The Ohio State women’s basketball team enters NCAA tournament seeded third in the Spokane, Washington, region after finishing the season as the undisputed Big Ten champions.
It will open the NCAA tournament at 1 p.m. Saturday at St. John Arena in Columbus against 14th-seeded George Washington, which also won its conference tournament to earn an automatic tournament bid.
Slow, inefficient offense versus fast, high-powered offense
With the fourth-highest points per game average of 85.1, Ohio State will take a high-powered offense to meet one that struggles in George Washington, which averages just 60.2 points per game (274th out of 349 in the nation). The Buckeyes average 24.9 more points per game than the Colonials, highlighting the largest contrast between the two teams.
The Colonials average the fewest points per game in the Atlantic-10 and shoot just 38.6 percent from the field, the 10th-best in the conference, and 31.8 percent from 3-point range.
Only two players — senior guard Brianna Cummings (14.3 points) and senior forward Kelli Prange (12.2 points) — average more than 8.7 points per game. George Washington has only scored more than Ohio State’s 85-point-per-game average once this season — and that game went into overtime. It has dropped at least 70 points just three times the entire season, while Ohio State has scored at least 70 points in 28 games.
In order for the Colonials to pull of the unlikely upset, they must contain a Buckeye offense that features the Big Ten Player of the Year, senior guard Kelsey Mitchell, who is 31 points shy of second place in the NCAA all-time scoring leaderboard. Four Ohio State players average at least 11.8 points per game and the team shoots 45.3 percent from the field and 35.3 percent from deep.
The Buckeyes have rarely been slowed down, and though the Colonials have stifled opponents, they have not faced an offense quite as explosive as Ohio State’s.
Conference tournament champs
The first-round matchup between Ohio State and George Washington will be a battle of conference tournament champions, but both teams traversed wildly different paths to claim their respective titles.
Having claimed the outright regular-season Big Ten championship after going 13-3 in conference play, the Buckeyes entered their conference tournament as the top seed. They cruised to a 25-point win against ninth-seeded Rutgers, slipped by fourth-seeded Minnesota 90-88 in a high-paced game, then held off second-seeded Mayland 79-69 to win the title.
George Washington, on the other hand, was not the favorite to win the Atlantic-10 championship. After winning 10 of 16 conference games, the Colonels entered the tournament as the fifth seed.
Unlike Ohio State, which had two byes, George Washington had to play four games on its way to the title game and was an underdog in two. The Colonials knocked off 12th-seeded La Salle by 20 points in the first game before upsetting both fourth-seeded George Mason and top-seeded Dayton in back-to-back rounds. It finished off the run by beating sixth-seeded Saint Joseph’s 65-49 to win the Atlantic-10 championship and earn an NCAA tournament berth.
Battle of two poor rebounding teams
For the entire season, Ohio State has struggled to outrebound its opponents. Even when things have gone well for the Buckeyes, they still struggled to grab boards, especially on the defensive end of the court.
Luckily for them, George Washington also has issues on the glass.
The Colonials average 31.4 rebounds per game, the least in their conference by three boards. They were outrebounded in all four Atlantic-10 tournament wins.
George Washington has a minus-5.3 rebound margin. It has three players who average at least five rebounds per game, including Prange, a 6-foot-5 forward who was injured for part of the year. She averaged 5.8 rebounds per game in 25 appearances and eight starts.
Ohio State allows the most defensive rebounds in the Big Ten and has a plus-0.5 rebound margin this season. It relies on redshirt senior forward Stephanie Mavunga and redshirt junior guard Linnae Harper to grab rebounds. Mavunga grabs 10.8 rebounds per game and the 5-foot-8 Harper averages 8.5 rebounds.
In order to maximize its offensive chances, George Washington must take advantage of one of Ohio State’s glaring weaknesses and earn more second chances than usual.
Who can win the turnover battle?
Both Ohio State and George Washington have the best turnover margins in their respective conferences. The Buckeyes lead the Big Ten with a plus-5.5 margin and the Colonials have a plus-5.3 margin.
However, each team controls the ball differently.
The Buckeyes speed the game up, often utilizing a full-court press and use their defense to get their offense in the fast break. Harper averages a team-high 2.2 steals per game and senior guard Asia Doss has 1.7 steals per game. Doss missed the entire Big Ten tournament with a sprained ankle, but is expected to play against George Washington, increasing the likelihood of the Buckeyes relying on the press.
The Colonials prefer a slower game, but still manage to turn opponents over at a rate nearly rivaling that of Ohio State. Guards Mei-Lyn Bautista and Cummings average 2.2 and two steals per game, respectively.
Ohio State has not played the Colonials yet this season, but it has played three of their common opponents. Both the Buckeyes and George Washington have played Wisconsin, South Florida and Maryland, but with differing results.
The Colonials lost 83-78 to South Florida and dropped a game to Maryland, losing 80-54. The Buckeyes also fell to the Bulls, losing 84-65, but split games against the Terrapins. They beat Maryland in the Big Ten title game after losing to the team on Jan. 22.
Both Ohio State and George Washington beat Wisconsin, which had a 9-21 record and finished second-to-last in the Big Ten this season.