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NECC Boys’ Basketball Power Poll and Picks (Week 7)

Photo Courtesy of John Norris

  1. West Noble 7-1 (3-0)
  2. Prairie Heights 7-1 (4-1)
  3. Westview 6-3 (3-1)
  4. Lakeland 5-3 (2-2)
  5. Fremont 6-4 (2-1)
  6. Central Noble 5-3 (1-2)
  7. Angola 3-6 (2-2)
  8. Fairfield 2-6 (1-1)
  9. Eastside 4-3 (0-2)
  10. Garrett 3-8 (0-3)
  11. Churubusco 1-6 (0-3)

The first boys basketball post of 2023 comes in the final days leading up to the NECC basketball tournaments which starts next Tuesday. 

With a new year comes new horizons and new hope for the contending teams in the NECC. Let’s see how the rest of the week unfolds. A quick honorable mention to Westview who continued their successful season with a 63-58 OT win at East Noble Tuesday behind Brady Yoder’s 29 points. 

SuperSam’s 5 NECC Boys Basketball Picks of the Week 

Friday (Tomorrow) 

6-4 Fremont @ 1-6 Churubusco

This is maybe an underrated matchup in Turtle Town as Fremont looks to snap an unusual 3-game losing skid. Remember back on December 13, Fremont stunned Wayne on the road 66-63 and went into the Christmas break at a respectable 6-2 mark. But a major setback came at the Max Platt Holliday Tournament in Kendallville, where (yes) they played like a team that was coming out of Christmas break.

While it isn’t too alarming, you have to wonder what kind of team we will see come postseason time (and I’m not talking just the NECC tournament). When they’re making their baskets, threes, and Ethan Bontrager and Conner Slee are on fire, they’re a brand-new team. But some teams have figured out a way to contain Fremont, and that has led to some surprising wins (Garrett’s win at the Max Platt Tournament is the most notable). 

By Fremont standards, their defense isn’t doing bad at 56.7 points against. Fremont is 4-0 when they’re scoring 60 or more points and 5-1 when they hold teams to 55 or fewer points. However, when Fremont isn’t making baskets, Fremont is 2-3 when failing to score 60 points, and 1-3 when they give up more than 55. 

The truth of the matter is averaging a dozen threes per game is not sustainable for a long period of time. Therefore, they have to find more consistency in being able to attack the glass and make baskets, which that presence is dearly missed this year (now that Logan Brace is in college). 

Busco is not good. There’s no way to come across this, but when they believe they have a chance, they’re scrappy. Despite a 3-20 season a year ago, Busco was competitive against Fremont. 

In the end, however, Fremont is the more complete team. I expect them to eventually pull away, but they need to bounce back from a disappointing showing in Kendallville. 

Players to Watch

Fremont: Conner Slee Junior Combo Guard

Busco: Brayden Bianski Sophpmore Guard

Fremont by 15

2-6 Fairfield @ 4-3 Eastside 

At this last year, these two teams were contending for conference title implications. Unfortunately, graduation has taken a toll on both programs.

For Bentley Ball, the Blazers haven’t been bad, but they haven’t come close to what they’re capable to do. That’s the challenge of transitioning from a team that had eight seniors a year ago, to a team that’s far younger and inexperienced. Yes, some talent exists with senior Santino Brewer and junior Clayton Minnick, but it’s a different core that hasn’t had that same chemistry from a year ago. 

For Fairfield, the fight and compete are still there, but their offense has seen waves of highs and lows. At times, Tysen Frey has looked like one of the NECC’s more promising forwards. But he hasn’t quite been able to find that rhythm. Noah Mast has been a nice player to bring some energy and spark on that Fairfield team. Seth Yoder has shown good leadership and selflessness that gives Fairfield a nice identity. 

The challenge for Fairfield is can they find a way to make enough baskets on this Eastside defense? Both teams are a lot stronger in their frontcourt, but the Blazers might have enough proven shooters to pull away in the end. 

Players to Watch

Fairfield: Noah Mast Junior Combo Forward

Eastside: Clayton Minnick Junior Combo Guard 

Eastside by 1

7-1 Prairie Heights @ 3-6 Angola 

Warning in advance: Don’t sleep on this matchup! Every year, these two teams when they’re the underdogs always do the unthinkable. Upsets have been a commodity with this matchup. 

The best example of this coming in the 2019-20 season: Prairie Heights was #1 in 2A and undefeated on the season. Angola, who was 18-6 in the first quarter, came back to beat Prairie Heights on the road 33-28. 

Last season, Angola only lost to Prairie Heights by 8 points despite being shorthanded that entire season. Speaking of that, Prairie Heights could be in a tough spot with a smaller bench in this game. While the momentum starts and ends with Chase Bachelor and Isaiah Malone, numbers are hard to come by with ‘We the Prairie’. I’m curious to see how Coach Bontrager is able to adjust if they are in this type of predicament. 

Chase Bachelor is sitting at 976 points, and he needs just 24 points to become the program’s 5th 1000-point scorer. They will probably need every point they can get out of their starters tomorrow night.

This season, Angola is 1-4 in games decided by single digits. However, I’m taking the upset!

Players to Watch

PH: Chase Bachelor Senior Combo Guard 

Angola: Lane King Junior Center 

Angola by 1 in OT

5-3 Lakeland @ 7-1 West Noble 

This is the Game of the Week for NECC Basketball as far as I know. The present vs the future. The current frontrunner (West Noble) vs the future of NECC contention (Lakeland). It’s a heated rivalry that spans decades but has shown life in recent memory. 

The Chargers are in a position that they truly haven’t had since 1985-86: trying to win the NECC outright. It’s a conference that is historically dominated by Westview, so any opportunities of winning the NECC outright are hard to come by. 

While the Chargers’ perfect season came to a halt at Trine, the loss to Blackhawk Christian is a great loss to learn how to be a contending team and to be never be satisfied with results. That game will prepare them for games like tonight and next week’s NECC Tournament. 

Austin Cripe recently became the all-time leading scorer for the program after his career high of 36 points helped West Noble to beat Prairie Heights 57-49 in OT. He also dropped 34 in the 71-58 loss to the Braves. 

It’s a Chargers’ team filled with tremendous senior leadership and a hungry zone-press defense that showcases a team that wants championship aspirations. 

Another big hurdle right in front of West Noble’s conference hopes is Head Coach Chris Keil’s Lakeland Lakers. Chris Keil is a 1990 East Noble grad who played for Marty Johnson. Lakeland has finally found their season of growth after some initial growing pains. 

Ben and Nate Keil have led the way on both ends of the floor, solidifying their place as one of the area’s better all-around athletes. Christian Troyer adds another layer of talent and versatility to this talented offense. Tommy Curtis and Zeke Wachtman add some length and toughness to this resilient program. 

However, what people don’t talk enough about is the fact the future of Lakeland’s success lies right in front of our eyes with this deep freshman class. What West Noble is this year is Lakeland’s potential. 

If there is a game that could see a shocking outcome, don’t be surprised if this is that game. Lakeland is scary good, and they’re only scratching the surface. 

Players to Watch 

Lakeland: Ben Keil Senior Combo Guard (UIndy Golf Commit)

West Noble: Austin Cripe Senior Combo Guard (Bethel Commit) 

West Noble by 6


7-1 West Noble @ 4-3 Eastside 

I’ve already went in-depth with both teams here, so this one will be brief. Last year, Eastside’s run to a 25-2 season and a NECC regular season title was highlighted by a thrilling buzzer beating putback by current Purdue Fort Wayne pitcher Owen Willard that gave Eastside the come-from-behind 40-38 win over the Chargers. 

In fact, the last two times West Noble has played Eastside, they’ve blown a decent lead in both games in close losses. If this is a season they’ve been working for since Ethan Marsh accepted the head coaching position in 2019, this is a game they ideally want to win. 

I see the Blazers competing early, but they’ll need to figure out how to frustrate West Noble’s motion offense and prevent their role players from making a huge impact. 

Players to Watch

West Noble: Bradyn Barth Junior Power Forward 

Eastside: Santino Brewer Senior Combo Forward 

West Noble by 12

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