Coach Ronnie Thomas admits to being "a little bit" surprised that Northridge stands 6-0 in the Northern Lakes Conference entering its final league game of the boys basketball season, but he'll take it.
Now he and the Raiders also want to take the NLC crown outright, something the program's managed just once (2009) during Northridge's 27 years in the league.
The Raiders (14-2, 6-0) host Concord (11-4, 4-2) Thursday, Feb. 13, at the Middlebury Madhouse, part of a busy Thursday lineup around the area with most boys teams off Friday in deference to girls sectionals.
NorthWood (14-1, 5-1), of course, is still hoping to claim a share of the NLC title by virtue of a Thursday home win over Elkhart Memorial (7-9, 4-2) and a Northridge loss to Concord.
But it's only the Raiders who control their own destiny.
"I'd say I'm a little bit surprised (about the 6-0) just because it's the NLC and you're not going to win anything easily," said Thomas, who is in just his second year as a varsity head coach, "but it's been a good run. What's been most pleasing is the way we've won a couple games. We grinded one out at NorthWood defensively (a 54-52 win), and we were down 11 in the third quarter at Plymouth and fought back like crazy (for a 73-68 win). We've also had some good, close home wins (like 58-56 over Warsaw). It's been fun to watch."
A year ago, it was the Minutemen who wrapped up a perfect NLC season by downing Northridge — a 71-55 win that served not only as Concord coach Steve Austin's 400th victory, but Thomas' first head-to-head encounter against his own high school coach.
"It's still a little different than (facing) somebody else," said Thomas, who starred for Austin before graduating from Northridge in 2005, "but it's fun. Coach Austin does a good job. It's a little different because you can't yell out some of the play calls the way you normally do."
Thomas said he's not going to simply rename those plays, though.
"Nah, we're not going to try to be too slick," he said.
That Austin again has a role in a Raider title chase should hardly be a surprise. He coached them to their first two league crowns, a pair of shared ones in 1996 an 1998, and then was on the opposing bench in 2009 when Northridge closed a perfect NLC season by beating the Minutemen.
Since that loss, though, Austin has rang up six straight wins against the Raiders.
"They've got a lot of tools over there," Thomas said of the current Concord club, which had won seven straight before being edged 59-57 by NorthWood last week. "I was at the LaPorte game (Feb. 1) when Ramon (Johnson) had 43. That wasn't fun to scout. He's good, aggressive, under control, and for his size, very physical with a knack for getting to the line. And (Filip) Serwatka's playing well, and (Adam) Glanders is back, which is good for them, a senior and athletic guy who's very tough to deal with."
Johnson's averaging 20.7 points per game and Serwatka 15.8.
Northridge counters with the area's scoring leader in Nate Ritchie at 24.4, plus Pete Smith at 12.1.
"We want to finish the conference off right," Thomas said, "try not to share anything. The anticipation's kind of big, but the guys are still working hard, still getting better, still focused on that."
As NorthWood pursues its piece of the league crown and hopes for help from Concord, the Panthers will have to deal with a Memorial club that recently added a weapon.
Senior Tray Qualls has scored 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds in each of his first two games with the Crimson Chargers, a three-point loss to South Bend Riley and a six-point win over Warsaw last week.
Qualls, who played last winter at Elkhart Central, enrolled at Memorial at the start of the second semester.
"He gives us another scorer," Charger coach Mark Barnhizer said. "We've really only had two this season."
Dimitri Giger leads Memorial at 15.1 points per game, while fellow junior Cameron Maxwell (11.1) has been blistering over the Chargers' lasts three outings. He's averaging 19.7 points over those three and is 17-of-28 on 3-pointers during that span.
MEETING A MENTOR
Thomas isn't the only area coach who will go against his former high school coach Thursday.
Goshen's Brian Bechtel will face Steve Wiktorowski for the first time in 15 years when the Redskins (7-8, 2-4 NLC) travel to Wawasee (3-11, 0-5).
Wiktorowski, who's back in high school coaching this season for the first time in 12 years, was Bechtel's coach at Fairfield during Bechtel's final three seasons as a player, concluding in 1989.
Bechtel is 2-0 against his former coach. Those wins came in 1997-98 and '98-99 when Bechtel was at Garrett and Wiktorowski at Prairie Heights.
BOYS BASKETBALL SCHEDULE
Thursday, Feb. 13
• SB Clay (4-12) vs. Elkhart Central (5-11) at North Side Gym
• Elkhart Memorial (7-9) at NorthWood (14-1)
• Concord (11-4) at Northridge (14-2
• Jimtown (6-8) at Glenn (8-5)
• Goshen (7-8) at Wawasee (3-11)
• Fairfield (8-6) at Fremont (3-11)
• Howe (0-12) at Elkhart Christian (12-3)
• Bethany Christian (3-12) at Lakewood Park (7-7)
• Penn (13-1) at Mishawaka (3-12)
• Marian (7-6) at SB Adams (11-5)
• Westview (11-3) at Prairie Heights (10-4)
Friday, Feb. 14
• Chesterton (9-6 before Portage Feb. 13) at Marian
• Clinton Christian at Howardsville (Mich.)
• Berrien Springs at Edwardsburg
Saturday, Feb. 15
• SB St. Joseph (12-4) at NorthWood, noon JV start
• Wawasee at Rochester (4-8 before Wabash Feb. 13), noon JV start
• Goshen at East Noble (1-15 before New Haven Feb. 13), 1 p.m. JV start
• Angola (6-9) at Fairfield, 1 p.m. JV start
• Elkhart Christian at Lakewood Park, 1 p.m. JV start
• Plymouth (5-9 before Warsaw Feb. 13) at Penn, 1:30 p.m. JV start
• Jimtown at Westview, 3 p.m. JV start