We have not yet reached the midway point of the conference season in the Summit Athletic Conference on the boys’ side, but already we can narrow down the field of competitors seeking a league championship.
Of the 10 SAC teams, just four have one or less losses through four games. Only once since 2006 has the conference been won with multiple losses. That was in 2013, when Northrop, Concordia and North Side each shared the title with identical 5-2 records.
While it is not out of the realm of possibility that a two-loss team can win the SAC, it is a long shot.
So, who has the inside track on winning a league title? Let’s break down the four contenders.
1. NORTHROP (4-0 in SAC)
Remaining SAC opponents: vs. Wayne, vs. Homestead, at Concordia, vs. Carroll, at Bishop Dwenger.
Combined conference record of remaining SAC opponents: 12-8
Last SAC title: 2013
Outlook: With a 3-3 record in their last six, the Bruins have not exactly been hitting on all cylinders of late. But the wins they have earned in that stretch have been important in the league, none larger than the 51-47 win over Snider on Jan. 4.
Northrop’s path to a conference championship isn’t easy, with games against the other three “contenders” looming in back-to-back-to-back weeks. The key for the Bruins is Sydney Curry, who has feasted on area teams who cannot match his size and physicality. On paper, Homestead, Concordia and Carroll all lack the big body that can match up with Curry in the post, although the Spartans frustrated Blackhawk Christian’s Caleb Furst just last week. Look for all three of the teams to double Curry and take their chances with the likes of Qualen Pettus and Isaac Anderson.
The Bruins have been susceptible to not bringing their best at times, although that has largely come in non-conference games.
2. HOMESTEAD (3-1 in SAC)
Remaining SAC opponents: vs. North Side, at Northrop, vs. Wayne, vs. Concordia, at Carroll.
Combined conference record of remaining SAC opponents: 13-7
Last SAC title: 2018
Outlook: Take away a puzzling early-season loss to Bishop Dwenger and the Spartans are undefeated, not just in the SAC, but overall. At 11-1, Homestead has surprised some and shocked others at its ability once again to overhaul a roster in the offseason and continue to win games.
Luke Goode and Zak Krueger are two of the better players in the area, but this team is more than those two. Trent Loomis, Alec Grinsfelder and Zac Bradtmiller are those typical Homestead players that get no love from local prep gurus, but are the true reason why the Spartans are so good.
Based on track record, Homestead would feel like the favorite here, but tough road games at Northrop and Carroll are big hurdles.
3. CARROLL (3-1 in SAC)
Remaining SAC opponents: vs. South Side, at Snider, vs. North Side, at Northrop, vs. Homestead.
Combined conference record of remaining SAC opponents: 11-9
Last SAC title: 2018
Outlook: The Chargers won 20 games last year largely led by a defensive unit that allowed just over 44 points per game. Fast-forward a season and Coach Marty Beasley has his Chargers playing even better defense, at least statistically.
Entering this week, opponents are scoring just 41.6 points per game against Carroll. Just one local team has eclipsed 50 points on the Chargers (Homestead dropped 51 points in SAC Holiday Tournament game).
The remaining schedule is manageable. Snider is a team struggling to find itself, but that should be a tough game in two weeks. A visit to Northrop and a home showdown with rival Homestead also loom.
The key is the duo of Dan McKeeman and David Ejah. If both are on in the same game, the Chargers are tremendously difficult to beat. If you can take one away, Carroll has to rely even more on its defense to triumph.
Fortunately for the Chargers, the defense is good enough to do just that.
4. CONCORDIA (3-1 in SAC)
Remaining SAC opponents: vs. Snider, at North Side, vs. Northrop, at Homestead, at Wayne.
Combined record of remaining SAC opponents: 12-8
Last SAC title: 2013
Outlook: The darling of the early season in the SAC has been the Cadets, who have looked confident on the floor under first-year coach Phil Brackmann. At one point, Concordia was 6-1 following a victory over Bishop Luers in the holiday tournament, but has since lost four of five.
With six seniors and six juniors on the varsity roster, Concordia is as veteran of a team as anyone in the SAC. That has helped it succeed in such a short amount of time under a new coach. Jadon Dance and Adam Gottschalk have been through the wars of the SAC and have given the Cadets a good one-two punch offensively.
While Concordia battled Snider for four quarters in the holiday tournament, blowout losses to Blackhawk Christian and Huntington North, as well as a nine-point defeat to South Side last Friday, have shown that the Cadets may not yet be ready for contender status in the SAC. Even so, they control their destiny in the conference with a home game against Northrop in a few weeks.
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The only team outside of these four that may have a chance at the regular-season championship is Snider. Despite being 2-2 in the league, the Panthers have arguably the deepest and most talented roster around. Looking past this team is dangerous, but after another poor showing last Friday against Homestead, Snider has some things to fix internally before it can be considered a contender for the SAC crown.