As the season approached, Mooseheart boys basketball coach Ron Ahrens projected he had a defensive juggernaut on his hands but also a team that was deficient when it came to executing half-court offense.
Twenty-six games later, Ahrens hasn’t seen anything to change his mind.
Mooseheart, in pursuit of what Ahrens believes would be the program’s first regional championship in school history, opens the IHSA Class 1A Westminster Christian Regional on Tuesday against Faith Lutheran. The second-seeded Red Ramblers will be heavily favored to win their first two regionals games, which would likely set up a regional championship showdown Friday against top-seeded Hinckley-Big Rock.
Mooseheart (21-5), led by the towering South Sudanese trio of Makur Puou, Mangisto Deng and Akim Nyang, enters the postseason on a 12-game winning streak.
Here’s an even more impressive streak: The Ramblers have not allowed an opponent to score 50 or more points since a Dec. 8 loss to prep school powerhouse La Lumiere (Ind.), a span of 19 games.
With the size provided by junior transfers Nyang (7-foot-1), Puou (6-10) and Deng (6-7), and plenty of athleticism in the backcourt, it’s no surprise teams struggle to get comfortable against Mooseheart. Ahrens estimated that 75 percent of the team’s scoring comes from defense quickly turning in to offense, but he still is waiting on the Ramblers to play smoother basketball at the offensive end.
He knows he might grow old waiting.
“We still struggle offensively,” Ahrens said. “I’ve kind of come down to the conclusion of we’re not a very good passing team. We throw the ball instead of passing the ball, and we’re probably always going to struggle offensively. We have to improve that.”
Going hand-in-hand with that concern is the team’s overall guardplay. Deng plays point guard for the Ramblers out of necessity but would be best suited as an off-guard, Ahrens said. Sophomore Hameed Odunewu has emerged late in the season as a substantial piece of the backcourt rotation, but how the Ramblers handle pressure situations from a ball-handling and passing standpoint is the million-dollar question entering the postseason.
A flurry of late turnovers cost Mooseheart the game when the Ramblers faced Hinckley-Big Rock on Dec. 5 with a 58-51 loss in Hinckley.
“That’s probably the most concerning part of our team,” Ahrens said. “I think I’ve said from the beginning, we’re going to go as far as our guards can take us.”
Provided Mooseheart handles seventh-seeded Faith Lutheran on Tuesday, the Ramblers would likely need to beat Westminster Christian – a team the Ramblers have handily defeated twice this season – on Wednesday to create a widely anticipated rematch with H-BR.
Puou (19.2 ppg, 10.9 rpg) and Deng (14.3 ppg) have blossomed into the top weapons for a Mooseheart team with virtually no substantial postseason experience.
Berry receives scholarship offer: St. Francis freshman quarterback Justin Berry received his first Division I scholarship offer Thursday from Temple, his father Shaon Berry said.
The 6-foot, 175-pound Berry is a dual-threat quarterback who also is receiving college interest from Indiana, Purdue and Arizona State, his father said. Temple’s football program joined the Big East Conference for the 2012 season.
Berry was ticketed for St. Charles East before deciding last summer to attend St. Francis. He hopes to challenge for varsity playing time as a sophomore next season.
Kaneland pitcher commits: Kaneland senior pitcher Blake Sowell has made a college commitment to attend Clarke University, an NAIA program located in Dubuque, Iowa.
Sowell, of Elburn, signed a letter of intent to play for the Crusaders in a ceremony with his family and Knights baseball coach Brian Aversa on Thursday.
• Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.