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Boys basketball preview: How an uncertain Big Eight Conference will play out as teams return to action

Boys basketball preview: How an uncertain Big Eight Conference will play out as teams return to action

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Middleton's Kaden Fosdick might be one of the few familiar faces in the Big Eight Conference, with many of the conference's teams shuttered last year due to the pandemic.

The Big Eight Conference has not had all of its member schools play a conference season since 2019.

Due to COVID-19 rules, Madison public schools haven't played in almost two years. And only one player remains from the 2019 all-conference teams.

With all the turnover that the Big Eight how will the conference play out?

The contenders

Madison La Follette: The last time the Lancers (23-1) were on the floor they soundly beat Waunakee by 26 points to advance to the Verona Sectional Final. The pandemic abruptly ended the rest of the WIAA postseason. Since then, all but three Lancers that season have graduated. The Lancers boast a talented, if inexperienced, backcourt with sophomore Quinton Lomack and junior Ahrman Lewis, who they will need to play well to repeat as Big Eight champs.

Madison East: The Purgolders (20-4) also won their 2019 Middleton Sectional matchup with Oconomowoc by 21. And just like the Lancers, they haven't played since. The Purgolders are going to be even more inexperienced, though. Only Habib Alidu-Ball remains from the last Madison East team that took the floor. 

Madison Memorial: The Spartans will field new players at every spot on their roster. But Memorial has a Division I talent in Braylen Blue — who has eight offers and has drawn interest from the University of Wisconsin, according to Rivals — and a history of success, having not finished below .500 this millennium.

The dark horses

Janesville Parker: The Vikings (18-9 last year) may have been the surprise of the region last season. Parker won a regional title and came two points shy of getting to a sectional final. Senior Jacob Naber (12.9 ppg), a 6-foot-7 forward, will be asked to even more this year with the graduations of Brenden Weis (17.1) and Robert DeLong (14.3) leaving the Vikings without their top two scorers. 

Madison West: The Regents have a few players back from their 2019-20 team. But can anyone step up individually or as a group to replace the production of Dayne Armwald, who averaged 22.6 points a game? If that happens, West has a chance to surprise one of the Big Eight's early favorites.

Middleton: With the turnover that some Madison-area public schools have seen, the Cardinals (4-7) have the luxury of experience. Some of the vets on the roster include Logan Raffel (13.4 ppg), Nick Meinholz (9.1) and Kaden Fosdick (8.5).

Janesville Craig: The Cougars went 9-15 last year and made the playoffs, one of the few teams in the conference to get a mostly complete season in. They lose top scorer Angelo Rizzo (21.1 ppg) but get back senior guards Damarcus DeValk (9.9), Marshaun Harriel (9.9) and Hayden Halverson (7.3).

The rest

Beloit Memorial: Although they are not a Madison, public school the Purple Knights did not play last season. In the 2019-20 season they finished with a 4-18 record, and all of their three top scorers — Jaden Bell (10.8 ppg), Azeez Ganiyu (10.2) and Kobe Chandler (9.2) — from that team are gone.

Verona: The Wildcats (5-6) return half of their roster that lost in a regional final last season. They made the regional final before losing to DeForest, and the top two scorers, Bennett Sherry (10.3 ppg) and Kolson Roddick (10.0), have graduated. But this was a team with balanced scoring that returns a handful of players that averaged seven or more points a game, including junior Gavin Farrell (8.7).

Sun Prairie: The Cardinals (5-6) lost Drew Houtakker (12.2 ppg) and Connor Carpenter (10.9 ppg) to graduation but return leading scorer Ben Olson (18.6), a 6-foot-5 wing.

Can't-miss games

Madison La Follette at Madison East, Dec. 2: The first game on the Lancers schedule gives them a chance to avenge their only loss in 2019. In that season the Lancers and Purgolders finished as the top two teams in the Big Eight, with the Lancers winning the conference outright.  

Middleton at Sun Prairie, Jan.13: Both Cardinals teams are in the same boat, finishing just below .500. The year prior, in a full season, both teams finished in the middle of the pack in the Big Eight. This matchup could set the tone for the victor in the second half of the season.

Madison La Follette at Madison Memorial, Feb. 4: This late-season matchup between the Lancers and Spartans may have major implications for the Big Eight. At this point in the season both of these teams will have a solid understanding of who they are. If these teams play up to their potential this may be a conference decider.



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