Basketball: Taking a deep dive into Greene County’s non-conference schedule
By BRANDON HURLEY
The art of the schedule is a thing of beauty if navigated correctly.
A strong non-conference slate can often either toughen an experienced team, or completely wreck a young and timid squad.
As the Ram basketball squads - both boys’ and girls’ - prepare to embark on one of the most unusual seasons in history, let’s take a moment to analyze each program’s non-conference slates. The Rams will be challenged every step of the way, with each squad facing a slew of ranked and state tournament tested competitors.
A TRICKY JOURNEY
The Greene County boys will traverse the tricky minefield that is their 2020-21 non-conference slate, one that looks quite enticing to the casual observer. The Rams will square off against three different 2020 state qualifiers as well as a handful of other tradition-rich ball clubs. Pick up a few victories along the way and a budding program may find itself on the cusp of greatness quicker than imagined.
The Rams, who suffered through a five win campaign a season ago, will ease their way into this year’s non-conference schedule by hosting Ogden Dec. 5 in a rematch 57-46 loss in the 2019-20 opener. The challengers ratchet up a bit in intensity two weeks later as Greene County hosts their inaugural winter classic Dec. 19 inside the new high school gymnasium. It’s quite the field at that. Ballard’s 2020 state qualifying unit is the headliner, tallying 19 wins a season ago, including a state quarterfinal win in the state tournament. The Bombers’ Connor Drew averaged 18.3 points per game as a junior last winter, the 18h-best mark in Class 3A. Fellow guard Mason Murphy’s 5.4 assists per game were the fourth-best average in all of 3A last winter. Forward Kale Krogh was 10th in Class 3A in blocks per game as a sophomore, recording two blocks per game.
The typically strong Kuemper Catholic program out of Carroll will also join the tournament fray. The Knights (8-15 overall last winter) are a member of the deep and talented Hawkeye Ten Conference, home to 2020 state qualifier Harlan and 17-game winner, Glenwood.
Grinnell will round out the trio of teams joining Greene County Dec. 19. The Wildcats’ losing record at 7-16 was a little bit deceiving a year ago. The eastern Iowa school visits Jefferson as a member of the absolutely loaded Little Hawkeye Conference, which was home to three state tournament teams last winter. Norwalk, led by University of Northern Iowa commit Bowen Born (36.4 ppg), won the Class 3A state title while Pella High School and Pella Christian qualified for the 3A and 2A tournaments as well. Indianola is a Class 4A school which ripped off a 19-4 record a season ago. Grinnell is certainly no team to take lightly.
The Rams host Webster City (11-10) in their first game back from winter break on Jan. 5. The Lynx averaged 58 points per game, knocking down 46 percent of their shots, including a blistering 39.5 percent mark from deep. Webster City returns their leading-scorer from a season ago, Tyler Olson (12.6 ppg) as well as their No. 3 option, Tavis Eklund (10.7ppg).
Greene County will visit Panora Jan. 11 to take on Panorama, who finished 17-7 last year. The Rams were just one of seven teams to defeat the Panthers a season ago, pulling off a 73-72 upset victory thanks to a game-winning free throw by departed senior Carter Morton.
The Panthers came up a game short of the 2020 state tournament, losing to Treynor in the a Class 2A substate final. PHS was the 10th highest scoring team in 2A at 66.4 points per game last winter. Greene County has won the last three meetings between the two schools.
Greene County’s Jan. 18 opponent is a bit of a mystery as the season starts. Woodward-Granger was a magnificent 22-3 a season ago, qualifying for the 2A state tournament by averaging 63 points. The Hawks lost to eventual state champion, Boyden-Hull in the opening round, and must replace their entire starting lineup this winter.
Greene County’s toughest opponent this winter likely is Class 3A’s Harlan, who they’ll visit Feb. 1. The Cyclones earned a hard-fought trip to the 2020 state tournament thanks to an 18-7 record, navigating their way through the torturous Hawkeye Ten Conference. Harlan ran into the talented buzz-saw of Norwalk in the opening round of the state tournament. Norwalk went on to win the Class 3A state title. The Cyclones averaged 64.1 points per game and nearly three blocks per contest. They drilled shots at a 47.5 percent clip, including 6.4 three pointers made per game, knocking down 35.6 percent of those shot attempts.
The Rams close out the non-conference slate Feb. 8, squaring off against
Southeast Valley at home. The Jaguars will lean heavily on University of Iowa football commit Aaron Graves, one of the best athletes in the state. Graves led the team with a 15.8 points per game average to go with seven boards, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals per game. Fellow running mate Kolson Kruse averaged 13.9 points per game as a sophomore to go with a staggering 2.9 steals per game, which tied him for the 10th-best mark in Class 2A. The Jaguars were 17-6 a season ago, finishing fifth in the highly-competitive Twin Lakes Conference with a 7-4 record.
PERENNIAL POWERS AWAIT
The Greene County girls’ basketball program ushers in its third coach in four years as activities director Todd Gordon grabs the reins this winter. The Rams, winners of just four games in two years, are tasked with a formidable non-conference slate of their own during this tricky 2020-21 season.
GCHS opens the season with a pair of winnable non-conference matchups, hosting Ogden (6-16 last year) Dec. 5 and traveling to Perry (6-16 in 2019-20) Dec. 12.
Preseason No. 6 Panorama will host Greene County Jan. 11 in Panora. The Panthers are a perennial girls’ basketball power, having won more than 20 games in each of the last four seasons. PHS was 20-4 a season ago, falling a game short of the state tournament, losing to West Hancock in the Class 2A regional championship.
The Woodward-Granger Hawks host Greene County Jan. 18 in Granger. W-G tallied a breakout season last winning, compiling an 18-5 record. The Hawks should be a tough out again as they return their top three scorers from a season ago though they must replace their top rebounder in Katelyn Scharlau (6.7 rpg).
Greene County takes a break from HOIC action in February, heading west to take on Harlan February 1.
The 11th-ranked Harlan Cyclones are as battle tested as they come.
Harlan was a deceiving 13-10 last season, bolstered by a 5-4 record in the ridiculously stacked Hawkeye Ten, which was home to a trio of state tournament teams, including 4A runner-up, Lewis Central. Fellow H-10 member Creston fell a game short of the state tournament, losing to Lewis Central in the regional championship. Guess who else is a member of the Hawkeye Ten? Kuemper Catholic, coming off a rare down year at 5-17 overall, hosts Greene County Jan. 25 in Carroll. The Knights’ leading scorer last winter, Mallory Badding (13.1ppg) graduated though then freshman Catherine Mayhall is back after averaging 8 points per game, five assists and nearly three steals a game.
Webster City visits Jefferson on Jan. 5. The Lynx were 9-12 a year ago and must find a way to replace their top two scorers. Des Moines Hoover (3-19 last winter) will also visit Jefferson Dec. 19 while Southeast Valley will be Greene County’s final non-conference game Feb. 8. The Rams knocked off the Jaguars in the first round of regional play last winter, securing the first postseason victory in Greene County history.
Greene County opens the season with a girls’ and boys’ varsity doubleheader Friday, Dec. 4 at home against Roland-Story.