Buckeyes Aiming to Make History - Again
By Tony Gerdeman
If winning seven Big Ten titles in a row were easy, somebody would have done it by now.
Last year's Buckeye women's basketball team won their sixth-consecutive conference title, and nobody had ever done THAT either.
So as they enter the 2010-2011 season with the possibility of winning their seventh title in a row, they only really need to look back to last year to see that just because it hasn't been done yet, doesn't mean it can't be done.
With all five starters back from a team that won a school-record 31 games last season, even more is expected this year, as evidenced by their ranking (7th) in both polls. The following will hopefully serve as a primer to introduce you to this year's team, which kicks off their season Friday at Temple.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Head Coach Jim Foster, a graduate of Temple University, has compiled a 716-277 overall record in his 31 years as a head coach. At Ohio State, he boasts a record of 212-52. Prior to coming to the Buckeyes, he served as the head coach at St. Joseph's (248-126) and then Vanderbilt (256-99). He is just the second collegiate basketball coach to record 200 wins with three different teams.
It should also be noted that every student-athlete to play under Foster has gone on to earn their degree.
Foster has led the Buckeyes to the NCAA Tournament in each of his eight seasons at Ohio State, and has led the team to their only two 30-win seasons (2004-2005, 2009-2010).
Photo by Dan Harker
You can't talk about the Buckeye guards without first mentioning junior point guard Samantha Prahalis. Prahalis was a first-team All Big Ten performer last season, and is expected to be again this season. Last year, she averaged 16.3 points per game and 8.0 assists per game, becoming just the second player in the last decade to average at least 16.0 points and 8.0 assists per game.
Known for her flair and flash on the court, Prahalis has improved every aspect of her game in her first two seasons. She became a very capable shooter last season, shooting 37.2% from beyond the three-point line. Improvements continued this offseason, and even more can be expected this season.
Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, Prahalis will start the season by serving a three-game suspension for an NCAA secondary rules violation.
Last season, freshman guard Tayler Hill came to Columbus from Minnesota and had moments where she felt completely lost. However, that didn't keep her from starting all 36 games and becoming a very effective baseline weapon.
She finished the season averaging 8.5 points and 2.8 rebounds per game. She showed a tremendous ability to get to the basket, and subsequently the free throw line. Only Prahalis (163) and All-American center Jantel Lavender (205) went to the free throw line more often than Hill (130). Expect to see her running some point guard this season as well, allowing Prahalis to float around a little more on offense.
Fellow starting guard Brittany Johnson is coming off of a season where she finished third on the team in scoring (9.3 points per game), and led the team in three-point shooting, making 48.1% of her attempts (77-160). She has refined a mid-range game in the offseason, which should allow her to be as dangerous in front of the three-point line as she has been behind it.
The depth on the bench in the backcourt will mainly come in the form of sophomore Amber Stokes and senior Alison Jackson. Stokes is a track star, but the game is starting to slow down for her. She should also be able to spell Prahalis at point guard at times. Jackson is a versatile player with the size (5'11”) to play a few positions. One of these two players will likely be in the starting lineup while Prahalis serves her suspension.
Redshirt freshman Brianna Sanders missed last season due to injury, but could figure to find a few minutes in this rotation somewhere. The Buckeyes were dealt a blow last month when freshman guard-forward Amy Scullion was lost for the season due to a knee injury. She was expected to provide versatility and scoring off of the bench.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Three-time Big Ten Player of the Year Jantel Lavender returns for her fourth go-round as the Buckeyes' dominating center. Last season, she led the Big Ten in scoring, averaging 21.4 points per game, and finished third in rebounding with a 10.3 average.
Lavender was tabbed to win her fourth conference Player of the Year Award at the conference's media day.
There is a plan in place for Lavender to move around more this season, opening up the paint for hard-driving guards Prahalis and Hill. Lavender's ability to shoot the mid-range jumper has improved, so there should be even more ways for the talented center to score this year.
The likely fifth member of Ohio State's starting five will be power forward Sarah Schulze who started 35 games last season. She averaged 7.3 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. She is an aggressive player on defense, the type of hustle player that every great team needs. Her ability to shoot the three-pointer (41.3 %), however, makes her a difference-maker in this offense. She has also improved her low-post game in the offseason, so expect a few new wrinkles from Schulze.
Providing depth in the front court will be sophomores Emilee Harmon (6'2”) and Aleksandra Dobranic (6'4”). Harmon played in 16 games last season. Dobranic saw time in 15. Harmon has some ability around the basket, and isn't afraid to engage in physicality. Dobranic's length could make her an intimidating shot-blocking presence in time.
The freshman class will also have an impact on the frontcourt, though we'll have to wait to find out if that impact will only be seen in practice. Martina Ellerbe (6'0”) is a high-scoring forward from New Jersey. Darryce Moore (6'1”) is from Youngstown, so it should be no surprise that she is seen as a bit of an enforcer-type. Ashley Adams (6'4”) has the type of size that Jim Foster likes in his centers.
This starting five shouldn't have much of a problem winning the Big Ten again this season, but how the team meshes and how the depth integrates itself may determine their ultimate success. If the starting five have to carry this team just to get through the conference, they may wear down come March.
If you want some notion of where this team stands before then, you may get a pretty good idea on December 19th, when the Buckeyes play UConn in Madison Square Garden on ESPNU.
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