We head to the Northeast 8 for this weekend’s biggest game. While Friday night will be full of a lot of boys action in the SAC and the girls across the area will get their last few games in this weekend, this will be an interesting game with fun matchups and conference title implications.

East Noble improved to 12-2 on Thursday night with a win over conference foe Leo. Due to weather related reschedules, this will be Norwell’s first game in 15 days after a January 11 win over Bellmont in NE8 play.

THREE STORYLINES

1. THE THREE AND FOUR HEADED MONSTER

East Noble has surged through most of the season on the backs of two of their top three players. It didn’t seem like very often that all three of Ali Ali, Brent Cox and Hayden Jones all showed out on the same night. Lately though the trio, often joined by a fourth, have put up big numbers all at the same time.

Ask Central Noble. When East Noble beat them last Wednesday, Ali had 21 points while Jones scored 19, Nate Dickson scored 17 and Cox had a 16 points, 10 rebounds double-double. And Central Noble is no slouch. How do you beat a team that has that kind of depth statistically? Ali, Cox and Dickson all scored 15-plus again on Thursday in a win over Leo.

2. THE LAYOFF

When Norwell was last seen on the court, they were picking up a big and convincing conference win over Bellmont. That was 15 days before this one, as previously noted. They have previously had eight and nine day layoffs, so a big break between games isn’t new. But this is a bigger break. What has Norwell been working on in the lab since we last saw them?

3. NE8 TITLE ON THE LINE

East Noble leads the conference by half of a game with a 4-0 record in the NE8 and Norwell is right behind them with the only other unbeaten conference record at 3-0. This game by no means locks things up for either team, but there are a lot of title implications. For East Noble, a move to 5-0 would come with just New Haven and Bellmont left on the NE8 schedule. Norwell will still play at New Haven and at Columbia City before hosting Huntington North. But as far as momentum goes, coming out of Saturday as the last conference unbeaten is as good as it gets.

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East Noble’s Ali Ali drives to the basket around Snider’s Jon Barnes Jr. during a November 27 game.

FOUR PLAYERS TO WATCH

1. HAYDEN JONES, EAST NOBLE

Jones hasn’t posted the biggest numbers but, at the same time, has proven that doesn’t matter. Jones is as big of a part of this team as anyone is on any local team. Jones has a multifaceted game that is seen developing night in and night out. And it shouldn’t be forgotten that he came into this season considered arguably the best point guard in the area. He holds a lot of the keys to pace and momentum for East Noble.

2. WILL GEIGER, NORWELL

When Norwell last played, Geiger put up 19 points and 11 rebounds against Bellmont. But Geiger and double-doubles go together like peanut butter and jelly. What has to be focused on is the statistic 5-of-6. That is what Geiger shot from the free throw line, showing how much he is taking steps to improving the parts of his game that haven’t been in line with his maximum strength in the post. Early in the season, the best way to slow Geiger was to foul him. Good luck with that now.

3. NATE DICKSON, EAST NOBLE

East Noble has been good in the past at bringing players around this time of the season that hadn’t drawn the intrigue of the casual fan yet. Last year, Cox kind of filled that roll. Right now, Dickson is the Knight that has the attention of a lot of people. 15 points and three rebounds against Leo, 17 points against Central Noble and 13 points against Westview have made him one to watch. He is certainly going to be a big help in trying to stretch out the Norwell defense.

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Norwell’s Eli Riley controls the ball against Concordia Lutheran during a November 21 game.

4. ELI RILEY, NORWELL

From the time he busted out a trio of three pointers in a loss to Bishop Dwenger early in the season, the knowledge was there that Riley can’t be lost by defenses. Riley doesn’t often put up many points, but to not do so yet remain a threat to do so is an intriguing factor in this game. East Noble has a lot of solid defenders so Norwell will need to have a good collection of active threats. Keep and eye on Riley.

KEYS TO VICTORY — EAST NOBLE

1. EXPLOIT THE POST

This is a key for one team every week in our game of the weekend. Like clockwork. It is no different for the Knights who have the twin towers of Ali Ali and Brent Cox. Will Geiger can’t guard them both. Hayden Jones doesn’t even mind posting someone up, but this is about Ali or Cox trying to exploit a height difference and control the paint either on first or seconds or third opportunities of a possession.

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East Noble coach Ryan Eakins shouts out instructions to his players during a November 27 game against Snider.

2. GET COMFORTABLE SHOOTING

The post and the perimeter are the keys? Thats right. And not that East Noble coach Ryan Eakins doesn’t know this already, but he has a competent group of jump shooters. Not just Jones, Ali and Dickson, but Michael Bender and Gage Ernsberger are just a couple of guys who can additionally fill up the basket. Those guys finding their range in Norwell’s gym and getting comfortable is important for these particular Knights.

KEYS TO VICTORY — NORWELL

1. CONFIDENCE IN DREW FEDERSPIEL

While Geiger is the guy and not many people would deny that, Drew Federspiel has really started to separate himself as another key Norwell Knight offensively. In a big win over Hammond Noll right before the new year, he hit five of seven threes and scored 21 points, making a nice statement on a non-region stage. He also hit three of six from deep in a win over Leo. If He can find consistency game to game like he has in certain single games, he is a big threat. The first step in that consistency is coach Mike McBride’s confidence in Federspiel.

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Norwell coach Mike McBride watches his team play on November 21 against Concordia.

2. BE TOUGH

Don’t let East Noble bully you when they get physical. Levi Leidig, Connor Torson and Garrison Brege and Geiger all play hard nosed for Norwell. So match the other Knight team tick for tack and be tough. Leidig is the pure definition of a spitfire and he could really be a game changer in this game, whether it is running at Jones or taking a page out of Snider’s book by him, as a much smaller player, giving a heavy defensive run at Ali.

BOUNCE’S PREDICTION

There is no bigger believer in Will Geiger than Bounce, but is Norwell overall too inexperienced to stop an experienced power like East Noble? Close losses to SAC opponents have shown perhaps a need for more experience, even when it looked like Norwell could control those games.

East Noble is coming off a win over Leo but the game was closer than expected. That said, East Noble is a team that has a ton of experience and are deeply comfortable with each other on the court. They are able to find the way to win in a lot of different styles of games.

Bounce picks East Noble

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