by Tim Miller
Fresh off a 2019 season that ended with a NCCAA Division I National Championship banner, the Cedarville University men’s basketball team will surge into this season with three exhibitions against NCAA Division I programs. The Yellow Jackets will travel to Valparaiso, Ohio State, and Dayton on Oct. 19, Oct. 30 and Nov. 2.
Head coach Pat Estepp said he has been in contact with Dayton and Ohio State for exhibitions since he took over the program in 2008. While in past years the timing hasn’t been right, this season Cedarville struck gold by scheduling two of the strongest basketball programs in the Midwest.
“We’re appreciative that they give us these games, because they don’t have to,” Estepp said. “The help, financially, is a big deal. Division I exhibition games are really hard to get.”
Ohio State returned to the NCAA Tournament last season thanks in part to a red-hot 12-1 start to the season. The Buckeyes were ranked throughout the season and made it to the Round of 32 before being ousted by Houston, who finished No. 12 in the final coaches poll last season. The Buckeyes added three top-50 national recruits this season.
Dayton eclipsed 20 games won for the fifth time in the past six years last season. The Flyers finished third in the Atlantic 10 Conference and lost to eventual conference champion St. Louis in the conference tournament. It will be the first meeting between the two schools since the 1949-50 season, and they’ve matched up 28 times in total.
Valparaiso is a true mid-major in the Missouri Valley Conference, and finished 15-18 last season. The Crusaders lose just one senior heading into the new season.
The first scrimmage will likely be the Yellow Jackets’ best chance of victory. However, the biggest draw to Valpo for Estepp was the fact that two of his players, star forward Conner TenHove and redshirt freshman Nick Mantis, are each from the area.
“It’ll be exciting. It’s home,” TenHove said. “I’ve been going to games there for years. It’s obviously gonna be tough but I think we’re more than capable of winning and competing and doing our best.”
Likely the most popular exhibition for Cedarville students will come in the matchup against Ohio State. Many players and students alike cheer for Ohio State as their favorite college basketball team, so the opportunity to take on a hometown favorite and one of the best programs in the Midwest of the past 10 years is quite the draw.
Adam Standley, a Towel Gang member and native of Plain City, Ohio (30 minutes from Columbus) is one of many Cedarville players dreaming about the opportunity. Standley repeated over and over that the chance to play against his favorite team was surreal.
“Growing up watching pretty much every game and being a die-hard fan of them, it’s hard to put it into words of what it really means for me,” Standley said.
Quinton Green, who burst onto the scene last season as an explosive dunker and high-flyer, echoed Standley’s comments.
“I’ve always been an Ohio State fan, so the excitement is there,” Green said. “I gotta take off my Ohio State Buckeyes cap for that one. It’s a great opportunity to show what we’ve got.”
While playing against a childhood favorite team is exciting for many of the players, the fact remains that the Yellow Jackets will have their hands full with the Buckeyes. Seven players on the Buckeyes roster are listed at 6-foot-6 or taller, including a center who stands 6-foot-10. Further, the sheer explosiveness the Buckeyes possess may prove unguardable at times for the Yellow Jackets.
It would be unwise for any Cedarville homer to expect the Yellow Jackets to leave with a win, but Estepp simply wants his team to compete. Even if things get out of hand, Estepp said it shouldn’t affect the Yellow Jackets’ demeanor heading into the regular season.
“I think I am a little concerned, but quickly that’ll wash,” Estepp said. “Moonlight Madness will be the next night. I just don’t want to get down 15-0 to start. We have enough shooters that if we can get shots to fall, we’ll hang around for a while.”
The experience as a whole is something Estepp said he thinks his players will love, but recruits will note it too, he said.
“For us, it helps in recruiting,” Estepp said. “We’ve got central Ohio kids we’re going after and when we’re playing Ohio State and Dayton, that’s a big deal to them.”
Tickets for the Valparaiso and Dayton games can be purchased through those team’s ticket offices. Tickets for the Ohio State game can be purchased through Cedarville’s online ticket website, cedarvilletickets.com.
Tim Miller is a senior Marketing major and Sports editor for Cedars. He enjoys having a baby face, knowing too much about health insurance, and striving to perfect the optimal combination of Dwight Schrute and Ron Swanson.