By BRYAN GASKINS
Kokomo boys basketball coach Brian McCauley thinks his squad has shown improvement from game to game in opening the season 3-0.
McCauley hopes that trend continues tonight when Kokomo entertains Muncie Central in both teams’ North Central Conference opener.
“This is the biggest game of the year up to this point,” he said. “You’re certainly not going to win the North Central Conference in this game, but you can really give yourself a leg up or put yourself in a hole. It’s an important early season game.”
Kokomo and Muncie Central have ruled the NCC in recent seasons. The Wildkats took a share of the 2010 title and then won the outright title in 2011, beating the Bearcats both times for 1-0 starts. Last season, the Bearcats beat the Kats 65-60 in an early showdown and the Bearcats went on to win the league title with a 7-0 record.
Muncie Central features plenty of new faces this season. The Bearcats are 1-1 after beating Class A squad Monroe Central and falling by a deuce to Yorktown. The Bearcats are hitting the road for the first time tonight.
“Muncie Central is an outstanding program. They never seem to rebuild, they always just reload,” McCauley said. “They have a lot of athleticism this season and they’re a typical Muncie team in that they play with a lot of toughness, they defend really well and they’re very disciplined.”
Kokomo is scoring 66 points per game and allowing 47.7. Muncie Central counters with an offensive average of 51.5 and a defensive average of 46.
McCauley noted the Bearcats returned point guard Kaleb Mallory from last year. The Bearcat senior is averaging 14 points and 3 assists per game.
“I’ve been impressed by his defense and his offensive improvement,” the Kat skipper said.
Muncie Central also returned a pair of players who worked as backups last season, 6-foot-4 senior wing Jabriel Allen and junior post Jay’lin Barnes. Both are starting this season and shouldering bigger loads. Allen is averaging 14 points and Barnes is averaging 8 points and 8.5 rebounds.
Muncie Central also has senior Tim Barrett (4 ppg) and freshman Marcus Dukes (5.5 ppg).
Eastern at Western
Eastern visits Western tonight for a girls-boys doubleheader.
The girls game pits two of the three remaining unbeatens in Mid-Indiana Conference play. The Class 2A No. 5-ranked Comets are 7-0 overall and 2-0 in league play while the Panthers are 6-1 and 3-0. Class 3A No. 5 Hamilton Heights (1-0 MIC) is the defending league champion and the other unbeaten.
The boys game features defending MIC champion Western. The Panthers beat Northwestern last week for a 1-0 league start. They are 1-2 overall. Eastern is 0-2 overall heading into its league opener.
Both boys squads are in action Saturday as well. Eastern hosts Southwood, and Western visits Rossville.
Taylor at Northwestern
Taylor visits Northwestern tonight for a girls-boys doubleheader.
The girls game features a pair of squads looking for a spark. The Titans are 1-6 overall and 0-2 in the MIC. The Purple Tigers are 2-5 overall and 1-2 in league play.
The boys game has Taylor (0-3 overall) playing its MIC opener against Northwestern, which is 2-1 overall and 0-1 in league play after falling by a deuce to Western last week.
Both boys squads are in action Saturday as well. Taylor hosts Caston, and Northwestern visits Mississinewa.
Around the area
Also in the MIC tonight, Cass (2-1, 0-0) travels to Hamilton Heights. The Huskies are making a delayed season debut after their football team’s run to the state finals.
In the Hoosier Heartland Conference, Clinton Central (0-4) visits Sheridan (1-0) for both teams’ league opener.
And in non-conference games, Maconaquah (1-1) hosts Wabash (1-2), Peru (1-1) hosts Class 3A No. 10-ranked Plymouth (4-0), and Carroll (2-1) visits Caston (0-3).