The Ohio State women's basketball team enters this postseason tonight with a simple goal.
"We're trying to get better, and because we are young there are some things we can talk about or do or tweak and add that allow us to get better," head coach Jim Foster said before his team departed for Indianapolis for the Big Ten tournament.
Top seed Ohio State tips off against No. 9 Illinois tonight at 6 p.m. in a game to be televised on the Big Ten Network.
By now most folks know that Ohio State under Foster has been stellar in the regular season – including four straight Big Ten titles – but found the going tougher in the postseason, but there are reasons to think each year can be different, and 2008 is no exception.
Ironically enough, it could be a lack of established stars that prepare this team to fare better than its predecessors, who have gone 9-4 in the conference tournament under Foster. The Buckeyes have won the event just once despite holding the No. 1 seed the past three seasons.
They occupy that spot again this season with hopes of building momentum for the NCAA tournament as well as getting another shot at one or two of the five conference teams that knocked them off in the regular season.
Should they beat the Fighting Illini, the Buckeyes will face Minnesota or Michigan State, both of whom beat the Buckeyes once this season. Ohio State later downed the Golden Gophers but has not gotten another shot at the Spartans.
With the league experiencing basically unheard of parity this year – Ohio State shared the conference crown with Iowa and six teams finished no more than three games out of first place – the tournament figures to have a frenzied feel rarely seen.
Foster, who came to Ohio State from the Vanderbilt of the SEC prior to the 2002-03 season, saw this season the deepest Big Ten he has since his move north and figures that will be a benefit going forward.
"I think the teams coming out of this tournament this year have a better chance to win because you've had to fight every night," he said. "That has not necessarily been the case (in previous years). I think when you have to fight every night you get a little bit tougher and you have a better opportunity for postseason success than if you only have to play hard once every four or five games.
"That's not what it's like in the postseason."
That statement could just as easily be attached to his own team as any other in the league. With the conference down the past two years, one could easily make the argument that Ohio State cam out with a conference title but not necessarily tested as much as it could have been.
The Buckeyes enter this tournament with less proven star power – though again with a post player who was named the conference player of the year, now Jantel Lavender after it was Jessica Davenport the last three seasons – they could have more potential.
That is because nine players are freshmen or sophomores, and only two players – senior guard Marscilla Packer and junior guard Ashlee Trebilcock – who started the Big Ten title game loss to Purdue last season figure to be in the starting lineup this weekend.
That was also a team still trying to regain its identity after losing Brandie Hoskins, the point forward who handled many of the ball handling duties for the Buckeyes until she went down in late February with a season-ending Achilles injury.
"Last year when Brandie went down we were sort of just trying to keep our head above water," Foster said. "When you're doing that you're really struggling, but I don't sense that. I think we have an opportunity to get better, because we are so young, if we are just willing to, if we want to.
"Everybody's got a couple of things that are easily done (to get better) and I'm sensing that we have the opportunity to do that."
There is potential trouble, however, in that injuries could again be a problem. Trebilcock finished the regular season nursing a back injury while starting point guard Shavelle Little – the Big Ten defensive player of the year and leader in steals per game – has a gimpy left knee.
Both said Wednesday they are less-than 100 percent but sounded as if they plan to be in the lineup this weekend.
They would like to be there to help exact some revenge, an opportunity not available much either of the last two years when the Buckeyes lost just a total of two conference games.
"Losing to a person the last time you played them, they have a one-up on you," Trebilcock said. "It's always better to have beaten everybody the last time."
"I think when you play in the tournament it is good time to get revenge on teams that you beat, try to fix the things that you maybe messed up in the first couple of games," Lavender added.
Trebilcock expressed optimism that a strong March is in the offing, even if Packer must bear more of the scoring load if Trebilcock is slowed, or if one of two talented freshmen – Alison Jackson or Brittany Johnson – has to step up on a big stage.
Should Little be sidelined, the point guard duties fall onto the capable shoulders of sophomore Maria Moeller, a starter a year ago who has played well when called up on this season. She is more of an offensive threat than Litlte but does not possess Little's ability to disrupt an opponent one on one.
"I think we're pretty deep at both the guard and the posts," Trebilcock said. "There are freshmen and sophomores that can come off the bench and do a lot of damage."