Armstrong basketball coach Greg Miller had a pace to his step as he walked off the court inside Osseo High School Jan. 8.
Minutes earlier, the hometown Orioles had just finished laying down a 76-45 thumping on the Falcons, which left Miller in an interesting mood when asked for a few post-game comments.
“Well, there isn’t much to say,” he quipped. “When you play like this in our league, this is what happens.”
Welcome to Northwest Suburban Conference basketball in 2012-13.
All across what has quickly become the state’s best boys basketball league the obvious is taking form. Teams that come to play are in for a fight. But if your not ready, like Armstrong was in this instance, the outcome will get likely get ugly.
“Really, it is a credit to the basketball in this area,” said Osseo head coach Tim Theisen. “If you are not prepared to play you are not going to win. In year’s past, a team might be able to get by on just their ability. This year, it seems that not only do you have to be talented, but you have to really prepare yourself for each individual game.”
As of last week, the Class 4A state rankings released by the Associated Press verified as much.
Three NWSC teams – No. 1 Park Center, No. 5 Osseo and No. 8 Elk River – each cracked the top-10. Others, including Maple Grove, Champlin Park, Blaine, Andover, Armstrong and even Centennial have already garnered similar notoriety.
Centennial, for example, sat just 1-5 in league play through Jan. 8. But the Cougars were 4-7 overall, and nearly upset perennial power Hopkins early in the year.
Armstrong, which through Jan. 8 was off to a 2-4 start in conference play, already has non-conference victories over Wayzata and Edina. Both of those opponents opened the season ranked among the state’s top-10. Edina, in fact, opened the season ranked second in the state.
All five Lake Conference teams actually started the year in the top-10, while just two of the Northwest Suburban Conference – defending champion Osseo and Park Center – were given similar preseason accolades.
Two months later, however, it is clear where the best ball is being played.
“Here is how I look at it,” said Champlin Park head coach Mark Tuchscherer. “We are 6-3 in the conference, but really, we’ve only played only two and a half games that weren’t up to our potential, but we lost all three. I think we’ve played pretty well this year, but pretty well doesn’t cut it in our conference.”
That is bad news for the teams currently chasing front-runners Park Center and Osseo. The Pirates are responsible for the lone blemish on Osseo’s NWSC record, and the two teams will play again Feb. 5 at Osseo.
“Making up ground won’t be easy,” said Osseo’s Theisen. “One loss can be really devastating when you are chasing some of these teams, and that means we have take some extra time to really make sure we are prepared to play.”
The level of competition has also given coaches some extra incentive to put their previous game behind them as quickly as possible. Champlin Park lost a one-point game in Elk River Jan. 8. Tuchscherer believed his team played well enough to win. But they didn’t.
Armstrong, meanwhile, was trounced. Miller noted how poorly his group performed. They didn’t have a chance to win, and subsequently, they didn’t either.
Osseo was great. Elk River was just good enough. And Park Center’s been unbeatable thus far. But in each case, the only option is to move on. The competition level awaiting each team’s next game required nothing less.
“You have to say even-keeled,” said Miller. “You lose a game, you just can’t get down. And if you win a big game, you can’t get too excited, because the next game will be just as tough. Whoever wins this thing will do it because they were strongest mentally, because this is a long, grinding season for all of us in the Northwest Suburban Conference.
Added Osseo junior Ian Theisen, “This is the toughest conference in the state, by far. We were state champions last year, and I don’t know if we played anybody as good as we have so far this year. Every night is going to be tough.”
Contact Nick Clark at [email protected]