basketball

Skull Session: Behind the “Innovative Rebuild” of Ohio State Women’s Basketball, the Ohio State Football Media Team is Cooking and The Brotherhood is For Real

Tommy Eichenberg has a nickname. It’s Tommy Two Thumbs.

To be clear, it’s not Tommy Stopenberg.

Let’s have a good Tuesday, shall we?

WHEN TALENT WORKS HARD. In 2017-18, Ohio State women’s basketball won 28 games and a conference championship. The team had two-time Big Ten Player of the Year Kelsey Mitchell and finished the year ranked 10th in the pre-NCAA Tournament AP Poll.

Ohio State looked poised to make a deep run in the Big Dance. However, their dancin’ didn’t last long, as the Buckeyes were bounced in the first round by 11th-seed Central Michigan. Even worse, they were defeated by 17 points. In his fifth year in Columbus, Kevin McGuff was forced to look in the mirror and realize the formula, even at its best, wasn’t good enough. Something needed to change. So McGuff made one.

From Brian Hamilton of The Athletic:

When the Buckeyes’ head coach and his staff convened for the postseason autopsy, they probed deeper than what-went-right and what-went-wrong; they examined their core approach. They’d amass a lot of talent over five years on the job, because that’s what most coaches would do after going from a place like Xavier to a place like Ohio State. But the talent wasn’t cohesive enough when it mattered. It didn’t fit. Nobody wanted to fill a role; they all craved the biggest imaginable role, and it was impossible to satisfy everyone’s expectations. The discussion started there and eventually led to a tricky conclusion: Ohio State wouldn’t try to recruit the best possible players anymore. Not strictly anyway. Ohio State instead would try to build the best teams it could.

“Seems simple and logical — but sometimes harder to do,” McGuff says now, not long before another day spent in the gym with the end product of this plan. And, quite frankly, a little scary. Basically you’re saying we’re going to have to win with a little less talent. As a coach, you know that’s possible. You see it happens. But it’s also a little scary, too, because to reach our goals here, to compete for championships and deep runs in the tournament, there’s also a certain amount of talent you do have to have.”

Following a down year with a 14-15 record in 2018-19, McGuff’s 2019 class of Rikki Harris, Jacy Sheldon, and Madison Greene was brought in to correct course for the program. Four years later, those players, along with Taylor Mikesell and Rebeka Mikulasikova, are at the core of what Hamilton calls the “innovative rebuild” of Ohio State women’s basketball.

The rebuild started with culture. While Ohio State has always had talented players, those players didn’t always work hard. Even when they did, they didn’t work hard together. So McGuff’s primary message – one that has become a foundational pillar of the program – was that every player should work hard with and for one another.

The message was well-received.

Ohio State enjoyed a seven-win jump in 2019-20 – but blowing out the air ducts took a little more time. It wasn’t until last spring that the Buckeyes returned to the NCAA Tournament, in a surprising Sweet 16 run that recalibrated the outlook for this season. “All the people we had, they were good people, but I don’t think they were all good for the program,” Harris says. “We all got along, we had great moments together, but those who left, left for a reason.”

What remains is a not-so-safe space, in the most constructive way imaginable.

The Buckeyes like each other. They really do. “Before this season started we were with each other all day, every day, until maybe 2 or 3 in the morning,” Harris says. They don’t appear to have many agendas, if any, as reflected in the on-floor scoring balance. “Having that want for your teammates to succeed, having a want to see everyone do well every night, is everybody’s main focus,” Sheldon says. And it shows.

The rebuild continues with results on the floor. That focus Sheldon mentioned – one that took four years to develop – led to a record-breaking 19-0 start to the season for Ohio State. It is a focus that has allowed them to defeat some of the best teams in their sport: Tennessee, Louisville, Oregon, Michigan. The Buckeyes also went toe to toe with another top team in Iowa, but Caitlin Clark’s record-setting triple-double proved too much for McGuff’s squad.

The rebuild could end with a national championship in 2022-23. That’s the goal, at least. Ohio State has plenty of talent. The team’s secret sauce is that their talent works hard, and even more, that the talent works hard for each other, no matter who receives the glory. That’s a pretty good recipe for success if you ask me.

Perhaps the secret sauce will even be enough to see the Buckeyes win a title in April. That would be pretty cool, wouldn’t it?

HOLD UP… LET HIM COOK. Ohio State football’s media team has been on a tear recently. That statement is true for several reasons. However, the reason I will discuss today is the videos some players have tweeted out as they prepare themselves for the 2023 season this fall.

Props to the Ohio State media team for making me very excited to watch the Buckeyes with many, many months until the football season. But also, shame on the Ohio State media team for making me very excited to watch the Buckeyes with many, many months until the football season. What am I supposed to do with all of this excitement?!

A BAND OF BROTHERS. A media company called Overtime released a video over the weekend that offered views a glimpse into CJ Stroud’s life and that of several Ohio State football players. And, folks, it was pretty cool to watch.

Of all the things in the video, I think I am most impressed with how it shows the bonds that Stroud, Jaxon Smith-Njiga, TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams share with one another off the field.

The Brotherhood is real. No matter where an Ohio State football player ends up in life – in the NFL, broadcasting on a local radio station or running a trash removal company in Central Ohio – a Buckeye will always be a Buckeye, and I think that’s really cool. Cheers to Overtime for reminding everybody that with their video.

Also, cheers to Tre for his work as a real estate investor. He’s headed for great and valuable endeavors whenever his football career comes to an end.

C’MON, MAN. On Monday, I learned that there’s a book called “Everything Great About Ohio State Football: The Undisputed Compendium” that was released on Feb. 8, 2022. However, the so-called book is not really a book at all.

The author, Jerret Sherenco, was born and raised a Michigan Man, which means he left every one of the 100 pages blank. Because of that fact, Jim Harbaugh has placed the book on the center of a coffee table in his office. He sits front and center when recruits visit Ann Arbor and speak with him about the opportunity of playing the maize and blue.

In Harbaugh’s first five seasons as Michigan’s head coach, he was 0-5 against Ohio State. Zero wins, five losses. And, yeah, he’s won the previous two matchups with the Buckeyes, but with how he’s been talking the last two years—the “third base” comment, the fact that he was proud of his team for planting the flag in Ohio Stadium, etc. . – one would think he is a perfect 7-0 in The Game (like Urban Meyer).

I think I speak for all of Buckeye Nation when I say Ryan Day and Ohio State really, really need a win in the Big House this fall. That way this stuff from Harbaugh can come to an end and everything can return to normal. That sounds good, right?

SONG OF THE DAY. Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars.

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