Last year, D'Angelo Russell was somehow in the conversation for the best freshman in the country, and he wasn't even the most impressive freshman at Ohio State. With apologies to D'angelo, Karl, and Jahlil, there was only one once-in-a-generation talent suiting up for the first time in the 2014-15 season, and I'd bet many of the readers of BT Powerhouse have never even heard the name. Allow me to introduce you to the electric Kelsey Mitchell.
Here are a few highlights of Kelsey Mitchell's freshman year, arguably the greatest shooting season by any freshman of any gender in the history of college basketball:
- Led all players, male or female, in scoring in 2015. Her 24.9 points per game was ahead of the top men's scorer, Eastern Washington junior Tyler Harvey (23.1), by almost two full points. She became the first freshman to ever lead the country in points.
- Set a women's-NCAA record with 127 three-pointers.
- Set a single-season record with a three-point field goal in 35 consecutive games.
- Owns a total of 29 Ohio State, Big Ten, and NCAA records after only one season.
|Player||Year||Pts/G||3FG Made||3FG Att||3FG%||FT%|
The closest comparison is Steph Curry. Mitchell is a little short for the league, very fast, and strikingly accurate with a quick trigger. At 5'8", she's tall enough to play in the WNBA, but not by much. Her game is full of step-backs and transition threes.
It's tempting to imagine what Mitchell's numbers will look like when she's 21 or 22. She could realistically wind up as one of the greatest shooters in basketball history, and you can't say that about many college players. She might already be on that level.
Forgotten Freshman Phenom
Kelsey Mitchell got all the headlines, but 6'3" Alexa Hart set some records of her own: Most blocks in OSU history, and 5th most all-time among NCAA freshman. That paint presence will be vital if Ohio State is going to beat Maryland. The Terps' Twin Towers of Brionna Jones and Malina Howard wrecked opposing frontcourts last year. Beating the Maryland Terrapins starts with a gifted big.
Hart fits the bill: Her 62.7% FG percentage was best in the Big Ten last year, and third-best nationally. She can get a double-double any night, averaging 12.2 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. Her rebound rate was 15.87, which isn't bad, but doesn't compare favorably to Terps' center Brionna Jones, who posted a Rodmanesque rebound rate of 21.94.
Last year, in the Big Ten Tournament Final that Maryland won 77-74, Maryland out-rebounded Ohio State 49 to 23. Hart got ten boards, but Jones and Howard dominated every other Buckeye. It's a testament to OSU's offensive firepower that they only lost by three.
Both Malina Howard and Brionna Jones were stronger than Hart last year. If Hart spent the off-season bulking up, that alone might be enough to tip the scales towards Ohio State.
The Big Three, and Beyond
Ohio State has a Big Three, and it's rounded out by senior guard Ameryst Alston. Twice Alston has been named First Team All Conference: A great passer, tenacious defender, dangerous off-ball cutter, and all around bowling ball in the paint, she provides a veteran presence on a very young team.
After that, however, Ohio State gets a little thin. For most of last year, the fourth and fifth starters were junior guard Cait Craft, a struggling shooter; and freshman guard Asia Doss, who didn't struggle so much as her shot resembled wild helpless flailing.
Ohio State reminds me of the Lebron-era Miami Heat: star-studded but lacking depth. Maryland are the Spurs, a whirring, elegant machine. The Buckeyes only played nine students last year, although the team will be receiving a boost this year in the form of three redshirt freshman
The true freshman class doesn't scream "exciting," consisting as it does of Four-Star recruit Kaylan Pugh and Three-Star recruit Theresa Ekhelar. Coach Kevin McGuff is probably hoping to start one of the five new freshman over Cait Craft and Asia Doss, but it's impossible to tell who.
Ohio State lost the Big Ten Conference Tournament by three points, and they were beaten in the second round of the NCAA tournament on a last-second shot. They don't have to be much better to be good enough to beat Maryland and make a deep NCAA run.
This year they'll boast a stronger bench and the most star power you'll find in the women's game outside of Hartford, Connecticut. My prediction: a shake-up at the top of the table. Ohio State emerges as the best team in the Big Ten.