The Ottumwa Courier

December 26, 2013

Racing down the road to Hutch

By SCOTT JACKSON
Courier sports writer

---- — OTTUMWA — Almost three full months remain between now and the start of the 2014 NJCAA Division I Men's Basketball National Tournament.

That doesn't mean it's too early for the 'Warrior Nation' to start making travel plans for mid-March, right?

Well, maybe.

A few members of the Indian Hills basketball fan base have already checked into the availability of hotel rooms in Hutchinson, Kansas. For those that have checked, it's is still too early for hotels to take reservations for the week of March 17-22.

So maybe fans can't quite finalize plans to be in 'Hutch' for the NJCAA national basketball tournament. That's fitting, because the team those fans root doesn't want to talk about making March travel plans right now.

Making plans on beating Indiana Dabney on Jan. 3, right now, is much more important.

"We still have a lot of work to do," sophomore transfer Quevyn Winters said. "We're trying to make history, but we're trying to stay humble."

Being humble could prove to be difficult at this point of the year for some teams, especially if they accomplished what Indian Hills has so far in the 2013 portion of this season. Besides earning the nation's number one ranking for the second time in three seasons under head coach Barret Peery and winning all 15 games in the process, Indian Hills has proved to be the type of team that can produce decisive wins against any and all opponents.

The Warriors closed out the first half of the season facing a pair of 10-win schools from Illinois, Kankakee and Carl Sandburg. IHCC won both games by an average of 41 points, including the most decisive victory of the year as Indian Hills headed into the holiday break off a 60-point thrashing of Carl Sandburg, 128-68, tying the second-most points produced in a single game by this Warrior team.

"We've got a lot of respect for opponents like that and we know we're going to get the best shot possible from those opponents," Peery said. "What I'm really pleased with is the guys showing the ability to come out here each night and handle their business. They've answered any time a team has made a run at us. So far, they've handled their business well."

Heading into the holiday break, the record and the ranking are just a few of the indicators as to where IHCC rates among the best junior college basketball teams in the nation. The Warriors prolific offense ranks second only to Texas school Temple College's 119.1 points per game as IHCC is averaging 111.5 ppg midway through the year.

IHCC also ranks among the top 15 nationally in total rebounds per game (49) and have a 28-point average margin of victory so far this year. Yet for all the top rankings Indian Hills has accumulated in 2013, it is hard to find an individual Warrior player among the national leaders in one statistical category.

That's just fine with this group of talented players that make up the 2013-14 IHCC basketball team. It's been a common theme all season, but this group of Warrior basketball players really do seem to enjoy seeing everyone contribute.

"I really do think the best part of this team is that we have a group of guys who really like each other," Peery said. "Guys enjoy it just as much when they can get others involved. They've been in here practicing together and working together since this summer. I think that's helped a lot to seeing our guys develop that type of camaraderie."

Several of the players have used another word to describe what being a part of this team this year has been like.

"It's been a lot of fun to be a part of this team," Majok Deng, the lone returning player from last year's Warrior squad, said. "I had a lot of fun last year, but this year is just full of great guys to play with on the floor and be teammates with off of it."

There are still plenty of obstacles in between the Warriors and a potential national tournament berth. The next three months will feature a return to Region XI play, where teams like No. 13 Iowa Western, Southeastern and Northeast Nebraska will be waiting.

Should IHCC make it past those teams, there's still a battle with the Region XIII champ to earn an automatic national tournament berth. However, with four wild card postseason berths available to the top four teams that don't qualify automatically for the tournament, IHCC's current record and top ranking currently makes Indian Hills a top contender to earn a place in the tournament on the current pace they're on.

So while a national tournament berth is anything but a certainty right now, it won't stop fans of the Warriors from making plans for a trip to Kansas this spring.

"I don't blame them," IHCC sophomore Lester Medford said. "I think they might want to start booking those hotels."

To follow Scott Jackson's Twitter feed, go to @CourierScott