The second-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes hit the road to take on an excellent Ohio State (#18) team in what could be one of the biggest regular-season matchups in recent Big Ten memory. I checked in with Thomas Costello of Land-Grant Holy Land (OSU’s SB Nation site) to pick his brain on a few key Buckeye thoughts.
Black Heart Gold Pants: Celeste Taylor is a player that impressed me a great deal at Duke. How has she fit in with the team and what is the biggest thing she has provided for this team?
Land-Grant Holy Land: If I had to pick one word to describe Celeste Taylor, it’d be intensity. The guard doesn’t take plays off and tries to be everywhere at once. A lot of the time she seems to achieve that goal.
Taylor shadows whoever she’s guarding at that moment, making shooting especially difficult. With her addition to the Buckeyes, the halfcourt defense of Ohio State’s shown a marked improvement. No longer is the only defensive talking point surrounding the team about the full court press.
The Buckeyes are on the end of a two-game streak against tougher conference opponents (Michigan State and Maryland), and Taylor was crucial in both. Against Michigan State, she had five blocks. A few of those coming from players on the fastbreak thinking they were all alone on their way to an easy layup. With Taylor around there aren’t easy layups.
Watching Taylor and Clark will be a treat. The two faced each other in the now defunct ACC/B1G Challenge in Nov. 2021. Taylor and the Blue Devils won that game, with Clark scoring a “lowly” 22 points, adding nine rebounds and eight assists. Taylor had 17 points and 13 rebounds, which is the kind of stat line people can expect of the graduate senior.
Black Heart Gold Pants: Taylor Mikesell was a key player for OSU last year shooting over 40% from 3FG. Who has stepped up to replace her scoring and leadership?
Land-Grant Holy Land: Taylor Mikesell’s absence is still felt by the Buckeyes. There’s no one on the roster who can replicate the three-point shooting of Mikesell, one of the most decorated three-point shooters in Big Ten history. Outside shooting has been a detriment for the scarlet and gray.
Ohio State is the fourth worst three-point shooting team in the conference, hitting them at a 32.6% clip. In a larger sample size of last season, the Buckeyes hit the fifth most in the conference and the sixth most efficient. That means defenses have moved to the perimeter, daring them the shoot from deep. The jury is out on if Ohio State can consistently break that zone.
Fortunately, the leadership department is still excelling. Taylor came in and the born leader stepped right into that graduate senior role. Then there’s the existing team leaders like guards Jacy Sheldon, Rikki Harris and Madison Greene. If the Buckeyes lose, it’ll likely be more connected to the shooting than a lack of leaders on the court.
Black Heart Gold Pants: I think Kevin McGuff is an excellent coach. Ohio State’s full-court press is formidable. Do the Buckeyes press even more with Celeste Taylor this year? Is that something that they will try to do more to Iowa this year?
Land-Grant Holy Land: The Buckeyes’ goal this season was to work on their halfcourt defense, and lately that’s what’s been winning them games. That doesn’t mean there aren’t moments when the full court press is turned on, but there haven’t been those drag out full court press moments where the Buckeyes frustrate a team for seemingly entire quarters.
For example, in Maryland, the Terrapins gave up the ball less than Ohio State, but the Buckeyes were more effective stopping offense on the defensive half of the court. Against the Michigan State Spartans, who averaged 89.9 points per game entering the game, gave up the ball only nine times, with the Ohio State halfcourt defense holding the Spartans to only 65 points.
Will that mean the Buckeyes go for a press against the Hawkeyes? I’m sure it’ll make an appearance, but if it’s not working for head coach Kevin McGuff, watch for it to be abandoned early.
Black Heart Gold Pants: It appears that Jacy Sheldon is healthy and having a great year. What are a few things that she brings to the table for this year’s squad?
Land-Grant Holy Land: Sheldon is the offensive catalyst of the Buckeyes. The guard leads the team in points per game, sure, but she’s also finding her teammates, driving to the basket and dishing the ball out or taking it herself. Also, when the press is going strong, it’s more than likely because Sheldon is at another level.
That’s one part of Sunday’s game that intrigues me the most. The last time the Hawkeyes faced a truly healthy Sheldon, the Buckeyes beat the Hawkeyes in Iowa, in a win that ultimately gave Ohio State a share of the Big Ten regular season title in the 21-22 season.
In the regular season last year, Sheldon didn’t play at all in the lone conference game. Also, Sheldon was playing again in the Big Ten tournament, but it was clear she wasn’t 100%. I’ve coined the Sheldon/Taylor duo the Steal Sisters, following the graduation of Sheldon’s Splash Sister Mikesell. Should Ohio State win, it’s because the steal sisters are on their game.
BHGP: This will be an extremely tough game in an electric environment. If the Hawkeyes can defend and not allow Ohio State to turn defense into quick, easy offense, I like our chances. Iowa will get tripped up along they way, and this Buckeye team is very, very good. This game will make both teams better come March. As always, it’s great to be a Hawkeye.
Hawks vs. Ohio State
Sunday, January 21 @ 11am. NBC / Hawkeye Radio Network