The Northeast Corner Conference is on full hype heading into the 2019-2020 season. Some of the best players in the area make up a conference that is heavy with talent at the top and with more than half of the teams capable of pulling off a win any given night in conference.

But a couple of those teams carry more hype than others and one is Central Noble, who finished second in the NECC a year ago and have a lot of their primary contributors back for coach John Bodey, who is in his fourth year at the head of the program.

“We try not to listen to all that. I told the boys a couple weeks ago that for three years, we haven’t listened to people who told us we couldn’t do something and we’ve been pretty successful. Why would we start listening to people now? We need to focus on us and listen to how good we are because we’ve done nothing yet,” Bodey said.

An initial focus of that hype comes in sophomore Connor Essegian, who became Noble County’s all-time best freshman scorer a year ago and is generating Division I college interest already. Essegian averaged 18.7 points and shot 52 percent inside the three point arc, while still being considered a very dangerous shooter outside of the arc.

“We wanted to add some things to his game, trying to expand his game defensively and rebounding,” Bodey said. “You’ve got to come off screens, drive the ball to the basket. I think you will see an improved Connor every game.”

The Cougars will also return senior Lucas Deck (Top 50 Boys Hoops #47), who had a solid campaign last year and is expected to be the main ball handler for this team. He averaged 8.8 points and 4.1 assists last season. Back too will be junior Sawyer Yoder (Top 50 Boys Hoops #40), who is coming off a solid season on the football field as the Cougars’ quarterback. Yoder averaged 10 points and 3.3 rebounds per game last season and is coming off a good summer with Team Focus. He will be expected to pick up more of the rebounding load and his length will allow him to fill some holes lost by the graduation of Ridley Zolman.

“Sawyer brings his athleticism and a great deal physically and provides confidence for his teammates,” Bodey said. “Leading by example, having Sawyer out there helps with the confidence of the kids.”

The sophomore class is a big one for the Cougars, led off by the high profile of Essegian. Logan Gard transfers in after playing in 21 games for Garrett as a freshman. He averaged three points and three rebounds in that time, but his length gives the Cougars a bit of a true post, something they haven’t had to work with much in Bodey’s tenure, being perimeter dominate. Gard will play a lot off the block to let those perimeter players work off of.

Ryan Schroeder will be a solid and scrappy option on both ends of the floor and will be able to defend at a few positions because of his quality basketball I.Q. Another sophomore, Andrew Eytcheson and junior Noah Christopher will see some minutes.

Senior Myles Smith returns to the team after taking last season off. Bodey heralds his shooting as strong, saying that a game of horse between he and Essegian would be good, which is high praise. Fellow seniors Rece Vice and Austin Kugler could also find roles within the core of the varsity lineup.

WHY #7?

The core three returners to this team are very good and the play off of each other nicely with different styles and attributes. Essegian is an elite area player and that goes a long way. Behind him, there is talent and Bodey has established that he can win even when he’s not got a team considered to be a contender.

WHY NOT HIGHER?

As Bodey himself puts it, the Cougars haven’t proven anything yet. Their senior class isn’t limited but their experience and contributions are. This team will rely a lot on their sophomore class and that group is group is going to have to mature quickly.

CRITICAL GAME

DEC. 14 VERSUS WESTVIEW

Measuring sticks happen early and pretty often in the NECC this season. We know that Central Noble can score and likely exploit some matchups here. But can they contain Charlie Yoder? The Cougars are going to need to improve on the defensive end this year and clean up around the basket. Immediately, this tests both of those things.

PLAYER TO WATCH

LOGAN GARD, SOPHOMORE

Size always helps and Gard is good at establishing his length advantage from the blocks up to the elbow. He is going to be crucial in rebounding in big games as he still develops as just a sophomore. But having that size and work ethic ultimately is a big weight off Central Noble’s shoulders.

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