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It's shaping up to be another strong boys basketball season in the Tri-State area. Here are five things to keep an eye on as we move into 2018:

1. Will the state split up NW Iowa Class 2A teams?

As we head into 2018 there are four teams in the top eight of the Associated Press top 10 as defending state champion Western Christian leads the way at No. 1.

Sioux Center, who fell in a substate final to the Wolfpack a year ago, the fourth straight season the two have played for a state berth, is ranked second, both teams off to unbeaten starts.

Sheldon, with its lone loss to Sioux Center by a scant point, is ranked fifth at 8-1 while Unity Christian, another one-loss team, is sitting eighth.

Western Christian has made four straight state tournament appearances, winning titles in 2014 and 2016 under long-time coach Jim Eekhoff and 2017 under Bill Harmsen.

Western Christian and Sioux Center have met in the postseason every year since 2008 and the last time two Northwest Iowa teams (above Highway 20) both made it to state in Class 2A was 2003.

2. Can the Lewis & Clark Conference continue its success?

Ponca, the defending Class C2 state champion, took a 7-0 record and No. 1 ranking into the Shootout on the Elkhorn that began Thursday in Wisner.

The Indians are paced by Logan and Carter Kingsbury, son's of former Iowa standout Chris Kingsbury. Connor Day and Dalton Tremayne are also back for the defending state champs.

Winnebago (4-0), also in the field in Wisner, has played in three straight state tournaments. The Indians, led by D'Von LaPointe, are ranked third in Class C1.

Wynot, ninth-ranked in D2, has played in the last two state tournaments while Osmond, ranked ninth in D1, gives the conference four ranked teams at the holiday break.

Laurel-Concord/Coleridge, off to a 7-1 start with its lone loss to Ponca, heads the field in the eight-team Great Northeast Nebraska Shootout that began Thursday at Wayne State College.

3. Can Remsen St. Mary's continue its boys athletic success?

Remsen St. Mary's, a state tournament team a year ago, reached the state football finals in the fall after making the semifinals in baseball last summer.

The Hawks, currently 8-0 and ranked third in 1A, have won all eight games by double figures and have three that average double digits.

Nicholas Ruden, who went over 1,000 career points right before Christmas, paces the team at 17.4 points while sophomore Spencer Schorg averages 14.9 points and Brody Ricke 10.5.

Derrick Schorg, the football quarterback, is the team's leading rebounder for Coach Scott Ruden, who picked up his 100th career win before the holiday break.

4. Can Dakota Valley make a third straight state tourney?

Dakota Valley lost seven seniors, including its top three scorers from last year's squad, that despite a 14-11 record, recorded a fourth-place state tournament finish.

The Panthers, one of five Dakota XII teams in the Class A state tourney last winter, are off to a 3-1 start this season with their lone loss coming to Dakota XII rival Tea Area, the defending state champions.

Jack McCabe, a three-year varsity performer, is this season's scoring leader at 15.8 points per game. Charlie Cox, a 6-3 junior, averages 14.3 points while Tanner Smith, a 6-foot senior, adds 11.3 points for a team that scores 67.3 points per game.

Jason Kleis is in his 11th season as head coach and has guided the Panthers to 144 wins and three of the school's four state tournament appearances.

5. Can the MRAC push two teams to the state tourney again?

The Missouri River Conference has sent at least one team to the state tournament every year of its existence and nine times, including last year, two have qualified.

Sergeant Bluff-Luton made a run to the 3A state title game while East, who is currently ranked sixth in 4A, was a state semifinalist.

Bishop Heelan, currently in first place and the lone unbeaten remaining in conference play at the holiday break, is ranked second in 3A.

The Crusaders and Black Raiders both have talented seniors in Elijah Hazekamp (22.7 ppg, 14.0 rpg) and Van Rees (18.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg), respectively.

Heelan hasn't captured an MRAC title since sharing it with East in 2010-11 while the Black Raiders snapped a three-year drought by winning last year's crown with an 11-1 mark, splitting a pair of games with the Crusaders.

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