Indiana's girls basketball season officially opens today, with the first two games on the state's schedule.
While region teams won't begin competing until Tuesday — when the schedule overflows with games — today marks the first day of exactly 12 weeks to declare conference champions, settle old grudges and renew rivalries.
Which also means there are three months to answer the following burning questions:
Can anyone repeat the unbeaten mark set by Merrillville last season? A once-in-a-decade feat of finishing the regular season unbeaten was a tough task for the Pirates last year with a schedule that included the Duneland Athletic Conference double round-robin and a nonconference schedule that included Top 10 teams. No region team had gone undefeated in nine years. A few stars must align for it to happen again, including an injury-free season and a wealth of experience. Every team hopes to land undefeated, and the potential exists, but the probability is so much lower.
Where are the repeat conference champions? Boone Grove will have a tough road to try to earn another Porter County Conference title, having lost the bulk of its scoring from last season. Hanover Central, which finished third, returns most of its top scorers. Michigan City is more likely than Merrillville to dominate the DAC for the same reason. Lowell and Whiting, with veteran rosters, have the best probability for repeat titles in their respective conferences.
Is there a regional winner in the pack? Only Bowman Academy and E.C. Central reached the regional finals last season but neither reached semistate, marking the second year in a row no region team advanced to that round. The Class 4A and 2A regionals are among the toughest in the state, with Penn in the Top 5 in the Sagarin Ratings and FW Luers the top 2A team at 13th (ahead of every team in the region). That's not to say region teams don't have the skill, but luck will also need to shine on NWI.
Which new coach will see the most success? There are nine first-year coaches in the area, with two each in the Northwest Crossroads Conference (Lowell and Andrean), the Northwestern Conference (Lew Wallace and Roosevelt) and the Great Lakes Athletic Conference (Clark and Hammond). The answer to that question depends on the definition of "success."
Lowell returns most of its starters, so an unsuccessful season would be finishing second or third in the conference. However, Clark hasn't won more than four games in any season since 2003-04, so success in Robertsdale is defined differently.
If you have your own questions you can't wait to be answered, send them my way on Twitter @NWI_Hillary and we'll see how this season can best answer them.
This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.