By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
As we enter the holiday break this year, two things are certain: Rockford Auburn and Rockton Hononegah will be the favorites going forward in the NIC-10.
They have done so by picking up the two most impressive wins so far in the conference season. Hononegah went on the road and beat Rockford Boylan, while Auburn beat Belvidere handily at home.
That leaves the Auburn Knights and Hononegah Indians as the only two undefeated teams in conference play. Belvidere and Boylan sit right behind them, and there are a lot of games left to play.
What is surprising is the rest of the conference already appears to be potentially out of the race. It is a deep conference, but there seems to be a divide from the top to the middle.
Rockford East may be the most surprising right now, as the E-Rabs sit 1-3. They probably had a tougher opening slate than any other team, but they already have losses to Boylan, Belvidere and Hononegah. They could run the table and erase all of that, but there isn’t evidence that will happen.
Rockford Jefferson has looked middling at best so far. They played great at Hononegah, but then struggled to beat Machesney Park Harlem. Then, they lost at home to Rockford Guilford before cruising over a much improved Belvidere North team.
The Belvidere North Blue Thunder is another confusing squad. They play a fun, up-tempo style, a lot of different players, and they are hard to prep for. But after almost stealing a win at Boylan, they were dismantled by the J-Hawks. They will likely upset someone along the way, but don’t appear consistent enough to pose a real threat.
The bottom three of Guilford, Freeport and Harlem appear to be pretty far away. But the Guilford Vikings have some talent and will jell under a new coaching staff and will be tough as the season rolls along.
That gets us back to the top four. Auburn appears to be the safest bet. They are deep and talented. They would have been among the favorites this year before they added all-conference player Antoine Pittman.
The Knights are playing confident and strong basketball right now. Laytwan Porter has greatly improved, as has Malik Minor. Add in Pittman, and it is a dangerous team.
Hononegah is tougher to figure out. They play a tough system and they play it well. But they are young, and you never know how a team that young will respond.
Belvidere is in the same boat, with a lot of young and new players. But they do have two of the best seniors in the conference and looked very impressive up until their loss to Auburn.
Boylan is the biggest enigma right now — and may be the most dangerous team in the conference.
If the Boylan Titans can figure it out, they have the talent to win. Brock Stull is a Division I player and the best player in the conference. He can score 30 any night, and even on an off night in a win against Belvidere North, he put up a triple-double.
They also have a great X-factor in Demry Croft. The football star is getting himself into basketball shape, but as he showed in a dominant 24-point, 8-rebound performance against Belvidere North, he is the type of player who can dominate.
The Titans need to get the rest of the team on their level to have a chance. Boylan has more size than the rest of the conference, and they are strong and athletic. If Boylan can cut down on turnovers, they will be tough to beat.
All of that will make for a fun stretch run after the holidays. The top four look great, but someone in the next three will pull an upset. And Guilford could even do so at the end. That will make this a NIC-10 season to remember.
From the Dec. 25-31, 2013, issue