Ohio State Women’s Basketball Needs to Improve Rebounding and Depth, Add Impact Transfers for Better Postseason Results in 2024-25

By Dan Hope on March 28, 2024 at 8:35 am
Cotie McMahon and Madison Greene
Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch/USA TODAY Network

For Ohio State women’s basketball to achieve better results in next year’s postseason than it did this year, the Buckeyes will need to improve upon a couple of significant flaws from this season while also replacing several key players.

Although Ohio State won the regular-season Big Ten championship and entered the postseason with a 25-4 record, the issues that led to the Buckeyes’ early exits in both the NCAA Tournament and Big Ten Tournament didn’t come out of nowhere.

Rebounding was a problem for the Buckeyes all season, and it proved to be the Buckeyes’ fatal flaw in March. Ohio State lost the rebounding battle 55-31 in its 82-61 Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal loss to Maryland, then grabbed just 20 rebounds – their fewest in any game in more than a decade – while giving up 38 in their season-ending 75-63 second-round NCAA Tournament loss to Duke on Sunday.

The Buckeyes’ failures on the glass continued a common thread from the regular season. Ohio State’s opponents had at least seven more rebounds than the Buckeyes in all six of their defeats this year. For the season as a whole, the Buckeyes grabbed 2.4 fewer rebounds than their opponents during the 2023-24 season, averaging 33.5 rebounds per game while giving up 35.9 – only Northwestern, the Big Ten’s second-worst team in terms of record, had a worse rebounding margin (-4.5) among Big Ten teams.

“It seems like rebounding was a huge issue for this team for some games, and it was prevalent in this game,” Ohio State wing Taylor Thierry said after Sunday’s loss.

Given those results, rebounding improvement will be a major point of emphasis for Ohio State this offseason, starting with how the Buckeyes retool their roster.

“We just gotta pay attention to personnel, who we’re bringing in and adding to the group that we’ll have coming back,” Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff said after Sunday’s loss. “I think that's probably the biggest thing that hopefully we can add some people that can really help us in that area.”

Those efforts should be aided by the fact that Ohio State’s two returning starters for the 2024-25 season, Cotie McMahon (6.3 rebounds per game) and Taylor Thierry (5.3 rebounds per game), were the Buckeyes’ leading rebounders this season. But the team’s overall results on the boards make it clear that Ohio State needs to add better rebounders around them.

That effort likely starts with pursuing a veteran center in the transfer portal. The Buckeyes’ top two centers from this past season, Rebeka Mikulasikova and Taiyier Parks, are both out of eligibility. And Ohio State needs more rebounding from its centers than what it got from them in 2023-24, as Mikulasikova averaged just 3.2 rebounds per game as OSU’s starting center while Parks – who averaged 5.5 rebounds per game in four seasons at Michigan State – averaged only 2.1 boards while playing only nine minutes per game as a Buckeye.

Another issue that plagued Ohio State this season was a lack of bench production. None of Ohio State’s backups averaged more than 4.4 points per game in 2023-24. 

The Buckeyes were able to overcome that in most games because of its starters, who all averaged at least 9.4 points per game for a total of 63 points per game between the five of them. But the lack of bench output proved costly in the postseason as OSU’s bench scored only three points (on one 3-pointer by Madison Greene) in the loss to Maryland and just six points (four by Rikki Harris, two by Parks) in the loss to Duke.

For Ohio State to have even the same amount of success that it had this year, the Buckeyes will likely need a wider variety of scoring contributions next year, given that they’ll be replacing three of their top five scorers from this season including leading scorer Jacy Sheldon.

Along with improving the team’s rebounding, the other top priority for Ohio State as the offseason begins is replacing this year’s standout backcourt of Sheldon and Celeste Taylor. Sheldon was the Buckeyes’ top scorer and passer, earning second-team AP All-American honors as she averaged 17.8 points and 3.8 assists per game in 2023-24. Taylor was the Buckeyes’ best defender, earning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors along with a Naismith Defensive Player of the Year finalist selection as she recorded 2.5 steals (most in the Big Ten) and 0.9 blocks per game along with 10.1 points and 3.4 assists per contest.

The Buckeyes have several returning guards who could be candidates to play bigger roles next season. Greene averaged only 2.7 points and 1.6 assists per game after returning midseason from a torn ACL, but she has the talent to make a bigger impact if she can return to her pre-injury form, as she averaged 12.3 points and 4.6 assists per game in 27 games between the 2020-21 and 2022-23 seasons. Diana Collins played in only 18 games as a true freshman but was a top-70 overall prospect in the 2023 recruiting class. Harris averaged 6.9 points per game between the 2021-22 and 2022-23 seasons and still has another year of eligibility, though she went through Senior Day festivities and declined to answer when asked Sunday if she would be back for another season.

Kentucky transfer Kennedy Cambridge is another candidate to be part of the rotation after redshirting her first season at Ohio State. Her younger sister Jaloni Cambridge has the talent to be an immediate star and likely will play a major role immediately as ESPN’s No. 3 overall prospect in the 2024 recruiting class. Fellow incoming freshman guard Ava Watson could make an early impact, too, as the 51st-ranked prospect in the class.

Even so, Ohio State should be in the market for a proven guard in the transfer portal. Landing a quality veteran guard could allow the Buckeyes to have a deeper backcourt next season even though Sheldon and Taylor will both be tough to replace individually.

McMahon and Thierry were already one of the nation’s best forward tandems this season, so they give the Buckeyes two great foundational pieces to build around. Depth behind them is a big question mark, though. Eboni Walker is seeking a sixth year of eligibility that could allow her to return to Ohio State for another season, but that’s not guaranteed. The only other frontcourt player with eligibility to return next season is center Faith Carson, who played just 12 total minutes this season as a true freshman.

Ohio State is adding three freshmen in the frontcourt. Ella Hobbs, a 6-foot-4 forward ranked as the 92nd overall prospect in the 2024 class, could help shore up the Buckeyes’ rebounding woes as she averaged 13.8 rebounds per game as a senior before suffering a season-ending knee injury. So too could Elsa Lemmilä, a 6-foot-6 center from Finland. Seini Henry, the younger sister of Ohio State football commit Chris Henry Jr., will add depth on the wing and could also make an early impact on the glass after averaging 10 rebounds a game in her junior season at West Clermont High School.

That said, the Buckeyes still have reason to look for a veteran forward for depth behind McMahon and Thierry in addition to a center to start alongside them.

How many transfers the Buckeyes ultimately add this offseason could depend on whether Harris and Walker return and whether any other players choose to enter the portal. As it stands, 12 of the Buckeyes’ 15 scholarships for next season are accounted for, not including Harris, Walker or Emma Shumate, who entered the transfer portal on Wednesday.

Ohio State’s 2024 Roster Outlook
Pos Expected to Return Incoming Freshmen Status Uncertain Not Returning
C Faith Carson (0.6 ppg, 1.1 rpg) Elsa Lemmilä   Rebeka Mikulasikova (out of eligibility)
Taiyier Parks (out of eligibility)
F Cotie McMahon (14.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg)
Taylor Thierry (11.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg)
Ella Hobbs (No. 92 overall)
Seini Henry
Eboni Walker (2.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg) Karla Vres (out of eligibility)
G Madison Greene (2.7 ppg, 1.6 apg)
Diana Collins (3 ppg, 1.2 rpg)
Kennedy Cambridge (redshirt)
Kaia Henderson (0.8 ppg, 0.7 rpg)
Jaloni Cambridge (No. 3 overall)
Ava Watson (No. 51 overall)
Rikki Harris (4.4 ppg, 1.3 apg) Jacy Sheldon (out of eligibility)
Celeste Taylor (out of eligibility)
Emma Shumate (transfer)

There are plenty of questions for the Buckeyes to answer as the 2024 offseason begins, and those questions are only exacerbated by the way the 2023-24 season ended. But even with the talent Ohio State will have to replace, McGuff is optimistic the Buckeyes can be a contender in 2024-25.

“I like the recruiting class that we have coming in. I like the kids we have coming back. Hopefully we can add a couple of pieces in the portal, and I think we can have a really special team again next year,” McGuff said.

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