Ohio prep hoops: Columbus Northland 2013-'14 preview

Northland features a brand new gym floor for 2013-'14 - Zach Fleer

Columbus powerhouse Northland returns nine of ten lettermen from a Final Four team a year ago.

After ripping off 28 consecutive victories en route to a state semifinal berth, Columbus Northland returns for a much-anticipated 2013-'14 campaign with state title implications. Returning nine of its ten leading scorers from a year ago, the Vikings are one of the most balanced teams in the country. With consistent guard play, size at the wings, and a workhorse in the middle, Northland is likely to extend its 106-game Columbus City-League winning streak to unprecedented levels.

Coach: Sean Taylor (Third season; 50-3 record)

Key Players:

Seth Towns (6'8 SF / Soph.):

Towns, an Ohio State target, returns for a sophomore season as a much improved player. After averaging nearly 10 points and six rebounds per game as a freshman, Towns' maturity was put to the test in a deep playoff run. Looked to for timely baskets in crucial moments last season, the lanky forward stepped up to the challenge. After a successful summer with the VCC Ohio Warriors, Towns has grown an inch, and his game as come full circle. Noted by Corey Albertson of Rivals.com, Towns looks to be more comfortable in a team setting, as opposed to a showcase setting, which should bode well for the Vikings this season. With an arsenal of offensive moves, Towns is a dependable shooter from the perimeter with excellent court vision. While Boston Celtics power forward Jared Sullinger had to wait until his junior season to lead Northland to a state championship, don't be surprised if Towns can accomplish the latter as a sophomore.

Shemar Waugh (5'9 PG / Senior):

Committed to Ohio Dominican, the pesky Waugh is undoubtedly Central Ohio's top point guard. A staunch defender, Waugh uses excellent foot speed and active hands to cause nightmares for opposing guards. While Waugh has proven at times to be a dependable scorer, the senior more often than not chooses to get his teammates involved, creating and distributing at a high rate. Playing alongside Ohio State commit Jae'Sean Tate and Michigan State verbal Javon Bess this summer, Waugh played some of his best basketball against high quality guards in the EYBL for All-Ohio Red. The heart and soul of the Vikings, Waugh is everything you need from your point guard and more.

Jaylen Tucker (6'7 PF / Senior):

Arguably the top big man in Central Ohio, Tucker is an athletic 6'7 forward that has elevated his game in recent months. Also playing AAU ball for All-Ohio Red, Tucker saw an increase in minutes toward the end of the summer as key contributors were not available for action. Having his best performance against the Atlanta Xpress in the AAU Super Showcase with 16 points and 11 rebounds, Tucker showed flashes of what he brings to the table for the Vikings. Always active around the rim, Tucker is a workhorse in the middle. With a long wingspan and high motor, Tucker is a matchup problem for opposing defenders, as his length and quickness are tough to defend. Improving his ball-handling and mid-range shooting in the offseason, Tucker is primed for a tremendous senior season.

Ty Hairston (6'2 SG / Senior):

Northland's James Harden, Hairston resumed a role last season similar to the one the bearded combo-guard filled with the Oklahoma City Thunder. The first man off the bench, Hairston was a catalyst for a second-team unit that was more talented than the majority of starting lineups around the area. With a balanced offensive skill set, Hairston is an excellent mid-range shooter with underrated quickness and a drive to win. Dealing with foul trouble in Northland's only loss of the season to Mentor, the Vikings looked to Hairston for scoring, and the junior delivered. Although the Vikings were dispatched by the eventual state champions, Hairston's performance was a sign of things to come. With the graduation of leading scorer Armani Towns, expect Hairston to move into the starting lineup in 2013-'14.

Derek McKeithen (6'4 SF / Senior):

One of the most athletic players in Ohio, McKeithen is a highlight reel waiting to happen. At 6'5, McKeithen provides excellent length at the wing position, and has developed into a dependable shooter from the perimeter. Averaging 10.9 points per contest as a junior, McKeithen is more than ready for an increase in production, as the senior has been one of the hardest working players in the area in the last few months. Excellent in transition, McKeithen is more than capable of being a lockdown defender, which the Vikings will need come playoff time. While McKeithen's focus and drive has been questioned in the past, the senior has shown a level of determination that will only improve his stock as the season wears on.

Doug Taylor (6'8 C / Junior)

Donte Smith (6'1 SG / Senior)

Kenny Sloan (6'1 SG / Senior)

Jhustus Cornley (6'2 SG / Senior)

Seth McCoy (6'2 SG / Junior)

Key Games:

Dec. 7 vs. Dayton Thurgood Marshall at Clark Kellogg Classic

Dec. 26-31 - Beach Ball Classic (Myrtle Beach, SC)

Jan. 18 vs. Roselle Catholic (NJ) at Flyin' to the Hoop

Outlook:

With a loaded non-conference schedule, Northland's run to perfection may be a little tougher than the Vikings are projecting. While the mentality is "State championship or bust," for the Vikings, Northland must not overlook any opponent and stay focused on the task at hand. With Ohio's best group of seniors, the Vikings are battle tested and experienced, qualities that go hand in hand in the last few weeks of March. Tough match ups vs. City-League rival Brookhaven await (the Vikings won both games in overtime last season by a combined four points), while City-League South foes Africentric, Marion-Franklin and Walnut Ridge are gearing up for their chance to upend the seven-time defending champion in the City-League Championship. Behind the leadership of Waugh and the rest of the seniors, Northland is one of the surest bets to return to the Value City Arena for the state final four.

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