Judah Newby | Assistant Sports Editor
The 2012-13 season saw many exciting moments for the Wheaton Thunder men’s basketball team: A buzzer-beating home victory over nationally-ranked Washington University (Mo.), an overtime home stunner over conference rival North Central, another trip to the NCAA Tournament and a round-one victory at the buzzer in King Arena to beat St. Norbert by a point and advance in the dance. It all came to an abrupt end, however, on a snowy March evening in the Twin Cities, as Wheaton fell in round two to the nation’s No. 1 team in University of St. Thomas (Minn.), 68-58.
While the memory of that contest still has a searing effect on the Thunder, this year’s team nevertheless holds onto excitement for the new year. Wheaton returns much of its talent from a year ago, including senior guard Tyler Peters, who just recently was named a Division-III Pre-Season All-American by d3hoops.com. Peters led the CCIW in scoring average in 2012-13, going at an 18.5 ppg clip.
Aside from Peter’s individual recognition, the rest of the division seems to be aware of the Thunder’s returning talent level as well, as Wheaton is ranked fifth in the country by d3hoops.com. That would seem quite the enviable position, and it would be, if not for the fact that the nation’s No. 2 and No. 6 teams in the country in the same poll both reside in the Thunder’s conference in the forms of Illinois Wesleyan and North Central, respectively. Wheaton faces each those squads twice in the upcoming CCIW regular season.
Both Peters and senior forward Nate Haynes will be integral returning starters to the squad. Haynes had a breakout season last year as a junior when he averaged a double-double, posting identical averages in both points and rebounds at 10.6 per game. The 6-foot-6-inch forward scored on 57 percent of his shot attempts and also blocked 48 shots — best in the CCIW — while starting each of the Thunder’s 27 games.
Michael Berg joins Haynes as the other starting forward on the floor for Wheaton. Berg impressed as a freshman last season with his outside shot while also improving greatly as a rebounder. His skill set looks to give Wheaton a good amount of versatility at the 4-position this year. Sophomore Joel Smith will return to provide added depth at the position as well.
Junior Peter Smith occupies the small forward position, though his 6-foot-6-inch frame and sheer athleticism allow him to perform in many roles for Wheaton on both ends of the floor. He averaged 7.2 points and 4.6 rebounds a game in 2012-13, and his length on the perimeter fits in nicely with Wheaton’s patented pressure-defense. Wheaton also welcomes the return of senior forward Jon DeMoss to the floor in 2013. DeMoss will significantly bolster the depth at the position. DeMoss was forced to the sidelines last year due to injury but had been a regular starter for Wheaton the previous season.
Junior Brayden Teuscher will start at two-guard for Wheaton, with Peters starting at the point. Teuscher thrived in his debut season for Wheaton after transferring from Washington University, averaging 13.6 points a game, the second-best on the team. His ability to penetrate the middle of the defense and finish around the rim, as well as his perimeter shooting ability, make the Thunder’s starting backcourt one of the nation’s elite.
Starters aside, the Thunder may possess the nation’s top shooter off-the-bench in junior guard Michael Kvam. Last season Kvam averaged 10.5 points a contest, attempting a whopping 160 3-pointers and making 68 of them for an average of 42.5 percent from deep. The total shots made from behind-the-arc were 21 more than the next highest total in the conference last season.
Senior Tad Fisher, junior Caleb DeMoss and sophomore Luis Miller all figure to make significant strides into the new season and see increased roles in 2013-14.
The Thunder return their top nine players in terms of minutes per game from last year, bringing high expectations for this year’s squad.
Aside from the rigors of Wheaton’s conference schedule, the Thunder face an especially challenging series of non-conference games as well. On Dec. 2, Wheaton will play No. 17 Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., and on Jan. 2, they will travel to St. Louis, for another contest with No. 11 Washington. To top it all, Wheaton has a potential showdown with the country’s No. 8 preseason team, The College of Wooster, in Ohio next weekend, should both programs win their respective contests on the first day of the Al Van Wie Rotary Classic in northeastern Ohio. That trip will serve as a homecoming of sorts for senior Tyler Peters, a native of Medina, Ohio, located just 25 miles from Wooster.
Wheaton begins its quest to return to the NCAA Tournament tonight in King Arena against Blackburn College in the season opener. Games can be heard on the airwaves at 88.1 FM and can also be streamed on Stretch Internet. Game updates can be followed on Twitter @WETNSports. A win will advance the Thunder to the Lee Pfund Classic championship game tomorrow night at 8 p.m.