Just over halfway through the county’s regular season, there’s a three-way tie atop the standings and only two games separating fourth through eighth place. So far the coach’s preseason predictions, the ones that said this would be one of the most balanced seasons in recent county history, have come true.
The Columbia Flier/Howard County Times boys basketball beat reporter, Brent Kennedy, takes a look at some of the trends from the first half of the season and where teams are heading into the stretch run in this week’s edition of the power rankings. Any questions or comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Hammond (9-2 in county, 11-3 overall). Golden Bears coach Karl Friedheim has said all along that all his team needs to do is handle its business and everything else will take care of it itself. Well, since losing its first three games of the year (by a combined four points), Hammond has certainly done its part of the equation by winning 11 straight games.
And sure enough, after Oakland Mills’ loss to Reservoir last Friday, the Bears find themselves in a three-way tie for first. No county team is hotter. Hammond is not only winning, but it has won 10 of its 11 contests by double digits. The one victory that didn’t qualify was a seven-point win over Long Reach. Three guys, Brandon Bjerre, Avery Terry and Cedric Blossom, are averaging in double figures and Bjerre (16.2 points a game) is among the top four scorers in the county.
Things couldn’t be much better for the “Zoo on 32” heading into the rematch with Oakland Mills on Jan. 27.
2. Oakland Mills (9-2, 11-3). The Scorpions saw their 10-game winning streak snapped on the road at Reservoir, but still edge River Hill for the second spot based on the fact that their two county losses are against teams (Reservoir and Centennial) that are 7-4 in league play. The Hawks and Scorpions still have two games to play against each other this season, so they’ll eventually get to settle things on the court. And even before that, Oakland Mills gets Hammond, a team it beat by two points the second game of the season.
There’s no denying the fact that Oakland Mills, when on, boasts the county’s most balanced attack. Five guys who average in double digits, led by Evan Hopkins (15.1 ppg), is a matchup nightmare for opposing teams. It will be interesting to see how the team handles the pressure, considering that the last time the program finished better than third in the standings was 10 years ago. There’s no denying the talent is there, though.
3. River Hill (9-2, 11-3). The Hawks have gotten back to their slow-down, methodical pace of late and that should scare the rest of the county. River Hill is 9-1 when holding opponents under 50 points, with Milford Mill standing as the only team to emerge victorious in a game in the 40s, 45-43, over winter break. Since losing to Glenelg, three of the team’s last four opponents have scored 44 points or less, including a Mt. Hebron team that had previously won seven straight games.
The team only goes seven deep, but it’s a very solid seven. Varun Ram leads the way with a 17.1-point average, which is third best in the county. Even more impressive, he’s gone for more than 20 points in four of the last six games. Because of its style of play, River Hill is always a risk to lose a game it shouldn’t. At the same time, the Hawks are not only capable of beating anyone in the county, but arguably anyone in the state.
4. Reservoir (7-4, 9-4). That was a huge win on Friday over Oakland Mills and it took a little of the sting out of losing to Wilde Lake for the second time this winter just two days earlier.
It’s further proof that, when clicking, Reservoir is awfully good. The problem, however, is that without forward Eric Washington, who left the team just before break, the margin for error is small. Shane Reybold, who leads the county in scoring at 17.5 points per game, has taken over a good portion of the offensive load that Washington left behind. And when guys like Taz Larry, Kody Mayers, John Jones and Eddie Hayes get going, it can be a fairly deep attack as well.
As far as these rankings go, a 70-44 win over Centennial to go along with the Oakland Mills victory justifies this spot.
5. Centennial (7-4, 8-5). If you take away the egg the Eagles’ laid against Hammond Jan. 8, you’d be hard-pressed to find a team that has enjoyed a better turnaround than Centennial since winter break. Punctuated by an 87-56 win over Howard last Friday, the team has won six of its last seven games and has done so by an average of 18.3 points.
Sean Anderson and Matt Harbinson are averaging in double figures for a team that has become more and more balanced. Against Howard, for example, seven guys had six or more points. More good news is that there really are no bad losses on the resume. At the same time, there’s a victory over Oakland Mills early on to provide some confidence heading into the rematch with the Scorpions next Friday.
6. Wilde Lake (6-5, 6-7). As hard as it is to believe that the Wildecats could be ranked two spots below Reservoir, a team they beat twice already this season, there are two important factors to consider: First, Wilde Lake is just 2-6 away from home this season. Second, the team has won some big games but also has lost six games by 12 or more points. It’s an inconsistency that has even left first-year coach Dave Appleby perplexed at times.
Dennis Williams, who has put up 25 and 21 points in the team’s last two games, is the team’s heart and soul. He averages 15.3 points and is part of a very athletic backcourt with Larry Dangerfield. The key, though, is finding enough consistent play in the paint with forward Souley Diallo out with an arm injury to sustain a late-season run.
7. Mt. Hebron (6-5, 8-6). What a run the Vikings were on before running into River Hill Friday night, winning seven straight after starting the season 1-5. Even in the loss, Zach Neal (15.4 ppg) stood out as he scored 18 of his team’s 30 points. He and Mike McCarthy (13.9 ppg) give Mt. Hebron one of the best one-two punches in the county.
During the team’s recent run, though, it was the emergence of the team’s supporting cast that made a difference. Ryan Fetzer, Deonte Moses and Sam Cassard had multiple games of eight or more points during the winning streak, which included a 12-point victory over Atholton. It’s also worth noting that Mt. Hebron remains one of only two county teams to beat Hammond, dealing the Bears a one-point loss in December. The team’s next four games, against Reservoir, Hammond, Centennial and Oakland Mills, will tell a lot.
8. Atholton (5-6, 6-8). It’s hard to express how badly the Raiders needed that victory over Marriotts Ridge last Friday. To put it in perspective, Atholton hadn’t lost seven games in a season since the 2005-06 campaign, let alone seven games in a row. But, starting with a loss to Randallstown in their Christmas Tournament, that’s the kind of slump Atholton found itself in going into the game against the Mustangs.
Matt Robinson carried a good bit of the load in the win, putting up a career-high 26 points and 11 rebounds, and he will need to do much of the same the rest of the way if the Raiders are to turn things around. Injuries have been a factor, as guards Connor Cortes, Austin Tennessee and Mike Nolte have missed at least one game. But, even with the recent slump, never discount experience. This team knows what it’s like to play in big games at the end of the season and you better believe Robinson and Cortes aren’t going to go out as seniors without a fight.
9. Howard (3-8, 4-9). The Lions are hard to figure out. They have talent all over the floor, including senior forward Reed Scott and his 17.2 points per game, and the offensive firepower is downright dangerous at times. But, when it comes to winning games, Howard just can’t seem to put it together.
It doesn’t help that three county teams (Wilde Lake, Oakland Mills and Centennial) have scored 80 or more points against them. All the points the Lions score don’t mean a whole lot when they can’t stop anyone. The victories have come against Glenelg, Long Reach and Marriotts Ridge. On the bright side, Malcolm Tatum has developed at the point guard spot, Kevin McDuffie has a couple 20-point games and Scott is averaging double-digit rebounds.
10. Glenelg (3-8, 4-10). Make no mistake about it, the Gladiators aren’t as far back of the pack as their record might indicate. They have a nine-point win over River Hill and six single-digit losses. They’ve played nearly everyone close, although at some point moral victories only carry you so far.
There’s no questioning the effort. First-year coach Jansen McMillan has a team that hustles, plays good defense and competes every night. Rebounding and offensive execution, however, have been problem areas. Shane Kellaher, a guard, has established himself as the team’s leading scorer, and five other guys have scored in double figures at least once.
Others: Long Reach (2-9, 2-12); Marriotts Ridge (0-11, 0-14).
Andrew took his first job with the Howard County Times as an editorial assistant/obituary writer in 2001. He has written about an array of sports, from rugby to roller skate dancing. Andrew was a (mediocre) swimmer at Loyola College, but he enjoys playing many sports, including rec-league softball, kickball, basketball, football, soccer, and ultimate Frisbee. He would play rec-league unicycle badminton if he could find a league. He is a fan of all the Baltimore sports clubs, from the O’s to the Blast. When he’s not obsessing over the athletic endeavors of others, Andrew enjoys watching zombie movies from the 70s and 80s. He resides in Catonsville.