This is a bit more fuzzy on the boys side than it is the girls side, yet Jay County is still very much part of the equation.
The Patriots are coming off a win against Adams Central over the weekend, the same team they have in the first round of this tournament. They remain the only team to be without a conference loss and are one of just two teams with winning records in the ACAC. The trick here for Jay County is that they have a lower offensive average than many teams in the ACAC and in that win over Adams Central, their leading scorers only had 9 each. While Jay County remains very balanced in their scoring, a team pushing the pace could hurt them. That we will see, but right now they have those conference wins over AC and Woodlan. Off to their best start in over 10 years, Ethan Dirksen, Bennett Weitzel, Dusty Pearson and Gavin Muhlenkamp are all capable of big games and that depth is hard to replicate.
But there has to be a se and favorite on the boys side and it has to be Woodlan. The Warriors are the other team with a winning record, just over .500 at 7-6. With two conference losses, this is going to be Woodlan’s only ACAC title hope this season. How much of a title contender Woodlan is depends on the hot and cold of this team. Their record dropped due to a five game losing streak that included a bad loss to East Noble, a surprise loss to Adams Central but then games that they contended really well with top end NECC schools Fremont and Central Noble. So which Woodlan shows up this week? A big benefit is that they get to host on Tuesday and then again on Friday if they are in the semi finals. If Woodlan stays hungry, they could be dangerous.
It is worth noting that Jay County beat Woodlan 53-35 on December 3.
WHO COULD SURPRISE
If Adams Central could upset Jay County on Tuesday, in Monroe, then the Flying Jets would have the momentum and talent to really make a run.
Does it seem likely? Nah, but you have to throw a lot of things out the window when you are talking conference tournaments. This is a quick team that plays solid defense and that can work to their benefit in the opening round, despite just losing to Jay County. 35-25. Ethan Poling remains one of the best players in the area that nobody talks about enough.
5 PLAYERS TO WATCH
Joe Reidy of Woodlan put up 17 points and 17 rebounds in his most. event game as he continues to show how he can take over. He dominated in a win to start the season against New Haven, he willed Woodlan back and almost to a win against Fremont. Basically everything he has done between and since has been great, averaging 20.4 points and 11.4 rebounds per game. His game gets even more special when his interior defense is clicking.
Luke Saylor of Heritage remains one of the best scorers in the area when he shoots well. But we’ve seen him be more hot and cold this season than ever before. He dropped 33 on South Adams and the Patriots still lost. He was also limited to 6 points against Eastside in one of his more woeful shooting nights. Keep an eye out because a confident Saylor could throw a wrench in this whole tournament.
Nick Neuenschwander of Adams Central is part of their fast handed, strong defensive efforts. He had 7 steals against Parkway last week and is a work horse guy who will just get after the ball.
Trey Schoch of South Adams has proven that he can score well with or without the three point shot and that makes him a more dangerous guy. He knocked down 4 threes against Winchester and 3 against Heritage, but has also put up a 20-plus point game where he only hit one from deep. Schoch has become one of the best natural scorers in the conference.
Max Stoppenhagen of Bluffton is consequently the Tigers’ best scorer, rebounder, defender and passer most nights. He has the experience to help lead this team and the work ethic to make everything tick. Bluffton is in a position where they may not be a favorite but could still reach the finals easier than many may think. If Stoppenhagen can shoot 50 percent or better, that is good for Bluffton.
LIKELY TOURNAMENT MVP
This depends on who wins. But either way it is a physical presence that takes the lead.
If Jay County wins, this is Ethan Dirksen‘s prize. A Woodlan win puts it, unsurprisingly, in the hands of Joe Reidy.
What much is there to say, the can both battle in the paint, are terrific rebounders and can really amp up games with their energy.
BOUNCE’S TOURNAMENT PREDICTION
In the first round, Jay County should again handle Adams Central as long as they can dictate the speed oof the game. On the bottom half, look for the home teams to find success and home court does matter. Heritage beats Bluffton is the best game of the opening round and Woodlan tops South Adams.
Jay County will breeze by Southern Wells at home while Woodlan tops Heritage in another instant classic. The Heritage/Woodlan games, including in this tournament, in recent years have not been for the faint of heart. This one has so much potential too.
In the finals, Bounce is going to pick Jay County over Woodlan, but it wouldn’t be a shock for either team to take this title.