After a flurry of holiday tournaments to wrap up 2014, high school hoops teams are knee-deep in conference play, with the final two months of the season in high gear. The South Meck 8 is one of the most competitive conferences in the area, and the boys standings are a dead heat. The girls standings are basically identical in that regard. The biggest takeaway from a quick look at the standings is that Ardrey Kell is establishing itself as a basketball power, with the Knights sitting a combined 10-0 in South Meck 8 play.
With all eight teams hitting the hardwood for pivotal conference games Friday, let’s preview the games, shall we?
South Meck 8 Boys Standings
1. Ardrey Kell (14-1, 5-0)
2. Olympic (13-2, 4-1)
3. Charlotte Catholic (12-3, 3-2)
4. Berry Academy (11-4, 3-2)
5. Harding University (8-5, 2-3)
6. South Meck (6-7, 2-3)
7. West Meck (7-7, 1-4)
8. Providence (6-8, 0-5)
Ardrey Kell (14-1) at Charlotte Catholic (12-3)
Ardrey Kell comes into Friday’s game riding a 13-game winning streak, including wins over Berry, Concord, and Olympic. The Knights get it done behind their leader, Elon commit Steven Santa-Ana’s 13 points per game. Rhyle Scott and Collin Cooper also average double figures per game, giving Mike Craft’s team a myriad of scorers to keep AK opponents on their heels.
After a heartbreaking loss against South Meck, Charlotte Catholic rebounded with a 63-54 win over West Meck last Friday. The Cougars are led by senior Joe Scibelli, who is averaging 13.4 points per game. Scibelli also averages 7.6 rebounds per game, best for third in the conference. With a tough stretch coming up for Catholic, it will be important for the Cougars to find a way to win this game if they want to stay alive in the regular season title hunt.
USA TODAY High School Sports Predictor: Ardrey Kell 57, Charlotte Catholic 49
Berry Academy (11-4) at West Mecklenburg (7-7)
The last time we saw Berry, the Cardinals’ seven-game win streak was snapped by Ardrey Kell. With a week to stew over the loss, Maurice Jones’ team should come out focused and ready to play. Berry’s four losses have come against possibly the four best teams in Charlotte, and until last Friday, those losses were in close games. It may be a little too early for a “now or never” moment, but Berry’s opportunity to win the conference could slip away if they don’t take care of the Hawks.
West Meck has struggled in conference play, winning just one game thus far, a 63-61 thriller over Providence on January 8. Senior Chris Price averages a team-high 12 points per game, just ahead of Keifon Cogdell’s 11.7 points per contest. If the Hawks want to pull off this upset, they’ll need a big performance from their two senior leaders.
USA TODAY High School Sports Predictor: Berry Academy 66, West Meck 54
Harding (8-5) at Olympic (13-2)
After a 6-1 start, Harding has struggled since beginning conference play, dropping three of their last four games in South Meck 8 play. The Rams’ offense has been a big part of that slump, going from scoring an average of 77.2 points in their first seven to just 55 points in their last four conference games. Harding is still a a darkhorse to get back into the race for the conference title, but with three losses in South Meck 8 play, the Rams have little time to waste if they’re going to get back in it.
One of the preseason favorites to win the South Meck 8, Olympic has won seven of its last eight games. Malik Constantine is near the top of the list in nearly every statistical category, with 15.3 points per game, 9.0 rebounds per game, and 2.8 steals per game this year for the Trojans. Junor Damari Parris plays Robin to Constantine’s Batman, averaging 12.4 points per game this season. Constantine have put up double figures every game since a December 18 win over Charlotte Catholic. The Trojans will need him to continue that elevated level of play if they’re going to hold off Harding.
USA TODAY High School Sports Predictor: Olympic 67, Harding 55
Providence (6-8) at South Mecklenburg (6-7)
In a battle of two teams that feel it’s getting late early, Providence visits South Meck. The Panthers have been ice cold lately, winning just two games in the last calendar month. Dalen and Devon Dotson have been bright spots for Providence fans, averaging 16 and 15 points per game, respectively. Both Dotsons are shooting 41% from the field this season for Scott Taylor’s club. At 0-5 in conference play, the clock is ticking for Providence.
For South Meck, the 2014-15 campaign has been a roller coaster of ups and downs. Unable to establish a winning streak longer than two games, the Sabres have hovered right around .500 for the majority of this season. South Meck has three of the best scorers in the conference, led by conference leader Khayleb Connelly’s 22 points per game. Teammates Kamil Chapman (18.3) and Grant Hedberg (15.5) also average double figures for the Sabres. Hedberg has also been a force in the paint, pulling down 15 rebounds per game, for a healthy double-double average.
USA TODAY High School Sports Predictor: South Mecklenburg 69, Providence 62
South Meck 8 Girls Standings
1. Ardrey Kell (13-2, 5-0)
2. South Meck (9-5, 4-1)
3. West Meck (9-5, 3-2)
4. Charlotte Catholic (11-4, 3-2)
5. Providence (7-6, 3-2)
6. Berry Academy (9-3, 2-3)
7. Olympic (2-9, 0-5)
8. Harding (2-9, 0-5)
Ardrey Kell (13-2) at Charlotte Catholic (11-4)
Following back-to-back losses before Thanksgiving, the Knights have rattled off 12 in a row, winning 10 of those by double digits. Ardrey Kell is led by senior Jordan Muhammad’s 10.8 points per game, with Darah Dewalt and Chase Muhammad averaging 8 points per game. The Knights remain the favorite to win the conference after a dominating victory over Berry last Friday.
A two-game losing skid has cooled off the Lady Cougars after an eight-game winning streak. Charlotte Catholic’s offense has lost its groove in those games, scoring a a season-low 31 at West Meck Friday. Charlotte Catholic is led by Carrie Eberle’s 11.5 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. The Cougars will need a big-time performance from Eberle if they’re going to upset the highly talented Lady Knights.
USA TODAY High School Sports Predictor: Ardrey Kell 50, Charlotte Catholic 25
Providence (7-6) at South Mecklenburg (9-5)
Providence put an end to a three-game losing streak at Harding last Friday, and will need another good defensive effort against South Meck. Michaela Daniels is Providence’s leading scorer at 11.9 points per game. Senior Chi-Chi Maduegbunam gives Providence a presence in the paint, pulling down 11 rebounds per game, including 19 last week against Harding. Maduegbunam’s season-high is 21 in a win over Olympic, and her ability to limit South Meck’s second chances will influence Providence’s success.
Five consecutive victories have put South Meck back into the thick of the South Meck 8 race. Junior Ali Fitch scored a career-high 27 points in last Friday’s win over Olympic. Fitch has now reached double figures in five of her last six games. The Lady Sabres will have a big hill to climb in the paint, with A’lea Gilbert leading the team at 5.9 rebounds per game. South Meck does shoot the ball better than Providence from the field, something they’ll definitely need to keep up if they’re going to win Friday.
USA TODAY High School Sports Predictor: South Meck 51, Providence 44
Berry Academy 48, West Mecklenburg 42
Harding 50, Olympic 42