The defense has to get better.
If there was one single takeaway from Ohio State women's basketball media day on Tuesday afternoon, that was it.
The Buckeyes have always had a high-pace, high-scoring offense under head coach Kevin McGuff. The past two years the Buckeyes have finished No. 3 and No. 4 respectively in points per game. But on the flip side, the defense has been nearly as bad as the offense has been good.
Ohio State was 331st out of 344 in scoring defense during the 2015-16 season, and only slightly better – 314th – last season. Of course, some of that can be explained by the uptempo style of play creating more possessions for both teams, but not all of it.
"We were up and down in those areas at the end of last year," Ohio State head coach Kevin McGuff said. "We won a lot of games, but for us to aspire to do more, then we have to be really sound in those areas."
When assessing the team's defensive performance these past few years, Ohio State's star guard, Kelsey Mitchell, was blunt.
"Overall, our defense has not been good," Mitchell said. "I'm not going to lie to you, it's been bad all [three] years I've been here."
Mitchell said the defense has been good in spurts and shown promise at times, but the team has never managed to piece it together for sustained periods throughout the entire season, which simply put, leads to losses.
"Overall, our defense has not been good."– Kelsey Mitchell
"It comes to winning," Mitchell said. "It always down to defense with us. And when that doesn't happen, we lose."
Mitchell mentioned games against Michigan State when they allowed Spartan guard Tori Jankoska to get in a rhythm early as well as the team's Big Ten Tournament loss to Purdue when the Buckeyes got stops but were unable to pull down defensive rebounds.
The defensive woes are not a personnel issue, a scheme issue or even a technique issue, but an effort issue, Mitchell explained.
"I think my team has it – every person on my team can play defense," she said. "It's just a matter of doing it."
That's what the team faces this offseason as it heads into a sort of do-or-die season where eight of the team's nine scholarship players are fourth-years or older. The defense has to improve this year, because for most of these players, there is no next year.
"Might take some L's. I mean, I don’t want us to, but if it has to come down to it for us to deeply understand what’s at stake when it comes to defense, it might have to take some of that."– Kelsey Mitchell
“I feel like the kids understand one that we have to make sure we improve, so there’s a sense of urgency surrounding those issues,” McGuff said. “We’ve put more time into them than we have in the past and really kind of tried to point forward that is going to be a strong part of our identity.”
Mitchell is optimistic they'll be much improved on that side of the ball by the end of the season, but also recognizes it might not always be a pretty process.
“Definitely some struggles,” Mitchell said. “Might take some Ls. I mean, I don’t want us to, but if it has to come down to it for us to deeply understand what’s at stake when it comes to defense, it might have to take some of that. Or we can get it done in practice."
Ohio State will know exactly where it stands defensively right off the bat as the team opens the season with back-to-back games against perennial powerhouse programs Stanford and Louisville in Columbus on Nov. 10 and 12 then follow with games against Washington and Duke, which both finished the season ranked in the top 25 of the coaches poll.
It's a difficult schedule, as usual, but McGuff hopes it will help his team in the long run.
"I feel like it pays dividends," McGuff said of the difficult schedule. "It exposes where you have to get better. If you're playing people you're beating by 20 and 30 points every night, you really don't get a feel for where you have to improve."
"Our goal is to be at our best at the end of the year and we can only do that if we play outstanding teams throughout the season."