There's no conference in North Carolina as competitive in boys basketball as the I-Meck 4A. Five teams are ranked in the Sweet 16: No. 1 Hopewell, No. 2 Lake Norman, No. 5 Vance, No. 11 West Charlotte and No. 13 North Mecklenburg.
In the N.C. Preps state 4A poll, Hopewell is No. 1, Lake Norman No. 2 and Vance is No. 5.
Every night is like a state championship game.
Mecklenburg County is blessed to have the state's best football league -- the Butler-Independence driven Southwestern 4A -- and its best in basketball, too.
Tonight at Hopewell, Vance comes for another big I-MECK game at 7:45 p.m.
Every night, the games draw huge crowds. Last Friday, for example, Dr. Ron Bradley (Clemson), Ritchie McKay (Virginia) and Ryan Odom (Virginia Tech) were at the Vance-North Meck game to see Division I prospects Bernard Sullivan of North Meck and Marquis Rankin and Braxton Ogbueze of Vance.
Last Tuesday, Brandis Raley-Ross (South Carolina guard) and former Harding star Walt Aikens (all freshman Big 10 defender at Illinois) were there to support Harding coach Walt Aikens Sr. and Harding star Corey Raley-Ross (Brandis' brother).
The I-Meck is full of the state's best players. It would be easy to make a pretty good all-state team with just this league: West Charlotte's J.T. Terrell and Rankin are top 100 players nationally in the senior and junior class. Sullivan and Ogbueze are major college recruits. Lake Norman center Paul Larsen, probably the early candidate for league player of the year, is signed to Mercer. Hopewell's Jordan Downing (Davidson) and DeMon Brooks (Howard) are both major college signees.
But I wonder if these teams are wearing themselves down by playing each other every night? It could also be making each of them tougher for the postseason.
Speaking of the playoffs, I figure one of the league's top five teams will be a wild card, but the other four seeded teams are all on the bottom half of the bracket. That means only two of the four can make the Western Regionals.
And the playoff brackets are interesting.
The No. 1 seed, currently Hopewell, could potentially play the No. 3., currently Vance, in a sectional final game -- the one needed to advance to the regionals.
But the No. 2 seed, currently Lake Norman, would play the Southern Carolina No 2 seed, a game it would be favored to win, and then play either the I-MECK No. 4, currently 7-6 Mooresville, or the MEGA 4A No. 1, currently 9-7 Olympic.
Right now, if the playoffs started today, North Meck and West Charlotte would be hoping for wild cards.
Now that's some league.
Here are the standings right now:
Hopewell 15-0, 4-0
Lake Norman 11-1, 4-1
Vance 11-3, 3-1
Mooresville 7-6, 2-2
W. Charlotte 10-5, 1-3
Mallard Creek 6-7, 1-4
North Meck 10-4, 0-4
Vance at Hopewell
W. Charlotte at Mallard Creek