Photo provided by Wabash College <br>
Wabash College junior Ben Burkett (left) and sophomore Nick Curosh will be key players in Wabash’s success this year.
Photo provided by Wabash College
Wabash College junior Ben Burkett (left) and sophomore Nick Curosh will be key players in Wabash’s success this year.
There's a sense of excitement in the air for Wabash College men's basketball coach Mac Petty.

This could be the year the Little Giants finally get over that North Coast Athletic Conference tournament title game hump and into the NCAA Division III playoffs.

They have senior Aaron Brock (the team's second-leading scorer last year) healthy.

They have senior guard Chase Haltom in great physical shape.

They have junior guard and leading scorer Wes Smith in his prime.

And they have an energetic inside duo, which seems to bring the 34th-year coach to life.

"The big thing is Aaron is well. Chase is in great condition. I see him having a really good year. Wes has pretty much picked up where he ended at last year," Petty said. "The chemistry is really good. That's important."

Wabash (0-0) opens its season at 7 p.m. today in a road game at Marian University (1-1) in Indianapolis.

Marian has played two games already, taking part in the Bethel College Classic in Mishawaka, Ind. Marian lost to Holy Cross College 73-71 in the first round, then beat Judson College 82-70 in the consolation game.

Wabash will be on the road plenty to start its season. The Little Giants have six straight road games over the next two weeks.

After Marian, they travel to play in the Maryville (Tenn.) Alumni Tipoff Classic this weekend. Then they travel to in-state rival DePauw University to play in the Mike Rokicki Community versus Cancer Tournament and finish with a conference road game at Denison.

They don't have their first home game until Dec. 8 against Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

Wabash has reached the North Coast Athletic Conference Tournament championship game each of the last two years, turning their season around late and then getting hot in the conference's postseason tournament.

They've got a strong nucleus back, and Petty is excited with how they look so far.

Brock is finally healthy after dealing with a torn right triceps tendon most of last year. He missed the Little Giants' final six games because of the injury.

The team's second-leading scorer (13.6 points, 5.9 rebounds per game) had surgery on the tendon in March and Petty said he looks good.

Smith led Wabash in scoring (16.8 points per game) and earned First-Team All-NCAC honors last year, while Haltom averaged 11.9 points per game last year and was third in the conference in three-point baskets per game.

But what Petty seems most excited about is the team's two big men - Burkett and Curosh.

Burkett, a 6-foot, 5-inch junior center, averaged 5.9 points and 3.5 rebounds last year and also recorded eight starts - with most coming when Brock was down.

Curosh, a 6-7 sophomore forward, played in 22 games and averaged 1.5 points and 1.9 rebounds per game.

He said both have improved over the offseason and acknowledged they look stronger in the middle.

"I expect a lot out of Ben and Nick. They hold down the five spot and have done an excellent job for us. I have no reservations with either one," Petty said. "Ben has developed and blossomed into a nice player. He came to us very raw and worked hard and got stronger."