Who's tops in topsy-turvy basketball?


Muddled -- that is the best way to describe the boys basketball scene in Carroll County.

Defending champion Westminster has come back to the pack and may have slipped behind South Carroll and Liberty in talent. There is even talk that 1A Francis Scott Key could give the 4A Owls a tough time.

No one will know this season whether Key could beat Westminster or South Carroll because the Eagles do not play either team.

Liberty is the hottest team in the county right now, knocking off Westminster, 66-57, Friday night and winning handily against North Carroll, 72-38, Monday night. But the Lions lost to Francis Scott Key early.

That brings us back to South Carroll, the only team in the county with a .500 record (8-8). Key is 6-8, Liberty 6-9, Westminster 4-11 and North Carroll 3-14.

However, it's hard to compare records because Westminster plays the toughest schedule, and South Carroll, Liberty and North Carroll have tougher schedules than Key.

Because Key plays Liberty only once and North Carroll twice (3-0 in those three games), it is tough to seriously consider the Eagles as the top team in the county.

So, it seems that the top team will be determined by five games that have yet to be played. South Carroll is involved in four of those five games, and the fifth one sends Liberty to Westminster. The Cavaliers have to play Westminster and Liberty twice each in the next 2 1/2 weeks.

Most everybody concedes that South Carroll has the most talent and that it is playing outstanding team basketball under veteran coach Jim Carnes.

South Carroll is the only team in the county that consistently can hurt opponents inside and outside. It has a lot of good athletes, including point guard Greg Mihalko and center Tom Luster, who both starred on the football field last fall.

Mihalko, an outstanding running back, is a gritty player who isn't afraid to dive for the ball or do what it takes to beat a full-court press.

Luster knows how to handle himself inside and, being a quarterback, is tough enough to compete under the boards. He provides just enough offense to be effective.

Neither Mihalko nor Luster is counted on for a lot of scoring.

That job is left to senior shooting guard Jon Strebe, who is averaging 15 points, and swing man Brad Schulze, who has come on strong in recent games and was second-team All-Carroll County last season.

Carnes won't predict how his team will fare the rest of the season, saying only, "We'll see soon enough."

But Westminster coach Dave Byers and North Carroll coach Troy Warehime say the Cavaliers are the team to beat.

"South Carroll has the most experienced team, and they have a lot of home games left against county teams," Byers said. "No one in the county has stepped forward this season. It's been awhile since we didn't have one team stick out. I thought we were getting it together a little, but then the snow hit us and we didn't practice for a while and now we've played some ugly games."

Westminster peaked with an overtime loss to then-ranked No. 9 Milford Mill in the Westminster Holiday Tournament.

"We just have difficulty scoring," Byers said. "I know you can win games on defense, but you have to score sometimes. When teams surround Russell [DeMont, 6-8 center and first-team All-County choice last year] with three guys, we need to take advantage of that but we don't."

Also, the Owls have had trouble getting the ball inside to DeMont. Some games he gets only seven to eight shots.

"If you could have your choice of having a top point guard or a top center returning from a team, you'd take the point guard because everything starts with him," Byers said.

"We've been fortunate the past several years to have a lot of good players and good records. Now it's as if God has said, 'OK, you smart so and so, let's see what you can do with a lot of young players who aren't so talented.' "

Warehime, whose North Carroll team wins the Charlie Hustle Award hands down, picks South Carroll to win "because they have a pretty balanced team with four outstanding players."

Liberty comes the closest to South Carroll in having a balanced attack.

The problem is the Lions have been a little inconsistent -- especially shooting from the outside.

Brian Trone made six three-pointers against North Carroll on Monday night, but he doesn't often have those kind of shooting efforts.

Trone leads Liberty with 12.0 points per game, one point ahead of forward Andy Thompson, whose defense against DeMont was key in Friday's win over Westminster.

One thing Liberty coach Scott Kohr can count on every game is superb rebounding and passing from his inside trio of Josh Gursky, Joe Monar and Thompson.

The other major asset lately for Liberty has been its ability to beat the press behind the ball-handling of point guard Jeff Janyska.

And what about Francis Scott Key?

It was kind of tough for Key coach Jeff Cook to boast about what his team might do against South Carroll or Westminster this season if the Eagles had a chance.

Cook just watched Middletown beat Key, 96-48, Monday night in Uniontown.

"We live by the jumper and die by the jumper," he said. "We don't have the height to be much of a force inside."

Topher Casserly, Steve Wright, Kyle Stephenson and Mike Crawmer score in double figures, but it has not been enough to overcome good teams.

Casserly leads the way with 16 points a game. Wright averages 14.

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