SOUTH WHITLEY – Sectional basketball tournaments will officially tip-off all over the great state of Indiana on Tuesday evening.
Coaches and players have carefully scouted out their opponents and sectional fields, trying to find every weakness and advantage the other team may have.
But what about the teams like Whitko?
What advantage could a team that went just 1-19 possibly have?
What do the Whitkos of the tournament have to worry about?
The Whitko Wildcats basketball team has nothing to lose when it tips against West Noble on Tuesday night in the opening game of the Class 3-A Wawasee Sectional.
There is no stress, no expectations of running the table, nothing but the opportunity to play another game, and that’s exactly how the Wildcats are going to handle it.
The Wildcats are down, but they are not out. If Whitko is going to turn any heads in the postseason it will have to do a lot of things right.
Defensively the Wildcats are not in terrible shape, but they will still have to improve when they face West Noble. Whitko allows 57.6 points per game, putting them above average in state rankings. Lakeland has the worst scoring defense in the sectional, giving up over 61 points per game.
Whitko head coach Scott Wessel knows his team will have improve on both the defensive and offensive side of the ball if it wants to stay in the game on Tuesday.
“West Noble is a very good team,” said Wessel. “They are long, athletic and can shoot and handle the ball well. We are going to have to be disciplined in our shot selection and limit turnovers as well as get rebounds.”
The turnovers will be key for Whitko as a high number of turnovers can obviously translate into a low number of baskets. Making buckets has been one of Whitko’s biggest issues this season.
The Wildcats are averaging just 38.1 points per game, by far the lowest average in the Wawasee Sectional. Offensively the Wildcats are led by freshman Nate Walpole and senior Dylan Cumberland, as both average 14 points per game.
Cumberland will be a key player for Whitko not just in individual scoring but team scoring and defense as well. He leads the team with four assists per game and is also tallying three steals per contest. Forcing turnovers on defense and limiting them on offense will be huge for Whitko on Tuesday, as well getting more second chance opportunities through offensive boards.
Wessel has been impressed with his team’s ability to keep fighting, even through such physically and mentally demanding season.
“It would have been easy to quit this season,” said Wessel, whose team lone win was over Central Noble. “It would have been easy to stop doing the right things in a season like this one, but out guys have not done that. Our seniors have done everything that we’ve asked of them all year.”
As for the sectional as a whole, Wessel knows No. 5 NorthWood (18-2) is the class of the field. The Wildcats lost 72-18 at home to the Panthers on Friday night in the regular-season finale. NorthWood lost to Tippecanoe Valley in the sectional final a year ago.
“It’s NorthWood’s sectional to lose,” Wessel stated. “They are very talented and well coached.”
Whitko finished the season 0-4 against sectional opponents, including a 67-38 loss at the hands of West Noble back on Feb. 13. But all records can be thrown at come sectional time and that seems to be the approach that Wessel and the Wildcats are taking for the postseason.
“We have nothing to lose going into this game,” said Wessel. “Lets shock the world.”
West Noble, which has never won a sectional championship, went 5-5 in its last 10 games after starting the season 11-0.
Whitko will tip against West Noble (16-5) at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday night at Wawasee High School. The winner of the game will play a 6 p.m. tip against Fairfield (12-8) on Friday in a semifinal contest.
The Wawasee sectional champion will advance to the Blackford Regional at Blackford High School on Saturday, March 15.