We just knew that the NECC was going to breed interesting competition this year. Now, just before the holidays, the conference will have just one team at the top as Churubusco visits Prairie Heights. Both teams sit at 2-0 in conference play, but the Eagles are 0-2 out of the NECC while Prairie Heights is a perfect 7-0 overall. Behind them, eight other teams sit at one conference loss, so the winner of this has a nice leg up for a crowded run for a NECC title.
That is why it is our Outside the Huddle Game of the Weekend, taking place on Friday night.
1. CONFERENCE SUPERIORITY
The main one here is a point that we have already made: the winner of this will have first place in the Northeast Corner Conference by themselves, at least for now. It is still early enough that 10 teams have one or zero losses in conference play and the reality is that you can win the NECC with a loss this season. You may, when all is said and done, even still contend with two losses. Both of these teams want to be in the drivers seat before things rev up in January.
2. RECORD SETTING START
Prairie Heights has never been 7-0 before, so this is untested waters. The question is how much does that come into play mentally? Getting to this spot has been a little bit easy, a little bit challenging so you’d think that the Panthers are taking nothing for granted at this point. That said, there is a certain swagger that comes along with being one of the area’s last unbeaten teams, just as long as it doesn’t cloud your reality.
3. MISSING INGREDIENTS
As good as this game is going to be on Friday night, think how much better it could be if they meet again in January’s NECC Tournament or in Sectional play. Prairie Heights has been without injured Brandon Christlieb until Wednesday’s game against Whitko and Churubusco continues to wait for Landen Jordan to get eligible first of the year. While the Panthers have seen Logan Nott provide some relief and Busco is benefiting from Hunter Perlich in the post, you have to notice that these teams haven’t been complete much yet.
FOUR PLAYERS TO WATCH
HUNTER PERLICH, CHURUBUSCO
Perlich has done far more than just plug the hole where Jordan is missing in 2019. You almost forget how strong he can be at all levels of the floor after he was forced to play JV a season a go. Perlich is capable of scoring anywhere you put him and is a workhorse in doing so. He has been a match up problem for teams so far and is averaging 15.5 points and a team high 7.3 rebounds in the process.
ELIJAH MALONE, PRAIRIE HEIGHTS
Lets face it, Malone has and will likely still have his way with any defender at his best. He is too big, too strong for anyone to hold down even if they can pick spots to stop him here or there. He is averaging 19 points and a team best 9.2 rebounds per contest. Nobody his size exists in the NECC and without Jordan in the middle for Busco, Malone could feast. Defensively, he could be a big problem for Busco at the rim where he averages 2.3 blocks per game.
JACKSON PAUL, CHURUBUSCO
It will be hard to find someone who works as hard as Jackson Paul does and he likely will have another point he wants to prove on Friday night. In both wins and losses, Paul hasn’t wavered in the electricity that he brings to the floor. His 23.5 points per game leads both squads and is second right now in the conference.
CHASE BACHELOR, PRAIRIE HEIGHTS
As a freshman, Bachelor has to be a pleasant surprise for Heights as one of five guys who have appeared in all of their first six games. His 3.5 points per game may not be a big wow factor, but he has been a willing shooter and will fight to get close to the rim. He is not a player that Churubusco can take for granted on Friday night.
KEYS TO VICTORY – CHURUBUSCO
1. OFFENSIVE DIVERSITY
Paul and Perlich have shouldered a lot of the load, but this team has the potential go deeper in their scoring push than Prairie Heights does right now. So use that to your advantage. get the ball to Noah Wolfe, to Luke McClure and to Gage Kelly and let them make plays too. Its all still going to run through Paul and it should. But getting these other guys involved will be important.
2. GET HOT SHOOTING
The Eagles have shot just 30 percent from three point range this season. That isn’t strong enough for a team that loves to shoot the deep ball. Finding the right spots, not forcing or rushing shots has to be a key point of progress for Churubusco who have seen as many threes knocked down by Perlich (4) as one of the area’s best shooters in Wolfe.
KEYS TO VICTORY – PRAIRIE HEIGHTS
1. GIVE IT TO MALONE
Why not? Without Jordan down low to battle him height wise, take a chance and see what Perlich has for him. Malone has been able to take over games and this is one you want him to take over. Test what Churubusco has now and don’t worry about what they may have later.
2. PERKINS WINNING THE BATTLE
All out gut and will. That is why Mike Perkins is leading this team in scoring again this season, currently at a 19.7 point per game clip. Jackson Paul is going to fire back with that same determination so Perkins needs to be the one to come out on top of that battle of two similarly willed players. As much as I would defer to Malone here, Perkins needs to have a stellar, balanced and level headed night as he and Paul hound each other.
This has every chance to be a game of the year candidate. There is so much going for both teams even with a couple of Busco setbacks. Jackson Paul is going to be the best player on the floor and is in the argument as the best in the conference. But here, now…I have to go with the unbeaten team on their home court. It’s no slight, I really like the odds for both on Friday, but going with the gut. Bounce picks Prairie Heights