It’s a new year, but Ohio women’s basketball is still loaded. Coach Bob Boldon is back for his eighth season, and joining him are star players CeCe Hooks and Erica Johnson. Hooks and Johnson’s duo will play a major role in the Bobcats having a successful 2020-2021, but make no mistake, the Bobcats’ roster has talent from top to bottom.
It’s bound to be a season to remember. As COVID-19 continues to impact the world, who knows what challenges the Bobcats will face. A difficult schedule won’t make things any easier, and Boldon will need a few players to replace some key pieces from last season.
The Post will be there every step of the way, but first here’s the Ohio Bobcats 2020-2021 season preview.
To call last season underwhelming is a testament to the heavy expectations that were placed on the Bobcats. After falling short of a Mid-American Conference championship and the NCAA Tournament the year before, the 2019-2020 Bobcats carried the mantra “Unfinished Business” into a season full of road trips to Power-Five schools.
Trips to Syracuse, TCU and Texas didn’t go Ohio’s way, but a win over Ohio State highlighted a brutal non-conference schedule. The tough games to start the season were supposed to prepare Ohio for conference play, but in hindsight it left the team tired in the race for the MAC title.
Ohio’s 19-11 record and second place finish in the MAC East fell short of the team’s regular season goals, but the postseason could’ve been special.
Ohio defeated Western Michigan in the MAC quarterfinals before the tournament was canceled due to COVID-19 the next day. At that point, tournament favorites Central Michigan, Ball State and Buffalo had been eliminated, and the Bobcats were just two wins away from a MAC Championship and an NCAA Tournament berth.
You could say that Ohio still has unfinished business.
Ohio only loses three players from last season, but their losses will be felt. Starters Amani Burke and Katie Barker were two of the Bobcats best shooters, and Maddie Bazelak could come off the bench to provide the Bobcats with some size.
Boldon will likely try to replace Burke and Barker with someone with a similar skillset. That will be difficult. Burke averaged a career-high 13.6 ppg last season and recorded seven games with 20 or more points. Burke was Ohio’s third option with potential of getting hot at any moment. Her ability to hit clutch 3-pointers and play solid perimeter defense was key for the Bobcats in tight games. Finding someone to replace her production should be the Bobcats number one priority.
Boldon said on multiple occasions last season that Barker was the team’s best 3-point shooter. Barker’s 36.6% success rate from 3-point range land cemented her as another weapon in the Bobcats already loaded offense, but her leadership might have been her best asset.
Replacing Burke, Barker and Bazelak won’t be easy even with the talent the Bobcats have on their roster.
CeCe Hooks and Gabby Burris don’t have to play a single game this season and they’d both go down as two of the best players to wear an Ohio uniform.
Hooks enters the season as the reigning defending two-time MAC Defensive Player of the Year. She was First-Team all-conference and has been the heart of this team since she arrived on campus four years ago. The senior point guard has often taken over games for the Bobcats and will likely have to do so again this season.
Despite being an 18.2 ppg scorer and the best defender in the conference, there’s still room for Hooks to get even better. Her 3-point shooting has been a work in progress since 2017, but if Hooks can shoot over 30% from 3-point range this season, her play will reach another level.
No player on Ohio’s roster has evolved more than Gabby Burris. After Burris made the MAC All-Freshman team, it looked like she would play a major role in Ohio’s offense. Yet with the emergence of Erica Johnson, Burris had to find ways to help the team without the ball in her hands. Burris would develop herself into a 3-and-D player with soft touch around the rim, she’s also developed into a coach on the court of sorts. Burris always knows what the Bobcats are supposed to be doing, and players look to her as a guide on the court.
In only two seasons, redshirt junior Erica Johnson has locked up her legacy as an all-time great Bobcat, so the second half of her career should be a show.
Johnson led the Bobcats last season in points per game (18.9) and rebounds per game (7.5), earning her MAC First-Team honors. She posted the school’s first triple-double last season, and she even improved on the defensive end.
What makes Johnson so valuable to the Bobcats is her ability to choose when to take over and when to facilitate. You don’t record 121 assists (sixth in the MAC) by being a ballhog, but you also don’t drop over 30 points, as she’s done in the past, without being willing to carry the team on your back.
Johnson may be the star of the juniors, but the class rolls deep. Redshirt junior Caitlyn Kroll is someone Bobcats fans should keep an eye out for. Last season, Kroll averaged 23 minutes a game and was Boldon’s first choice for when Burke was unavailable. With Burke gone, Kroll could lock up a starting spot.
Competing with Kroll is transfer Jasmine Hale. Hale redshirted last season after transferring to the Bobcats from Wisconsin. In her one season with the Badgers, Hale averaged 9.3 minutes a game. It’s been awhile since Hale has played good minutes, but don’t be surprised if her playing time grows throughout the season.
Another junior that’s competing for more minutes is Edecia Beck. Beck doesn’t traditionally fit Boldon’s typical mold for a player, but that's great for the Bobcats. Beck is a tough defender with a sneaky mid-range game. Against physical teams like Central Michigan, Buffalo and Miami, the Bobcats will need a player that embraces her strength and imposes her will on a team.
To round out the juniors is Kaylee Bambule. Bambule at one point looked like she would become Ohio’s next great 3-point shooter, but a season marred by injuries slowed her progress. When healthy, Bambule might be the best shooter on the team. Defensively, she’s a work in progress, but Ohio would be wise to find her some minutes.
Only thing bad about having an experienced squad is that sometimes the younger players don’t get a chance to play. But since Boldon has helmed the team, Ohio always seems to have a young player make a big impact on the team.
Luckily for the Bobcats, there are several candidates.
The player most likely to take a large step this season is sophomore point guard Peyton Guice. Guice may have looked like a freshman standing next to her physically stronger teammates last season, but she didn’t play like one.
Guice’s tenacity on defense, craftiness on offense and just overall basketball IQ gained her the trust of her coaches and teammates last season. Despite only averaging nine minutes a game, Boldon had Guice leading the second unit multiple times last season. Guice probably won’t be able to steal minutes from CeCe Hooks, but if she can play the 2-spot, don't be surprised to see her in the mix with Kroll and Hale.
It’s unclear how much we’ll see of Abby Garnett and Alexandra Antonova this season. Antonova was hurt for basically all of the season and Garnett saw her minutes go down once conference play began. Both players provide size, length and shooting, which tend to be desirable traits on the court.
On Nov.13, Ohio signed Kendall Hale, Kate Dennis and Yaya Felder during the early signing period, and it could pay off big for the Bobcats.
Hale and Dennis decided to forgo their senior seasons so they could join the Bobcats in December. They probably won’t play that much, but their presence in practice could keep the Bobcats sharp.
Kendall Hale is the younger sister of Jasmine, but their game could be twins. Kendall is dangerous with or without the ball and has a high understanding of the game.
Dennis comes from Guilford High School in Illinois, where she was the NIC-10 Offensive Player of the Year in 2020. Dennis averaged 20.6 points per game and 7.2 rebounds per game in her final season.
For Ohio to accomplish its goals this season, the Bobcats are going to have to win a slew of tough games. Here are a few of Ohio’s toughest matchups this season.
Notre Dame at home on Nov.27 will most likely be Ohio’s toughest non-conference game. The Fighting Irish are ranked No.22 in the nation and have battled with some of the toughest teams in the country. Ohio won’t have to face hall-of-fame coach Muffet McGraw, who retired after 33 seasons. But there could be surprises up first-year coach Niele Ivey’s sleeves.
Ohio might go three weeks before playing another non-conference opponent after the Notre Dame game, but that still might not be enough time to prepare for West Virginia. Last season, the Mountaineers were a tough out for anyone in the Big-12. The Bobcats will have a tough test ahead of them when they travel to Morgantown on Dec. 20.
This season will be the first of the MAC’s new basketball setup. Conference play has grown from 18 games to 20, the East and West Divisions are no more and the conference has done away with the first-round campus site game in the MAC Tournament.
In Ohio’s way to a MAC title are main foes Central Michigan and Buffalo. The Chippewas beat Ohio in both meetings last season, and both games were decided by two points. Central Michigan is going for a third consecutive MAC title, and its two matchups with the Bobcats on Jan. 2 and Jan. 16 should have big title implications.
Ohio split its season series with Buffalo, but the Bulls were without star forward Summer Hemphill. Last season, Hemphill didn’t play due to a knee injury. The last time Ohio played the redshirt senior, she gave the Bobcats 16 and 21 in the MAC Tournament Championship.
Ohio faces Buffalo at home on Jan. 20 and on the road on Feb. 27.
Keys to a successful season
If Ohio wants to be successful this season, it has to improve its rebounding. The Bobcats have never been a great rebounding team due to the players Boldon likes to recruit, but something has to change in that regard.
Last season, Ohio was dead last in the MAC in every rebounding statistic. It’s unrealistic to think Ohio will be in the top of that category this season, but any type of improvement would be helpful. Many of Ohio’s losses last season could be attributed to being dominated on the glass.
Talent-wise, Ohio has one of the best duos in the country. Hooks and Johnson play amazing together and apart. They’ve been consistent on their end, but there’s tons of questions for the rest of the roster.
Who will fill the Burke’s role? Will Caitlyn Kroll and Jasmine Hale be as dependable as Katie Barker? Will Gabby Burris see her role grow?
Boldon has a lot of talent to work with; it's just a matter of finding a fit. Most of the players have played together for more than two years, so chemistry shouldn’t be a problem. If Ohio can find that third or fourth player to complement Hooks and Johnson, the Bobcats will win a lot of games.
Ohio was predicted to finish second in the MAC coaches’ poll, and I do believe the Bobcats deserve the hype. In terms of the regular season, I think Buffalo and CMU’s size will play a role in their success, and Ohio’s sometimes overdependence on the 3-pointer will be its downfall.
The Bobcats are bound to beat a lot of teams. The talent is there, so is the coaching, but the Bobcats in the past have been prone to off nights and defensive lapses. Surprise loses to teams like Bowling Green and Toledo wouldn’t surprise me.
But don’t take this as me doubting the Bobcats. While I predict Ohio to finish around third or fourth in the regular season, I believe the Bobcats are going to win the MAC Tournament.
Ohio made the championship game in 2019 and had good chances of making it again last season before COVID-19. Teams struggle to handle the Bobcats in the tournament, and I believe that will hold true this season.