Mt. Carmel was the talk of the southern Illinois basketball world last year, with its’ sub-500 mark surprise run all the way to the Class 2A sectional championship game.

With four starters back, the Golden Aces of 2013-2014 certainly won’t be sneaking up on anyone.

That’s just fine with third-year Aces coach Tyler Buss.

“We definitely have raised expectations, there is no secret about that. A lot of people respect our program a bit more now” said Buss. “Now it’s about delivering. The biggest thing with this group is consistency. When we are consistent and take care of the basketball we can be pretty tough to beat. We’ll see if we can take the next step.”

The Aces, who open play Friday at the Capital Classic in Lawrenceville, return last year’s leading scorer, senior Reece Metcalf, in addition to junior playmaker supreme Levi Laws. Other top returnees include C.J. Diel, Thomas Allen, Austin Thompson and Riley Raber.

Having so many veteran returnees in camp means the Aces have been quick to adapt, even for the football members of the squad who started late after a three-week stay in the gridiron playoffs.

“It’s like night and day,” Buss said. “It’s so nice that we have so many guys here who have been two-year starters. I’m calling out plays that we haven’t put in yet and they know them. We’re way ahead of the game, but we still have a lot of work to do in conditioning to be able to play at the pace we want.”

The Aces varsity will be a large team, with 16 players, all juniors or seniors. “We think we’ll have as much depth as we’ve had in a long time as well,” Buss said.

The Big 8 Conference “as usual will be very strong,” said Buss, who thinks Vincennes has an edge as the Alices attempt to repeat as champions. “Everybody else is so competitive,” he said.

Last year Mt. Carmel finished 14-15, but only 1-5 in the Big 8. Even though the Aces have never finished better than 3-3 in their 10 seasons in the league (and 2-28 in the last five years) Buss thinks this edition can make some noise.

“We feel like we can compete for a championship,” he said. “We have to come ready to play every night and let the chips fall where the may.”

The Aces will play four games this weekend, including a pool play matchup against toughie Pinckneyville. Then there is long-time power Teutopolis, looming on the other side of the bracket, in games played at Red Hill.

NOTES: Metcalf and Laws, all Big 8 Conference selections last year, both averaged 17 points per game. Both have around 900 career points, and could go over the 1,000 point mark early in the season, according to Buss... Aces are 11-49 all-time in Big 8 Conference games... Aces last played in the Capital Classic in 2001, and have a 16-10 record all-time there.