With 11 straight wins and Big Ten player of the year Kelsey Mitchell on its side, the Ohio State women's basketball team heads into the conference tournament in an unfamiliar role: the top seed and the favorite to win.
The Buckeyes have never been the top seed in the Big Ten tournament under head coach Kevin McGuff, and haven’t won the tournament since 2011.
McGuff gives much of the credit for this year’s success to his star player.
“(Kelsey) can get the ball up and down the court, and really get our team the pace that we want to play,” McGuff says.
Kelsey, a junior guard from Cincinnati, is averaging just over 23 points per game this season. Considered one of the fastest players in the game, Kelsey also had the third-best three-point percentage in the NCAA this year.
“More importantly, she’s a phenomenal young person,” McGuff says.
The team has seen steady improvement under McGuff, who took over for former coach Jim Foster in 2013.
“We really were able to add some talented players,” McGuff says. “We’ve also evolved from a cultural standpoint.”
McGuff’s squad missed the NCAA tournament in his first season. They lost in the first round to end the 2014-15 season, and were one of the final 16 teams in the tournament last season before losing to Michigan State.
“Our culture is emerging to the point where it can kind of lift up that talent and put us in position to compete with the very best teams in college basketball," he says.
The Buckeyes have a bye in the Big Ten tournament’s first round. On Friday, they take on the winner of Thursday’s game between Northwestern and Iowa.
One of OSU’s few losses this season came against the University of Connecticut, which has won a record 104 straight games. That’s 14 more than the previous record set by the UCLA men’s team.
McGuff sees something to aspire in the UConn program.
“We’re trying to build something here that can match Connecticut and have one of the best programs in college basketball," he says.