This week, we get to one of the most anticipated in season events since long before Bounce existed. The ACAC Tournament is always fun every year. Who is the team to beat this season?
Heritage at Adams Central, 6 p.m.
Southern Wells at South Adams, 6 p.m.
Woodlan at Bluffton, 6 p.m.
Jay County vs. Woodlan/Bluffton winner at Bluffton, 6 p.m.
Southern Wells/South Adams winner vs. Heritage/Adams Central winner at Adams Central, 6 p.m.
Finals at South Adams, 3 p.m.
Jay County (3-3)
Coach Jerry Bomholt’s team may have its best shot in five years to capture the ACAC Tournament title. In his fifth year as the Patriot coach, this will be his first ACAC Tournament.
The Patriots are 2-0 in league play, most recently an eight-point victory over Adams Central in a game that sophomore Joshua Dowlen had 24 points.
There are no guarantees in this tournament, but with the draw favoring Jay County and a solid group, the Patriots feel like the best bet.
The “other” Patriots in the ACAC may be a year ahead of schedule. With their top four scorers all underclassmen, Heritage is off to a 2-0 start in the league and two of its four losses coming by a combined five points.
Sophomore Luke Saylor has emerged as one of the best all-around players in the league. He leads Heritage in points (19.4 ppg), rebounds (7.6), assists (4.4) and steals (2.9) per game, and even has the most blocks on the team.
If anything, however, the defense has had its issues keeping teams under 60 points, which could doom the Patriots unless Saylor and fellow underclassmen Dalton Wasson (13.1 ppg) and Nyles Knapke (9.9) are money offensively.
Adams Central (6-5)
The Flying Jets challenged Jay County last weekend while falling by just eight, the second-straight defeat for the team after five straight victories.
Coach Adam McClure’s team has shown that it can put up points at just under 60 a game and can hang with the favorite, making them a sneaky pick.
Can Hayden Nern propel the Tigers to the ACAC Tournament championship game? A rematch with Woodlan, a team that Bluffton just beat in league play, opens up the event, followed by a showdown with either South Adams or Southern Wells.
Nern is averaging over 18 points per game, the lone Bluffton Tiger averaging double digits. These league tournaments frequently see a particular player get hot and lead his team further than many expect. Could Nern be that guy?
The Warriors have the best player in the ACAC in Joe Reidy, a double-double machine that enters this week with averages of 24.8 points and 13.4 rebounds per game. There may not be a single player in this tournament that can match up with Reidy one-on-one.
But who else can step up and help shoulder the offensive load? Freshman Braden Smith has been a solid addition averaging 10 points a contest, but there are questions elsewhere. Plus, Woodlan has had the propensity of having defensive breakdowns far too much in big moments.
South Adams (4-4)
The Starfires enter the tournament riding a three-game winning streak, although dropping their only ACAC game of the year thus far at Heritage.
The roster is dominated by names familiar from the football field, and this group may be primed to make a run for the title in this event with five guys averaging nine points or more, led by Trey Schoch’s 22 points per game.
The draw is favorable, and the Starfires could be in the title game in an attempt to capture its first ACAC Tournament championship in quite some time.
Southern Wells (2-9)
You can make a case for nearly every team in the field to string together some wins and capture the title, except for maybe the Raiders.
Coach Kyle Penrod’s team is 0-4 in the league, but it did battle Heritage tough last weekend. The Raiders have some solid pieces, but the defense has too many holes. Keep an eye on this team heading into next year.
BREAKOUT PLAYER POTENTIAL
Joe Reidy, Woodlan: Is this a “breakout player” really? No, but it felt wrong to not touch more on the best player in the conference.
Reidy towers over most in the post and is stronger than the rest, ensuring that he is a mismatch almost every time down the floor. He scores, he rebounds, he is a constant presence defensively.
You do not have to neutralize Reidy to beat Woodlan, but he is capable of putting the Warriors on his back in this tournament.
Joshua Dowlen, Jay County: There is a lot of youth throughout this tournament and Dowlen may be one of the best. His recent scoring output of 24 points against Adams Central in the Patriots’ most recent game should get the attention of opposing coaches this week.
If he heats up from the perimeter, Dowlen can shoot Jay County to some victories.
Luke Saylor, Heritage: Few area players lead their team in as many statistical categories as Saylor. He can score, he can rebound, he can make the extra pass and he has the length to affect shots.
Could we look back and point at Saylor as the guy who pushed Heritage over the top? Stay tuned.