East Division or West Division. It doesn’t matter which you’re talking about, this year’s race for conference titles in the Top of Iowa Conference are getting wild.
In the East, you’ve got four teams with a realistic shot, and the West has turned into a three-horse race. Here’s a closer look at each division as we enter the final two weeks of the regular season:
Upcoming: On the face of it, the Warriors’ path to a conference title is simple: win out and they are champs. It’s not exactly that easy, though. If the snow holds off, the Warriors kick off a tough two-week stretch Tuesday night in a meeting with Newman Catholic in Rockford. The Knights rallied for a 59-51 in the teams’ first meeting. The Warriors still have to play St. Ansgar, which took the first game 69-62, and Osage, which is tied with Rockford currently for the conference lead.
Who to watch: The Warriors have three players – Zach Bushbaum, Jake Staudt and Kaden Lyman – who average better than 10 points per game. Each has made more than 20 3-pointers. Max Rooney is another proven scoring option at 8.8 point per game. Alex Schriever (86 rebounds), Jared Marth (84) and Matt Schubert (84) have done their part cleaning up the boards.
Upcoming: Like Rockford, if the Green Devils win out, they are the champs. The two games circled on Osage’s calendar are at West Fork on Jan. 27 and home against Rockford on Jan. 30. The Green Devils will of course have to get through North Butler and Nashua-Plainfield first, but winning a conference title likely comes down to those two days.
Who to watch: The all-stater Drew Olson has done his part to help the Green Devils to where they’re at right now, but an ankle injury has slowed him a bit. Olson is still averaging 17.4 points per game, which is third in the TIC East. Lucas Schwamman sits at 9.5 points per game and is the team’s top rebounder at 81. Sophomore Jonah Bluhm has chipped in 8.1 ppg.
Newman Catholic (9-3)
Upcoming: West Fork ended the Knights’ 11-game winning streak last Friday and the Knights have little time to recover with an important game at Rockford on Tuesday. A win keeps them in the race, but a loss makes things a little murkier as they’ll likely need help. After that, Newman has games with Northwood-Kensett, Central Springs and St. Ansgar.
Who to watch: Well, this is a tricky one because who aren’t you going to watch on Newman’s roster? The Knights have one of the deepest teams in the conference with six or seven guys capable of leading them on a given night. Josh Fitzgerald leads the way at 10.4 per game, Justin Fausnaugh sits at 10.1, Joe Scholl is averaging 9.7, and Brady Gatton (7.7), Ian Holmgaard (7.0) and Jacob Schutt (5.9) are all capable scores as well. Gatton leads the team with 102 rebounds.
West Fork (7-4)
Upcoming: This one is a bit of a longshot because the Warhawks will need some help to do it, but they aren’t out of it just yet. Their toughest tests will likely come vs. St. Ansgar on Jan. 26 and then Osage on Jan. 27. It’s a plus the Warhakws are playing some of their best ball recently with four straight wins.
Who to watch: A good place to start is with all-state guard Zach Martinek, who is as hot as anybody right now. He’s second in the TIC East at 18.5 points per game, and is fresh off back-to-back games where he lit up the scoreboard for 32 and 27 points. Mitchell Halloran is the team’s best shooter as he’s made 35 3-pointers and is averaging 11.5 points per game, and Nathan Meinders (8.8 ppg), Ian Latham (8.1) and Thomas Nuehring (7.9) round out a solid starting 5.
Bishop Garrigan (10-1)
Upcoming: It starts with a huge game at GHV Tuesday night. The Golden Bears were able to pull out a 61-54 victory in their first meeting, so expect the Cards to be out for revenge in this one. If the Golden Bears survive that one, a match-up with Forest City at home on Jan. 30 is on the horizon. Win both of these games, and take care of business in their other three contests and the Golden Bears are conference champs.
Who to watch: TJ Schnurr has been as good anybody in the area this season as he leads the TIC West with 20.6 points per game and has grabbed 153 rebounds. He’s backed by another four solid players who round out a physically imposing Garrigan lineup. Cade Winkel sits at 14.3 points per game, freshman Angelo Winkel is averaging 14.2 per game, and Brad Capesius (9.4) and John Joyce (9.3) are just under 10 per contest.
Forest City (10-2)
Upcoming: After a 54-51 loss to GHV a little more than a week ago, the Indians dropped out of a tie for the conference lead, so a game at Garrigan Jan. 30 becomes that much more important. The Indians will also have to take care of West Hancock, Belmond-Klemme and Lake Mills to have a shot.
Who to watch: Sam Snyder has been as good as advertised this season for the Indians. The all-stater leads the team with 15.7 points and has a team-high 74 rebounds. After him, it’s been a combined effort with Avery Busta (8.8 ppg), Micah Lambert (7.1), Grady Hovenga (6.1), Chris Jermeland (6.1) and Ryan Theel (5.7) picking up some of the scoring. It doesn’t hurt the Indians have one of the top defenses in the area, allowing 40.3 points per game, which is the best in both East and West Divisions.
Upcoming: The Cardinals’ most important game comes Tuesday night at home vs. Garrigan. A GHV win creates a three-way tie atop the conference. If the Cards win out, they’ll at least share the conference crown with one other team. They can win the conference outright with some help.
Who to watch: UNI commit and big man James Betz is always a safe bet as he averages 13.6 points per game and has grabbed a team-best 138 rebounds, but Ryan Meyers and Nick Joynt are putting forth special seasons of their own. Meyers leads the team at 18.5 points per game and is second in rebounds with 128, and Joynt is second in scoring at 15.2 per contest.