Missing piece

Ohio fourth-year junior Katie Barker (left), seen here during the 2019-20 season, will be one of three departures for the OU women’s basketball team this season. Barker was a starter, and regarded as the Bobcats’ best outside threat.

The silver lining, if there is one, for the now completed Ohio women’s basketball 2019-20 season is that the Bobcats aren’t set up to be a one-year contender.

Ohio, the preseason favorite to win the MAC in 2019-20, will again be on the short list of conference contenders next season.

The Bobcats (19-11) are expected to return three starters, and six of the top eight players of their rotation. Just as importantly, Ohio is expected to again have the talents of two of the bester players in the Mid-American Conference in junior guard Cece Hooks and sophomore guard Erica Johnson.

And Ohio should play in a style that has become familiar to those who have watched the Bobcats over the last seven years under current head coach Bob Boldon. The roster is built with a plethora of talented back-court players, and the Bobcats’ strength will once again lie in guard play.

But OU’s issues — rebounding, post play — will also likely remain areas of weakness. The Bobcats were the only team in the MAC without a regular rotation player that checked in taller than 6-feet. OU’s tallest regulars, and best rebounders, were Johnson (5-11) and junior forward Gabby Burris (5-11).

Can Ohio find a way to improve in the paint, and augment what should be the best back-court in the conference? What other areas will the Bobcats have to address with three player departures?

Ohio has 11 scholarship players set up for next season — 15 is the NCAA maximum — and will have four potential offers to fill this upcoming off season. The Bobcats will lose three players from the roster, and freshman Ella Pope is off serving a Mormon mission and will not count to the cap next season.

The departures

Amani Burke (5-9, guard) — Burke was an every-game starter the last couple of seasons and capped a good four-year career with an honorable mention All-MAC honor this season after averaging 13.6 points per game. Burke didn’t shoot the 3 as well this season as last year, but became OU’s second-best defender and was third on the team in assists, steals and blocked shots.

Katie Barker (5-10, guard) — A fourth-year junior, Barker has preserved despite an assortment of injuries that threatened to derail her career and finished her career as a starter. Barker averaged more than 27 minutes per game this season and 7.0 points per game while shooting 36.6 percent from 3. She was OU’s best floor spacer, and her presence on the floor opened things up for the driving of Hooks and Johnson. OU lost all three games she missed late in the season.

Maddie Bazelak (6-0, forward) — A one-shot grad transfer from Duquesne, Bazelak was the ninth player in OU’s rotation this season. She appeared in 20 games, and averaged 4.8 points per game. She earned high praise from Boldon for her demeanor and approach: “She made us a better team just by being here,” he said.

The known commodities

Cece Hooks (5-8, guard) — The best defensive player in the league, Hooks has been a three-year starter, a two-time All-MAC selection and a 1,000-point scorer. She averaged 18.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 3.7 steals per game. Hooks already owns the three highest single-season steal totals in program history, and she tied the OU single-game record with 41 points in a game this season. She’ll be a preseason First Team All-MAC pick again next year, but still needs to develop a jumper. Hooks clearly could’ve average more than 20 a game, but 3-point shooting (24.0 percent) and free throws (59.8 percent) were sticking points.

Erica Johnson (5-11, guard) — A tough-shot maker, and OU’s best at setting up teammates, Johnson exploded through the MAC this year by averaging 18.9 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists (all team highs) this season. She shot 40.8 percent from 3-point range, improved defensively (2.1 steals per game, 11 blocks) and three times this year scored more than 30 points, and also added the program’s first-ever triple double. Johnson and Hooks often took turns pulling OU to wins with terrific individual performances.

Gabby Burris (5-11, forward) — Another three-year starter, Burris saw her shooting fall off a bit in ’19-’20. She played in all 30 games, with 29 starts, and averaged 9.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game despite working against taller opposition every night. Boldon prefers to play four guards most of the time, and Burris’ ability on the defensive end can’t be overstated in that approach. Burris also struggled from 3-point range (28.6 percent) and was inconsistent at the foul line (65.9 percent).

Caitlyn Kroll (5-10, guard) — Kroll played a ton (30 games, 23 minutes per game) and filled a variety of roles. With two more years remaining, it’s expected she’ll develop more on the offensive end (4.4 points per game, 26.4 percent from 3), but her versatility helped OU this season.

Edecia Beck (5-9, forward) — The primary backup forward this season, Beck averaged 15 minutes per game and appeared in every contest while averaging 3.3 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. Known for her physicality — foul trouble was a concern all season — Beck shot just 37.4 percent overall and 18.8 percent from 3-point range. She can guard multiple positions, and her willingness to embrace physical play means she fills a needed role with this team moving forward.

Rotation roundouts

Peyton Guice (5-11, guard) — A true freshman point guard, Guice didn’t have the opportunity for a ton of minutes this season. But her length, her basketball IQ, and a knack for defense allowed her to carve out more than nine minutes per game. She was a non-factor offensively (1.1 points per game, 1-of-12 from 3), but with a full year in the program she has a chance to become much better in that department in the near future.

Abby Garnett (6-1, forward) — Garnett redshirted with injury in 2018-19, and saw few chances to get on the floor this season. She appeared in 16 games, 3.5 minutes per game, and couldn’t find minutes in lieu of Burris, Beck and Bazelak. She does have more size than any other player on the roster, and probably presents the best hope for a traditional-looking center affecting the OU lineup next season.

Kaylee Bambule (5-8, guard) — A third-year sophomore known as a 3-point specialist, Bambule started the season sidelined by injury and was a bit player (11 games, 2.2 minutes per game) by the end of the season.

Hunter Rogan (guard) — A junior walk-on, Rogan appeared in 11 games with 3.3 minutes per appearance.

Alexandra Antonova (6-2, redshirt freshman) — The tallest listed player on the roster, Antonova has been knocked out of action in each of the last two years by knee injury. A Russian native, Antonova stood out at Teays Valley High School as a prep athletes. Her length makes her a potential intriguing option next year if she’s healthy.

Newcomers

Jasmine Hale (5-9, guard) — The sophomore transfer sat out the 2019-20 season after coming in from Wisconsin, where she averaged 9.3 minutes per game over 28 games with the Baders in 2018-19. Another versatile guard, Hale averaged 13.1 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game at West Clemont HS (southwest Ohio) where she was a fourt-time all-conference and all-district player.

Madi Mace (5-11, guard) — A freshman, Mace joined the roster as an early enrollee in January and did not play this season. Mace was a standout at Parkersburg HS, in West Virginia, and was a three-time Class AAA First-Team All-West Virginia selection. Mace helped the Big Red win back-to-back state titles in 2017 and ’18, and was the only freshman to appear on the All-USA Today West Virginia girls basketball team in 2016. Mace also stood out on the AAU circuit with the West Virginia Thunder, where she was named the MVP of the Battle of the Boro Tournament in Louisville, Ky.

Email at jarkley@athensmessenger.com; follow on Twitter @JasonAmessenger

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