This week, we will play a highly anticipated NECC boys basketball tournament. The top three teams are the same as last season and with Westview’s control of the conference regular season thanks to early wins over those other two: Churubusco and Central Noble, a lot of attention will be there.
Central Noble are defending champions after beating Prairie Heights in last year’s final. This year’s final will take place at Westview High School. In lieu of a schedule, you can see full bracket below put out by the NECC. The top team listed is the home team for opening games and each round will follow the winning girls team as a host site. All girls games start at 6 p.m. with a boys game to follow around 8 p.m.
Then, check out our preview of the event where we name the favorite, the best contender and then discuss the remaining teams in order of likelihood (as determined by Outside the Huddle) to win the title.
CENTRAL NOBLE (9-1)
Not the top team in the conference, but you have to ask who can slow a Cougar team that is on a shooting or winning streak? Last season, this team stepped up big time in big moments to win this tournament. Who is to say that they can’t or won’t do it again with basically the same cast of characters? They’ve been there and they’ve done this so they don’t have to fake anything.
Connor Essegian is again in a big bucket mood and that makes him the biggest threat in this tournament. If he and Sawyer Yoder, who has popped back after a somewhat slow start, can shoot the ball like they did in last season’s tournament, that could be a wrap. They will also need some big inside play from Logan Gard, who played with a lot of emotion in last season’s bracket wins over Churubusco and Prairie Heights.
As the current leaders of the conference, it is hard to not have the Warriors as the favorites. Their draw is favorable in the sense that they won’t to worry about both Churubusco and Central Noble. The Warriors are almost guaranteed a spot in the semi final with a first round matchup with Hamilton. Drew Litwiller is arguably the most underrated player in the area and he’s made major strides with plenty of help around him from the likes of Mason Yoder and Brady Yoder, as well as seasoned veteran twins Luke and Lyndon Miller.
They have beaten the other two top teams in this tournament already. Can they do it a second time? The Warriors will be on the road throughout this tournament unless they make it to the finals, so that doesn’t help but they’ve been able to push through some tough road games too.
There is nothing more dangerous in the conference than Landen Jordan if he stays out of foul trouble. Nobody matches up with him well and he has the chance to be really dominant. Jackson Paul is able to do that passing the ball too and as Luke McClure has been playing so strong, this is the best trio in the NECC. However, there is that foul trouble issue that has bit them a couple of times. When you have a passionate, aggressive group, fouls can become an issue.
Their depth has improved and their freshmen and getting better every game. Yet, in a scenario like this tournament you still want to avoid relying heavily on them when possible. Jordan is averaging 23 points and 16.8 rebounds per game while Paul averages 22.4 points and 6.8. assists.
Angola is an interesting team because of their feisty demeanor, something that has long come to be expected of a Brandon Appleton coached team. This is an aggressive group who plays hard and its why they came moments away from beating Westview. If they let their shots fly and they are consistent, this is a team who could very well be in the finals and pull off an upset in that title game. Brian Parrish is playing very well right now and Joel Knox is always capable of a big game.
For some reason, the Blazers get a little forgotten when talking about this conference and the tournament. They are very much in the title picture in both. And very likely, that exclusion in some of the talk gives them a big chip on their shoulder to play with and surge through with. Gabe Trevino is an excellent defender who has the ability and willingness to guard any spot on the floor. Santino Brewer is coming off a nice game against Fairfield. As long as this team trusts in each other, they will be in good shape this week.
WEST NOBLE (4-3)
When your two best scorers are two of your best shooters, things are never out of reach. That is the case for West Noble, who’s leading scorer Austin Cripe is shooting 52 percent from the field and just has daggers when he is on his game. This is a really smart playing team where everyone rebounds and everyone embraces the overall gameplay. It makes the Chargers a dangerous team because they won’t stray much from what they know to do. Senior Brockton Miller is currently shooting 40 percent from behind the arc to add another big shot option.
Some. Jekyll and hyde ways has Lakeland as team we aren’t real sure about right now. Brady Bontrager is an explosive finisher and as good of a scorer as anyone in the conference, but we’ve seen him fade to the background a bit during stretches of games. He will need to push forward for Lakeland to contend on the difficult side of this tournament bracket. Ben Keil is shooting 48 percent from three point range as one of the conference’s most dangerous shooters.
If you look at the scare they put into New Haven and then the comeback they almost were able to push against Woodlan days later, you know this experienced Fremont team is playing quality basketball even if a glimpse at their record doesn’t fully indicate that. They are physical and that draws foul trouble, something that a lot of the teams in the NECC don’t want because of lacking depth. Ethan Bock and Gabel Pentacost lead the way for this team because they can both play aggression and fundamentally sound.
PRAIRIE HEIGHTS (2-9)
A draw of a Churubusco team that just blew them out doesn’t spell good things for the Panthers. They have some. experience and some solid guard play, but they just have been lacking that big punch they were used to learning on. Someone is going to have to step up and be the top gun soon.
They have been close in games as of late but struggle to get over the humps. Their offense needs to catch up to a fairly solid defense for them to make waves but a good draw does have them one tournament win away from getting to the semifinals. Braedon Helms has some solid to great challenges to face on the interior in this tournament but Fairfield at their best needs him to step up.
Tyler Gater is a tremendously talented sophomore and a great piece to build around for the Railroaders, coming off one of the best games for a Garrett underclassman in a long time. The key here is “to build around.” The foundation is starting to be there for Garrett, but there is a lot of growing to do before they are NECC Tournament contenders again.
No win situation here for the last place Marines. They just dropped a game against Westview, their first round opponent. It is good to get a home game here and generate some excitement with this, but the Marines chances of a win are slim to none.
BREAKOUT PLAYER POTENTIAL
MASON YODER, WESTVIEW: Plain and simple, Westview is at their best when Yoder is hitting. In games he struggles early, so do the Warriors.
LUKE MCCLURE, CHURUBUSCO: He has been playing some of his best basketball as of late and is another guy capable of putting up 20 a game under the right circumstances. McClure has a ton of fire.
BRIAN PARRISH, ANGOLA: Parrish is a knock down shooter and he can really change games. With Angola’s favorable draw, he is going to have time to. get his legs under him for a chance to make a run at the title.