COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Ohio State women’s basketball is coming back and the team has its highest expectations in decades entering a new season. Monday afternoon is the team’s season opener as the No. 7 Buckeyes face No. 21 USC at 2 p.m. in Las Vegas.

The Buckeyes come into 2023-24 after its best season in 30 years. Coach Kevin McGuff’s squad beat Connecticut in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16, snapping the Huskies 14-straight Final Four appearances. The Buckeyes then missed out on their first Final Four since 1993, losing to Virginia Tech in a regional final.

As the seventh-ranked team in the country and returning almost its entire roster from last year, OSU has big expectations in what could be a very competitive season in women’s basketball. Here is what to know about the upcoming Ohio State season.

Star-studded roster

Ten players are returning, and seven of those were among the top scorers last season. They also add two transfers and two highly-ranked freshmen.

The team will be led by sophomore forward Cotie McMahon, who burst on the scene last year as the top first-year player in the Big Ten. Double-digit scorers Taylor Thierry, Madison Greene, and Rebeka Mikulasikova return to round out a well-balanced front and backcourt. Greene is still recovering from a knee injury suffered last season, but according to McGuff, she is expected to be back by the end of November.

Graduate student guard and Dublin native Jacy Sheldon is back and will lead Ohio State for one last season. Sheldon was first-team All-Big Ten in 2021-22 but missed a majority of the 2022-23 season because of a foot injury. With Sheldon back at full health, the Buckeyes are adding a WNBA-caliber guard to its stacked roster.

The Buckeyes’ leading scorer from last season, Taylor Mikesell, has graduated, so expect to see Emma Shumate take on some of the three-point scoring responsibilities. She also led the team in blocks last season with 27.

The Buckeyes struggled with rebounding at times last season, and the additions to this year’s team are aimed to combat that. Ohio State adds the reigning ACC defensive player of the year, Duke transfer Celeste Taylor. She was also a finalist for the Naismith defensive player of the year. Cleveland native Taiyier Parks transferred back to her home state from Michigan State, and at 6 feet 3 inches, should also bring some rebounding help and size around the basket.

Freshman Faith Carson could also help on the inside. The 6-foot, 4-inch freshman was the top-ranked player in Michigan all four years of her high school career, according to Prep Hoops, and was named the 2023 AP Division III player of the year. Freshman point guard Diana Collins has more than just high school experience. She played for Sweden in the 2023 FIBA U20 European championships, averaging 11.6 points.

Star-studded conference

It is not farfetched to say that the Big Ten is the best conference in women’s college basketball. Of the five Big Ten teams ranked in the preseason Associated Press poll, four are in the top 15.

Four spots ahead of Ohio State is No. 3 Iowa, who fell in the national title game last season to LSU. The Hawkeyes are led by guard Caitlin Clark, who many consider a generational talent in the sport, making Iowa a favorite in the Big Ten.

Indiana (9), Maryland (14), and Illinois (23) round out the ranked Big Ten teams with the conference also having a consistent Michigan team and Purdue, which won 19 games last season. The Buckeyes’ nine games against these six teams will determine its seeding for the conference tournament, and a winning record in those games will raise expectations even higher.

Among those games will be a Jan. 21 showdown at Value City Arena against Iowa that will be broadcast on NBC4. Tip-off is scheduled at noon.

What are the expectations for the Buckeyes?

Outside of all the Big Ten contenders, women’s college basketball might be in store for its most competitive season ever. Reigning champions LSU, Connecticut, South Carolina, UCLA, Utah, Virginia Tech, and Notre Dame round out the preseason top 10, and all have a chance to make a title run.

Most have star players returning like LSU’s Angel Reese, UConn’s Paige Bueckers and Stanford’s Cameron Brink, to name a few. But not many teams have as many returning stars as Ohio State, which is a strong contender to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

The depth of the Buckeyes roster and the chemistry the players have with each other put them in the mix with LSU, Iowa, and UConn as one of the favorites for the national championship.