|Senior Trenton Tipton hopes to lead Wooster to its NCAC-leading 19th title in Steve Moore's final season at the helm of the program.|
It's the swan song season for legendary head coach Steve Moore at The College of Wooster, and it should come as no surprise to the storied program's dedicated followers that an all-too-familiar blueprint that's resulted in a long run of success is once again in play. Those plans entail combining a veteran core returning nucleus, other returnees competing for expanded roles and playing time, and a talented group of newcomers, who will be looking to maintain the Fighting Scots' status as the winningest NCAA men's basketball team of the 2000s (.827; 501-105).
"I think everyone is optimistic for us to have a good year, even with the departure of some good players," said Moore, who is second all-time in Div. III wins with 846, 759 of which have come at Wooster. "We graduated four lettermen, including two four-year lettermen. Those are some pretty big shoes to fill. With that said, we have good players returning. We're hoping with the improvement of some returning players who might not have played a lot last year, plus the addition of some new players, that we can establish that depth."
Wooster, which returns seven letterwinners from a team that finished 24-6, won a North Coast Athletic Conference-leading 18th championship, and hosted the first two rounds of the NCAA Div. III Championships, starts the year as the 21st-ranked team in D3hoops.com's Preseason Top 25 Poll. Senior Danyon Hempy, a National Basketball Coaches Association All-Great Lakes District first-team honoree, headlines the returning letterwinners. Last year, Hempy poured in 618 points, the fifth-most in program history. While Hempy consistently shines in the spotlight offensively, his steady, strong defensive contributions are equally important to Wooster's success.
"Danyon's been a very good defensive player for us," shared Moore, when highlighting his senior, who also led the team in assists (89), steals (39), and blocked shots (32) last year. "It's a challenge for your top offensive player to also play with energy on the defensive end. Danyon's capable of doing that, and we're looking for him to be a very important player at both ends of the court."
While Wooster does return several talented players in the backcourt, the bulk of the Scots' returning experience lies down low, with junior Dontae Williams and senior Trenton Tipton entering the year as likely starters. Williams projects to lead the way in the low post, and he's been "much more comfortable" with Wooster's system, per Moore, while Tipton is one of the most accurate three-point shooters within the NCAC.
"We're going to really need Dontae to stay healthy and give us that inside scoring presence," summed up Moore. "Without a doubt, he's going to be a very key player for us."
"Trenton's had a fine career for us and really elevated his game as a junior," continued Moore. "He was a really important player, and I truly believe that Trenton's ready to step into that role as a starter. He's a very good all-around forward."
JG Gillard rounds out the returning letterwinners in the frontcourt. He's someone who has "shown improvement here as a sophomore," per Moore, and is part of a group "who can provide some depth" down low.
Sophomore Khaylen Mahdi and junior Keonn Scott are among Wooster's key returnees in the backcourt, and both provided big boosts to the regular rotation last year. Mahdi's contributions rested more on the defensive end, while Scott delivered several memorable performances as a sophomore.
"Khaylen brings a lot of energy when he's on the court and plays really good defense," said Moore. "He motivates the other players on the team to play with the desire and determination that's necessary on the defensive end."
"Keonn had some good games for us last year," said Moore, who forecasts the junior to play exclusively at the two-guard spot after seeing action there and at point guard in the past. "He's worked hard in the offseason so he can be a more consistent player both offensively and defensively."
Wooster once again has the ability to mix-and-match in terms of overall size and speed with the on-court rotations given the all-around skillsets many of the players bring to the table.
However, Wooster's ability to consistently play strong defense and rebound is a big point of pride for the program. The Scots led the NCAC in rebounding margin (5.8) and were second in blocked shots (3.7 per game) last year.
"I think we can be a very good defensive team," summed up Moore. "Our new players are going to play an important role and have shown that they have the desire to play good defense."
Wooster of course has high goals for this season, including winning the conference championship, which the Scots have done more than any other NCAC team, and to be playing in March. During Wooster's current streak of a NCAA Div. III record 17 consecutive tournament appearances, the Scots have had three runs to the semifinals (2003, 2007, 2011).
Below is a look at the backcourt/wing, the frontcourt, and a breakdown of the Scots' challenging 2019-20 schedule.
Hempy, the second Wooster player under Moore to average over 20 points per game, ranked 15th nationally in field goals (222), 18th in total points, and 47th in points per game last year. He scored at least 20 points 16 times and had 13 games with at least six rebounds.
Mahdi earned a significant spot in the rotation due to his hard work, dedication, and relentless motor as last season progressed. He played at least 12 minutes in the final 21 games and was regularly assigned to guard the opposition's primary ball handler.
Scott, one of Wooster's top reserves last year, finished fourth on the team at 8.6 points per night. He upped his career-high in scoring five times and logged a pair of 22-point games.
Styers played the second-most minutes among freshmen guards last year, and he's "worked hard to get stronger and better defensively," per the staff.
Hardaway's part of a sophomore group competing hard for time, and he "has the ability to be a good defensive player," per the coaches.
Johnson primarily contributed at the point guard spot when called upon as a rookie, but he's being looked at as a wing player going forward due to his athletic ability, per the staff.
Transfers Drew Bishop and Jaylen Franklin, who previously played at Saint Xavier University (Ill.) and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, respectively, plus freshman Jacob Adams are pushing hard for significant minutes right away.
Tipton, the "sixth man" last year, tied for fifth on the team with 7.6 points per game and logged nine double-digit scoring performances, led by a career-high 19 points versus Hiram College.
Williams made an immediate impact after transferring in from NCAA Div. II Mercyhurst University. He was one of three Scots to average double-digit points per game (10.1) and was second on the team with 6.1 rebounds per night.
Gillard gained valuable experience, entering 18 games as a freshman, and he finished with 2.4 points and 1.5 rebounds per outing. His signature game came versus Mount Saint Joseph University, where he finished with eight points, four rebounds, and two steals.
Junior Peyton Bennington, who transferred in from Ashland University after playing two seasons under Wooster All-American John Ellenwood, projects to make a significant impact in the frontcourt, and has showcased "very good defense in practice," per Moore.
Wooster once again faces a very tough schedule, and Moore feels "the NCAC is the strongest its ever been from top to bottom in all the thirty-plus years I've coached here." Three teams (No. 5 Wittenberg University, No. 14 Wabash College, No. 21 Wooster) from the NCAC are ranked in D3hoops.com's Preseason Top 25 Poll, while Wooster has games against No. 25 Saint John Fisher College (December 15), plus at least three more (University of Mount Union, November 27; Keene State College, December 28; Whitworth University, December 29) against teams receiving votes in the poll.
The Scots' 14-game home slate includes one of the longest-running small college basketball tournaments – the 57th annual E.M. "Mose" Hole/Wooster Kiwanis Classic, which is also serving as this year's Great Lakes Invitational. The eight-team invitational will be played December 28-29 at Timken Gymnasium with John Carroll University, Marietta College, Ohio Wesleyan University, Salisbury University, and York College joining Keene State, Whitworth, and Wooster.
"Our fans will be excited by the "Mose" Hole/Wooster Kiwanis Classic/Great Lakes Invitational with so many good teams coming," shared Moore. "We'll only play two of them of course, but it's a tremendous field, and will have four great games each day."
Wooster's regular season begins with a 7 p.m. home game versus Medaille College on November 12, while the following week, the Al Van Wie/Wooster Rotary Classic takes place. The Scots open the classic versus Hiram at 7 p.m. on November 20, while a 4 p.m. date with Wilmington College takes place on November 23.
Prior to Thanksgiving, Wooster hosts the University of Mount Union at 7 p.m. on November 27, while a post-finals trip to Daytona Beach is on the horizon, as the Scots are taking part in the Mauro Panaggio Tournament December 15-16 along with The College at Brockport, State University of New York, Saint Joseph's College of Maine, and St. John Fisher.
NCAC play opens at Allegheny College at 8 p.m. on December 4, while Wabash is in town for a 2 p.m. game on December 7. The 120th all-time meeting between Wooster and Wittenberg takes place at 4 p.m. on January 18, while the Scots make the return trip to Springfield for a 7 p.m. game on February 15.