Nov. 25—Muhlenberg County has won back-to-back 3rd Region championships, and, despite a coaching change at the top, the Mustangs have designs on making a third consecutive trip to Rupp Arena for the Sweet Sixteen in March.
"Obviously, winning the region in back-to-back years is great, but now that is over and it is time to focus on this season," said first-year head coach Aaron Morris, who takes over for Kyle Eades. "Our players have been able to see that what we do works for us, and we will continue working just like we have the past two years.
"The goal this season is the same that it has been before. We expect to compete for the regional title in March, and I think we have a great shot at winning it again."
Among Muhlenberg's top returnees is senior forward Kadin Ray (5 ppg, 4 rpg last season).
"Kadin is a player that any coach would love to have on their roster," Morris said. "Nobody plays the game harder than Kadin. He is a leader on and off the floor, and he is our most experienced varsity player this year. He can score the ball from many spots on the floor, and he is an excellent rebounder."
Also back are senior forward Chandler Moore, junior guard Madox Jernigan and sophomore forward Kanyon Johnson.
"Chandler has great size but is also very good with the basketball in his hands. He is a tough matchup in the post, but he can also step outside and shoot at a high percentage," Morris said. "Madox has improved his offensive game this summer, along with his ball-handling.
"Kanyon is a versatile player who will be a tough matchup for other teams. He is very athletic, has improved his outside shooting and can play many different spots on the floor."
Morris believes the Mustangs will evolve into a title contender.
"Our team is going to be inexperienced early on in the year," he said. "Our main focus so far in practice has been building chemistry among players on the floor.
"We will play a difficult schedule that will provide us with plenty of opportunities to grow and develop into a regional title contender at the end of the season."
McLEAN COUNTYThe Cougars came close to making their first KHSAA state tournament appearance last season, dropping a 13-point decision to 10th District rival Muhlenberg County in the 3rd Region Tournament championship game.
Now, McLean wants it all.
"We have a solid nUcleus back, with four of our top six players returning from our regional finalist team that finished 21-11," Cougars head coach Darren Lynam said. "We are coming off our third winning season in a row and have won 60 games over the past three seasons. We are hoping to make this the fourth consecutive winning season for the program."
Leading the way for McLean will be senior guard Jaxon Floyd, who averaged 14.1 points per game last season.
"He's an outstanding all-around player for us," Lynam said of Floyd. "He should be one of the top players in the 3rd Region this season."
Also back are senior swingman Cruz Lee (8 ppg), senior forward Evan Ward (4 rpg) and junior guard Brodie Cline (5.3 ppg).
"We are looking for these four to lead the way for us," Lynam said. "We also are looking to get significant minutes out of senior Declan Scott, Will Taykor and Noah Patrick. Sophomore Gunnar Revelett will also be looking to get significant playing time. Other possibilities include junior newcomers Elijah Baldwin and Isaiah Algood, as well as sophomores Zane Decker and Jax Lee."
McLean must replace graduated Brady Dame, one of the region's best players in 2021-22.
"We need to try to replace Dame's inside presence the best way we can," Lynam said. "We need to play good defense, and we need to rebound the ball to be successful this season."
OHIO COUNTYCompeting in one of the state's toughest three-team districts, the Eagles won 18 of 28 games last season but dropped a nine-point decision to eventual regional runner-up McLean County in the first round of the 10th District Tournament at Muhlenberg County.
That's incentive enough for veteran coach Paul Decker and Co. in 2022-23.
"We expect to contend for district and region championships," Decker said "We have some long, athletic, high basketball IQ kids that work hard and want to play for someone other than themselves. As long as we stay together and play for each other we will have a great year."
Leading the way will be the coach's son, 6-5 junior Elijah Decker, who averaged 14 points and nine rebounds per game before an injury short-circuited his sophomore campaign.
"(Elijah) has worked to get back healthy after his season was cut short from knee surgery in January," Decker said. "He can play the position of 1 through 5 for us and can be a tough matchup for teams. He has been in the weight room and has gotten stronger and more athletic."
Also back is 6-2 senior Parker Culbertson, who averaged 12 points per game and shot 40% from 3-point range last season.
"Parker is one of our leaders and is truly a gym rat," Decker said. "He is always in the gym getting extra shots up, and it shows in his ability to shoot the ball from anywhere. He is a great teammate that communicates well and just wants to win."
Also in the mix for the Eagles will be 6-4 sophomore Carson Kennedy, 6-5 senior Bo Morse, 6-4 junior Carter Young, 6-2 senior Walker Lindsey and 5-10 senior Cooper Allen.
"We had a good season last year," Decker said. "Our kids had to learn a different system and they responded well.
"I feel like we really got better this offseason, and we can see that our weight program is starting to show in our kids.
"Our kids are highly motivated after being defeated in the first round of the district tourney. Our next step is to get to the regional tourney and make a run to win it and play at Rupp."