Times Sports Editor
The Northview boy's basketball team has plenty to prove after the holidays and the Wabash Valley Pizza Hut Classic gives them the perfect opportunity to do so.
The Knights are once again a part of the 16-team field and will tip-off their tourney against head coach Ernie Maesch's former team, the Shakamak Lakers, on Monday at 1 p.m.
Oddly, though the bracket was drawn at random, the two halves are almost completely separated into a small school and large school half. The Knights are the biggest school in the early portion of the bracket, but every other school is either a Class A or 2A school. Other teams in that half of the bracket include Linton-Stockton vs. Riverton Parke (10 a.m.), Illinois school Casey-Westfield vs. Bloomfield (11:30 a.m.) and Turkey Run vs. Monrovia (2:30 p.m.).
Though Northview comes into the tourney with a 1-5 overall record, the Knights are fresh off a victory against Edgewood that might help shift the momentum. The 57-55 win against the Mustangs was Northview's fourth decision of three or fewer points. As practice was getting started on Wednesday afternoon, Maesch discussed what the Knights are looking to accomplish.
"We have a pretty decent draw. We still have to try and go over and get better at the things we've been working on all year, rebounding, defending and playing unselfishly," Maesch said. "I thought we did a good job of that against Edgewood and we need to carry that over to the Wabash Valley Classic and we could be in good shape."
Playing at least three games in as many days and possibly four games in four, Maesch feels that his team could excel in the hectic conditions.
"It could help us a lot for a couple of reasons," Maesch said of playing four games in four days. "We're deeper than we've been in the past and that's going to be an advantage. We're going to be deeper than most teams and we should be able to keep pressure on people and keep the tempo at our pace."
In round one, the Knights will be looking to win a re-match with a Lakers' team that beat Northview in the second game of last year's Pizza Hut Wabash Valley Classic. Though the Knights are the biggest school in their half of the bracket, wins won't come easy according to Maesch.
"It puts pressure on you for one, being that bigger school," Maesch said. "We have some teams in there that will try and maintain tempo and slow it down on you and try and make it a possession-by-possession game, play a lot of zone, which we haven't seen a ton of. We still have to come out and play our game, take it one possession at a time and one game at a time, try to utilize our strengths, which are, we can play several kids and we have experience."
The senior laden Knights are looking to gain some scoring balance as guard Trent Lancaster leads the team at 18.5 ppg. with Caleb Mershon next at 11.3 ppg. Damon Hyatt is next in the scoring line, but is tallying just six points per game. Both Jacob Musgrave and Dillon Reynolds are adding five points per contest.
Northview has typically gone at least nine players deep in regular rotations, which is more than many teams can claim, especially smaller school teams. The Knights can also change their starting lineup to best match up with other squads, a luxury that most teams don't have.
One area that Maesch feels his team needs to improve upon is rebounds as Northview is getting outrebounded on the offensive glass by three per game and by nearly two overall boards per game. However, the Knights should be able use their height advantage with four players listed at 6'4 or taller on the roster.
Musgrave is less than a year away from a knee injury last year and is still getting his basketball legs under him and could be poised for a big tourney.
The Knights have also shot well beyond the 3-point line, hitting 33-of-88 (38 percent) as a team. Mershon has hit 17-of-43 (40 percent) to lead the team in shots made.
"We have to do what we've been doing, just a little bit better," Maesch said of what his team needs to do to be successful in tourney play. "We're coming into form better, we're getting our basketball legs under us, we're making more free throws, we're making our bunnies underneath, shooting better from 3-point range. Our effort has been there all along, but sometimes we haven't played smart and maybe fouled too much, but we just need to get better at all of those things and not just one particular thing."
In the other half of the tourney bracket lies defending champion Sullivan, which is ranked fifth at 7-1 overall and just got its leading scorer back from last season in Rhett Smith. The Golden Arrows got 16 points from Smith in his season debut after a broken finger had sidelined him following a pre-season scrimmage. Sullivan will once again be a dangerous team in the tourney with plenty of scoring balance and a first round match-up on Monday against winless South Vermillion at 7 p.m. Four different players average double-digits and six players score seven or more points per game.
The 5:30 p.m. game will certainly be well attended certainly as Class 4A No. 10 Terre Haute North (7-1 overall) takes on Terre Haute South (4-2).
Indiana State-bound Justin Gant leads the Patriots, who have been battle tested already and own a win over Ben Davis, Evansville Harrison and Evansville Central and battled toe-to-toe against second-ranked Bloomington South.
The Braves are led by point guard Anthony McGill, who has averaged more than 13 ppg. this season. Jeffrey Turner and Jermaine Smith also are double-digit scorers for the Braves.
The opening game of the evening session will be between former champion Marshall (Ill.) and Owen Valley beginning at 4 p.m. The Lions are 7-1 this season with the Patriots bringing a 2-3 mark into the holiday tourney.
The nightcap on day one will be between a pair of talented teams looking to make a splash as Rockville (4-2) takes on West Vigo (5-2) at 8:30 p.m.
Tourney passes for all four days (28 games) are $20 with daily tickets available for $6.