College Basketball: NCC confident with four starters back
BY MATT LE CREN For Sun-Times Media November 12, 2012 7:08PM
NCC Men's Basketball vs. Wheaton
Updated: December 19, 2012 10:31AM
An unprecedented buzz is building around the North Central men’s basketball program, which is coming off the best season in school history
Hopes are high for the Cardinals, who return four starters from last year’s 22-8 squad that tied the school record for victories and advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Division III national tournament for the first time.
Not only is North Central the unanimous choice to defend its College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin championship, it is ranked No. 3 nationally by D-III News and No. 6 by D3hoops.com.
“We have high expectations but our expectations are high every year,” North Central coach Todd Raridon said. “Going into this year I think other people now have those expectations of us. But it’s not like we’re going to start from where we left off last year. It’s a different year and we’ve got to find our identity.”
That identity figures to form around a stellar inside game built on the talents of returning forwards Derek Raridon, Landon Gamble and Aaron Tiknis.
Raridon, a Neuqua Valley product and the coach’s son, is a 6-6 senior swingman who surpassed the 1,000 career points plateau last year and shot a school record 90.7 percent from the free-throw line to earn First Team All-CCIW honors. Gamble, a 6-6 junior, is a two-time First Team All-CCIW pick who led the squad in scoring with 13.7 points per game, and Tiknis, a 6-6 senior who was second team all-conference, averaged 11.1 points and paced the team in rebounds, assists, blocks, field goal percentage and three-point percentage.
That trio will bolstered by 6-8 center Jack Burchett, who started as a freshman in 2010-11 but didn’t play last year, and 6-5 junior Charlie Rosenberg.
The backcourt features returning starter Vince Kmiec, a 6-4 junior shooting guard, but the Cardinals must replace graduated point guard Kevin Gillespie.
“Our inside game is probably our strength,” Raridon said. “Our biggest question mark is at point guard.”
Four players are in the mix to run the show: juniors Pat Rourke and Brandon Williams and sophomores Mike Boyd and Jack Merrithey.
“With this group anything is possible,” Raridon said. “Our concentration is on trying to find the right mix of players that play well as a team. The key last year was we didn’t’ rely on one individual. Chemistry is so important.”
North Central begins the season at 7:30 p.m. Friday when it hosts Illinois Institute of Technology at the Naperville Tip-Off Tournament. The Cardinals then face seventh-ranked Hope College the following night.