With two weeks remaining in the season, let's take a look at ten of the hottest teams in Central Ohio.
1. Pickerington Central (14-3, 9-1)
Winners of eight-straight, Pickerington Central has arguably been the hottest team in all of Ohio as of late. Sitting atop the OCC-Ohio, the Tigers head into Tuesday's matchup vs. Newark with tons of uncertainty. As reports have circulated that Ohio State commit Jae'Sean Tate will miss the remainder of the season due to shoulder surgery, the ultimate decision has yet to be made, as Tate is scheduled for an MRI on Thursday to determine if surgery is needed. As Tate has battled with the injury since the summer, the Ohio State commit said he doesn't want to "damage my shoulder any more." With the high-scoring duo of senior guard Connor Kern and junior small forward Rodney Culver, Central can certainly compete with the toughest competition in the event that Tate misses the rest of the season, but it is unsure whether or not the Tigers can continue an impressive run without their best player.
2. Bishop Watterson (14-1, 5-0)
Coming off a Division-II state championship a year ago, the senior laden Eagles haven't skipped a beat in 2013-14. Behind seniors Matt Lehmann, Matt Hughes, Andy Greiser and Cody Calhoun, Watterson is one of the most efficient teams in Ohio, and can really stifle any opposing offense they go up against. With Lehmann in the lineup, Watterson is undefeated (Lehmann missed a Jan. 11 loss at Middletown, 56-43). Missing three weeks due to a wrist injury suffered earlier in the season, Lehmann's addition to a deep Watterson rotation should help the Eagles in their pursuit for a second consecutive state championship.
3. Northland (15-3, 11-0)
After securing sole possession of first place in the Columbus City-League North with a 41-37 win vs. Brookhaven last Tuesday, Northland looks to wrap up an eighth-consecutive division title this week. Traveling to Brookhaven on Friday, a Northland win would clinch a North division title for the Vikings, setting up a date with Walnut Ridge in the City-League Championship on Saturday, Feb. 15. In a loss vs. Pickerington Central on Jan. 25 and the win vs. Brookhaven last week, Northland showed quite a bit of selfishness offensively, killing momentum in several stretches of each game. Heading into a tough matchup vs. the Bearcats on Friday, Northland needs to return to being the cohesive unit the Vikings were a season ago to set up momentum heading into a tournament stretch that will be tougher than in years past.
4. Upper Arlington (16-1, 9-1)
One of the more surprising teams in the area, Upper Arlington is just one buzzer-beating three vs. Olentangy Liberty away from being undefeated. Behind stifling team defense and the consistent scoring of senior combo-guard Kevin Vannatta, the Bears are as hot as ever. Winners of 15-straight, Upper Arlington has relied on defense, toughness and quality possessions, holding every opponent under 50 points this season. With a tough road matchup at Marysville on Tuesday, the Bears must continue to play Upper Arlington basketball to stay afront a top-heavy OCC-Central.
5. Newark (14-3, 8-2)
Behind the high-scoring of junior guard Jordan Dartis, Newark has been a rather surprising team in Central Ohio this season. While Gahanna and Pickerington Central were the dominant favorites to win the OCC-Ohio at the beginning of the year, Dartis has the Wildcats right where they want to be. One game behind Central for the division lead, the Wildcats return home on Tuesday for an all-important matchup for first place in the division. Defeating the Tigers on their home floor on Jan. 3, Newark comes into the matchup as confident as ever. With Dartis leading a hungry, but disciplined unit, the well-coached Wildcats are as primed as ever for a deep run in the playoffs this season.
6. Walnut Ridge (16-2, 12-0)
Clinching the Columbus City-League South last Friday, the Scots look to keep rolling into the postseason. Behind the scoring of sophomores Tarik Wright and Malik Harrison, the Scots haven't always won pretty, but continue to get the job done with balance, defense, and resilience. At 16-2, Walnut Ridge has won 11 games by single-digits, including one-point wins vs. Granville and Marion-Franklin. With two games remaining on the schedule, the Scots must not let up heading into a likely date with Northland in the City-League Championship on Feb. 15.
7. Gahanna (15-3, 8-3)
One of the harder teams to figure out this season, Gahanna finds itself on the outside looking in at this point in the year. Two games behind Pickerington Central for the OCC-Ohio division lead, Gahanna will need a few things to happen in front of them for a chance to win the division. After being upset on the road vs. Reynoldsburg last Tuesday, the Lions responded with 20-point wins over Lancaster and Canal Winchester over the weekend. Road games vs. Grove City and Pickerington North await this week, leading up to a mega-matchup at home vs. Pickerington Central on Feb. 14. Gahanna needs Michigan State commit Javon Bess to be the dominant force that he is capable of being in order to play to the Lions' ultimate potential.
8. Dublin Coffman (13-3, 8-2)
After ripping off nine straight wins to begin the season, Dublin Coffman has hit a rough patch as of late, losing three of its last seven games. Sitting one game behind Upper Arlington for first place OCC-Central, Coffman has to keep winning to keep themselves in striking distance of the Bears. With a difficult matchup at Olentangy Liberty on Friday, the Rocks must be careful not to slip up before home games vs. Thomas Worthington and Upper Arlington in the final week of the season. Dropping a non-league contest vs. Canton McKinley at home on Saturday, the Rocks were held to just 18 points in the final two quarters of regulation and overtime. Starting off the season as one of the highest scoring teams in Central Ohio, Coffman hopes to regain that offensive firepower heading into a crucial five-game stretch to round out the season.
9. Westerville Central (14-4, 10-1)
After a hard-fought 64-63 win at rival Westerville North last Friday, the Warhawks are right where they want to be with five games remaining on the schedule. As Duquesne commit Eric James went off for 32 points in the win vs. North last week, the Warhawks could use a similar performance out of their senior leader as Central returns home on Tuesday for yet another rivalry. Matching up with second-place Westerville South, a Warhawk win would put Central two games ahead of everyone else in the OCC-Cardinal. Taking down the Wildcats 72-61 on Jan. 3, the Warhawks still prevailed despite an 11-point performance from James. Look for Tuesday's matchup to be one of the top games in the area as first place in the division is on the line.
10. Granville (14-3, 12-2)
Holding a tie-breaker with Johnstown atop the Licking County League, Granville will get the biggest test of its season in the final two weeks of the year. With four league games on the road to round out the season, we will found out real soon if the Blue Aces are for real or not. Dropping home games to Newark Catholic and Licking Valley earlier in the month, Granville has responded with four consecutive wins to stay atop the conference. Defeating Johnstown 55-30 at home on Dec. 17, the Blue Aces will conclude their season on the road vs. the Johnnies on Feb. 13 in what could decide the Licking County League.
Games to watch for this week
Bishop Watterson (14-1, 5-0) vs. Bishop Hartley (11-5, 4-2)
When: Monday at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Bishop Hartley High School
Previous matchup: Watterson at home, 46-40 on Jan. 24
Going on a 6-0 run to close out Hartley in their last matchup, Watterson heads into Monday's matchup with a ton on the line. With a 14-game conference winning streak dating back to February of 2012, Watterson has won three of its last four matchups vs. the Hawks by single-digits. Heading into a hostile environment on the road, look for the Eagles to prevail late and continue an excellent season in the Central Catholic League.
Upper Arlington (16-1, 9-1) vs. Marysville (11-6, 5-6)
When: Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Marysville High School
Previous matchup: Upper Arlington won at home, 56-40 on Jan. 3
With the Golden Bears atop the OCC-Central, tough roads games still await for Upper Arlington. One of those games is on Tuesday vs. a Marysville team playing at a high level lately. Defeating both Dublin Coffman and Olentangy Liberty in the last two weeks, Marysville has shown at times, the potential to be a really tough team to beat. Held to a season-low 40 points in their first matchup vs. Upper Arlington, the Monarchs will need a bigger boost in scoring in order to pull the upset.
Westerville South (13-3, 9-2) vs. Westerville Central (14-4, 10-1)
When: Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Westerville Central High School
Previous matchup: Westerville Central won on the road, 72-61, on Jan. 3
With first place in the OCC-Capital on the line, Tuesday's matchup between the two Westerville rivals is as big as ever. As a young, but fiery South squad comes in winners of their last seven games, the Warhawks are the one team that has been the Wildcats' crux this season. With their last loss coming to Central on Jan. 3, look for sophomores Andre Wesson and Jelani Rogers to pace a Wildcat team capable of pulling off a major victory on the road. However, if Central seniors Eric James, Kwamel Wade and Jalen Malone can put together yet another balanced scoring effort, look for Tuesday's outcome to sway toward the Warhawks.
Pickerington Central (14-3, 9-1) vs. Newark (14-3, 8-2)
When: Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Newark High School
Previous matchup: Newark won on the road, 62-58, on Jan. 3
Also battling for first place in the OCC, Newark and Pickerington Central enter Tuesday rolling with tons of momentum. While Central holds a one-game lead over the Wildcats, a loss on Tuesday would put Newark ahead as the Wildcats hold the tie-breaker. With Jae'Sean Tate battling the flu in the first matchup of the season, the Tigers will be without their star on Tuesday. Receiving 31 points from Jordan Dartis in the first matchup of the year, look for Newark to get a similar effort from their star guard in a game that will shift momentum in the OCC-Ohio.
Northland (15-3, 11-0) vs. Brookhaven (13-4, 10-1)
When: Friday at 7 p.m.
Where: Brookhaven High School
Previous matchup: Northland won at home, 41-37 on Jan. 30
Defeating Brookhaven by a combined eight points in the previous three matchups vs. the Bearcats, Northland should expect nothing different on Friday. After battling back vs. Dayton Thurgood Marshall on Saturday, Brookhaven enters this week with a great deal of confidence despite a one-point loss to the Cougars. After blowing multiple chances to win in the last matchup, Brookhaven gets the Vikings right where they want them to end the season. Losing out-of-conferences games to Thurgood Marshall and Pickerington Cental, Northland is not as dominant as they have been in years' past, but still have the potential to be a deadly team in the postseason. In order for Brookhaven to snap Northland's 117-game City-League winning streak, the Bearcats will need to play a perfect game, execute in the final minutes and get consistent scoring from their top contributors. If Brookhaven fails to do any one of those three things, look for the Vikings to pull it out late once again.