MISHAWAKA – The Bethel College men’s basketball program, who opens their season Friday at 6:00pm, again has high expectations after winning their fourth back-to-back Crossroads League tournament championship, and 18th overall, and advancing to the NAIA Division II National Tournament quarterfinals for the seventh time in program history.
But with one of their youngest teams in Coach Mike Lightfoot’s tenure, they’ll have their work cut out for them to repeat their success from a season ago.
“There’s no question that we have a very young team,” stated Coach Lightfoot. “We return two four-year starters in Matt Schauss and Zach Miller, who will do a tremendous job in leading this team, but outside of that we only have two other upperclassmen. The rest of the team is comprised of mostly freshmen who we’ll need to step up right away and fill the void from last years graduating class. It’s going to be a learning process, but even with a youthful roster our goals never change. Our team wants to return to Branson, Missouri and compete for a national championship. Seeing how close we came last year has made our players want to get back that much more.”
Despite losing five seniors, including four of their top six scorers, the Pilots still return 50% of their scoring from last season’s squad that ranked sixth nationally in total scoring offense.
A roster loaded with backcourt talent bodes well for the Pilots, who like to push the tempo in transition and should be well-equipped to do so again this season. The starting backcourt returns and should be considered one of the best in the nation with seniorsMatt Schauss and Zach Miller.
The duo is the team’s second and third leading scorers a season ago and highest scoring classmate combination through their first three seasons since Ryne Lightfoot and Tyler Brown (class of 2010).
“I can’t say enough of what Matt and Zach have done for our program. As freshmen they were starters on a team that didn’t even qualify for postseason play,” mentioned Lightfoot. “Seeing what they’ve accomplished since then and the effort they’ve put in to be successful on the court transitions into everything else they do. They demand excellence and are amazing advocates for Bethel College.”
The most prolific shooter in the nation last season, Zach Miller returns for his final campaign. Miller made 126 three-pointers as a junior, good for tops in the nation and 3rd in single season program history. He is only 34 three-pointers away from tying Josh Weimer’s career mark of 346 set in 2005. Miller had 12 games where he made five or more perimeter jumpers.
Senior floor general Matt Schauss found success last season, when he joined Rico Swanson as the only players in program history to average 15-5-4 for an entire season. He looks to match Swanson and duplicate that feat for his senior season. Schauss became the first junior to eclipse 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, and 400 assists for his career.
Ryan Wassink earned valuable floor time as a freshman last season, including a clutch game against Indiana Wesleyan in the league tourney–going 3-for-3 from the three-point range–and looks to parlay that into a larger role with the departures of Patrick Oetting, Michael Mislan, and Brandon Gerber from the frontcourt.
The lone junior, Travis Smith is the third of three returning starters from last season. A defensive specialist, Smith finished third on the team with 35 steals and has 63 for his career. The Pilots are 5-3 when the 2013 Crossroads League All-Newcomer Team member gets at least three pilfers.
Caleb Oetjen’s season perimeter shooting was overshadowed by Miller last season, but was not to be ignored. The southpaw sophomore made 31 three-pointers at a 42.5% clip, including a 5-for-9 performance against Great Lakes Christian. Oetjen is the team’s third leading returning scorer at 5.2 points per game.
Redshirt sophomore Keith Cochran returns after appearing in just ten games a season ago. The 7-footer averaged 1.4 points, 1.6 rebounds, and 0.4 blocks per game.
Sophomore Jordyn Coon is eligible once again after returning from an injury redshirt last season. Coon will provide leadership and an explosive offensive game to the lineup–he rattled off nine straight points as a freshman in 2012-13 at St. Francis to help pull off the road win over a top 25 team.
Sophomore transfer Clay Yeo will immediately pick up where Ryan Benner left off in the scoring column. An Indiana All-Star as both a junior and senior from Triton, Yeo is Marshall County’s most prolific scorer with 1,992 career points and transfers in after a season at NCAA Division I Valparaiso.
Redshirt freshman Chris Mitchell is ready to make his debut for the Pilots. His versatility, scoring prowess, and competitive mindset will be a welcome addition. Mitchell averaged 17.5 points as a senior at Mishawaka, and finished as their all-time leading scorer with 1,135 points.
David Lee is another eligible redshirt freshman and will bring great work ethic and enthusiasm to the roster. A terrific defender and consummate teammate, Lee comes from a Plymouth program where he averaged 3.0 steals per game and earned the team’s Play Hard Award.
The first Pilot to come from LaPorte during Coach Lightfoot’s tenure, Gage Ott is an under-recruited player with enormous upside. A great basket protector, Ott can alter shots and rebound at a high level. The 6-6 forward averaged 16.7 points on 63% shooting from the field as a senior.
Fort Wayne Snider product Trey’von Covington is an explosive player and terrific shooter. As a senior, Covington shot 44% from beyond the arc and 92% from the charity stripe. He averaged 13.6 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 1.0 steals and earned All-State Honorable Mention status.
Will Stueve comes from a successful NorthWood team that went 21-3 and were crowned Sectional Champions last year. Stueve averaged 11.3 points as a senior and will provide great depth in the frontcourt for the Pilots. Stueve’s athletic ability will help play in the Crossroads League action.
6-8 center Kyle Thompson is a high IQ player who grew up playing against great competition at Brownsburg. Thompson is not afraid to compete against anyone, anywhere and earned Honorable Mention in the Hoosier Crossroads Conference, a league chock-full of Division I talent.
Aziz Thiandoum transferred to the Pilots midseason last year and will play his final season of eligibility this year. Thiandoum has a knack for blocking shots, swatting 50 in 47 games in his career. The big man from Senegal led Lake Land CC with 1.7 per game in 2012-13, his second collegiate season.
Juwan Carpenter was a late addition to the Pilots in the offseason but knows what it takes to compete on a big stage. A product of Ben Davis, Carpenter averaged 3.5 points and 3.0 rebounds for the Giants while competing against the likes of Carmel, North Central, Lawrence Central, and more.
The Pilots open up the 2014-15 season in the Maple City Hoopfest hosted by Goshen by taking on (RV) Northwestern Ohio and Brescia on consecutive nights. It will be the first meetings for the Pilots for each of those two programs. The Pilots opened last season with two victories in the Hoopfest.
After a trip to Andrews, the Pilots will host the Gates Automotive Classic where they will face off against Calumet and Lawrence Tech. The Pilots are a combined 5-0 against the two opponents.
A pair of crosstown rivalry games await the Pilots when they host Holy Cross and travel to Indiana University-South Bend. The Pilots outscored the duo 196-131 in back-to-back victories last season and are 67-6 combined all-time against the two CCAC teams.
The Pilots then hit the road for the Viterbo University Invitational and take on the hosts as well as (RV) Waldorf. The Pilots have never faced either of the two programs but are 14-5 in midseason tournaments on the road since 2010-11.
The Pilots will look for revenge on their own turf against an NCAA Division II St. Joseph’s squad, who handed the Pilots a 90-84 defeat a season ago in Rensselaer.
The Pilots finish up the non-conference portion by taking part in the St. Thomas University Classic. It will mark the third time since 2008-09 that the Pilots have faced off against Florida Memorial and St. Thomas in the winter classic, going 4-0 in those games.
A marquee matchup that will hold interest at the national level is waiting the Pilots in the league opener, as they invite the defending national champion and top-ranked Indiana Wesleyan into the Wiekamp Athletic Center for what looks to be a top ten tilt. The Pilots were the only team to hand the Wildcats multiple losses last season.
The Pilots also welcome in Grace to open up the 2015 calendar year in a rematch of the conference tournament final. In the 2014 calendar year opener in Winona Lake a season ago, the Pilots dominated the Lancers to the tune of 110-69–the largest margin of victory by either program in the 123-game history of the series.
Road matchups against potential top 25 teams loom in the month of January, with trips to Saint Francis, Huntington, and Indiana Wesleyan in an 18-day span.
The Pilots head down the stretch with five of eight games at home and finish off the home slate with Senior Day against Taylor. Against the Trojans in Mishawaka last season, the Pilots made head coach Mike Lightfoot the 20th-quickest coach in men’s college basketball history to win 700 games.
“When you compete in the toughest conference in the country there are no games off,” said Lightfoot. “Our staff and our players have to be locked in both mentally and physically on every single play.”
For the first time in league history, the Crossroads League released preseason all- conference teams, headlined by Preseason Player of the Year Austin Fox from Saint Francis.
Senior duo Matt Schauss and Zach Miller earned First Team honors while incoming sophomore Clay Yeo picked up Second Team accolades.