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2013-10-23 2013-14 ONU Men's Basketball Season Preview
2013 Season Preview

Aaron Larson (Left), Tony Banks (top), and Austin Davis (bottom) combined for 30.4 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 9.1 assists per game last season

2013-14 ONU Men's Basketball Season Preview

Author: Nick Birkey
Posted: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 at 3:44 PM

The ONU men’s basketball program first appeared in the NAIA Division I National Tournament in 1989. Over the program’s 16 NAIA national appearances the Tigers have failed to reach the postseason back-to-back years only three times. Most recently Olivet made it to Kansas City in 2011. In the prior two occurrences ONU responded with a CCAC regular season and tournament championship in 1995 and a conference regular season title in 2006. In both years the Tigers made the NAIA Division I National Tournament, reaching the Elite Eight in 2006. In his 35th year, head coach Ralph Hodge would like to continue the trend set by previous Tiger teams by leading ONU to its first-ever NAIA Division II National Tournament appearance.

From the 2012-13 squad that finished 18-13 and won 11 of its final 14 games three seniors were lost. Among the trio were three four-year players: Ben Worner, Jake Boyce, and Torey Laferney. Losing Worner also marked the fourth straight season that the Tigers graduated a 1,000-point career scorer. Worner (1,061) reached the plateau on Feb. 9 against Judson University (Ill.). Tyler Wallenfang finished with 1,438 in 2010, Cory Hainlen (1,082) in 2011, and Antonio Marshall (1,534) in 2012.

Worner finished his career with 2012 CCAC First Team All-Conference and NAIA Honorable Mention All-American honors, and was a 2013 CCAC Honorable Mention selection. Jake Boyce earned CCAC Second Team All-Conference honors last season. Laferney started 36 of the 85 career games he played in three seasons.

Even though they did not achieve all their goals in 2012-13, the Tigers discovered the many abilities of Aaron Larson (Tolono, Ill.), the 2013 CCAC Freshman of the Year. Larson started all 31 games for the Tigers last season, averaging 13 points (2nd on team), 6.1 rebounds (2nd on team), shot 55.8 percent from the field (led team), made 92 out of 136 attempted free-throws (led team), not to mention went 14-for-36 from behind the arc. Larson’s 404 points last season put him on pace for over 1,600 in his career. If he achieves that total it will put him in the top nine all-time in Tiger history.

Larson finished fifth in the CCAC in field goal percentage. In addition, from Dec. 15 through the Feb. 6 game last season he scored in double figures. Larson also will be a major focal point for the Tigers this season as he continues to play in the post, but has begun to expand his game as a perimeter option for Hodge. His size (6-feet, 7-inches) and skills will likely cause matchup problems for opponents.

In addition to Larson, returning for 2013-14 are 11 other Tigers, seven of whom saw time during the 2012-13 season. Combo guard Tony Banks (Peoria, Ill.) is the only senior on this year’s team. Banks started 26 of 31 games last year and averaged 6.4 points and 3.6 rebounds. He also was second on the team in assists with 94. Banks will be asked to serve more of a leader this season, while playing the point guard and off-guard positions.

Helping shoulder the load on the perimeter will be junior Austin Davis (North Augusta, S.C.) and sophomore Reid Farchmin (Mahomet, Ill.). Davis is the most experienced Tiger returning when it comes to games played (52). In only his second year with the Tigers, he started 19 of 25 games last year, battling an injury late in the season. He averaged 11.0 points, 4.8 assists (led team), and shot 39.9 percent (led team) from three-point line, making 59 (2nd on team). He has already accumulated 79 total three-pointers in two seasons. With 32 points on Dec. 15 he scored his career-high, only missing one shot (10-11). He will play the point guard position but will also help as a two-guard this season. Farchmin comes off a freshman season where he played in 15 games averaging 12.6 minutes, 2.6 points and 2.1 rebounds. He will boost the depth on the wing alongside sophomore wingman Luke Steelman (Aberdeen, Md.), who spent his freshman year on the junior varsity, but has improved and could get an opportunity to aid in the Tigers’ efforts.

Looking to make an immediate impact on the perimeter are two freshmen, 6-foot, 3-inchwingman Tyler Crater (Hampshire, Ill.) and 6-foot, 2-inch point guard Troy Swindle (Lindenhurst, Ill.). Crater, an AP and IBCA All-State selection from Hampshire High School will be asked to help at both the off-guard and wing positions in Hodge’s lineup. He is a great athlete who can score and will threaten opponents in various ways. Swindle is another great athlete who has great point guard intuition. Swindle has a great knack for playing calm and making good decisions.

“It appears that two newcomers out of the freshman class will play an important role on this team,” Hodge said. “Both players, Crater and Swindle have the skill, athleticism, and mental approach to be ready to play. Their readiness, improvement, and play could have a big impact on how we finish.”

Also returning with varsity experience is sophomore point guard Alex Thorson (Philo, Ill.). Thorson played a major role on the junior varsity last season and also saw action in 13 varsity games. He averaged 8.5 minutes in those games. Along with Thorson, sophomore transfer Taylor Tucker (Tyler, Tex.) will compete for time at the point guard position. Tucker joined the Tigers in January of 2013 via the University of Texas-Tyler where he played his freshman season.

In order to replace Boyce’s 12.2 point per game, 7.5 rebounds per game, and 307 field goal attempts (2nd on team) Olivet will look to sophomore Zach Wagner (Roselle, Ill.), and junior Seth Johnson (Bringhurst, Ill.). Wagner played in 24 games, averaging 15.6 minutes, 4.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, and shot 50.6 percent. He has an ability to run the floor and score over both shoulders. Johnson has predominantly played for the junior varsity team in his first two seasons. Standing 6-feet, 10-inches, Johnson has a presence inside and demands attention. Similarly, 6-feet, 11-inch junior Riley Johnson (Bringhurst, Ill.), brother of Seth, will get his first crack at helping after playing his first two seasons with the junior varsity.

In addition, the Tigers will have two other Tigers set to help inside from day one. Juniors Hunter Jacobs (Champaign, Ill.) and Matt Ryan (San Diego, Calif.) will be asked to increase production. Jacobs, who played the final seven games of the year, can make a big impact on a game in a hurry. He averaged 13.3 minutes per game last year, averaging 5.1 points, 3.0 rebounds, and shot 51.7 percent from the field. Jacobs plays with an elevated intensity and quickness, and is able to compete with bigger opponents only standing 6-foot, 5-inches. Matt Ryan has played in 51 games during his career, including all 31 in 2012-13. He averaged 11.6 minutes, 5.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, shot 52.7 percent from the field (2nd on team).

“With the youth and inexperience we have at some positions, development throughout the year will be critical,” head coach Ralph Hodge said of this year’s team. “I like the team make-up and talent of our team, yet have to make the improvement necessary to make it a successful season.”

Hodge goes on to say, “Our depth should develop into the strength of our team. Due to our versatility we have in our lineup. I think we will be able to play big and then go small when we need to.”

While the Tigers’ primary goal is to return to the NAIA National Championship tournament, would also like to return to the top of the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference. Last year’s 18-13 team finished fifth in both the regular-season standings and lost in the second round of the CCAC Tournament. The Tigers haven’t brought home either title since 2006.

With further change in CCAC alignment and the Tigers’ move to NAIA Division II last season, this year’s schedule will feature more nonconference games than in 2012-13. The Tigers will play nine nonconference contests, compared to 19 CCAC games before the conference tournament.

Among the nonconference games is a road game on Nov. 11 against NCAA Division II Lewis University (Ill.). The Flyers finished 19-9 last season and return four starters from last year’s squad. Two days later on Nov. 13 the Tigers travel to Charleston, Ill. for a regular season game against NCAA Division I Eastern Illinois University. ONU’s first weekend tournament will be played on the NAIA Division I defending champions Georgetown College’s (Ky.) home court. On Nov. 15 the Tigers open up with Life University (Ga.) at 5 p.m. (CST). They will play again on 16, possibly against Georgetown.

The 2013-14 schedule may be the toughest the Tigers have ever played, especially with the increased strength of 14-team Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference. Not to mention the league produced the NAIA Division II National Champions.

Coach Hodge said of the 2013-14 schedule, “With the conference being tougher from top to bottom, and the number of nationally-ranked teams and NCAA Division I and II opponents in the nonconference slate, it will definitely be the most demanding and challenging schedule we have faced in some time.”

No matter the opponent, the Tigers are coached by one of the best in NAIA basketball. Hodge is ranked second among active NAIA Division II coaches with 689 career wins and 11th in win percentage (.621) (coaches on active top 25 list). He also has been named as an inductee into the NAIA Hall of Fame for the 2013-14 class.

Other highlights of the schedule include:

• The Tigers’ Homecoming game against Cincinnati Christian University (Ohio) on Friday, Nov. 8. The Golden Eagles finished 16-17 last year. The Tigers have won six of the their last eight regular season Homecoming games dating back to the 2003-04 season.

• The week of Nov. 18 through 23, the Tigers travel to play three outstanding west coast teams. On Nov. 20 ONU plays NAIA Division I perennial powerhouse Concordia University-Irvine (Calif.). The Eagles made it to the second round of the national tournament last season. On Nov. 21 the Tigers play California State-San Marcos, the Cougars made the NAIA Division I national tournament in 2013. On Nov. 23 the Tigers play sister school Point Loma Nazarene University (Calif.) in its annual Homecoming game. The Sea Lions are now NCAA Division II.

• The following the week the Tigers begin CCAC play with a matchup with rival University of St. Francis (Ill.) on the road. ONU also plays conference opponent Robert Morris University (Ill.) on the road on Jan. 15 in Arlington Heights, Ill. The Eagles will play as a member of the 14-team conference. One of the Tigers’ late season games is with the NAIA Division II defending champions Cardinal Stritch University (Wis.) on Feb. 19 in Milwaukee, Wis.