It's a potential pair of moving days at or near the top of area boys basketball conference races this coming weekend.
No surprise there, as the regular season enters its home stretch this month, but what might've been a surprise to some seven weeks ago is the Concord Minutemen emerging as one of the potential movers and shakers.
But here the defending Northern Lakes Conference champions are, playing the marquee and most pivotal area game of the weekend Saturday, Feb. 8, as they host the NorthWood Panthers at McCuen Gym.
Class 3A No. 6-rated NorthWood heads in at 13-1 overall, 4-1 in the league. Concord enters at 11-3 and 4-1.
The winner will, at a minimum, remain right on Northridge's heels — the Raiders are 5-0 heading into their Saturday home contest against 0-4 Wawasee — while the loser will need gargantuan help to claim a share of a league title this year.
"We've still got an outside shot at the conference," Concord coach Steve Austin said after the Minutemen's 49-25 beatdown of Warsaw earlier this week. "We've got the two toughest teams still to play (the Minutemen visit Northridge on Feb. 13), and we've got to take these one at a time, but if we keep playing like this, we'll see what happens."
Concord hardly looked like it might be in this position when it opened its NLC season by falling 53-46 to Elkhart Memorial and a couple weeks later dropped to 4-3 overall, but since then the Minutemen have won seven straight.
It hasn't hurt that Adam Glanders, a starter a year ago for a 19-2 club, was able to come back four games ago after it was originally thought that a hip issue would sideline him all season.
"He's still about two weeks away from really being in playing shape," Austin said. "He's picking up things here and there play-wise — and sort of getting in the way once in awhile when it's something he hasn't picked up — but he's doing a great job. He makes so much happen with his athletic ability. He hustles all over the place. He's an athlete, and we've missed that a little bit this year without him."
The Panthers are chock full of athletes, including their 6-5, 6-5, 6-5 front line of Zach Zurcher, Jonathan Wilkinson and Will Stueve, a trio of seniors who each had dunks during the fourth quarter of Tuesday's 71-54 win over West Noble (11-2).
NorthWood's guards, meanwhile, don't score as much as the aforementioned three but have been reliable facilitators.
"We're going to have our hands full with their height," Austin said, "and I think they have pretty good guards."
At 13-1 with six regular-season games to go, the Panthers are flirting with a history-making season. The school record for winning percentage is .818 in 1981-82 on an 18-4 record, and the school standard for wins came by way of a 19-6 finish in 2006-07.
While it's the NLC that allows the least margin for error among the contenders right now, with the fewest league games remaining, area teams are also in the thick of the Northern Indiana and Northeast Corner title chases.
In the nine-team NIC, two of the three teams tied at the top based on the loss column face off when Penn (11-1, 3-1) hosts South Bend Adams (10-4, 4-1) on Friday, Feb. 7.
Those two clubs tied for the crown last winter at 7-1.
As for this winter, South Bend Washington is 4-1, and three other teams remain alive as well with two league losses.
In the 11-team NECC, defending champ Westview puts its 5-0 conference mark on the line when it welcomes West Noble (4-1) on Friday.
The host Chargers beat the Warriors with surprising ease in the NECC Tourney championship three weeks ago, 61-40, though Westview star guard Jordyn Bontrager was slowed most of that game by a first-quarter ankle injury.
With Prairie Heights at 5-1 and Fairfield at 4-1, the round-robin race remains a long way from decided.