This conference started the season as the most intriguing race in Northeast Indiana. Then, we started to get clarity as Churubusco struggled, teams picked up first losses and Prairie Heights was the last team in the entire area to take a loss.
Now, after Angola’s defensive showcase to stop Heights last week, this thing is wide open all over again.
See a complete bracket, with Bounce’s predictions, at the bottom of this article.
PRAIRIE HEIGHTS (10-1, 5-1 NECC)
Their second half collapse last Friday aside, Prairie Heights has arguably been the best team in this conference in the first half of the season. Beating Heights became significantly tougher when Brandon Christlieb returned to the lineup and you have to decide if one bad second half against Angola takes them out of this ‘favorite’ spot. The Panthers were the favorite before that make because they have a great blend of inside-out play and one of the toughest to guard big men in the entire area in Elijah Malone. So if you believed in what Prairie Heights was doing before the Angola loss, they should still be the probable favorite.
Potential Tournament Star: There is one possible stopper for Elijah Malone and many look forward to that matchup (see contender section) if it happens. Outside of that, Malone has the soft touch at the rim and unique midrange game to be an outright matchup nightmare.
CHURUBUSCO (4-4, 3-1 NECC)
Do you take another chance at reanointing the Eagles? That is a monster question heading into the NECC Tournament. They started the season with a whimper and suffered some questionable losses around a couple of nice wins. Are they revived with the addition of Landen Jordan? They have sure looked like it with a 2-0 week and if their scoring depth can continue to thrive, they can put up big numbers. A lot of momentum can be gained or lost based on how Jackson Paul plays.
Potential Tournament Star: There is no reason, through his first two games, to think that Landen Jordan is anything but a star in this tournament. The ultimate rim protector and clear double-double machine, Jordan changes Busco.
WESTVIEW (7-2, 4-1 NECC)
What will make or break the Warriors, as we probably all know, is how the Warriors thrive around Charlie Yoder. The senior leader will get his and he will also draw junk defenses all tournament long. For Westview to contend, Drew Litwiller will need to control tempo and the Warriors would love to have a great shooting week from Blake Egli, who is as capable as getting hot from long range as anyone.
Potential Tournament Star: Another one of those duh sections. Charlie Yoder is possibly breaking the LaGrange County scoring record and moving closer to the top 25 in the history of the state during this tournament. Yoder knows how to win this tournament and is going to be tough to handle.
CENTRAL NOBLE (8-2, 4-1 NECC)
It has been 22 years since the Cougars have started a season this well and the still young team is going to play with a big chip on their shoulder in this tournament. They don’t have any desire to play little brother to the upperclass led teams. That is a lot of positive pressure moving forward and Central Noble, led by Connor Essegian and Sawyer Yoder, can play off that.
Potential Tournament Star: The Cougars have been two fold strong on offense lately but lets say that Sawyer Yoder is the guy to take them to the next level in this tournament. Yoder has been scoring well, but also is good around the rim and snatching rebounds. His length is important for Central Noble.
ANGOLA (5-3, 3-2 NECC)
Their 26-7 second half against Prairie Heights last week is the only thing that is going to be on people’s minds going into this tournament for the Hornets. It makes everyone else realize that the Hornets can stop anyone in this conference for a sustained period of time. They have the 8th best defense in the state right now and will hang their hat on that.
Potential Tournament Star: A big part of their defensive effort is the length and rim protection of Dyer Ball. He is going to shine in this tournament no matter what and has the ability to have consistent chops scoring at the rim too.
FAIRFIELD (3-7, 3-1 NECC)
The Falcons are coming off a good win over Eastside and will need to play off the momentum of that if they hope to jump into the upper end of this conference. They work hard and can compete, but can they compete with the top teams? To do so, they will need to get more aggressive.
Potential Tournament Star: Nolin Sharick has to be the guy. He has the experience and the athletic prowess to make a big impact offensively. Fairfield needs him to play at his highest level.
WEST NOBLE (3-6, 1-4 NECC)
This is a team who is lower in the conference than they probably should be. They have a lot of tenacity to play off of and can compete with a wide variety of teams, although they are 0-4 in games inside ten points. They can shoot the ball very well, but to win games in this tournament, they need to known when and when not to shoot the ball. The Chargers aren’t great at shooting themselves out of cold streaks.
Potential Tournament Star: Austin Cripe has had some breakout freshman year moments, but this tournament could raise his standing significantly. He is a confident shooter.
FREMONT (5-4, 2-3 NECC)
The draw helped them out with a bye. The draw let them down while matching them up with Prairie Heights. This team is still a year away from being strong enough to possibly take down the conference’s best, but they can get a lot out of this tournament by being competitive athletically.
Potential Tournament Star: Kameron Colclasure is shooting 48 percent from the field and is a hallmark for the consistency the Eagles need this week.
LAKELAND (4-6, 2-3 NECC)
They have competed against the likes of Eastside, Fairfield and DeKalb and that gives them hope to get a win or two in this tournament, despite losing in those close games. How does Lakeland get a win? Play solid defense. They are in the middle of the conference in defensive average but have to play above that level to even get by Westview.
Potential Tournament Star: Brady Bontrager has to play the best basketball of his young career as he will be matched up opposite Charlie Yoder in round one. Bontrager is a tough presence, but will need to play confidently.
EASTSIDE (4-6, 1-3 NECC)
This a blue collar team that is somehow giving up the fourth most points per game in the conference. The Blazers would love to push teams to keep things close late in games. They are 3-2 in games decided by six points or less and 3-0 in games decided in overtime. All of those overtime wins are good wins for them so the Blazers need to keep things close.
Potential Tournament Star: Gabe Trevino can be a walking bucket if he gets going and has to be defended as such. Teams will have to make sure to make Trevino a priority from tipoff to the final buzzer.
GARRETT (2-10, 1-4 NECC)
The draw gives a struggling Garrett the chance to win a game in this tournament. How positive would that momentum be for the Railroaders? They have to be persistent and steady from opening tip.
Potential Tournament Star: Look for Jayden Broadnax to put up his best effort to get them a tournament win and that says a lot because he has been pretty fantastic this year. He can score at a lot of ranges.
HAMILTON (0-10, 0-5 NECC)
Winless, the Marines are not expected to change that in this tournament. They are grossly overlooked for a reason, but maybe being overlooked will give them a first round boost.
Potential Tournament Star: For Hamilton to get hot, they need a big opening game from Eli McNaughton.
BOUNCE’S FULL PREDICTIONS
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