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Posted On: 01/26/18 10:31 AM
After the completion of Tuesday night’s round of games, each team has made a trip around the conference, playing each team once. In this week’s Notes from the North, we’ll look at teams that are contending, key games the rest of the season, and a few players that will have an impact on the outcome of the Central Lakes Conference title race.
The Conference Title Race
The Willmar Cardinals continue to be the surprise team of the conference, having rattled off 15-straight wins to open the season. Their roster is experienced, comprised entirely of seniors and juniors, and led by one of the best guards in the conference, Noah Slagter and his 21.4 PPG. They are in the driver’s seat with a little over a month remaining in the regular season.
St. Cloud Tech has arguably the most talented roster in the conference (Brevyn Spann-Ford, Kail Lindgren, James Kaczor, Trent Meyer, etc.), but due to a few injuries, they have not been consistently putting the same lineup on the floor night in and night out, which has affected their chemistry and flow. When healthy, this team can win any game they play the remainder of the season, but they’ll need some help from another team to trip up Willmar, as Tech and Willmar only meet one more time this season.
Fergus Falls has won 3 of their last 4 games, Alexandria has won 4 of their last 5, and both seem to be trending in the right direction. Both teams will need quite a bit of help to get back into the race, but each team features a true go-to player, Nathan Rund for Fergus Falls and Justin Balcome for Alexandria. These two guys both welcome the ball and the spotlight when the stakes are high, and can single-handedly take over a game.
The aspirations of a conference title for Sauk Rapids-Rice and Brainerd are fading, but a matchup between these two teams tonight in Brainerd will be pivotal. A win for either team will keep their hopes alive, while the other will find themselves with a tough road to get back in the race. Chris Karels of Brainerd is one of the best shooters in the conference and will be crucial to their success tonight. Sauk Rapids-Rice didn’t have Deng Deang in uniform the first time these two teams met (a Brainerd victory), and since he has returned, the Storm have been a different team. Sauk Rapids-Rice is 8-2 in their last ten games.
1/26/18 Alexandria @ St. Cloud Tech
Sauk Rapids-Rice @ Brainerd
2/5/18 Fergus Falls @ Sauk Rapids-Rice
St. Cloud Tech @ Willmar
2/9/18 Fergus Falls @ Alexandria
2/13/18 Fergus Falls @ St. Cloud Tech
2/15/18 Willmar @ Fergus Falls
2/20/18 Sauk Rapids-Rice @ Willmar
Players to Watch
Deng Deang, Sauk Rapids-Rice, Sr. – The Storm find themselves climbing uphill to try and chase a conference title, but they look like quite a different team with Deang in the lineup. He missed 5 games this season, but in the ten he has played he has averaged 20.5 PPG. Paired with Cody Landwehr (16.1 PPG) and Anthony Massman (13.2 PPG), they form a formidable trio.
Ryan Slette, Willmar, Jr. – Much has been said about Willmar’s leading scorer, Noah Slagter, however, a key to Willmar continuing their winning ways the remainder of the season will be the development of a consistent second option. Slette is currently fourth on the team in scoring with 8.6 PPG, but in their last two contests he has registered 20 and 14 points, respectively.
Renell Edwards, St. Cloud Apollo, Sr. – Apollo doesn’t look like they will be a factor in terms of winning the conference title themselves, however, this is a team that could create problems for the teams at the top. Apollo is a very athletic team that plays a chaotic style, and Edwards has been the leader scorer for them this season. He currently averages 20 PPG for Apollo.