BLOOMINGTON — No one at Monday’s Illinois Wesleyan basketball Media Day was declaring the 2017-18 season a disappointment.
Yet zeroing in on a campaign that featured a co-College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin championship and an NCAA Division III Tournament berth, the final three games are an unquestioned source of discontent.
“We thought we left a lot on the table last year,” 6-foot-4 senior guard Jason Gregoire said. “We definitely want to have a better end to the year.”
The Titans, who are ranked 19th nationally in the preseason poll of d3hoops.com, were sitting at 19-5 late last season.
IWU then lost the regular-season finale to North Central when a win would have clinched the outright CCIW title before losing again to North Central in the semifinals of the CCIW Tournament.
Wesleyan earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, but dropped a first-round game at Wooster.
“You can’t help but feel losing in the first round wasn’t quite reaching our full potential,” said 6-3 senior guard Brady Rose. “We’re really looking to build on that this year.”
The Titans appear to have that potential with four returning starters in Gregoire, Rose, 6-4 senior Colin Bonnett and 6-9 junior Alex O’Neill.
“I’ve been really pleased with how our upperclassmen have picked up where they left off and then helped the young guys catching up,” said IWU coach and Brady’s father, Ron Rose. “We’ve got four seniors who really want to achieve something. Expectations are high as they should be.”
The younger Rose enters his final season as a Titan ranked 36th in career scoring (1,116) and ninth in 3-pointers (152). The two-time CCIW all-star averaged 21.4 points last season.
“We’re trying to showcase our passion for the game and this program every single day and every single practice,” he said. “We’ve got a really hard-working group of guys. I think everyone is jumping on board.”
Bonnett scored at a 12.3 clip last season and led the team with 43 percent accuracy from 3-point range.
“Personally, I’m really excited for the year. We set the bar pretty high here especially with the talent we do bring back,” said Bonnett. “The level inside of practice is pretty high. Even the freshmen are playing at a high level. I feel good about where we are.”
Gregoire emerged as a key player last season, starting 16 games and averaging 8.1 points.
“Last year left a sour taste in our mouth,” Gregoire said. “We’re ready to get going.”
O’Neill finished the season with a surge after joining the Titans as a transfer before the season and averaged 9.2 points and 5.5 rebounds.
“I’m a lot more at ease,” he said. “There’s not a reason to be worried about anything. I’m hoping to have a good year.”
The fifth starting spot is up for grabs with 6-6 senior Danny Baker and 6-6 junior Miles Curry prime candidates. Also available to help inside are 6-7 junior Brice Robinson and 6-7 sophomore Charlie Bair.
Guard Grant Wolfe and forward Doug Wallen, both sophomores, showed promise as freshmen and are primed to assume bigger roles.
Freshmen most likely to have an early impact are 6-6 forward Matthew Leritz and 6-4 guard Peter Lambesis.
The Titans play Division I opponents in exhibition games on Nov. 1 (Illinois-Chicago) and Nov. 2 (Illinois) before opening the regular season Nov. 11 at home against the University of Chicago.