say Northwestern battled back. They whittled the Buckeye lead to 5, but Ohio State made enough plays down the stretch to hang on and win 71-62. The Thursday game figures to be a typical 8-vs-9 matchup and should be a good start to the tournament. Conference co-champ Penn State awaits the winner Friday, also at Noon.
Our coverage from Indianapolis starts Thursday at 11:45 a.m. with the tip at Noon on 1460 ESPN.
Feb. 27, 2014
After snapping a five game losing streak with last Sunday's win over Northwestern, Ohio State goes on the road to close out the 2013-14 regular season with games at Iowa Thursday and at Minnesota on Sunday.
The 71-62 win over Northwestern brought out the areas where Ohio State has been able to be at its best. Aggressiveness on offense, good ball movement, using their defense to create offense, and balanced scoring were all factors in the win. The last part of that may sound a bit odd, especially when you have one player, Ameryst Alston, go for 30 points. In the win, two other players, Raven Ferguson and Martina Ellerbe, combined for 24 points, and perhaps most importantly, 15 rebounds. When the Buckeyes get that kind of balance, as Coach Kevin McGuff told us on our network post-game radio interview, it's a big plus for his team. That keeps opponents from focusing all of their attention on Alston and takes some of the scoring pressure of her. While the second 20 minutes saw the Buckeyes resort to some of the things that had cost them in losing five straight, they made enough plays down the stretch to hold off the Wildcats and get a much needed win on senior day. And a win on a Sunday! The win was just the third in 13 games played on a Sunday this year for Ohio State. Now, before you put that in the "numbers for dummies" column, consider this: As most know, Ohio State plays mainly eight players and has for the majority of the season and dresses just 10 for most games. I brought this number up to Coach McGuff recently, and he did give it some validity. McGuff telling me by week's end, his players at times have hit a wall, mentally and physically, and sometimes the tank is just empty. Factor in classwork, and it's easy to see where Sunday games at times, have been tough to navigate a win from. McGuff, though, was quick to add that is by no means an excuse, as Ohio State is not the only team dealing with this kind of situation, but it does help when looking for a reason.
Quickly I should add something about Alston's last two 30-point-plus outings. Kristin Watt and I were thinking during the post-game show of other Buckeye players who have gone for 30 or more in back-to-back games. Tayler Hill is the last to do it last season in games with Illinois and Iowa. To show you how rare that feat is back-to-back 30-point games are something that eluded past Buckeye greats like Samantha Prahalis, Jantel Lavender and Katie Smith, to name a few.
Thursday's game in Iowa City is the second regular season gathering between the Buckeyes and Hawkeyes. Iowa won the first go-around 81-74 January 19th in Columbus. Iowa may be the most balanced team offensively in the B1G. All five starters score in double figures and that balance was key in the first game. Five scored in double digits that night, four starters and Alexa Kastanek off the bench. Freshman Ally Disterhoff had the big night, 24 points and 10 rebounds. Both teams shot well, each better than 48 percent, but Ohio State never led, and was outscored 17-9 at the free throw line. It's enior night at Carver-Hawkeye and those games are always hard on the visiting team.
Sunday the Buckeyes get their only regular season look at Minnesota in Minneapolis. The Gophers of have been one of the Big Ten's hotter teams. Led by one of the league's best guards in Rachel Banham and with Amanda Zahui making an impact in the paint, the Gophers enter the last weekend two games under .500 in the league, but 17-11 overall. They have played themselves back into the post-season conversation. Williams Arena, "The Barn", has never been an easy stop for Ohio State, even when the Buckeyes were championship contenders. Minnesota struggled earlier this week in a loss at Michigan State, but are playing to improve their NCAA tournament resume now.
Our coverage Thursday from Iowa City starts at 6:45 p.m. ET, followed by the tip at 7 p.m. Sunday, we are with you at 1:45 p.m. ET from the Twin Cities, with a 2 p.m. tip. All games, as always, on 1460 ESPN.
Feb. 20, 2014
Ohio State gets ready for the final two home games of the regular season, which feature the only meetings during conference play with Nebraska and Northwestern.
Not only do the upcoming games wrap up the home portion of the schedule, they also mark the final Value City Arena appearances for the Buckeye seniors. Martina Ellerbe, Darryce Moore, Ashley Adams, Aleksandra (Sasha) Dobranic, and a late addition to the class, Amy Scullion, will put the wraps on the home part of their basketball careers. These players have all been important parts of the success of the program, and all have handled a difficult transition season the way you would expect seniors to do so.
The Buckeyes hit the last two games trying to find the effort and aggressiveness that was such a big reason for the team winning 14 of it's first 24 games. With those areas disappearing of late, the Buckeyes have lost 4 straight to fall to the .500 mark. Saturday's 70-49 loss at Michigan State underlined how when those areas fail this team, they struggle to be successful. That said, all associated with the team realize if they get back to that style of playing, much can be salvaged to this season.
Nebraska is first on Thursday. At the forefront for the Huskers is the condition of head coach Connie Yori. She collapsed near the bench in the second half of the Nebraska win last weekend over Indiana in Lincoln. Thankfully, it was not serious, and after a brief hospital visit, Yori is expected to be back on the sideline Thursday night. With player of the year candidate Jordan Hooper leading the way, it's a talented, solid, Cornhusker team that visits. Hooper has always impressed me with her ability to step back and knock down a jumper, or post up and do damage around the basket. Nebraska handed the Buckeyes one of their worst losses in recent memory last year in Lincoln, rolling Ohio State 58-39.
A Northwestern team full of youth and talent follows the Huskers in for Senior Day Sunday. Having watched them play on a few occassions, the Wildcats may have their most athletic team in recent years. They have no qualm getting out and running, and with the return on guard Karly Roser from an inury, have decent depth that allows them to do just that. Northwestern has played numerous close games this year, and looks to be a team that is learning how to win.
There has been a recent run of topics, mostly on sports-talk radio, dealing with the "who would you put on your Mount Rushmore" question. So that got me thinking about a "Mount Rushmore" for the Ohio State womens basketball program, and who would be the four who would comprise that. I asked the opinion of my two broadcast partners, Kristin Watt and Toni Roesch, as well as others.
So here you go. Any questions, disagreements, email Watt and Roesch!
Katie Smith: I mean, how tough was that one to figure out? When you think of this program, her name and accomplishments go right with it. Scoring records, All-American, conference player of the year, and led the program to its only Final Four appearance her freshman year. Smith is the #2 all-time scorer, and is the all time leader in free throws made and attempted.
Jantel Lavender: A four-time B1G player of the year (the first player, mens or womens, so honored) All-American, scored in double figures in EVERY game she played in, two "Sweet Sixteen" trips, and three B1G tournament titles all part of her resume. Oh, and the program's all-time scoring and (Big Ten) rebounding leader as well.
Tracey Hall: Two-time B1G player of the year, the programs first two-time All-American, the school's all-time leader in rebounds (at the time), and is the No. 6 all-time scorer. She is one four players with a career field goal percentage of .600 or better. Hall was the key part of teams that won three straight conference titles, and were 67-5 in league games. The Buckeyes went to four straight NCAA tournaments with Hall.
Frani Washington: Someone has to be first, and Washington was. In 1979 she was honored as the program's first All-American. Her '78-79 season mark of 711 points stood until the 1995-96 season. She played before the B1G sponsored womens basketball as a sport, but helped the Buckeyes to a 19-11 mark in 1978-79. Her 39-point outburst against Tennessee in 1978 stood as the program's single game mark for 16 years.
Thursday's game with Nebraska starts at 7:00, our coverage at 6:45. Sunday against Northwestern, the game a noon time start. We join you at 11:45. The games, as always, on 1460 ESPN.
Feb. 15, 2014
Trying to end a three-game losing skid, Ohio State gets one chance to do that this week, as the Buckeyes travel to Michigan State for a Saturday early evening match up with the Spartans.
This will probably be better answered after the game with Sparty at the Breslin Center, but it will be interesting to see if the almost week long break from game action has helped Ohio State. Coach Kevin McGuff has a squad that right now seems to have hit both a mental and a physical wall. He has a team that is basically playing eight players and is asking those eight to do things they have not done in the past. Now, they have responded well for the most part this season and have played very well at times (witness the 90-64 pummeling of Illinois in the Buckeyes last win), but the rigors of extended minutes, a difficult schedule and the daily aspects of being a student-athlete may have all started to wear on the Buckeyes. Coach McGuff and his staff have worked wonders this year and there is still time to put this team back into post-season contention. The five games that remain are all winnable and hopefully this past week's "breather", if you will, is enough to get the Buckeyes back on track.
As the B1G tournament approaches, the four days in Indianapolis figure to be among the most entertaining the event has seen in recent years. The key now for teams like Ohio State is to gain the best seed possible, knowing to win you will have to win four games in four days. Making a deep run in the tournament is part of the resume-building portion of the season and is important as well.
Ohio State's first game with Michigan State changed dramatically when one player came on the floor for the Spartans: 6'7" Madison Williams immediately changed the way the Buckeyes approached the lane and the basket, affecting the aggressive style that worked early on. Williams' shot blocking seemed to spur the Spartans and they fed off that and rolled to a comfortable win. If Ohio State brings the same attack-mode style to this game they had early in the first meeting it could be an interesting afternoon in East Lansing. Annalise Pickrel leads a balanced MSU offense and they have, as usual, played well defensively. The Breslin Center usually has one of the better gameday atmospheres in the B1G, and this game should be no different.
Toni Roesch and I join you starting at 5:15 p.m. Saturday, followed by the tip at 5:30. The game, as always, on 1460 ESPN and 97.1 FM-HD 2.
Feb. 6, 2014
Ohio State gets ready for a two-game set against two of the B1G's top teams as the Buckeyes will play at Purdue Thursday and then host Penn State Sunday. The games come on the heels of yet another two-game "now that's how they can play when focused and motivated", followed up by a "what-in-the-world was that?" stretch.
The 90-64 win over Illinois may have been the best 35 minutes of basketball this team has played this year. Notice I said "35 minutes". After almost 5 minutes of play against the Illini, Ohio State trailed 16-5. Coach Kevin McGuff promptly called a time out. In that stop, as he told Toni Roesch and I on our postgame radio visit, McGuff gave the team a quote "friendly reminder" that the game had actually started. Whatever was in the friendly reminder worked. The Buckeyes started to move the ball on offense, were aggressive on both ends of the floor and outscored Illinois 85-48 over those aforementioned 35 minutes of play. Especially impressive was the night from Raven Ferguson. She tossed in a career high 24 points, had six rebounds, four assists and two steals. Raven in her last four games has scored 77 points, pulled down 22 rebounds, totaled 14 assists and garnered 10 steals. Ameryst Alston also turned in a solid outing, getting a career-high 31 points. When those two score like that, it only makes Ohio State a better team.
Then Wisconsin happened. It was another game where the focus and the energy just seemed to be left on the bus. The Badgers allowed Ohio State to lead just one time in the game and that was in the first 1:10 of play. Wisconsin steadily pulled away and answered every Buckeye charge in the second half, and won 82-71. The point total was the second highest of the season for the B1G's lowest scoring team. That right there underscores the frustration part of the equation for Ohio State. The up-and-down ride that this season has become is not lost on the players. During an interview segment we aired at halftime, Amy Scullion admitted the team knows the fans are baffled by the roller coaster ride of performances and they are trying to get a grip on a reason themselves. For whatever it's worth, the loss dropped Ohio State to 2-8 this year in games played on Sunday. I don't know if that means anything or not, but it certainly is an interesting number to think about.
By the way, props to senior Martina Ellerbe. We debuted our halftime interview segment Sunday "Martina Ellerbe goes one-on-one", and she did a great job interviewing Amy Scullion. Those will be continued on our remaining road games this year.
Ohio State travels to Purdue Thursday night for a rematch of the conference opener back in January, a game the Buckeyes won 89-78. That could have been the best game the Buckeyes have played this year. Purdue has had it's share of up and down outings this year, and the Boilermakers suffered a difficult blow earlier in the week when senior guard KK Houser was lost for the season with an ACL injury. Houser, along with Courtney Moses and April Wilson, gave Purdue what may well have been the league's best backcourt. Whitney Bays has become a force across the front line for Purdue. Both teams need this one at Mackey Arena.
Sunday league-leading Penn State comes to Columbus. The Lady Lions, who rolled the Buckeyes 66-42 in State College on January 16, in my opinion, have established themselves as the team to beat in the B1G. They look to possess the needed parts to make a nice March run. Sunday is also Ohio State's "pink" game for breast cancer awareness.
Our coverage Thursday from West Lafayette starts at 6:45, followed by the tip at 7:00. Sunday the Penn State game has a 2:00 tip, and we join you at 1:45 with our pre-game show. The games, as always, are on 1460 ESPN, and on 97.1 FM-HD 2.
Jan. 30, 2014
A pair of first and one-and-only looks comes up over the next two games for the Ohio State women's basketball team, and they come on the heels of a week where the Buckeyes split a pair of games with the schools from "that state up north".
Last week's 61-50 win in Ann Arbor against Michigan was followed up with a Sunday 82-68 home loss to Michigan State. At the Crisler Center, the Buckeyes staged a big second-half rally and pulled away for the win. After trailing by seven points two separate times in the second half, the Buckeyes closed out the game on a 28-10 run. In what have been each players best games for Ohio State, Raven Ferguson and Maleeka Kynard led the way in the win. The two combined for 28 points, 16 rebounds, four assists and two steals, while also playing well defensively. Ashley Adams in 32 minutes added 11 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots. Coach Kevin McGuff inserted Adams into the starting lineup to combat Michigan's size, and she responded with one of her best Buckeye efforts. After a rather dismal 28 percent shooting performance in the first 20 minutes, Ohio State shot 60 percent in the second half. The Buckeyes and Wolverines split the season series each winning on the other's court.
On Sunday, Michigan State came calling fresh off two straight losses and struggling offensively. Not to mention, Sparty arrived in Columbus without starting point guard Kiana Johnson. The B1G's third-ranked performer in assists was left behind due to personal reasons. The Buckeyes had all of the above in their favor, but still could not garner the win. After a solid Buckeye beginning, which included an early seven point lead, MSU coach Suzy Merchant inserted 6'7 redshirt junior Madison Williams into the lineup, and she immediately changed the game. Her presence on the inside, mainly defensivley, took Ohio State out of it's aggressive mode that had fueled the early lead. Williams blocked six of the 11 shots the Spartans were credited for on the day and hauled down eight rebounds in 19 minutes. Her efforts not only changed Ohio State's demeanor, but that of the Spartans as well. Michigan State found a ryhtm offensively, shooting 47 percent for the game (53 in the first half) and answered every Buckeye run. The two teams meet again February 15th in East Lansing.
Thursday, two games with two of the four teams who share the conference basement at 2-5 await the Buckeyes. First it's Illinois. The Illini are led by Amber Moore and Ivory Crawford in scoring, each at 15 points per game. Illinois is at the bottom of the league in both offensive field goal percentage (39%), and defensive field goal percentage (42%). While they give up the most points on a per game basis at just under 71 a game, they also have struggled on the road with a 2-5 mark.
The Buckeyes visit Wisconsin next Sunday. Coach Bobbie Kelsey's Badgers, after starting the season with six wins in their first eight games, have hit a rough patch. They have lost eight of their last 11 games, including three straight heading to a game Thursday at Michigan State. Junior Michala Johnson leads the Badgers in scoring at 15.9 with Morgan Paige and Taylor Wurtz each average 12 points a game. Johnson is also ninth in the B1G in rebounding at 7.6 per game.
Thursday we join you at 6:45 with our pregame show followed by the tip at 7 p.m. Sunday, get ready for the Super Bowl as we join you at 2:45 p.m. for our pregame show with the tip at 3 p.m. All games are on 1460 ESPN and on 97.1-FM HD-2.
A shout out to both the Great Columbus Sports Commission and to Ohio State. The city of Columbus is a finalist to host an NCAA Women's Final Four in the years between 2017 and 2020. The combined efforts of the two entities have put our city in contention and hopefully it's enough to bring one of the nations top markets for women's basketball a championship weekend.
Jan. 22, 2014
After dropping two straight games, Ohio State gets two meetings with the schools from "That State up North" starting Thursday night.
Last week was again a tale of two efforts for the Buckeyes. Thursday's 66-42 loss at Penn State was more of a setback from the mental standpoint for Kevin McGuff's team. The Sunday 81-74 home loss to Iowa was not about a lack of offensive effort, but more of a defensive collapse. In State College, the shooting woes that have hampered the Buckeyes at times surfaced big time against the Lady Lions. The Buckeyes totaled almost 15 minutes without a point in two scoring draughts: one in the first half and the other in the second. With such a small margin of error, those were two much for the Buckeyes to overcome. Coach McGuff said on our network radio post-game show that it seems his team has trouble regrouping after missing shots early and that was the case at Penn State.
Sunday vs. Iowa, offense was nowhere near being the issue. The problems arose on the side of the floor that has more often than not bailed the Buckeyes out on defense. Iowa consistently broke down Ohio State's defense, with numerous back-door cuts and uncontested drives to the bucket. The Buckeyes made a furious second half rally, chopping a 17-point Hawkeyes lead to two, but did not have the remaining gas needed in the tank to finish off the comeback.
One area where Ohio State needs more production is at the free throw line. Since dropping in 20-26 vs. Purdue, the Buckeyes have shot a total of 44 free throws in the four games since.
So, at 2-3 in the B1G, Ohio State is part of a jumbled up conference race that is as wide open as any in recent memory. Every team has at least one loss, and every team has at least one win. In talking with some of my broadcast brethren around the league, all are of the opinion this will be a year where each week any team can beat any other squad, and no win or loss will be considered an upset. Think about it for a moment: Ohio State has already beaten Purdue and Indiana, Minnesota is off to a 1-4 start, Michigan, which lost four starters from last year's team, is part of a three-way tie for first, Purdue has won at Nebraska and Penn State, but lost at home to Michigan ... Iowa lost at Indiana, but since has won at Ohio State and beaten Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Confused? Welcome to this year's B1G race. The conference tournament figures to be a great deal of fun.
Thursday the Buckeyes get a return engagement with Michigan in Ann Arbor. Two Sunday's ago the Wolverines rolled the Buckeyes 64-49 in Columbus. Michigan held the Buckeyes to 31 percent shooting and outrebounded the home team 48-33. Michigan also outscored Ohio State 26-3 at the free throw line (see the above free throw related stat).
Sunday, Michigan State visits. The Spartans are led by Annalise Pickrel. The 6-3 senior wing leads Sparty in scoring at more than 14 points per game, is second in rebounding, leads the team in 3-point shooting at 45 percent and in blocked shots. MSU, as usual, is a good rebounding team. They outrebound their opponents by seven per game.
Our coverage Thursday starts at 6:45 p.m. from Ann Arbor, with the tip at 7 p.m. Sunday's start is slated for 12:30 p.m. and we begin our broadcast at 12:15 p.m.. As always, all games are on 1460 ESPN and 97.1-FM HD-2.
Jan. 16, 2014
The roller coaster ride that has been the Ohio State women's basketball season continued last Saturday in Bloomington, Indiana. After struggling in a loss at home to Michigan, the Buckeyes managed to keep their hands and arms inside the ride for the entire time to roll past, the previously unbeaten, Hoosiers 70-to-51.
Saturday at Assembly Hall proved yet again, that when the Buckeyes manage to have the proper focus and play with the necessary effort, any game is one they can not only compete in, but win. Coach Kevin McGuff said in our network radio pre-game show interview, that he could sense in that morning's shoot-around that the team was ready to go. Without a doubt, the Michigan loss, combined with facing an Indiana team that was riding high at 14-0, helped provide the needed attention for Ohio State.
Ameryst Alston was a force from the opening tip; sticking mid-range jumpers, scoring from inside the three-point arc, and helping to contain high-scoring IU guard Larryn Brooks. Brooks was averaging 18 per game before the Buckeye defense showed her a variety of looks, threw different defenders at her, and made her work for every one of her 11 points that night. Martina Ellerbe provided her second double-double of the season while Raven Ferguson was strong on both ends of the floor to culminate a win. A key point in the game was with around eight minutes left, after Indiana had chopped Ohio State's lead to 56-48. IU's largest home crowd of the season at just over 4,000 was back into the game. Coach McGuff called time-out, and from then on Ohio State took charge of the game by outscoring the Hoosiers 14-3 to close out the victory. Ohio State never trailed in rolling to the impressive road win.
A big two-game stretch awaits, starting Thursday at Penn State. The defending regular season champions are again led by sharpshooting guard, Maggie Lucas. The pre-season All-Conference choice is averaging 21 points per game. At Iowa on January 5th, Lucas scored 27 points in a 13 minute stretch. The Lady Lions come into this game off of a Sunday home loss to Purdue -- a game in which Penn State as a team blocked 14 shots. Ohio State has lost the previous three meetings with Penn State, including a 78-66 season ending defeat at the Big Ten Tournament last year.
On Sunday Iowa travels to Columbus for the first of two meetings. After losing their first two conference games, the high scoring Hawkeyes have rebounded with two consecutive wins entering a key home game with Big Ten leader Michigan State. Iowa has a remarkable five players averaging double-figures in points per game and has scored fewer than 70 points total just once this season.
A special word of thanks from my broadcast partner Kristin Watt to the Rebounders Club. Kristin spoke to the group last Wednesday and rode the team bus with the Buckeyes loudest and most supportive fan base over to the game in Bloomington.
We join you Thursday from College at 6:45 p.m., followed by the tip just after 7:00. Sunday's Iowa home game has a start time of 3:00 p.m., with our coverage at 2:45. As always, all games on 1460 ESPN, and on 97.1 FM-HD 2.
Jan. 8, 2014
Two games into the B1G season and Ohio State has found out two things are true: 1. When they play hard and with focus, witness the Purdue win, the Buckeyes can hang with most teams, and 2. When they do not play that way, witness the Michigan loss, this team will find it difficult to compete.
Such is life in the 16-game grind known as the Big Ten regular season. When then, No. 17 Purdue rolled in last Thursday, the Boilermakers hit town to face an Ohio State team that was coming off two less-than-impressive wins over Appalachian State and North Carolina Central. Ohio State played with aggression, attitude, focus and used a balanced attack to roll the Boilers 89-78, in what may have been Coach Kevin McGuff's teams' best 40 minutes of the season. Five scored in double figures and the Buckeyes were a made-basket away from having six players reach that mark. Ohio State answered every run Purdue made and posted an impressive win over a solid Boilermakers team. With that confidence-building win in their collective hip pocket, the Buckeyes awaited Michigan on Sunday.
I have found my pregame conversations with Coach Kevin McGuff to be enlightening. As all good coaches have shown, he has the ability to know exactly what area concerns him the most prior to a game. One of the first things he said to me was, "We have spent much time reminding our players about the focus they had Thursday, and how that has to be with them today." It was a message that apparently did not soak in. Michigan used all the facets Ohio State brought to the Purdue game to beat the Buckeyes 64-49. Ohio State went the last 7 minutes of the first half without a made field goal and scored just 13 points in the game's first 20 minutes. It brings to mind that old saying, "You are never as good as you think you are, nor are you as bad as you think you are".
One area of concern is keeping Darryce Moore on the floor. The 6'2 senior has emerged as the team's true low-post threat. Moore has developed a number of solid post moves and gives the perimeter players a good target to throw the ball to. She is a great rebounder and defender as well. However, Moore does find herself in foul trouble at times. For Ohio State to be successful, her presence is needed for more than 15-20 minutes a game. Her numbers have been impressive at times this year, four consecutive games with 10 rebounds in each for example, and her offensive input will help keep an opposing defense honest.
Martina Ellerbe's emergence has been positive as well. Prior to this Saturday's game at Indiana, in her last 12 starts Ellerbe has averaged 11 points and five rebounds a game. She has also shown the ability to knock down the perimeter jump shot, whether it be it a three-point or a mid-range.
Nationally ranked for the first time in recent memory, undefeated Indiana awaits Saturday in Bloomington. The game will be the first for the Hoosiers since they opened Big Ten play with an 86-84 win over then No. 22 Iowa on January 2nd. IU was scheduled to meet Purdue Monday night, but the Arctic blast that dropped the temperature well below zero forced postponement of the game in West Lafayette.
Freshman Larryn Brooks leads Curt Miller's team in scoring at 18 points per game while Valparaiso transfer, Tabitha Gerardot, averages 11 points and seven rebounds per game. The Hoosiers shoot plenty of three-points, take good care of the basketball and are a confident bunch. Some have questioned Coach Miller's schedule, but 14-0 is 14-0.
Coach McGuff's first win at Ohio State came over a nationally ranked team with the season opening win at West Virginia. His first Big Ten win was over nationally ranked Purdue. Next week Ohio State visits defending regular season champs Penn State then will host Iowa at home.
Our coverage Saturday from Bloomington starts at 4:15, with the tip just after 4:30. Coverage all season long on 1460 ESPN, and on 97.1-HD 2.
Jan. 2, 2014
After a 10-6 run through a rather demanding non-conference schedule, Ohio State gets ready for the opening of Big Ten play Thursday. As tough as the non-league slate was for the Buckeyes, the conference schedule certainly does Kevin McGuff's team no favors as it begins.
The Buckeyes closed out the pre-conference schedule with a couple of wins in what most kindly could be called "ugly wins". Before I go any further, do not misinterpret what I mean by that statement. While everyone involved wanted better efforts in the 52-37 win over Appalachian State and then in the 65-47 victory over North Carolina Central, Coach McGuff was quick to point out any team that can win those types of games certainly can take positives from those. I agree with that. Winning games, regardless of the opponent, when you do not play your best, is something to like about your team. Now, at the same time, some red (or scarlet) flags may be raised by some when a team that is obviously better struggles to win against an inferior opponent, and that's a valid concern. Other positives that come from those wins include the reemergence of Ashley Adams as a factor. The 6'5 senior, after going 5 games where she played 8 minutes or fewer in each of those, played key roles both on and off the floor in the wins. In the Appalachian State game, she took a leadership turn in the locker room at the half, rallying her teammates. In her last 3 games, she has totaled 22 points, 16 rebounds and 8 assists. Another key for Ohio State of late has been the return of Maleeka Kynard. The 5'7 guard has battled injuries throughout the season and has added depth to the backcourt and brought a spark to both ends of the floor.
In the NC Central win, Coach McGuff, during a stretch in the 2nd half, put a lineup of Kynard and Ameryst Alston at the guards, with Raven Ferguson, Darryce Moore and Ashley Adams across the front line. That was an effective five on the floor, playing well on both ends. They were the ones that keyed a run in the 2nd half as the Buckeyes steadily pulled away.
Considering all the factors McGuff and his staff dealt with during the pre-conference, winning 10 of the 16 is more than acceptable. There are a couple of games, (Georgia and Maryland) that were certainly winnable, and two the Buckeyes would love (Bowling Green and Cincinnati) to have back.
The message from that?
When Ohio State plays hard and is focused, they can stay in any game. When they do not, they will struggle. A very simple equation.
Purdue and Michigan are Ohio State's first two game Big Ten games. Games of late with Purdue (last year's 82-75 triple overtime loss a prime example) have more often than not been tense, hard-fought outings. The Boilers have struggled in Columbus, having lost their last seven visits. KK Houser and Courtney Moses have evolved into maybe the league's best backcourt, combining to average almost 30 points a game. One area that Purdue usually is strong in is rebounding, but as league play starts, no Boiler is among the top 20 rebounders.
Michigan follows Purdue into town Sunday. The Wolverines have a balanced offensive attack, with 3 players averaging between 13 and 15 points a game. The Maize and Blue are the best shooting team in the league, at 48%, and have the best rebounding margin at +9 per game.
Our Thursday coverage of the Purdue game starts at 6:45 p.m., with the tip at 7 p.m. Sunday's late afternoon Michigan coverage begins at 4:45 p.m., with a tip time of just after 5 p.m. The games, as always, on 1460 ESPN.
Dec. 13, 2013
After three straight games against teams ranked in the Top 25, including two in the top 10, the schedule appears to get a little easier for Ohio State. Notice I said, "appears". With the current numbers situation that Kevin McGuff and his staff are dealing with, no game can right away be put in the "W" column. The Buckeyes are playing hard, and you have to feel at some point that effort is going to be rewarded. Each of the last two games, at Maryland and then on Sunday with Gonzaga, were ones Ohio State could have won. Yes, that gets you nothing, but in a year where the attempt at establishing a system and a program are major parts of the effort, that's important to not forget. At Maryland, the Buckeyes had five straight first half possessions come up empty with a chance to take the lead. Then, after a strong rally pulled the Scarlet and Gray to within three points with a little under three minutes left, the Terrapins answered with a big 3-point shot to take charge. A slow rotation on defense left a shooter open, and what appears to be a little thing cost the Buckeyes big time.
The story was similar against Gonzaga. After scoring the game's first two baskets, Ohio State went scoreless for 8 minutes, while the Bulldogs rolled off 22 straight points. It looked as if the visitors would run away and hide, but again, back to the "playing hard" comment. The Buckeyes battled back and took the lead in the 2nd half. The frantic sprint to the finish line saw four lead changes in the last 40 seconds, however, a shooter was once again left open, and the game went to Gonzaga at the buzzer.
Some other random thoughts: I had a chance prior to the Gonzaga game to spend some time talking to the Big Ten Network's Stephanie White. She was part of the television broadcast team for the game Sunday. She had many good things to say about Coach McGuff and his staff, and is certainly impressed by the recruiting effort that Ohio State has shown.
Good luck to Katie Smith, as she embarks on a coaching career in the WNBA. She will serve as an assistant with the New York Liberty during the summer season. I have heard it said that some great players have a tough time making the switch to coaching, but there's no doubt in my mind Katie will do just fine in the coaching business.
Up next for Ohio State, a Friday night game with Army, then a Sunday visit to Cincinnati. The Black Knights hit town with a 7-2 mark, having had their seven-game winning streak snapped by Penn Wednesday night. Kelsey Minato leads Army in scoring at 18 ppg. Sunday, another in-state foe awaits with the visit to UC. The Bearcats are 4-4, having won three of their last four games. Michigan transfer Dayeesha Hollins leads Cincinnati in scoring at just under 13 ppg.
Kristin Watt and I join you Friday evening at 6:45, followed by the tip at 7 p.m. Sunday we are with you at 1:45, with a 2 p.m. tip scheduled. As always, all games on 1460 ESPN.
Dec. 4, 2013
After missing two games, it feels really good to be "back in the saddle", so to speak, as the Buckeye women's team continues its run through a challenging non-conference slate. My thanks to Neil Sika (again) for filling in and to all of you who passed along your thoughts and prayers to me and to my family.
Ohio State heads back on the road for a test at nationally-ranked Maryland on Wednesday night, the game part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge series. Ohio State then returns home for game with Gonzaga. The Maryland game is interesting for a number of reasons. The biggest of course being another chance for Coach McGuff's team to find out about itself in a difficult environment. It also gives Ohio State an idea what this trip will be like in the coming years, as, of course, Maryland (along with Rutgers) joins the Big Ten next season. The Terrapins are again a force to be reckoned with. Coach Brenda Frese has 4 starters back from last
Year's NCAA tournament team, led by Alyssa Thomas. She averages a double-double, and can do damage both from both behind and inside the 3-point arc.
Gonzaga comes in on Sunday. The Zags were also an NCAA tournament team last year, and return multiple starters. The game with them last year out in Spokane was a memorable one, with Ohio State hanging on late to win. One wonders a bit what the 12 noon start (that's 9 a.m. Pacific time) will do to the Zags.
Looking back on the past couple of games, I like the line-up that Coach McGuff has begun to use. He puts a team on the floor that is long defensively, and can create some match-up problems for opponents. Now, that being said, effort remains the big constant (and need) if this team is to be successful. In the game with UConn, that effort was there. While not seeing it in person, it sure looked as if, and from speaking with the coaching staff, that the team competed for 40 minutes. Yes, it was a 21-point loss, but all things being equal it was a much better showing than the last time the Buckeyes ran into the Huskies in 2011 at Madison Square Garden.
On top of travel and playing tough games, the Buckeye players are in the midst of finals week. This current group really handles that aspect of the "student-athlete" equation well. The road trip coming in the middle of finals does not make things any easier, but the players get great academic support.
We join you from College Park, Md., Wednesday night at 6:45 p.m., with the tip just after 7 p.m. Sunday we join you for brunch with our Gonzaga pre-game show beginning at 11:45 a.m., with the tip at noon. All games on AM 1460 ESPN.
Nov. 22, 2013
Ohio State returns home for a rather unique run with three games over the next three days, followed up by a home game next Wednesday, await Kevin McGuff's team.
Buckeyes hit this stretch off a split of their last two outings, a home victory over VCU, and a road loss at then #22 Georgia. The 83-71 win over VCU came against one of those "helter-skelter, never met a three-point shot I didn't like" teams the Buckeyes had seen just the prior Sunday with FAU in town. Don't believe that? VCU took 70 shots in the game, and ONLY 45 of those were three-point attempts. The good thing is they made just 11 of those, and Coach McGuff made a good point about those shots on our radio post-game show. I asked him about the barrage of three's (and misses), and he pointed out his team managed to affect a number of those attempts. That was something the team spent a great deal of effort on in practice that week, closing out, but not fouling, the shooter. Thusly, VCU only attempted 11 free throws for the game, making six.
The Sunday loss at Georgia was a tough one. It was a game the Buckeyes led by six at the half, before the Lady Bulldogs rallied to win a tight game 53-49. Coach McGuff and the players all lamented the lack of ability to simply make shots. Whether it was field goals or free throws, the shots simply did not drop. Ohio State is a team that has to capitalize on every scoring chance, as its defense has shown so far the ability to be a factor. My thanks to Neil Sika for sitting in for me. It's very tough to listen to a game you are supposed to be broadcasting, so thanks to Neil for a job well done.
Up next for the Buckeyes is the Hall of Fame Challenge that opens with a game Friday night with Old Dominion. Talking to Coach McGuff during his media session on Thursday, he joked that with Connecticut on the other side of the bracket, and their draw somewhat easier than Ohio State's, the organizers must have made a mistake slotting the Buckeyes and Huskies. ODU Coach Karen Barefoot's team returns three starters, including A-10 pre-season choice Shae Kelly, from a 19-win WNIT team last year. Marist and Bowling Green are also in the Columbus portion of the bracket. All three teams are very good mid-major programs. I'm sure I don't have to remind Ohio State fans about Marist and their ability (see NCAA tournament in 2007). Buckeyes will face Marist on Saturday night, then meet Bowling Green on Sunday. The Falcons, of course, will bring that in-state school mentality (along with some talented players) to Sunday's affair.
A quick word about this weekend. With the football game Saturday, it will be crowded around the Schottenstein Center. I have traveled to every football site in the Big Ten, and no one does as good a job of moving traffic in-and-out of a stadium area than the folks at Ohio State. Yes, it will be busy, but with the Buckeyes game start pushed back to 8:30 Saturday night, you should have no issues getting to the basketball game.
If not, we are there for you Friday starting at 7:45, Saturday at 8:15, and Sunday at 3:15! All games on 1460 ESPN!
Nov. 14, 2013
Two big wins to start the season, followed up by a highly-regarded recruiting class signing letters of intent, highlighted a good start to Kevin McGuff's first season as Ohio State's coach.
The two wins, 70-61 at West Virginia last Friday, followed up by a 91-88 home-opening win Sunday over Florida Atlantic, no doubt surprised most observers. I would include myself in that category, but not to the degree that most were caught off guard by the wins. Watching Coach McGuff and his staff work with the team in practice prior to the WVU opener, you could see at times the so-called "light" go on for the players, meaning they were getting what was being placed in front of them. That being said, taking on one of the Big 12 pre-season favorites, playing on their floor and having to play without one of your better players (Raven Ferguson), it was a tall task to say the least. Ohio State was in the game early, which no doubt boosted confidence, and held the lead at the half. Impressive as well was Ohio State's ability to answer almost every charge the Mountaineers made, whether with a key basket, defensive stop, or crucial rebound. The Buckeyes, with just eight available players, played the final 1:22 with just five players, as three had fouled out. So add it all up, and it was a memorable win for Coach McGuff to start his tenure in Columbus.
The Sunday home win over FAU was one that exhausted almost everyone who watched it. Coach McGuff told me in our pre-game radio conversation that the Owls style was one that was not that conducive to where his team is currently in regards to available depth. Ohio State had just seven available bodies for that game. After his team sprinted out to a 23-point lead, you could see that worry start to come to fruition for Coach McGuff. FAU started launching 3's, making the game "helter-skelter" in style, and before you could look twice, the Owls were to within a point of the Buckeyes at 86-85, and had the ball with around a minute to play. But, as was the case in Morgantown, the Buckeyes made two crucial plays. First, a huge rebound by Amy Scullion on an FAU missed shot. That was followed by a Darryce Moore old-fashioned three-point play, pushing the lead back to four, and allowed the Buckeyes to hang on and win.
Two games await the Buckeyes this week. Thursday night, another run-and-gun, up-tempo team arrives, when VCU plays at the Schottenstein Center. Former Ohio State guard Marlene Stollings is in her second year coaching the Rams, and has almost completely turned her roster over. Sunday, a longtime SEC power awaits as the Buckeyes play at Georgia. Andy Landers team reached the "elite 8" of the NCAA tournament last year, but lost four starters off that team. Georgia won its opener last week over Presbyterian, 45-30, and plays Mercer Thursday night.
Thursday our coverage starts at 6:45, with the VCU tip at 7 p.m. Sunday coverage from Georgia starts at 1:45, followed by the tip at 2. Both (and all) games are on 1460 ESPN AM in Columbus.
Nov. 8, 2013
Well, it's hard to believe, but here we go again. Another basketball season has rapidly arrived on the calendar and this year's Buckeye women's team opens the season with a change at the top for the first time since the 2002-03 season.
Kevin McGuff brings to Columbus a great deal of success at his prior head coaching stops, Xavier for 9 seasons, and the last 2 years at Washington. His background includes six NCAA Tournament trips and an Elite Eight appearance. In 10 years as head coach, his teams have won 20 or more games in nine different seasons. So, his resume fits the bill in Columbus, no question about it. He also has stacked his coaching staff with quality, talented people. Joy Cheek, Mark Mitchell, Patrick Klein and Myia McCurdyall bring enthusiasm, passion and toughness to the floor and to the recruiting trail as well. In my interactions with Coach McGuff and his staff, I have come away immensely impressed by the message, the work ethic and the overall passion they have for Ohio State and the women's basketball program.
One thing that Coach McGuff has said to me on occasion, and something I have assured him of, is that Buckeye basketball fans understand the task that is ahead him and his staff. Certainly the "cupboard is not bare", but it also is in need of, shall we say, "a few more trips to the grocery store". The talent that remains has its pluses, but it is also fair to say the team that returns has areas to improve in. For the first time since I have been calling the games, Ohio State does not return a player you could count on for at least 20 points a game. If it was not Jessica Davenport, it was Jantel Lavender, Samantha Prahalis or Tayler Hill that you knew you would get you points, and could be counted on to take a big shot. Now, that does not mean that type of player is not on this current roster. Ameryst Alston and Raven Fergusonboth have shown the ability to score consistently and both will need to do so.
Another comment that has stuck with me comes from the players. Many observers have said the Buckeyes will need to score by committee this year, and many see that as weakness. I have had players tell me that they see that as a "strength", and a "confidence builder" for the team. Keeping everyone involved keeps everyone happy and engaged in the game - certainly a plus.
Along with Alston and Ferguson, Darryce Moore, Martina Ellerbe, Maleeka Kynard, Cait Craft, Amy Scullion and Ashley Adams, look early on to see a lot of minutes. Unfortunately, Kalpana Beachis again dealing with a knee injury and her minutes would have been of great value on both ends of the floor. The type of team Coach McGuff inherits also brings with it a great deal of length defensively, and if you watched the Bellarmine exhibition, the Buckeyes were disruptive on defense. Yes, Bellarmine was nowhere near the level of competition that awaits the team this year, but it was good for the staff and the players to get out under the lights and play in a game-like atmosphere.
So, it begins Friday in Morgantown, when Ohio State travels to West Virginia. The Mountaineers are one of the many high caliber opponents that dot the Buckeyes schedule this year. Coach Mike Carey has built a strong program, one that has made numerous NCAA Tournament trips (last year included) and wins 20 or more games on consistent basis. WVU returns four starters, including talented guard Christal Caldwell. 6'4 center Asya Bussie has returned from sitting out last year with a knee injury. She was an all-conference choice prior to the injury.
Sunday, Florida Atlantic provides the opposition for the home opener. Kelly Lewis-Jay, who spent 5 seasons as one of Connie Yori's assistants at Nebraska, is in her second year as FAU's coach. The Owls return 4 starters off a 12-win team last year.
Both Kristin Watt and Toni Roesch will return to work with me this year. Our coverage from WVU Friday starts at 5:15 p.m., then Sunday we are with you at 1:45 p.m. As always, all games are on AM 1460 ESPN and for free right here at OhioStateBuckeyes.com!