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John Carroll men's basketball expectations will again be big in 2024-25

Mar. 15—The NCAA Division III men's basketball final four is being contested this weekend in Fort Wayne, Ind.

John Carroll was hoping it would be one of the four teams left standing this season — maybe even playing for the national championship March 16.

It wasn't to be after a second-round loss to Calvin two weeks ago. It was a painful exit from the tournament for Coach Pete Moran and his Blue Streaks.

"But that's why March Madness is the greatest tournament in the world," said Moran.

Many times, the best teams don't make the final four. Many times, the best team doesn't win the whole thing — although No. 1-ranked Hampden-Sydney will be playing for a national title March 16.

As for JCU, this season didn't end the way it had hoped — especially after a 26-3 mark that included weeks spent as the nation's No. 1-ranked team, and winning the Ohio Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament championships. The players didn't shy away from talks of a national championship.

Just don't feel too disappointed for the Blue Streaks, which bowed out to Calvin in Round 2 of the NCAAs. That's because next season could be even better.

There are a few losses that will affect the roster. Post player Luka Eller of Lake Catholic is set to graduate next semester and told The News-Herald he planned for this past season to be his last, even though he has a year of eligibility remaining. The other losses include captains Jerry Higgins of VASJ and Connor O'Toole of Gilmour. Higgins will continue work in medical school to become an orthopedic surgeon and O'Toole is set to begin his accounting career in the area.

Essentially, though, JCU will return its entire starting lineup for the second straight season — which is something of a rarity at any level of college basketball.

The entire back court returns in point guard Luke Chicone of Mentor, and guards Luke Frazier of Lake Catholic and Chase Toppin, who will be the lone returning captain.

In the front court, returning are posts Henry Raynor and Will Yontek and valuable backup David Gentry.

With the amount of returning starters, it's not unreasonable to think the Blue Streaks will again be ranked in the top five in the preseason, and some might even predict they could be preseason No. 1.

"Next year will be a different team with a different mindset," said Moran. "What's going to be our focus? I know this, we will have motivated guys."

The pressure will be on this group to achieve their goal of winning a D-III national championship, although Moran doesn't necessarily look at this group in that way through two seasons together.

"We're not going to look at losing in the second round (of the NCAA tournament) as a failure," said Moran. "This group has exceeded expectations."

There's proof of that. Two seasons ago, a large group of of transfers — headlined by Chicone and Frazier, plus others — came together and immediately were a success. The past two seasons, JCU is 49-7 with two OAC regular-season titles and an OAC tournament title.

But can the Blue Streaks push beyond those accomplishments and win the ultimate prize?

Moran said the first step is meeting with his returning players and asking the most important question of each ...

"What are your goals?" said Moran. "Most are going to say, 'I want to get better, I want the team to get better.' But what will you do to achieve those goals? That's where it starts."

Offensively, JCU will return 85 percent of its points scored this past season and 77 percent of its rebounds.

MBB: Luke Chicone makes the @smcollegehoops Bevo Francis Top 25 Watch List @JCUMensHoops ⚡️https://t.co/R5rwiR0tie

— John Carroll Sports (@jcusports) March 15, 2024

It also doesn't hurt when the OAC's Player of the Year returns in Chicone, who this week was named second-team All-America by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. On March 15, Chicone was also named one of 25 to make the cut for the Bevo Francis Award watch list. The award goes to the nation's top player among all lower levels of college basketball. The winner will be announced April 8.

Chicone averaged 18.7 points, 5.2 assists and 4.0 rebounds. Frazier led the team in scoring (18.9 points) and rebounds (6.3). Toppin, Yontek, Raynor and Gentry combined to average 33.2 points.

Moran said areas to improve for 2024-25 are adding "a little more depth" and perimeter shooting. That depth could come in different forms — reserve players already on the roster ready to make a jump, transfers or high school recruiting.

As for perimeter shooting, JCU's 481 shots from 3-point range were considerably less than the 698 its opponents took.

"We want to shoot more from the perimeter," said Moran.

There's also a loaded schedule next season. A trip to Hampden-Sydney is on the docket as is playing at the 2024 Great Lakes Invitational, one of the nation's premier holiday tournaments in D-III. Calvin — from Grand Rapids, Mich. — will be the host school for the two-day tournament featuring eight nationally prominent programs from the Great Lakes region.

"Next season will be the hardest schedule ever in the history of John Carroll basketball," said Moran.