Last season, the two teams that were superior to their opponents and appeared in the championship game were both from the Western Conference of the Yeshiva League. After a promising start to this season from all 10 teams in the Western Conference, will there be an inner-conference matchup in the finals once again?
The Ramaz Rams took home last year’s hardwood, but this year they’ve rolled out an almost entirely new roster, which has had their moments of both greatness and despair. Their season started out with an appearance at the Glouberman Preseason Tournament in California, where their true victories were in building chemistry as a unit. Junior forward Milan Kushner had his first varsity experience and has continued to impress in each game. Since the start of the season the Rams have played promising basketball, competing with some of the better teams, yet not beating any of the top tier talents. Kushner has continued to progress on the offensive end, averaging nearly 20 points per game, surpassing the 25 point mark on five occasions, but he will need more help if the underclassmen-heavy Rams desire to complete the two-peat.
One team that is in a similar tier to the Rams is the Hillel Heat. Last year the Heat were controlled by then 11th grader Elliot Braha, who proved to be one of the best pure scorers in the Yeshiva League. They were unable to make a deep run in the playoffs due to their lack of depth, but this season, second year varsity player junior Moses Smeke has proven to be Braha’s sidekick. With a 7-2 record to start the season, the Heat have proven to have minimal issue securing victories, but with a difficult final five games, including a rematch of last year’s first round playoff matchup against the TABC Storm, these few games will determine their fate.
After a disappointing loss in last season’s semi-finals, the Frisch Cougars have proven to be relentless. Senior guard Alex Zakheim has been the Cougars’ leader on the offensive end, even scoring a Yeshiva League season-high 36 points in a loss to the Flatbush Falcons. Guard Isaac Schiffman has been nicely complementing Zakheim, but a clear hole in the team has been the consistency of their big man play. This was noticeable in their recent loss to the TABC Storm, where their opponent controlled the paint the entire course of the game. If the Cougars want to continue their success, not only will Zakheim and Schiffman need to continue to score, but their presence in the paint needs to be noticeable.
The TABC Storm didn’t have too much success at the Glouberman Preseason Tournament raising questions about their potential, but have since proved to be a top talent in the Western Conference. Senior forward Natanel Benloulou has shown to be a premier talent capable of scoring at all three levels with ease consistently. The turning point for the Storm this season appeared to be when they defeated the Ramaz Rams on consecutive evenings and have since been victorious in all three of their matchups. As good as Benloulou has been to start the season, the paint play of big man Tzvi Schrieber and ball movement from junior forward Eitan Sulemanoff have been crucial on countless occasions. With an 8-2 record and four games remaining, the TABC Storm will be a team to watch out for when the playoffs arrive.
The SAR Sting have proven for the second consecutive season to be the best team in the Western Conference during the regular season. They are the lone undefeated team in the conference, and have gotten there with ease. With the exception of their most recent win against the Hillel Heat, the Sting have won all their games by a double digit difference. Senior guard Akiva Schanzer has been their go-to, but as seen in the past the SAR Sting are a challenging opponent because all five guys in the black and gold are capable of going off for at least 20 points on any given night. With six games remaining, including three against TABC and Frisch, the Sting don’t have the easiest schedule, but will likely have what it takes to secure the victory. Look for the Sting to be a playoff favorite once again this season.
As the season progresses a few teams to watch out for will be the JEC Thunder, Ohr Yisroel Flames, MTA Lions, Kushner Cobras and Heschel Heat. Despite not having the greatest start to the season each of these teams have made sure to get to the victory column at least once and with several games left on each of their schedules, these teams will compete for one of the lower spots in the playoff bracket. It is not too late for any of these teams to make a run!
We are just about at the midway point of the regular season, but with plenty of games left to play anything can still be a possibility.
Make sure to check this section weekly for all updates and the latest news from around the yeshiva league. Also make sure to check out Yeshiva League Pass on Instagram and their website for nightly updates on varsity basketball and hockey.
Ikey Gutlove is the Jewish Link sports intern. Please contact [email protected] if you have interest in contributing to this column by providing stories and updates from any high school athletic teams.