By ANDY WOLF
There’s a high standard to uphold for the University of Findlay men’s basketball team.
The last two years were up to par with back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances.
The Oilers are one of four Division II programs nationally with such a claim.
Their run ended at 28-5 overall in the regional final at Ferris State — the eventual national champions.
Gone is, perhaps, one of UF’s most talented senior classes since the 2009 national title team (36-0).
They compiled 324 starts between the four of them.
Two are playing professionally in Taren Sullivan (NBA G-League) and Martyce Kimbrough (Spain). Both Lima natives were go-to guys and 1,000-point scorers by their junior seasons.
Grooming the next-in-line players doesn’t happen in the offseason.
Instead, it’s the balancing act by head coach Charlie Ernst of appropriating minutes for short-term goals of having depth and long-term goals of program sustainability.
“It didn’t take me five months of seeing how much work these guys put in in the offseason to know that,” he said. “I felt pretty comfortable a year ago. We’ve got a lot of guys who are ready to take on bigger roles.”
Perhaps the biggest testament to its returning talent is UF being picked to win the Great Midwest Athletic Conference again in the preseason coaches poll. Seven of 13 coaches gave the Oilers, 19-1 in league play last year, their first-place vote.
“It’s kind of what’s expected here,” senior forward Alex White said.
“We’re not a bunch of young pups,” Ernst said. “We are when it comes to late-game situations when the game is on the line.”
Four new faces will be in the starting lineup.
White (6-foot-7) is the only starter back. He’s their leading returning scorer (9.6 points per game)and rebounder (6.6 per game).
His backup last year Aaron Overhiser (6.8 ppg), a 6-8 junior, will start at the four.
Senior Trey Smith (5-11) and sophomore Tommy Schmock (5-11) will bring their defensive skills from the bench into the starting lineup at guard.
Ernst will go with sophomore forward Anthony Masterlasco (6-5, Liberty-Benton) at the other starting spot. Masterlasco efficiently averaged 4.1 points and two rebounds as a true freshman.
The combination brings entirely different look from last year’s squad.
One of the biggest strengths is their defense.
It’s a complete contrast after Findlay broke the single-season school record for 3-pointers (315) in each of the past two years.
“Top to bottom we’re one of the best defensive teams in the conference, if not in the nation,” Smith said.
The Oilers will be also be quite versatile.
Schmock and Smith compliment each at the one- and two-guard spots and can flip as far as who handles the point.
Smith (5.4 ppg) started five games at point last year, made 25 3-pointers, 74 assists and 44 steals.
Schmock (5.1 ppg) saw 17.9 mpg off the bench as a true freshman and still led the team in assists (111) and steals (52).
Ernst anticipates Overhiser’s move to the four solving the conundrum of getting him more minutes, not at White’s expense.
“It’s taking advantage of all the things (Aaron) does,” Ernst said. “We feel like he can create some matchup problems for our opponents.”
As important as the starting five, the bench is just as vital.
Findlay’s viable and energetic bench, most now starters, turned the tide in many games last season.
Junior forward Katwan Singleton is one of the more veteran presences on the entire roster.
He was inactive last season but played all 32 games in 2016-17, averaging 4.5 points and 2.7 rebounds in 15.7 minutes.
Junior Matt Ashley (3.3 ppg) and sophomore Brady Wildermuth (2.0 ppg) — both 6-6 — provide depth at forward as well as sophomore Chazz George (6-4) who missed last season with a foot injury.
Ernst also expects big things from first-year players Ethan Linder and transfer Deven Stover.
Linder, a 6-2 freshman guard, would’ve played a key role last year if not for being injured in October. He was healthy by December but Ernst kept his redshirt on.
Ernst sees him as scoring-minded in a three-guard mix with Smith and Schmock.
“We somehow have to remind ourselves of (him being a freshman) because (Linder) is one of these guys where there’s not much he’s not capable of doing,” Ernst said.
Stover (6-5 forward) is a Cleveland State transfer but didn’t play last year due to injury.
Ernst sees him as “extremely athletic, powerful and a lefty.”
“He will be a player that our fans will really come to enjoy watching,” Ernst said.
Findlay opens its regular season 8:30 p.m. today against Truman State in the GLVC/GMAC Crossover in Kirksville, Missouri.
The Oilers also play Quincy at 2 p.m. Saturday to conclude the event.
Their home opener is against Saginaw Valley State at 3 p.m. on Nov. 17 at Croy Gymnasium.