Highly competitive exhibition games and classics headline the 2019-20 Dakota Wesleyan University basketball schedules.
Both teams will play exhibition contests against NCAA national tourney teams, while they’ll both face NAIA powers in classics during the non-conference slate.
The headliner is DWU’s exhibition against the South Dakota State University women’s basketball at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls. It will pit two women’s basketball powerhouses in their respective divisions against each other. The Jacks advanced to the Sweet 16 last season, while the Tigers made the NAIA Division II semifinals.
The two have played in the past, but at Frost Arena. This year’s neutral site contest will likely be a huge draw at the Pentagon.
“We try to play a Division I opponent every year,” DWU women’s coach Jason Christensen said. “I think the Mitchell community likes when we can play a Division I opponent in our own state. Last year we went to Iowa to play. It was a great experience for our kids, but I still think our fans like it when we can stay in state and play somebody here.”
On the men’s side, the Tigers’ exhibition game is at NCAA Division II St. Cloud State University, which qualified for its national tourney last season.
“Our guys like playing in those types of games,” DWU men’s coach Matt Wilber said. “We have a good exhibition game and we have tough regular season games.”
The Tiger teams will both play at the NAIA Sanford Pentagon Classic on Nov. 2-3 against both Dakota State University and Presentation College. It’s just the start of classics on the 2019-20 docket.
The men will play in the St. Francis Thanksgiving Classic on Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Joliet, Illinois. The classic features host St. Francis, which stunned No. 2 overall seed Oklahoma Wesleyan in the opening round of the NAIA Division II tourney. Lincoln College (Illinois), an NAIA Division II independent that finished 22-8 last season, is also in the classic.
“We were still looking for a couple of games late and there were a couple of classics that popped up,” Wilber said. “We were lucky it worked at a time that we needed to add a couple more games and instead of looking for fillers, we added a tough classic on the road.”
The Tiger teams will both play in the Cruzin’ Classic in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. The women play Florida National and Saint Xavier (Illinois) on Dec. 18-19, respectively. Saint Xavier is a traditional power that finished as runner-up in the 2016-17 NAIA Division II tourney. The Tigers knocked off the Cougars in the national semifinals in 2017-18.
The men play Keiser University (Florida) and Ave Maria University (Florida) on Dec. 20-21, respectively. The Tigers played Keiser in 2017-18 and both teams later qualified for the national tourney. Ave Maria made the national tourney last season.
The men will play Southeastern University (Florida) and Trinity International (Illinois) in the Hoop City Classic on Dec. 27-28. Southeastern University also qualified for the NAIA Division II tourney a season ago.
“It’s the most challenging season that we’ve put together since I’ve been here -- from top to bottom,” Wilber said. “... All of our classics are against national tournament teams and then that’s not even talking about the GPAC.”
Scheduling non-conference games have been a challenge for both coaches. Christensen cites the tough Corn Palace atmosphere as why teams won’t come to Mitchell. So the Tigers have to seek out similar teams looking for quality wins to boost their NAIA rankings.
“With scheduling you have to look at trying to find wins,” Christensen said. “But also trying to find quality wins, so you stay rated and stay in the top 25. There’s a fine line between that.”
The men’s team is in the same boat. Wilber also points to DWU’s distance to other NAIA teams as why it’s tough to schedule during the non-conference slate.
“The proximity for us to other NAIA teams just isn’t close and Minnesota doesn’t have an NAIA team,” Wilber said. “That makes it more challenging, too. That’s why these classics have been beneficial.”