There are high expectations for Bethel’s men’s basketball team this year. The team finished last season strong and many expect them to pick up right where they left off. The Pilots won the Crossroads League tournament last season, earning them a trip to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) National Championships. The Pilots were defeated by the no. 1 seed William Penn University. This season the Pilots have been picked to finish second in the Crossroads Conference, behind Indiana Wesleyan University. Both teams are preseason favorites in the NAIA coaches poll as a pair of top 15 teams nationwide.“Staying healthy as a team and playing with poise everyday will be the key to returning to nationals," said coach Mike Lightfoot, now in his 27th year as head coach.“Being able to play 10 guys deep is an added advantage that this team has this year.” The Pilots lost several key contributors from last season’s team that went 25-10. The good news for the Pilots is that they will bring back plenty of familiar faces. The Pilots return their top three scorers from last season, including six foot four inch senior Ryan Benner, six foot one inch junior Zach Miller and six foot four inch junior Matt Schauss. Each of them averaged just shy of 15 points per game last season. “I believe this team proved last year that we can compete with anybody, we just have to have the confidence in ourselves to do it," said Miller. " We know we have tons of potential we just have to have the right mindset and work hard every single day.” Also back this season for the Pilots’ is senior Landon Booker, who missed all of last season because of an Achilles injury. Booker will likely control the Pilot offense and most of the ball handling responsibility along with Schauss in the backcourt. “Landon brings so much to this team," said Lightfoot. "He brings us defensive intensity as well as experience of playing on the big stage.” Benner and Booker are joined by fellow seniors Brandon Gerber, a six foot five inch forward, six foot eight inch center Michael Mislan and six foot six inch forward Pat Oetting. All of whom figure to add depth and contribute key minutes this upcoming season. The Pilots also return a core group of sophomores who all saw minutes last season, including guards Jordan Coon and Travis Smith. Both players look to receive greater rolls this year after solid freshman campaigns. Coon and Smith will be joined by fellow sophomores, seven feet center Keith Cochran and six foot seven inch forward Jared Mott. They will both battle for spots in the frontcourt rotation. Freshman Josh Glass, Caleb Oetjen and Ryan Wassink will also battle for playing time as the Pilots begin practice. Coach Lightfoot still knows there are areas this year’s team must improve on from last season to return to Nationals again this season. “As a team we need to become a better free throw shooting team, as well as become a better rebounding team," Lightfoot said. Those will both be areas the Pilots work on as they begin official practice this week. “I believe that if we stick to our vision the sky is the limit for this team, said Miller. "We know we have all the right guys and right tools to make this season successful.” The Pilots begin their season on Oct. 29. They will be on the road against Holy Cross.