Despite earning its third straight Big Ten regular season title and losing just three times all season, Ohio State is only a No. 4 seed for the NCAA tournament. The Buckeyes felt they deserved better.
Ohio State looks to begin proving that to the selection committee as it opens its fifth straight NCAA tourney appearance in a matchup with Marist on Saturday night at Stanford, Calif.
The Buckeyes (28-3) were one of the best teams in the nation all season, winning 24 of their first 25 games and 17 in a row before suffering their only Big Ten regular season loss, 62-59 to Michigan State on Feb. 18.
Ohio State is the first team to win three Big Ten titles in a row since Iowa won four straight from 1987-90.
As the top seed in the conference tournament, Ohio State beat Indiana and Penn State before a poor start against Purdue in the championship game cost it. The Buckeyes, who had won 34 of their last 35 league games, fell behind 21-0 and barley avoided their lowest point total of the season in a 64-52 loss.
Even with that defeat, Ohio State felt it would be no worse than a No. 2 or No. 3 seed with the possibility of playing close to home. Instead, the Buckeyes dropped to No. 4 and must travel across the country for this game.
“The committee had an interesting job,” Buckeyes coach Jim Foster said. “We’re going to have to prove who we are. I kind of like the opportunity to do that.”
What may also have contributed to the disappointing seed was a season-ending Achilles’ tendon injury to second-leading scorer Brandie Hoskins, who tore the Achilles’ tendon in her other leg in last year’s second-round loss to Boston College.
“I’m kind of shocked,” Hoskins said while standing on crutches in Foster’s living room after the brackets were announced on television. “I’m not mad. But we’re 28-3 and we lost two games late in the season against good teams. Now we’ve got something to prove.”
The Buckeyes may no longer have Hoskins, but center Jessica Davenport will still be very difficult to contain.
Davenport became the first player to capture the Big Ten player of the year award three times, averaging a league-best 20.2 points and 9.7 rebounds this season. She is the first player in conference history to amass 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 300 blocks in her career.
Ohio State has won its first-round game in each of its last four trips to the NCAA tournament. However, it has advanced past the second round only once since losing the national championship game to Texas Tech in 1993.
Foster says no team in the tournament should be overlooked, particularly Marist (27-5), winner of 18 of its last 19 games.
“There’s no bad teams. Bad teams are on spring break,” Foster said. “(The Red Foxes are) a tough, hard-nosed East Coast team with gritty guards, who get after you defensively.”
Marist earned its third trip to the NCAA tournament by winning the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament after setting a school record for wins.
Freshman forward Rachel Fitz leads the Red Foxes with 15.0 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.
Marist is 0-2 in the NCAA tournament, losing in 2004 and ’06.
This is the first meeting between the Buckeyes and Foxes, but the teams are scheduled to meet again in Columbus on Dec. 28.
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