Looking at each team's best win, worst loss and an early verdict from the season.
We've entered a crucial stretch of the basketball season. Several area teams are hoping to make a deep postseason run, and a few teams are viewed as state championship contenders. Before we get ahead of ourselves, it's important for these teams to continue refining and improving their game as the regular season comes into a close. Some squads are looking to continue hot streaks, while others are looking to break out of a slump before it's too late. Here's a summary of each team's season thus far, complete with their best win and worst loss.
Records and statistics through Jan. 17
Mason City Mohawks (4-9)
Best win: 79-41 at West Hancock (Jan. 12)
Worst loss: 84-44 at Valley (Jan. 4)
The verdict: Mason City has been a completely different team since returning key players Dylan Miller, Jarvorius Toney and Avery Mellman. Their absences also allowed several young players to step up early in the season. Five of Mason City's eight remaining games are at home, perhaps signaling a strong regular-season finish for the Mohawks, who have won three straight.
Newman Catholic Knights (12-2)
Best win: 69-41 vs. Osage (Jan. 8)
Worst loss: 82-48 at Bishop Garrigan (Jan. 12)
The verdict: The Knights are among the most athletic teams in the area, and coach Jerry Gatton has them playing high-intensity, fast-paced basketball. They've had nine victories of at least 20 points. They haven't played as well in the past two games, losing to Bishop Garrigan and defeating Nashua-Plainfield by only six. Road tests against West Fork, Lake Mills and Saint Ansgar should help the Knights prepare for the postseason.
Clear Lake Lions (13-0)
Best win: 67-55 vs. Forest City (Jan. 5)
Worst loss: N/A
The verdict: Clear Lake rides a balanced yet aggressive attack that has helped the Lions to a perfect start to the season. Their closest game was a five-point contest against Mason City - a rivalry game - and only one other team has come within 10 points. The Lions also dismantled a now-hot Charles City team 87-60 in December. A road game against Garner-Hayfield-Ventura on Jan. 31 looks to be their biggest test prior to the postseason.
Hampton-Dumont Bulldogs (2-10)
Best win: 69-67 at Grundy Center (Dec. 17)
Worst loss: 49-39 at Clarion-Goldfield-Dows (Dec. 7)
The verdict: Hampton-Dumont has played a tough schedule this season, as only one of their 10 losses has come against a team with a losing record. Their remaining two games against losing teams (Grundy Center and Iowa Falls-Alden) were road victories. The Bulldogs have eight remaining games on their regular-season schedule, five of which are at home.
Algona Bulldogs (7-6)
Best win: 68-60 vs. Bishop Garrigan (Dec. 21)
Worst loss: 65-61 at Humboldt (Dec. 7)
The verdict: Algona has a few quality wins, and they've hung tight with a few top-tier teams. The Bulldogs lost by only two points at Forest City, two at Garner-Hayfield-Ventura, two at home to Pocahontas Area and six to Spencer. Aside from their victory against Bishop Garrigan, Algona has defeated 7-6 St. Edmond and 7-4 Webster City.
Osage Green Devils (10-4)
Best win: 56-37 at Garner-Hayfield-Ventura (Dec. 15)
Worst loss: 69-41 at Newman Catholic (Jan. 8)
The verdict: If you take away their blowout loss to Newman Catholic, the Green Devils have lost three games by a total of seven points. Coach Mike Braun emphasizes defense, and it shows, as Osage has limited nine of its opponents to 40 points or fewer. Senior Brett Bobinet and junior Jonah Bluhm are putting together quality seasons, combining to average 27.2 points per game.
Central Springs Panthers (4-10)
Best win: 64-50 vs. North Iowa (Jan. 14)
Worst loss: 74-20 at Osage (Jan. 11)
The verdict: The Panthers have won back-to-back games, stopping a slow start to the season that saw them lose 10 of their first 12 games. They haven't defeated any teams with a winning record, but they should feel optimistic about the remainder of their schedule. Central Springs has six games remaining. Three of those are against Nashua-Plainfield, Northwood-Kensett and Riceville.
Saint Ansgar Saints (9-4)
Best win: 45-42 vs. Osage (Jan. 15)
Worst loss: 64-43 vs. West Fork (Dec. 14)
The verdict: The Saints underachieved to begin the season, splitting their first six games. Since a four-point loss to Rockford on Dec. 18, they've won six of seven. Only three of Saint Ansgar's remaining seven opponents has a winning record. Seniors Collin Kramer and Ethan Kirchgatter have formed a solid one-two punch for the Saints, averaging a combined 29.3 points per game.
Best win: 63-56 at West Hancock
Worst loss: 56-40 at Osage
The verdict: The Warriors have excelled this season thanks to a balanced scoring attack - four players average at least 9.5 points per game, but nobody averages more than Max Rooney's 11.6. Rockford has won four in a row, as well as seven of their past eight games. The Warriors face a few tough opponents the rest of the way. They should have their hands full with Newman Catholic, Saint Ansgar and Osage, teams that have accounted for two of their three losses thus far.
North Butler Bearcats (3-9)
Best win: 57-52 at North Iowa (Jan. 10)
Worst loss: 82-37 vs. West Fork (Dec. 21)
The verdict: North Butler has had a rough season, enduring a seven-game losing streak after defeating Northwood-Kensett to begin the year. However, they're 2-2 during their past four games, defeating the Vikings a second time and North Iowa for the first time. Their two losses to Central Springs were by a combined five points, so that record isn't quite as bleak as it seems.
Northwood-Kensett Vikings (0-13)
Best win: N/A
Worst loss: 57-18 at Central Springs (Dec. 18)
The verdict: No area boys team has endured a season as difficult as the Vikings, who have lost all of their games by double digits. Adding insult to injury, 10 of those losses have come by 30 points or more. Their best chances to win this season will come Jan. 28 against one-win Riceville or perhaps two-win North Iowa on Feb. 8 to close the regular season.
West Fork Warhawks (9-4)
Best win: 71-61 at Newman Catholic (Dec. 7)
Worst loss: 76-50 at Lake Mills (Jan. 5)
The verdict: West Fork star Zach Martinek has averaged 18.9 points per game, becoming one of three players averaging at least 10 for the Warhawks this season. West Fork had one of the hottest stretches of any area team, winning eight consecutive games from Nov. 30 to Jan. 4. They've lost three of their past four, but the teams that defeated the Warhawks during this stretch (Lake Mills, Rockford and Dike-New Hartford) have a combined record of 33-6.
Forest City Indians (13-3)
Best win: 61-60 at Lake Mills (Jan. 4)
Worst loss: 47-42 vs. West Hancock (Dec. 14)
The verdict: The Indians, led by guards Avery Busta and Noah Miller, have been one of the surprise teams in North Iowa this season after losing 10 seniors to graduation. Their loss against West Hancock seems like an anomaly, and their other two losses are to undefeated Clear Lake and 10-4 Bishop Garrigan. Forest City will get a chance to avenge its loss against the Eagles on Friday.
Belmond-Klemme Broncos (4-11)
Best win: 59-30 vs. North Iowa (Dec. 14)
Worst loss: 55-41 at Clarion-Goldfield-Dows (Jan. 3)
The verdict: The Broncos' record is a little misleading, as nine of their 11 losses have come against high-quality teams. They've fallen to Bishop Garrigan, Lake Mills, Garner-Hayfield-Ventura and Osage, among others. Losses against Clarion-Goldfield-Dows and West Hancock don't look good, but Belmond-Klemme could finish strongly with three of their remaining five games at home.
Lake Mills Bulldogs (11-2)
Best win: 76-50 vs. West Fork (Jan. 5)
Worst loss: 64-52 vs. Bishop Garrigan (Dec. 4)
The verdict: The Bulldogs have ascended from their 9-14 season last year. Their "worst loss" is much milder than several other teams', and they avenged it with a road victory against the Golden Bears on Tuesday. Their other loss was a one-point contest against Forest City. Chett Helming has been a force offensively, and Caleb Bacon is among the best rebounders in the state.
North Iowa Bison (2-12)
Best win: 70-39 vs. Eagle Grove (Jan. 4)
Worst loss: 59-30 at Belmond-Kelmme (Dec. 14)
The verdict: Dominyk Price has been one of few bright spots for the Bison this season. He and Cedric Frerichs are the only two players scoring more than five points per game for North Iowa, and the lack of firepower has led to two separate six-game losing streaks. Luckily, the Bison have only one senior on this year's roster, so improvement is expected next season.
Bishop Garrigan Golden Bears (10-4)
Best win: 82-48 vs. Newman Catholic (Jan. 12)
Worst loss: 91-80 vs. Pocahontas Area (Jan. 10)
The verdict: Bishop Garrigan presents a size mismatch for nearly all of its opponents, as the Golden Bears boast a roster with eight players at least 6-foot-4. Big men Angelo Winkel and TJ Schnurr are forces down low, combining to score 33.3 points per game. That duo has also combined for 275 rebounds, more than half of the team's total for the season.
Garner-Hayfield-Ventura Cardinals (11-4)
Best win: 68-58 vs. Bishop Garrigan (Dec. 10)
Worst loss: 56-37 vs. Osage (Dec. 15)
The verdict: James Betz and Landon Dalbeck gives Garner-Hayfield-Ventura one of the best scoring tandems in the state. The pair of Cardinals average 31 points per game, and their unique blend of skills make it tough to defend both of them. Betz, who leads the team with 142 rebounds this season, is bigger and stronger than most players who try to guard him. He has also hit a team-high 24 threes this season.
West Hancock Eagles (6-9)
Best win: 47-42 at Forest City (Dec. 14)
Worst loss: 79-41 vs. Mason City (Jan. 12)
The verdict: West Hancock has been an up-and-down team this season, showing a high level of competitiveness. The Eagles lost to Lake Mills by only eight to begin the season, and they defeated Forest City on the road. They also came within three points of Rockford on Dec. 6. On the other hand, they suffered a 38-point home loss to Mason City shortly after posting a season-high 77 points against Eagle Grove.
Charles City Comets (8-4)
Best win: 70-66 vs. Aplington-Parkersburg (Nov. 29)
Worst loss: 87-60 vs. Clear Lake
The verdict: Charles City has rebounded after a rough 1-3 start to the season, as senior Jack Molstead helped pioneer a seven-game winning streak. Molstead is among the state's leaders in points and assists, scoring a remarkable 27.8 points per game. His 72 assists are, by far, the most for the Comets. The next-best distributor, statistically, is Marcus Cranshaw, who has 26 assists. Bradley Andrews also pitches in nearly 14 points per contest.
Riceville Wildcats (1-13)
Best win: 64-59 vs. Waterloo Christian (Dec. 14)
The verdict: Riceville has faced a plethora of tough opponents this season, including Dunkerton, Don Bosco and Janesville, among others. There hasn't been too much to celebrate in Riceville, but Sullivan Fair leads the team with 11.3 points per game. Brody Koenigs has 111 rebounds to lead the Wildcats, as well.