Top team: North Central.
Top players:Benedictine: Michael Woolf, G, so.; Jamison Montgomery, G, sr.; Alex Edmondson, G, jr.; College of DuPage: Takaius Brooks, F, so.; Jake Martin, F, so.; Ryan Rader, C, fr.; John Johnson, G, so.; Elmhurst: D'Ante Foster, G, sr.; Nick Sanford, F, jr.; Erik Dornfeld, F, sr.; Taylor Baxter, G, jr.; North Central: Derek Raridon, F, sr.; Landon Gamble, F, jr.; Aaron Tiknis, F, sr.; Vince Kmiec, G, jr.; Wheaton: Tyler Peters, G, jr.; Nate Haynes, F, jr.; Joel Smith F, fr.; Michael Berg, F, fr.
Outlook: North Central is the big news among the local colleges. After winning the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin regular-season and conference tournament, the Cardinals (22-8) advanced to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament. With most of that cast returning, including All-Americas Gamble and Raridon, North Central goes into the season ranked among the national elite in preseason polls. They have height, depth and shooting ability and just need one of several candidates to step up and take the point guard position. Veterans Mike Boyd and Pat Rourke are among the leaders for that job. Gamble is a bull underneath, Raridon is one of the best inside-outside combo players in Division III and Tiknis and Kmiec can score from the perimeter. "Our expectations are very high," said coach Todd Raridon. "But we need a point guard to get us in what we need to do both offensively and defensively. And the senior leadership has to be there."
Wheaton, which also went to the postseason, lost four starters to graduation. There will be an adjustment period as the Thunder prepares to challenge for the top spots in the CCIW while coach Mike Schauer blends his returning crew with a solid group of newcomers. Peters is the one returning starter and he's a good one. "We'll probably score more easily than we will stop people," Schauer said. "The biggest concern is our inexperience in the post. Our freshmen are talented, and several of them will be major players this year."
Foster and Sanford are the only returning starters from last year's 12-13 Elmhurst team, but coach Mark Scherer is confident that his veterans and the products of a fine recruiting class can make the Bluejays competitive in the CCIW. Foster is a quick combo guard, while Sanford, who has all-conference potential, is a classic power forward who led the team in rebounding last season. A couple of strong transfers will battle for the center spot. "We have size, skill and depth, and a talented backcourt," Scherer said. "I believe that this team has the talent to be a top-four team in our league this season."
Benedictine loses all-Northern Athletics Conference guard Nate Green, but there's some talented backcourt players returning who can lead the team into contention in the NAC provided an inexperienced, but athletic group of forwards can develop early. Montgomery takes over the point duties, while Edmondson and Woolf provide experience on the perimeter. The Eagles will be tested early in what coach Keith Bunkenburg calls one of the toughest nonconference schedule in years. He believes that will help overcome the slow start the team suffered last year. "Last year we struggled early," Bunkenburg said. "This year we're ahead of where we were and I'm pleased with the talent and the commitment."
College of DuPage returns four starters from last year's team that finished strong after being hit by numerous injuries during the season. If Brooks, who starts the season on the injured list, is healthy, he can be a breakout player. Johnson is quick and has poise and he can run the team, while Martin brings size and strength to the forward position. Freshman Rader could give the Chaps an impressive inside presence. "For the first time in a long time we have decent size," said legendary coach Don Klaas. "We have good speed and we always build our program on defense. We'll have to find out how well we shoot it." The Chaps have the personnel to play an energetic transition game.