Expectations are always high on Rocky Top.
Pat Summitt’s successor, Holly Warlick, faced a lot of scrutiny and will, unfairly, be remembered for not winning a national championship and for fizzling out with three-straight non-Sweet Sixteen seasons to close out her tenure. That’s even though she made the Elite Eight three of her seven years.
Warlick was unfortunate in that she coached at a time when it was hard for fans to wrap their minds around not being a dominant program anymore. Current head coach Kellie Harper still faces high expectations, but people accepted when she took over that it would take a few years to build the program back up. Well, now it’s been three years and she enters her fourth with the No. 5 team in the country.
Tennessee, like Creighton and South Dakota State, who played Monday night, opens its season with a major challenge. It is diving head first into the pool of high expectations, facing No. 14 Ohio State at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday night (BTN). Right away, the trio of newcomer Rickea Jackson and returners Jordan Horston and Tamari Key will be put to the test.
The Buckeyes have their own high level of excitement entering this season. After missing out on what would have been a No. 5 seed according to our hypothetical bracket in 2020 and dealing with a self-imposed postseason ban in 2021, they went to the Sweet Sixteen last year. It was an impressive Sweet Sixteen run at that — they soundly defeated No. 3 seed LSU in the second round and came within three points of No. 2 seed Texas. Jacy Sheldon, who averaged 21.7 points, 5.7 assists and four steals over three tourney games, is back and will be a handful for Tennessee Tuesday night.
Sheldon’s partner in crime, Taylor Mikesell, is also back, in her case for a fifth season. Mikesell was Shakira Austin’s classmate at Maryland and is hoping to join Austin in the WNBA, though she is on the outside looking in when it comes to current mock drafts. Sheldon, on the other hand, has her sights set on the first round.
So it will be a star-studded matchup with Jackson, Horston and Key squaring off against Sheldon and Mikesell. The Creighton/South Dakota State game did not disappoint, kicking off the 2022-23 NCAAW season in style. Expect more excitement from Tennessee/Ohio State.
No. 5 Tennessee Lady Volunteers (0-0, 0-0 SEC) vs. No. 14 Ohio State Buckeyes (0-0, 0-0 Big Ten)
When: Tuesday, Nov. 8 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio
How to watch/listen: Big Ten Network/UTSports.tv
Key to the matchup: Tennessee’s height vs. Ohio State’s sharpshooting. The Buckeyes don’t have anyone as tall as Key, who is 6-foot-6 and a shot-blocking machine. They will also have to deal with the length of Horston on the perimeter. She is a 6-foot-2 point guard. Mikesell is 5-foot-11 and Sheldon is 5-foot-10. The advantage for Ohio State is that they can put up points in a hurry if Mikesell gets hot from beyond the arc.