Tennessee presents a familiar measuring stick for Ohio State women's basketball

Ohio State will play Tennessee in the Sweet 16 in a game Friday night that is not lacking for narratives.

Ohio State's Sweet 16 matchup with Tennessee is fitting in a number of ways. 

The last time the Buckeyes played for a spot in the Elite Eight, the Lady Vols were also the ones standing in the way, but things were much different in 2011. 

Both teams had Hall of Fame coaches, and UT was a top seed while Ohio State was No. 4 in the region. This time around, Ohio State is No. 3 while Tennessee is heading to Sioux Falls as a No. 7 seed after upsetting Arizona State. 

In the five years since, I have thought about that last OSU-Tennessee game a lot because it was a perfect example of how far Ohio State still was from truly being an elite program.

That was arguably coach Jim Foster's most talented Ohio State team (though maybe not his best overall), but legendary Pat Summitt had recruited twice as many McDonald's All-Americans and when the first few she ran out there at UD Arena weren't quite getting the job done, she just pulled a couple more off the bench and they were part of a decisive run. 

Then it became clear to me as much good as Foster had done at Ohio State, he wasn't likely to get the program over the hump. 

He had McDonald’s All-Americans at power forward, point guard and on the wing, and none of them were freshmen. There was another on the bench who never panned out. 

Players of the Year from Ohio, New York, Minnesota and Illinois. 

Ten-point loss an hour from campus. 

That's why how much money they owed Foster was the only reason I was surprised when they fired him two years later. 

For product, it was justified. Even though he was the winningest coach in school history, he wasn't likely to make the program any better from that point than it had been. 

With the best post player and best point guard in school history on his team, his recruiting had already peaked, and his best hadn't been good enough. 

Such a move doesn't come without risk, but it's looking pretty good right now. 

And now his successor has a few of his old players and a bunch of new ones back in the tourney with a chance to make a statement against one of the greatest programs of all time that happens to be having arguably its worst season. 

Seeds say the Buckeyes will be favored, but recruiting rankings still tilt heavily in favor of the Lady Vols — at least for now. 

Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff signed a top five recruiting class two years ago, and he has another star-studded group coming in next season. 

He’s also gotten several high-profile transfers, but only one of them is eligible and healthy right now (Shayla Cooper, who started her career at Georgetown). 

This Ohio State team has had a very nice year despite again having depth problems, this time created by injuries and the transfer of freshman Kaylan Pugh. The Buckeyes let the Big Ten title slip through their fingers in the last weekend of the regular season, but their second-place finish was in line with preseason expectations. 

Obviously a Sweet 16 appearance is nothing to sneeze at given how curiously hard those were to come by during the Foster era, and now there is another chance to find out where the Buckeyes are in the women’s college basketball hierarchy. 

The Buckeyes found out at the beginning of the season they weren’t near UConn’s level, but no one else is this season. 

They were competitive against the Nos. 2 and 3 teams in the country but came away empty-handed at South Carolina and Notre Dame. 

There was a season sweep of Maryland that seemed to announce the Buckeyes had arrived, but those late slip-ups at Michigan State and Minnesota raised some questions. 

After his team lost at St. John Arena on Sunday, West Virginia coach Mike Carey correctly pointed out Ohio State’s depth concerns, but McGuff still has the ultimate trump card in point guard Kelsey Mitchell. 

The program is headed in the right direction no matter what happens this weekend in South Dakota, but a victory over Tennessee would unquestionably be a nice feather in the cap for a program that has ambitions of being reaching the rare air the Volunteers occupied for so long. 

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