Geno Auriemma's UConn Huskies, everyone's preseason championship favorite, travel to Ohio to start their season at Value City Arena in Columbus for a match-up with the No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes. The game will be televised on ESPN2 as the kick-off to ESPN's 24-hour College Hoops Marathon, with Beth Mowins and Stephanie White on the call.
The Huskies are replacing two seniors from last year's team in Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Kiah Stokes. Luckily, they return many key players and have added a lot of talent between the incoming freshmen and a transfer from Georgetown, Natalie Butler.
UConn's two best players are both seniors who have been major contributors since they set foot on campus. Forward Breanna Stewart, the best player in the country for three years running, and point guard Moriah Jefferson, an extremely exciting player who was a second-team All-America selection, know nothing but winning championships in their three years in Storrs and will accept nothing less in their final season.
Three Huskies are not expected to play tonight due to injury: Natalie Butler, Saniya Chong, and De'Janae Boykins. Freshmen Katie Lou Samuelson, the top-rated prospect in the Class of 2015, and Napheesa Collier, ranked No. 6 in the class on ESPN, will be making their Husky debuts in tonight's hostile environment.
The Buckeyes, coached by Kevin McGuff, opened their season already on Friday, falling at No. 2 South Carolina, 88-80. They are paced by Kelsey Mitchell, who led the country in scoring last year as a freshman, earning National Freshman of the Year honors as well as winning B1G Co-Player of the Year and being named a first-team All-American by the USBWA. This year, holding a number of preseason honors, she opened the season with a 36-point effort in the loss to South Carolina. The Buckeyes' second-leading scorer in that game, senior guard Ameryst Alston, scored 29 and is coming off her second consecutive first-team All-B1G season last year.
This will be the third meeting between these two teams, with the most recent occurring in 2013 at the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Challenge, a 70-49 UConn win. The Huskies won the only other meeting as well, 81-50, in Madison Square Garden in 2010.
Ohio State ended its 2014-'15 campaign by bowing out in the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament to North Carolina. The Buckeyes are returning all five starters and eight out of nine letter winners from that team, however, and are hoping that this will be a big year.
In addition to Stewart and Jefferson, UConn's other expected starters are sophomore guards Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams, and junior forward Morgan Tuck. Both Tuck (14.4ppg) and Nurse (10.2ppg) were double-digit scorers for the Huskies last year while Williams, who earned American Athletic Conference Sixth Player of the Year, managed a solid 8.8 points per game.
It's scary (for other teams) to think that this year's Huskies may be much better than any of the previous three teams which won a championship, and even scarier to think that this year's team isn't even at full-strength right now. Though Ohio State is only a few spots away in the rankings, there is still a wide gulf between UConn and all the other teams in the country right now.
As is the case with most solid teams against UConn, I expect Ohio State to play extremely fast and furious at the beginning, maybe keeping it somewhat close early on, only to give up a big UConn run and watch the game slowly slip away. This UConn team is too talented and experienced, and once fully healthy, it will be a big challenge for even the best teams to compete against.