No matter what some of their Twitter Barstool accounts will have you believe, the NE8 is far from cut and dry this season. Projecting how teams finish in this conference is tough because everyone has a bit of an edge in some department.
If you have been paying attention to our Boys Hoops Top 50 Countdown, then the “impact players” shouldn’t surprise you so we will be brief, but keep an eye on those players on the rise, all young men NOT in our preseason Top 50.
NOTE: The order of teams listed is Bounce’s personal predicted order of finish. Don’t sue me.
The Lions will have the most bountiful returns in the area and it is a major reason why they are right at the top of the conference. The will need to replace a couple of consistent performers in Chase Bates and Andrew Tkacz, but the major statistical leaders are back. Blake Davison has had a top notch career and the twin tower play of DJ Allen and Zack Troyer is tough to find a way around. The team is made up of nothing but seniors and juniors with a lot of varsity experience to draw on. Leo was our #4 ranked team in the area this preseason.
“This year we are looking to build on the momentum we built at the end of last season. It’s helpful to have a lot of returning players-especially early in the season. Due to Covid-19, this will be a year that has some adversity. If we can handle the adversity, stay focused, and continue to have good team chemistry, I think we will be able to put together a pretty solid year,” Leo coach Cary Cogdell said.
New Haven Bulldogs
Another team that returns quite a bit is New Haven, ranked by OTH as the 7th overall team in the area this preseason. The Bulldogs are a team that is big and strong and tough up front but those tough guys – Thomas Latham, Jakar Williams and Dre Wright – area also super versatile. There is a pretty razor thin margin between New Haven as contenders and Leo as Bounce’s favorite to win the conference. The key for New Haven will be replacing pace setting and shooting lost to graduation, but have capable hands to do so with those three and returning sophomore starter Darrion Brooks.
“I am excited to return to New Haven for my 7th season as the head basketball coach. We’re ready to pick up right where we left off last season winning the Sectional and advancing to the Regional. Our guys have been putting in the work throughout the offseason and we’re looking ahead to the official start of the season,” New Haven coach Bruce Stephens said.
Columbia City Eagles
Things are going to circulate through Greg Bolt in the post, as they should. But around Bolt’s aggression and IQ at the rim, Columbia City really has a nice group of established players with new coach Matt Schauss. In their scrimmage against Goshen, without Bolt in the lineup, it was Mason Baker who took a leap forward. Baker was a quality shooter with a fundamentally beautiful shot a season ago, but he played the role he had too. With the Eagle offense opening up for others after the graduation of program all-time great Mitchell Wilson, guys like Baker are going to show their true depth. He is also going to be a big part of the defensive firepower.
Andrew Hedrick and Jaxon Crawford are high percentage scorers while Crawford is also going to be really feisty next to Bolt rebounding the ball. Seth Mills and Brooks Longenbaugh add depth to the Eagle lineup.
There is a lot to figure out and replace from a possible once in a lifetime team that finished the season at the top of OTH’s boys hoops Power Poll. The size is a big loss, but the Knights could make up for that with a lot of speed and shooting prowess on the perimeter, especially from Eli Riley (7.1 ppg) and Luke McBride (10.9 ppg). Lleyton Bailey also returns as a quality defender while Alex Cameron joins the varsity lineup and is a good two way guard. Inside, Jon Colbert and Jared Conrad come back from seeing varsity action a year ago but Luke Graft and Brody Bolyn are perhaps the most intriguing pieces we didn’t see much of last year. Those two sophomores are going to play big roles for Norwell.
“We have a lot of young kids that played a lot of varsity minutes last year. We are excited to watch our team grow throughout the season. We will need to focus on taking care of the ball, defending, and rebounding. We are looking forward to the season,” Norwell coach Mike McBride said.
East Noble Knights
From 6-foot-1 to 6-foot-9, there are eight of the East Noble’s top 9 players in that range. That makes it pretty difficult to get comfortable consistently against them. 6-9 Chris Hood improves every single time I see him and even the best players in the conference last season had a hard time handling his size, let alone his continued strong footwork. Add Rowan Zolman and Hunter Kline and East Noble’s height is huge. But the Knights will be balanced with a lot of great pieces on the wings. Spencer Denton is back after missing last season with a torn ACL and meniscus and if he is truly back to form like many think he will be, he could be the breakout star of the conference. Braeden Ball and Max Bender both return with Keegan Foster, Avery Kline and Owen Van Gessel all expected to contribute.
“Our biggest strength on paper will be our size and length. We will have to play through the paint as Chris Hood is our only returner who played significant minutes last season. We also have others who can solidify our front line in the paint and on the glass,” East Noble coach Ryan Eakins said. “This team will be coachable and unselfish. We will have to rely on defending every night and the intangibles on and off the court to make us successful.”
If Connor Penrod (14 ppg/6 rpg) can assert himself inside, there may not be anybody in the conference that can stop him; and that is saying a lot since this is a conference with a lot of aggressive bigs. Penrod’s 70 percent success rate shooting the ball is also hard to replicate. He can thrive off the leadership of Cole Richmond, who has been a major part of this varsity lineup for years and has grown beyond his sharpshooter tag. Juniors Jackson Barth and Brantley Hickman will be very important on the wings, especially on the defensive end as they try to lock down teams before they can get anywhere near Penrod at the rim.
Huntington North Vikings
This will be a very perimeter oriented team again with Zach Hubartt (8.6 ppg) coming back after some strong showings late in the season. He is joined on the perimeter by the return of Sam Thompson (8.6 ppg) and Austin Oswalt. The three of them are going to have a lot of work to do to make up not only lost points to graduation, but to raise Huntington North back up this clogged conference much. On the inside though, Dom Cardwell (5.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg) had a nice looking summer and really established himself as more of a threat on the block and into the rim. The Vikings will add senior Noah Zahn and juniors Wyatt Dohrman and Will Hotchkiss.
“They will be undersized and not as skilled as years passed. They will have to become a great defensive team if they hope to compete. They must demonstrate toughness and a willingness to out-team their opponents if they are to be successful,” Huntington North coach Craig Teagle said.
Like many teams not inside the top two in this conference, Bellmont has some really quality pieces that you just don’t replace but they will have to give their best. Tyler James however is back, very underrated for his pace of play and scoring prowess. James averaged 11.5 points and hit 61 three pointers last season. Nic Ellsworth is back too and is a very solid rebounder (4.8 rpg) that will see his status rise in the program as well. Isaiah Wellman and Caden Staub also return for the Braves.
“Hope to continue the progression of hard work and effort. Probably have to play a little quicker and increase number of possessions in a game,” Bellmont coach Jonathon Fuelling said.
Blake Davison, Leo
Calm, cool and collected, Davison plays a steady game that has continued to develop over the years from being a spot up shooter to being able to score at all three levels, across the floor.
Thomas Latham, New Haven
Latham has a soft touch around the rim that will be important against bigs who will overplay him because of his size and aggression.
Luke McBride, Norwell
If McBride can continue to develop his play from 20 feet in, he will be mostly unstoppable in the conference. Though as he stands now, being a lights out shooter from anywhere behind the line isn’t bad either.
PLAYERS ON THE RISE
Mason Baker, Columbia City
Already this preseason, Baker has shown that he can contribute in major ways. He is a quality shooter, but now that Columbia City really needs a playmaker on the perimeter, do not be surprised at all to see Baker become that guy a lot of nights.
Rowan Zolman, East Noble
If the NE8 learned anything on the football field, it is that having an athlete like Zolman is a difference maker. That is likely to carry over, if he can stay healthy, into basketball season. His height, reach and athleticism is going to make in a quality choice inside.
Darrion Brooks, New Haven
Brooks averaged 4.8 points per game as a freshman after missing a few games to start the season. But his biggest asset could be defensively where more often than not, he was a high level shot blocker. Brooks wants to stop you from scoring and isn’t going to wait for you to come to the rim. There aren’t a lot of guys, especially of his age, willing to chase you out and block your midrange jumper like Brooks does.
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