Prior to the unveiling of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament bracket Monday night, Ohio State had a pretty good idea of where it would be playing this weekend.
The bigger suspense came in finding out where the Buckeyes might be headed after that if they win their first two games.
After two regions were revealed, Ohio State still didn’t know its fate. The options remaining were Bridgeport, Conn., and Sioux Falls, S.D.
The difference? Three-time defending national champion Connecticut, a team that opened the season by beating Ohio State 100-56 on the Buckeyes’ home floor, would be in the former region and not the latter.
Cheers went up through the room when the Buckeyes’ were announced as the No. 3 seed in the Sioux Falls region. They will open the tournament Friday against No. 14 seed Buffalo at approximately 2:30 p.m. at St. John Arena.
Whether or not the Buckeyes’ cheers were simply because their name was on the screen or something else, they won’t have to worry about seeing the Huskies until the national championship game in Indianapolis in April.
Of course, there is a lot of business to take care of before then.
The winner of the game between the Buckeyes and the MAC-champion Bulls will face No. 6 seed West Virginia or No. 11 Princeton on Sunday.
The other teams on their half of the bracket are No. 2 seed Arizona State, No. 15 New Mexico State, No. 7 Tennessee and No. 10 Green Bay.
Whoever emerges from the bottom will likely have to contend with South Carolina, the top seed in the region, but, again, that’s a long way away.
Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff downplayed concerns about having to face the Huskies down the line to earn a trip to the Final Four.
“I wasn’t really even worried about that,” he said. “I think you start worrying about that stuff, you drive yourself crazy. It’s nothing we can control and we were gonna embrace whatever path we got and just try to keep focused with the task at hand, which is the first game. It’s nothing I really thought much about before the draw.”
He rightly acknowledged the Buckeyes have their own business to take care of, particularly after losing three of their last four games. They finished the season ranked ninth in the AP poll after reaching as high as No. 5.
“We’ve gotten some much-needed rest,” said McGuff, whose team will end up having 12 full days between games. “We’ve also worked on some things. I think we’ve got our mojo back a little bit. I really liked what I’ve seen in practice.”
A big key to making a long postseason run, something Ohio State seemed to be poised to do before the late stumbles, will be having a healthy Ameryst Alston.
A three-time All-Big Ten guard, Alston sprained her right (shooting) wrist in a Big Ten tournament quarterfinal win over Rutgers on March 4 and was largely ineffective one day later as the Buckeyes were knocked out by Michigan State.
“She’s making a lot of progress,” he said. “She had a good weekend. The swelling has come down quite a bit. She didn’t practice today. I think we’re cautiously optimistic she’ll be where she needs to be by the end of the week.”
Ohio State is set for its 23rd appearance in the NCAA tournament.
Last year, the Buckeyes lost on a buzzer-beater in the second round at North Carolina after beating James Madison in the opening round.
The last time they played tournament games at home was 2011, when they advanced to the most recent of their seven Sweet 16s.
Ohio State has been to the Elite Eight three times and made its only Final Four appearance in 1993.