Basketball returning in February for Wittenberg men’s, women’s teams

Wittenberg huddles around coach Matt Croci before a game against Denison on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, at Livingston Gymnasium in Granville. David Jablonski/Staff

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Wittenberg huddles around coach Matt Croci before a game against Denison on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, at Livingston Gymnasium in Granville. David Jablonski/Staff

Teams will play shortened NCAC schedule with several schools electing not to play

There will be a basketball season for the Wittenberg University men’s and women’s teams this winter.

The men’s team announced a 10-game schedule featuring games against five North Coast Athletic Conference opponents last week. The women’s team announced an eight-game NCAC schedule against four opponents this week.

Men’s coach Matt Croci, entering his fifth season, knows it will be a season unlike any other. There won’t be a NCAC tournament, and the fate of the NCAA Division III tournament is still up in the air. His team reached the Sweet 16 last season only to have the entire tournament cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“There was definitely a process we went through all fall and into December to try to put something together,” Croci said. “Our guys definitely want to play, no matter what it looks like, and because of that, I certainly want to be there with them. We had to really secure a lot of logistical things. Every school is dealing with its own challenges. For us it was never really about, ‘Do we want to play?’ It was, ‘Can we secure testing? How does our local health department feel about things? How do our campus people feel? We had to get things internally secured and then we had to talk with the other schools in the league to figure out who’s even going to play and how many games and when can we start. We finally got to a point where there were enough teams in the league, and and coaches wanted to make it work.”

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This will be sort of an unofficial NCAC season because the league office is not involved. The coaches worked together to create the schedules, for instance, something the NCAC does in a normal season.

The conference cancelled winter sports competition in October while leaving it up to individual schools to pursue non-conference games or games against other conference schools that decided to play.

On the men’s side, Wittenberg, Wooster, Ohio Wesleyan, Wabash, DePauw and Denison will play. Allegheny, Oberlin, Hiram and Kenyon are not. On the women’s side, Wittenberg, Denison, DePauw, Ohio Wesleyan, DePauw and Wooster will play, while Allegheny, Oberlin and Kenyon are not participating.

Teams will undergo COVID-19 testing on Mondays and Wednesdays during the week. Most games will take place on Thursday and Saturdays. Teams will play each other in back-to-back games.

The women’s team starts Feb. 12 with a home game against Ohio Wesleyan and play in Delaware the next day. Interim coach Valerie Driscoll will coach the team. She replaced Brian Neal, who was hired in May but left to take an assistant coaching job at Butler in December. Neal replaced Kelly Mahlum, who stepped down April 10 after four seasons to take the head coaching job at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn.

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The Wittenberg men open the season at rival Wooster on Feb. 5 and play Wooster a day later in Springfield. The Tigers will prepare with a scrimmage Saturday against Ohio Wesleyan.

Wittenberg will rely heavily on newcomers, including seven freshmen and a transfer, because a number of players withdrew from school in December when they weren’t sure there was going to be a 2020-21 season. Those players plan to return to school and play a full season in 2021-22. Croci said only two or three players from last year’s rotation are playing in this shortened season.

“I think not just our Wittenberg athletes but college kids across the country are dealing with these heavy decisions,” Croci said. “Do I stay? Do I finish? Do I withdraw to save money? Do I use my extra year of eligibility? We certainly have a couple of starters and key rotational guys that are not in school right now because they need to save money. Everybody’s planning on being back next fall so I’m excited about that, and it does give an opportunity to our younger guys to kind of get some reps and be on the floor and let us develop them.”

Wittenberg men’s basketball schedule

Feb. 5, at Wooster, 7 p.m.

Feb. 6, vs. Wooster, 3 p.m.

Feb. 11, vs. Wabash, 6 p.m.

Feb. 13, at Wabash, 4 p.m.

Feb. 18, vs. Ohio Wesleyan, 7 p.m.

Feb. 20, at Ohio Wesleyan, 1 p.m.

Feb. 25, at DePauw, 7 p.m.

Feb. 27, vs. DePauw, 3 p.m.

Wittenberg women’s basketball schedule

Feb. 12, vs. Ohio Wesleyan, 7 p.m.

Feb. 13, at Ohio Wesleyan, 3 p.m.

Feb. 18, at DePauw, 6 p.m.

Feb. 20, vs. DePauw, 4 p.m.

Feb. 26, vs. Wooster, 6 p.m.

Feb. 27, at Wooster, 5 p.m.

March 5, vs. Denison 6 p.m.

March 6, at Denison, 4 p.m.

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