Northwest Indiana Boys Basketball Preview

Duneland Athletic Conference
Much like their girls basketball counterparts, Duneland Athletic Conference boys coaches are celebrating the abolishment of the league’s double round robin scheduling format. The move has led to DAC schools adding intriguing nonconference matchups with both area and non-area teams.

Lake Central is the clear-cut favorite to win the Duneland with seven seniors back and only one departed starter from a team that went 10-4 in the conference a season ago. Tye Wilburn and Tyler Wideman are known commodities, while Tyler Ross and Cory Dickelman are poised for breakout seasons. The Indians play a tough schedule that features Andrean, West Side, Bowman Academy, East Chicago Central and South Bend Adams as nonconference foes.

The defending Duneland champion Merrillville Pirates lost 99 percent of their scoring and every starter from the team that went to semistate a year ago. Sophomore guard D.J. Wilkins, who was the football team’s quarterback this fall, is expected to be leaned upon to lead the team in scoring this season. Merrillville is seeking its 10th straight winning season.

La Porte brings back a veteran roster that features four senior starters, led by Josh Fleming (15 points per game). Tom Wells’s crew is looking to return to the upper half of the standings after a 3-11 campaign.

Michigan City had an up-and-down 2012-2013 season that eventually resulted in a 66-61 loss to Merrillville in the sectional semifinal. The Wolves finished under .500 for the first time in John Boyd’s tenure as head coach. Keenan Simmons is the team’s leading returning scorer with 10.0 ppg.

Portage did not have a senior on its roster last year, but the Indians did suffer one key loss with the transfer of Jordan Simpson, who is now at South Bend Adams. Portage still has its core intact after reaching a double-digit win total for the first time since 2003-2004. Point guard Jordan Collazo (11.4 ppg) will be looked upon to guide the offense.

Matt Thomas takes over the Valparaiso program after serving as Joe Otis’s understudy. He will be working with an inexperienced team as only Justin Osburn (7.3 points per game) has seen regular varsity playing time.

Crown Point is attempting to bounce back from its worst season in over 20 years as the Bulldogs went 5-16 a season ago. Chesterton was hit with the loss of center Matt Holba, who elected to transfer to Guerin Catholic.

Northwest Crossroads Conference
The defending conference champion Munster Mustangs ran the table in the regular season, rapping off 25 consecutive victories before falling to Merrillville 55-52 in the regional. Michael Schlotman, Nate Bubash and Craig Dedelow have all departed through graduation, but Drew Hackett (12.5 ppg) leads an all-senior starting five.

Lowell could contend with Munster for the conference title. The Red Devils are led by one of the most underrated scorers in Northwest Indiana in Zack VanHook, who scored 24.8 points per game a season ago. Aaron Hamm is back after missing last season with a broken foot. Sophomore Brandon Cory has a year of experience under his belt.

Andrean’s roster was depleted by graduation as the 59ers lost nearly all of their scoring, plus head coach Carson Cunningham, who left to join the college coaching ranks. Scott Hicko’s crew opened the season with a 79-37 loss to Lake Central on Monday night, the program’s most lopsided defeat since 2008. The road gets no easier with Crown Point, Bowman Academy and Merrillville slated as the next three opponents.

Highland posted a 7-15 mark in its first season under coach Jordan Heckard. Hobart will try to snap a skid of four straight losing seasons. Kankakee Valley lost three starters to graduation and is under the direction of first-year coach Nathan Vanduyne. Griffith took a step in the right direction by posting an 11-11 mark in the first season under longtime Northwest Indiana tennis and basketball coach Gary Hayes.

Northwestern Conference
The defending conference champion West Side Cougars will start an experienced lineup, led by Arnold Wilson, who scored 18.1 points per contest last season. Three football stars, Lonnie Johnson, JonVea’ Johnson and Ramone Atkins, are on West Side’s roster this season.

Lew Wallace posted a solid 14-8 mark a season ago and eventually captured a sectional championship with postseason wins over Griffith and Hammond. The Hornets only have one starter back from last season.

Roosevelt struggled to a 2-16 season, including losses to both Northwestern Conference foes. The Panthers have their third head coach in that last three years as Marcus Jefferson takes over for Renaldo Thomas.

Greater Southshore Conference
After compiling an undefeated conference mark, a 19-5 record and reaching the sectional championship, Bishop Noll has its entire team back and seems poised for a repeat GSSC title. The only difference is the absence of coach Drew Trost, who led the Warriors to six straight winning seasons before taking a job in Salt Lake City, Utah at the conclusion of last season. Larry Crisler, who turned in 19.1 points per game, seems poised for a strong senior season under new coach Joshua Belluomini.

Marquette Catholic’s only loss in the conference came to Bishop Noll in 2012-2013, and the Blazers are expected to contend again this year. All five starters are back from a squad that won 18 games, including the talented Ryan Fazekas (14.1 ppg).

Greater Southshore Conference newcomer Hanover Central returns only seven points and seven rebounds per game from last season’s 15-8 team. The team may enter a rebuilding stage with little experience on its roster. Bryon Clouse is back in the GSSC after previously coaching Lake Station for six seasons.

Wheeler has put together 10 consecutive winning seasons. The Bearcats only have one starter back in Austin Greiner, who will miss the early portion of the season with a wrist injury.

In Whiting, first-year head coach Tim Hopps will hope to bring the program back to relevance after the Oilers went 2-19 in 2012-2013. River Forest has lost 10 games by five points or fewer the last two seasons but carries a seven-game losing streak into this season. Lake Station has four starters back, led by Brian Patterson (15.6 ppg). Calumet has posted losing records each of the last four years, while North Newton has not enjoyed a winning season since 2005-2006.

Great Lakes Athletic Conference
Gavit was the only Great Lakes Athletic Conference team to finish above the .500 precipice last season as the Gladiators finished 12-11. Kyle Landers is the team’s leading returning scorer at 6.2 ppg, while Landers and Eric Sims are the other returnees who saw significant playing time last season.

Hammond High lost nine seniors from last year’s squad, but the Wildcats have a talented group of unproven players. Morton has four starters back including Rayan Elabed (17.9 ppg). Clark has an experienced roster with five seniors and five juniors.

Porter County Conference
Kouts finished the 2012-2013 season with a 19-3 overall record and a spotless 7-0 conference mark. Marty Gaff is gone after 20 years as head coach, and this year’s roster has a much different look. Matt Stewart could see an increased role for the Mustangs after scoring 11 points per game last year.

Westville is back in the PCC after playing as an independent team last season. The Blackhawks have three senior starters, led by Shawn Gerron (15.2 ppg). The team won five of its nine games against PCC opponents last season.

South Central has a new head coach in Eric Branz. Boone Grove lost six seniors from last year’s team. Hebron is trying to rebound from a down year that saw the Hawks finish 9-11. LaCrosse has suffered through nine straight losing campaigns. After winning 20 games in 2010-2011, Morgan Township has posted back-to-back sub-.500 records. Washington Township set a program record with 16 wins last season.