by Tim Miller
The Cedarville University men’s basketball team will play in likely the most anticipated exhibition in the school’s athletic history today against NCAA Division I Ohio State. The Buckeyes are far and away the best basketball program in the state of Ohio and enter the season ranked No. 18 in the AP preseason poll and No. 16 in the coaches poll.
Yellow Jackets Buzzing After Historic Season
The Yellow Jackets are coming off their best season since the 2012-13 campaign after finishing with a 21-12 record and a NCCAA Division I national championship. Cedarville loses just one major contributor from last season, saying goodbye to starting point guard and all-conference performer Grant Zawadzki.
Cedarville returns a core of three offensive stars in junior forward Conner TenHove, sophomore point guard Branden Maughmer, and redshirt-sophomore Quinton Green. Each player brings his own skillset, and neither duplicates the other, leading to a conducive environment that is nearly impossible to stop (for Division II teams, at least).
TenHove shot the lights out last year from deep (46.3% 3-point percentage) and from the foul line (94.9%) en route to averaging 15 points per game. His pure shooting ability from both deep and on the block makes him versatile and difficult to game plan for. However, his inability to slash to the basket and drive with speed and tenacity makes him a less explosive threat.
Cue Green, who doesn’t have near the stroke TenHove possesses but makes his money through driving, rebounding and dunking, to the delight of Yellow Jacket fans. Standing at 6-7 and with an uncanny vertical, Green can jump with anyone in Division II. The standout forward brought down the house with plenty of rim-rattling slams last season, and his long first step makes him tough to keep out of the paint.
Getting the best of both worlds is Maughmer. If a defense won’t let Maughmer slice and dice, he can put down a triple or pull up with a quick mid-range jumper off a ball screen. Maughmer can finish well for his size (6-3, 180 pounds) and is electrifying from any spot on the court.
In order for any team to beat Cedarville, it must stick to TenHove like glue in order to not let him get open looks, while packing in the paint to keep Green away from the hoop, while still containing Maughmer. It’s no easy task.
But luckily for the Buckeyes of Ohio State, they own multiple four- and five-star recruits on their roster. And it gets better for the Buckeyes this season with the addition of three top-50 national recruits.
Ohio State is Still a Nationally Ranked Force
Ohio State returned to the NCAA Tournament last season thanks in part to a red-hot 12-1 start. The Buckeyes were ranked throughout the season and made it to the Round of 32 before being ousted by Houston, which finished No. 12 in the final coaches poll last season. 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.
Just two days ago, ESPN.com named Ohio State’s senior forward Kaleb Wesson the No. 6 player in the entire nation. Standing at 6-9 and 270 pounds, there isn’t a player on the Yellow Jackets’ roster that can fully contain Wesson in the low post. Further, the Westerville, Ohio, product has expanded his game, raising his 3-point field goal percentage from 28.6% two seasons ago to 34.7% last season.
Wesson was only an honorable mention in last season’s All-Big Ten awards, but at no fault of his own. The conference boasted what was one of the most talented groups of frontcourt players in the nation.
Behind Kaleb is his brother Andre, who was third in scoring last season for the Buckeyes. The older brother to Kaleb has struggled to play consistently, but he had his best season in 2018-19, putting up 8.6 points per game on 43 percent shooting.
If there be any hope for Cedarville, it’s that Ohio State loses two of its top four scorers from last season. Further, Ohio State’s roster feels thin from last season and those holes haven’t clearly been filled.
It will be interesting to see how the new faces for Ohio State perform. Ranked 34th nationally last season, D.J. Carton has a shot to star for the Buckeyes and be one of the best freshmen in the conference. No. 44 overall recruit last season, power forward E.J. Liddell, will also likely see a fair share of playing time. Liddell is undersized for a four-man but his athleticism seems to fill the gap in size.
What to Expect
One thing is clear about tonight’s exhibition: Ohio State will bring it. This is the Buckeyes’ only scrimmage of the preseason. Therefore, head coach Chris Holtmann will treat this as a game scenario. His best players will play as much as they need to in order to win comfortably, and his highly-touted freshmen will see plenty of action too.
To put it simply, Ohio State will not take it easy on its Division II friend.
Expect the Buckeyes to look to put on a show for the first 25 minutes or so, and when the time comes, Holtmann will likely slot in his reserves.
However, Cedarville can force the starters to sweat a little more if Green can charge up the Yellow Jackets with an eyebrow-raising slam or two and multiple offensive rebounds. Further, if TenHove can shoot the ball, and if Cedarville can string some shots together with help from players like senior guard Demond Parker and sophomore forward Isaiah Speelman, the Yellow Jackets can pull off the biggest win in school history.
There appears to be no betting odds set by Las Vegas for this game (who would’ve thought?), but Ohio State would likely be favored by 30 points or more.
Estepp has said in multiple conversations that he simply wants to watch his team compete. The experience for the team is something to be emphasized, as many of the Yellow Jackets players will be lacing it up against their childhood-favorite team.
Whatever happens, this game is a monumental step in the right direction for a basketball program that is continually trending upward. From moving up from the NAIA to NCAA Division II in 2012, to winning an NCCAA national title last season, to now securing three exhibitions with Division I schools, it’s clear that the Cedarville Yellow Jacket basketball program could be entering glory days never seen in the program’s 66-year history.
Tim Miller is a senior marketing major and Editor-In-Chief and Sports Editor of 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.