Probably don’t expect the NECC to be too much easier this season than last. Sure, some big time players have graduated, but at the top and in the middle, this conference is still very, very good.
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.
Central Noble Cougars
There were three teams at the top of the NECC last year that could prop themselves up as some type of champion. Two of those lost significant contributors, moreso than the losses to graduation of Central Noble. The Cougars return a Division 1 prospect that has become an elite area scorer and three other starters. That is what draws them out as the team to beat right now in the NECC.
Where the limit is for Central Noble depends a lot on ways that Ryan Schroeder and Logan Gard step up even more this season. Schroeder’s shooting and Gard’s interior play will need to be on a quality level to support Connor Essegian and Sawyer Yoder. Central Noble is ranked #5 overall in the area this preseason.
Razor thin margins separate Busco from being the favorite in this conference. They do hold a pair of wins last season over that Central Noble team and return arguably the best trio in the conference in Jackson Paul, Landen Jordan and Luke McClure. But behind that threesome, there is nothing but questions as they fill out their lineup with newcomers to the varsity level, including several freshmen. So in that regard, Churubusco has something to prove. Churubusco was ranked #6 in the area overall this preseason by OTH.
“Great experience returning with some very talented newcomers,” Churubusco coach Chris Paul said. “Excited about this season.”
It is impossible to replace the best player in your program’s history (aka 2019-20 OTH Co-Player of the Year Charlie Yoder), but it is nice to have seven guys back from a conference co-champion team. New coach Ed Bentley brings an edgy, in your face style that will be fun to see Westview take on. Drew Litwiller (9.4 ppg/4.8 rpg) has played a variety of roles in his career and will take over this team alongside a senior class who is capable of handling themselves. Brothers Luke and Lyndon Miller have seen the varsity level since they were freshmen and really turned it up last year as shooters and defenders. Caleb Cory is another part of this senior class that adds Jordan Schrock (spent last season out injured) and Drew Miller. Junior Mason Yoder and sophomore Brady Yoder both had quality performances a season ago.
“We have a tremendous group of experienced returners, guys that have played significant minutes in high profile games at Westview. We will lean on our Seniors to lead this year’s group,” Bentley said. “The key for this group will be how well do we want to defend and how well we screen and share the ball. If the young men figure out that we are more successful depending on each other, using each other, and supporting each other… then this group can just add to the rich history here at Westview.”
We are all waiting to see how the Hornet boys mesh with the intense defensive stylings of new coach Brandon Appleton, over from the girls team. With what Appleton was able to do with the Hornet girls over the years, there is a lot of intrigue into how Angola’s boys can be contenders for years to come. It doesn’t hurt to have a diverse player like Joel Knox back that can play four or five spots on the floor any given night. Angola will also return Brian Parrish, who was a strong lead guard a season ago.
Seniors Bryce Dailey, Giovanni Tagliaferri and Gage King will be important in putting some muscle into this lineup. Juniors Devontae Dickerson and Dylan Oberlin, with sophomore Tyler Call, will add depth and build upon Appleton’s vision.
Do not look so easily by Eastside, who could be among the deeper teams in the NECC with six varsity returners, led by junior Gabe Trevino who is one of the most overlooked players in the conference. Trevino averaged 12.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per game last season and became a tremendous defender. Eastside returns follow juniors Logan Fry (10.3 ppg), Owen Willard, Hugh Henderson and Nick Snyder as well as a pair of seniors in Hayden Gardner and Liam Franz. They will fill out their lineup with players up from their own JV and freshman Clayton Minnick.
“We look to return to our winning ways with returning six letter winners from the 19-20 season and more than 36 points per game statistically,” Eastside coach Ryan Abbott said. “Our juniors will fill the stat columns but our seniors will provide leadership and intangibles.”
West Noble Chargers
The Chargers lost a big portion of their lineup from last season but will bring in the majority of a 15 win junior varsity team and the reality is they are still very young outside senior Brockton Miller. Miller is a solid pace setter for this team and his experience will be key as he returns 5.8 points and 2.5 assists per game. Austin Cripe was probably the best freshman in the conference last season, returns 9.8 points per game and is a lights out shooter. Juniors Joshua Rosales and Adam Nelson, as well as sophomores Zach Beers and Ayden Zavala are are all up from that JV group.
“Looking forward to coaching this group. We will be young, but two of our guards bring back a lot of experience. We are really excited for the year we think Brockton Miller is about to have. He has done a great job stepping into a leadership role for this group. Austin Cripe is our other guard with some experience and we have really enjoyed watching him continue to work on his game and his body to prepare for this season. His best basketball is obviously in front of him,” West Noble coach Ethan Marsh said.
Replacing key players and making sure you can continue to play the quality defense Fairfield is known for is what is on the Falcons plate as this season starts. Owen Miller is their top returner, having some big scoring moments last season, while Dalton Cripe and Holden Blosser are the only other two returners of consequence. Braeden Helms is back after missing last season with an injury and Fairfield will lean a lot on their sophomore and junior classes.
“We lost 6 seniors including Nolin Sharick, Riley Behles, Justin Bontrager, Cade Gall, Bryce Hunsberger and Bryce Willard. Nolin Sharick lead us in every statistic. With the limited summer, we are looking to figure out who fills what roll,” Fairfield coach Randy DeShone said. “We have some points back from a year ago.”
It starts out good in Lakeland with bringing back one of the top scorers in the conference with Brady Bontrager‘s 19 points per game. As teams key on him, the rest of the crowd will need to step in and teams should be on upset alert against Lakeland often. Guard Bracey Shepherd (12.8 ppg) is a slick leader of this offense. The senior class has a lot back in Mason Douglas, Colton Isaacs, Carson Aldrich and Clinton Bowers, but they will all need to contribute much more than they have. Sophomore Ben Keil could be a big part of this lineup.
“[The] Lakers have a chance to improve drastically. The key to their turn around will be their defensive effort and their shot selection. We have enough talent to score the basketball,” Lakeland coach Chris Keil said. “But can they outwork their opponents on a nightly basis? If so this years Lakers could be really good!”
Prairie Heights Panthers
You don’t just replace what Prairie Heights lost, but around their talented 2020 senior class, they plugged in a lot of underclassmen that they expected to shine in big moments. Because of that, they do have some battle tested guys back for 20202-21. Sophomore Chase Bachelor and senior Seth Troyer are going to have to be leaders on both ends of the floor. They are both very capable defenders who often drew some of the toughest matchups in the NECC and they can also both shoot the ball well. Gavin Culler will also return after a solid junior season.
Another new coach for the conference is Josh Stuckey, who will take over a team that returns quite a bit in hopes to move up the conference ladder. Gabel Pentecost (14 ppg/7 rpg) and Ethan Bock (11 ppg) return at the head of the lineup for their junior seasons and with senior Kameron Colclasure (10 ppg), they make up another one of the better trios in the NECC. Fremont will return four more varsity players including a significant interior defensive threat in Logan Brace (9.5 rpg).
“We are returning a group of kids who have some varsity experience. We have not been as successful as we would like in recent years and we are working on turning that around. This group of guys is working really hard to become a group that can compete nightly with whoever they are matched up against,” Stuckey said.
There will be a small senior class as Garrett has several top performers to replace in the continuation of their rebuild. Blake Ratcliffe and Trevor Armstrong will be steady hands in the 12th grade class as the Railroaders will rely more on their juniors to compete. Kail Baughman (4.4 ppg) and Jasen Bailey (3.8 ppg) are their leading returners offensively and will be joined by fellow Class of 2022 returner Jaxson Gould. DeJuan Garrett is over from DeKalb to round out the junior class and some sophomores will likely factor into the equation at Garrett as well.
“We will be a team that plays hard,” Garrett coach Bryan Leverenz said.
Justin McKnight has become the fourth coach in five seasons for Hamilton as the Marines have struggled a lot, posting just nine wins in the previous four seasons combined. Does Hamilton have the talent to improve on this? That will be determined, but McKnight hopes to bring consistency to the program and that is a big step for them; this team hasn’t won more than five games since 2006-2007. Isiah Geiselman is the lone senior returner. He will be joined by juniors Caleb Creager and Dawson Miller and sophomores Caleb Lepper and Ryan Cool.
“We look to rebuild this year and take steps in the right direction to truly restore our program. It is our goal to compete with the teams of the NECC in order to prepare ourselves for the long-term goal of competing for a sectional title,” McKnight said. “This young group is adapting well to the revitalization of the coaching staff and showing progress of growth in a short amount of time.”
Connor Essegian, Central Noble
Essegian is a top level scorer, who shows a continued acumen for getting to the rim and not settling for shots when he isn’t hitting. When he is hitting, good luck stopping him from doing so.
Jackson Paul, Churubusco
Paul is a pace setter and pace pusher. He is going to get after you and make your work your hardest whether you are guarding him or he is guarding you.
Brady Bontrager, Lakeland
Bontrager is actually an underrated shooter because of his size. He is able to hit from almost anywhere on the floor.
PLAYERS ON THE RISE
Ryan Schroeder, Central Noble
The ball pressure that Schroeder throws out will be critical in running guys off the line and making them try to drive against the Cougars’ long defense. Schroder is a glue guy who may not be a star, but you can always count on to do everything right. To make a team like Central Noble tick, you need a Schroeder to play the lead sometimes.
Brian Parrish, Angola
Parrish is a guy who should thrive in his new coach’s system. He is gritty, works hard and challenges on the perimeter and at the rim despite the fact he doesn’t have interior size. Look for him to be a big rebounder for Angola because of that work ethic.
Austin Cripe, West Noble
In a league full of dangerous shooters, Cripe is right there at the top of the list. He is lights out and is learning to create more and more for himself instead of spotting up.
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