Boys prep hoops: SAC PREVIEW

Expect senior Sam Buck to play an increased scoring role for Coach Chris Johnson and the Homestead Spartans. (News-Sentinel file photo)
Four-year starter Brandan Johnson is an often-underappreciated cog in the North Side hoops machine. Johnson will be key if the Legends are to have a shot at returning to state. (News-Sentinel file photo)

The last few seasons, the SAC’s elite have been led by exceptional big men.

Caleb Swanigan.

Jaylen Butz.

Malik Williams.

Brandon Durnell.

Do not expect that this season.

The league is largely void of impact bigs entering 2017-18, putting more of a focus on speed, athleticism and outside shooting.

While North Side enters the season as the league favorite, it is easy to make the case for several other teams that feel they have the firepower to finish atop the standings.

1. North Side

The Class 4A state runner-up from last season appears on paper to be a threat to return to Indianapolis. Key words being “on paper”.

Junior Keion Brooks Jr. looks poised to take the next step in his development. The 6-foot-9 forward averaged 20.7 points and 6 rebounds a game last year and has only gotten better in the off-season. An improved outside shot and more consistency on defense will only raise the star of Brooks, the early favorite for the 2019 Indiana Mr. Basketball award.

Brooks will have plenty of help. Four-year starter (8 ppg, 3 apg) Brandan Johnson is one of the more underrated players in the area. His abilities, particularly on the defensive end, go largely unnoticed when talking about the top players around.

Austin Boucher is back and eligible after a year at a prep school in Maryland. He averaged 24 points and 3 assists a contest as a sophomore at South Side.

Blackhawk Christian transfer Lucas Kroft will complement Boucher on the outside, giving North Side arguably the top two pure shooters in northeast Indiana.

It cannot be overestimated how big of a loss to graduation Butz was. He cleaned up the boards on both ends and was the long defensive presence that gave opposing interior offenses fits.

The question with the Legends is simple — will a wealth of talent mesh? Or will one basketball not be enough for a roster full of guys used to being the No. 1 option?

2. HOMESTEAD

The Spartans lost 72 percent of its scoring when the “Big Three” of Jack Ferguson, Durnell and Parker Manges graduated. But what is lost in that narrative is that Coach Chris Johnson’s team was pretty young outside of that trio.

Senior Sam Buck (7.9 ppg) is the team’s leading returning scorer, but expect increased roles from classmates Grant Raber (4.2 ppg) and Onye Ezeakudo (3.9 ppg) as well as sophomore Jake Archbold.

Archbold emerged as one of the toughest defenders in the league last season as a freshman.

Homestead has won 18 or more games in six consecutive seasons. One figures that even without a roster full of household names, the Spartans will win plenty of times this season.

3. WAYNE

Are the Generals ready to take the next step?

Coach Aaron Rehrer believes so with a group led by dynamic do-everything athlete Craig Young, who also stars on the football field and the running track.

Young will have plenty of experienced help as Wayne returns its top six scorers from last year’s 11-win squad.

Wayne must find a way to win close games against quality opponents, something that has hampered the team significantly in the past few years.

4. SOUTH SIDE

As most teams search their roster for a quality big man, the Archers got one handed to them in Warsaw transfer Asher Blum. The 6-8 senior averaged close to 5 points per game last year and gives a steady forward to complement a wealth of talent on the outside.

“(Hall) has a college physique on him and a good disposition,” said South Side coach J.J. Foster. “If he buys in and stays in condition, he can be real good.”

Add in proven scorers Trejean Didier (19.3 ppg), Mikale Stevenson (15.9 ppg) and Cortney Shorter (12.6 ppg) and you have a squad that should be able to drop some points.

5. CARROLL

A year ago, the Chargers finished with double-digit losses for the first time since the 2012-13 season. That just isn’t going to fly in Martyland.

Coach Marty Beasley is stressing defense to get back into the upper echelon of the SAC.

While some talented seniors dot the roster, Carroll’s success may come down to the development of some capable sophomores and juniors, many of whom will get their first taste of varsity hoops.

6. SNIDER

The Panthers rolled through the SAC last year, going 9-0 and capturing its first league crown in eight years.

While a repeat is a long shot, there is plenty of reason for optimism. Second-year coach Jeremy Rauch has a proven scorer (Keondre Brown) to lead the offense and a deep talent pool among his underclassmen.

This could end up being the most-improved team from the start of the season to its end.

7. BISHOP DWENGER

Junior Hayden Smithey is the lone returning starter from a team that won 12 games last season.

The key to a fifth-consecutive over-.500 campaign likely rests in the hands of a trio of seniors — Lucas Lehrman, John Henry Reith and David McComb — who are shorting on starting experience. Coach Matt Kostoff is confident they are ready to carry the load offensively.

8. NORTHROP

Richard Robertson isn’t around anymore to pour in the points for the Bruins, yet there is some young promise with the Bruins.

Jalen Royal is the only returning varsity player with any kind of experience, with the senior guard averaging 4.5 points last year. Fellow senior DeAundre Snow will be in the starting lineup as well.

Keep an eye on a trio of sophomore guards who averaged double digits at the junior varsity level — 6-3 Qaylen Pettus, 6-2 TaQuay White and 5-9 Elijah Fincher.

Freshman Kamani Smith may be the best ninth grader in the city.

9. CONCORDIA

It was rough rookie season for Austin Thoms, who helmed the Cadets to a 3-19 record in 2016-17.

The tough climb up the SAC standings could begin this year with a pair of juniors with experience leading the way — Adam Gottschalk (11 ppg) and Jadon Dance (8 ppg, 2 apg).

Do the Cadets have the skill and athleticism to run with the best in the league?

10. BISHOP LUERS

The double whammy of graduation gutting the roster and a first-year coach has the Knights looking up at the rest of the conference to begin the season. Will Hubertz has his work cut out for him with a program looking to rebuild.

SAC HONOR ROLL

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Craig Young, Wayne

BEST SHOOTER: Austin Boucher, North Side

BEST POST PLAYER: Lucas Lehrman, Bishop Dwenger

BEST DEFENDER: Brandan Johnson, North Side

BEST PASSER: Anthony Phillips, Wayne

BEST INTANGIBLES: Arius Jones, Carroll

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