We might have gotten off on the wrong hoof with my return and immediate power rankings, as I ranked a then-Class 4A No. 24 East Noble boys basketball team above a Class 2A No. 2 Westview team. Westview is now the No. 5 team in 2A ball, and is the No. 15 team overall in the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association poll, too.
The two best teams in the area played against each other for the first time this season Thursday night in Kendallville, Westview having won eight of the last 10 meetings. The Knights of East Noble claimed victory, though, winning 71-64.
I’m not writing to apologize for my ranking, especially after East Noble won the head-to-head matchup, and I’m not writing to say I told you so. I’m writing to let our readers know that the head-to-head contest showed us more about East Noble than it did about Westview.
Everyone knows Westview is on a mission this season. No team reaches the semistate round in any class without itching to taste the state championship the next season. This team is capable of doing that, maybe even more capable than last season’s team.
But East Noble is on a mission, too. The Knights are in the final years of the careers of their top three seniors — forward Ali Ali, center Brent Cox and forward Michael Bender. All three seniors represent the heart of what the Knights do, with size, the ability to pass and play on the perimeter as well as inside and handle the ball. And without those three players next season, East Noble could be looking at a dip.
East Noble head coach Ryan Eakins strengthened the schedule this season to intentionally avoid what happened last season — a 20-2 regular season but a sectional semifinal ousting. Games against weak opponents don’t make a good team better. Westview head coach Rob Yoder said it last night after the Warriors’ loss.
And what we have seen from a far more difficult schedule is East Noble play Snider closely and beat Carroll. Both are teams in the Knights’ Class 4A sectional bracket, and Carroll ejected East Noble from the tournament last March.
It’s a page out of Westview’s playbook. Westview was invited to the Raymond James Hall of Fame Classic just before the new year, and in that Classic, the Warriors battled against a Class 4A No. 10 Center Grove team with Indiana 5-star signee Trayce Jackson-Davis and Class 4A No. 13 Valparaiso with Purdue 4-star signee Brandon Newman. Westview lost those games by a combined eight points.
Playing tough teams, particularly tough teams out of a team’s class and conference, where there is no risk in a loss, makes a team better.
Thursday night featured Westview junior guard Charlie Yoder hitting seven of his eight shots from the floor against East Noble junior Hayden Jones, one of the best defending guards in northeast Indiana, and the Warriors shot 59 percent from the floor despite Nick Rensberger and Josh Hostetler combining for 4-of-13 shooting.
East Noble put four scorers in double digits — Ali, Cox, Bender and junior guard Nate Dickson. Ali played tough defense against Westview senior Elijah Hales, and he threw down a big dunk in the second quarter. Bender and Cox are now back in the lineup after missed time, and the Knights are full-go heading into the back half of the schedule.
While one team needed to lose, and East Noble used 10 offensive rebounds and a 10-0 third-quarter run to win, both teams played well and showed the type of success they will bring to the area in their respective classes, no matter who is ranked higher than the other.
As Westview returns to playing more 2A and 3A teams, versus some of the best teams in the highest class of Indiana high school basketball, the 4-game losing streak will snap in a big way. For East Noble, Eakins said it himself in Friday’s article in The News Sun, the Knights have loftier goals than what they’ve already achieved. The same goes for the Warriors.