Times Sports Editor
If it's Christmas time in the Wabash Valley, then not only does that mean that Santa is on the way, but that a basketball junkie's dreams are about to be answered.
The Pizza Hut Wabash Valley Classic tips off on Wednesday morning with Riverton Parke (3-3) squaring off with South Vermillion (0-6) at 10 a.m.
The Northview Knights have been a part of the tourney in all but one year since it was re-introduced in the 2001-02 season.
Northview has had one of the most successful teams in the tourney's history, winning back-to-back titles in 2001 and 2002. In 2003 the Knights were asked to play in the Hall of Fame Classic where they ran into the Greg Oden-led Wildcats of Lawrence North.
In the five years that Northview had competed in the Classic, the Knights have gone 16-4 overall.
Since Northview last won the title, Vigo County has kept the championship trophy the last four seasons with Terre Haute North owning the last two titles after the South Braves won the 2004 championship with IU's Armon Bassett leading the offense. The North Patriots won the 2003 championship.
This year the Knights opening matchup with the Marshall, Ill. Lions has gotten the attention as perhaps the marquee match-up of the entire slate of eight opening day games.
The Lions have more game experience for this season, with nine games under their belts, winning eight of those contests. The Knights are 4-1 this year and this 11:30 a.m. contest should bring a pretty nice crowd right off the bat to the gym at Terre Haute North.
When Northview coach Mitch Lancaster was asked about whether Marshall might be the best team that the Knights have seen this year, he focused on the Lion's offensive talent and a strong coaching staff.
"(The Lions) are probably not the best team (we've faced), but at 8-1 and with the offensive firepower that they have you could make an argument for them," commented Lancaster.
That offensive ability is lead by the Eitel brothers, Logan and Lucas.
Lucas is ringing up 17.7 ppg. for his Lions and through Dec. 15 had knocked down 15 3-pointers. His brother Logan has averaged 12.4 ppg. and has grabbed 9.1 rebounds per game as well. Logan also tops the squad with 5.1 assists per contest for Marshall.
Next to those two, Taylor Duncan adds in 12.2 ppg. and the Lions hit a high percentage of their shots as well.
Alan Wolter hits more than 54 percent of his shots along with Alex Bullock and Duncan.
Northview certainly won't shy away from the challenge coming off a narrow defeat to top-ranked Edgewood in which the Knights had a shot at the win.
Lancaster is also a very good game-planning coach and he, along with his coaching staff, has had plenty of time to figure out a way to slow down the high-scoring Lions.
Despite his goal of defeating the Lions, Lancaster has plenty of respect for the Marshall program.
"They return a veteran, well-coached team that has an established winning program. Our schedule has been tough and it is always hard to compare teams but this will be a very tough basketball game and we need to be sharp and ready to play to be successful in it," assessed Lancaster.
The Knights have already shown that they can play to different tempos, winning an 83-79 overtime slugfest against Martinsville and grinding out a 49-39 win over West Vigo too.
Junior point guard Austin Akers leads the team in scoring at 15.4 ppg. and tops the squad with seven 3-pointers this year.
The Knights chief post presence is senior Tyler Coltharp, who is averaging 12.4 ppg and double-digit rebounds as well. Another senior leader is Jered Timm who has scored 11 ppg.
Clint Reynolds has hit six 3-pointers for the Knights and gives Northview another long-range threat and senior Caleb Whitman is coming off a 12-point outburst against the Mustangs and gives the Knights length on both ends of the court with his 6'4 frame. He's averaging eight points per game.
Nick Lancaster gives the Knights a strong defender in his minutes on the floor and he can knock down the long-range shot as well. Keaton Robertson has also given Northview good minutes.
Depth is an important factor in a tourney during which a team could possibly play four games in four days.
Schedule strength could also play a big role in this tourney.
Lancaster feels that his team has played a solid pre-tourney schedule, but acknowledges that Terre Haute South might be the early tourney favorite because of who the Braves have already played.
South has already played Class 4A No. 6 Lawrence North, which was a one-point loss.
"I think Terre Haute South is probably the favorite if you look at the Sagarin ratings but there are many teams that have a chance to win including us," said Lancaster. "The game between us and Marshall is the marquee match up in the 1st round. Other first round games such as TH South and Bloomfield and Rockville and Monrovia are intriguing also."
The 1 p.m. game features Owen Valley (5-1) and winless Bethesda Christian (0-5) while Linton-Stockton (2-4) and Sullivan (1-5).
One of the evening highlights could be the opening contest between Class 3A No. 13, Monrovia (5-0) and Class A No. 5 Rockville. Both teams are unbeaten and tip off at 4 p.m.
The 5:30 p.m. game is between Casey-Westfield and West Vigo (3-3) with the much awaited contest between South (3-2) and Bloomfield taking the 7 p.m. game. The host Patriots of Terre Haute North (2-3) takes on Turkey Run (4-1) in the nightcap.
According to Terre Haute North Athletic Director, Ron Clinkenbeard, full tourney passes are available for $15 while daily tickets will be on sale at the door for $6.