Janesville Craig's boys basketball team talks over a late play

Janesville Craig boys basketball players watch coach Ben McCormick, center, draw up a play during a late-game timeout. The young Cougars lost their season opener at Madison Edgewood, 71-61, but followed that by winning three Big Eight Conference games.

T he Janesville Craig boys basketball team will take a 3-0 Big Eight Conference record into next Tuesday’s clash with crosstown rival Janesville Parker.

Note to anyone who says they saw this coming: Please know that I’ve got some prime real estate for sale in the Florida Keys, too. This is a stunner!

The Cougars were picked by many to finish at the bottom of the Big Eight Conference this season, and when two-year starting point guard Marshaun Harriel was lost for the season with an anterior cruciate ligament injury, the prospects grew even dimmer.

Evidently, the Cougars never got the memo that said the season was lost, too.

“I’m sure for those on the outside, they’re surprised by our start,” Craig coach Ben McCormick said. “But for the guys on this team, they’ve always had confidence in their abilities and what they could accomplish on the court.

“One of the biggest things for us is the fact that our chemistry is so good. We’ve got great veteran leadership and everybody understands their role and is making the most of their minutes played.”

Craig rallied to beat Madison West in the conference opener and then rattled off impressive wins at Verona and at home on Tuesday night against longtime Big Eight powerhouse Madison Memorial.

“The best thing about our conference games is that we’ve been able to learn from our mistakes and still come out with a win,” McCormick said.

“We’ve got a long way to go and still have a lot to learn and clean up, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say we’re pleasantly surprised to be 3-0 and leading the Big Eight. And that’s a credit to the guys who have worked so hard to get to this point.”

Craig was scheduled to play host to Sun Prairie on Friday, but the game was postponed due to positive COVID-19 cases among several Sun Prairie players.

“Having a week off before we play Parker has both its advantages and disadvantages,” McCormick said. “You always want to keep playing when things are going well and you’re playing well, but having a week off will allow us some time to work on things, especially defensively, that we haven’t really been able to.”

Here’s a look at three area games on tap over the next three days:

Janesville Craig (2-3, 2-1) at Sun Prairie (5-0, 3-0), girls, Big Eight Conference, 7:15 p.m., Thursday, at Sun Prairie High School: These teams are likely going to be in the mix for a conference title. The Cardinals currently sit atop the Big Eight standings with Middleton, with the Cougars one game behind.

Sun Prairie has rolled to a 5-0 start, winning four of the five games by double-digit margins.

Marie Outlay has been the catalyst for the Cardinals. The forward is averaging 17 points per game.

And defense has been a calling card for the Cardinals. The team is allowing only 40 points per game.

But Craig has got its three-headed monster back in Ellie Magestro-Kennedy, Kate Huml and Mya Nicholson. The Cougars have won both games convincingly in which all three have played. All three are averaging in double figures in scoring.

Best guess: Sun Prairie 58, Craig 53.

Janesville Parker (2-2, 1-2) at Verona (3-2, 1-2), boys, Big Eight, 7:15 p.m., Friday, at Verona High School: The winner gets back to .500 in the Big Eight; the loser falls into a early hole in a conference that always makes it tough to climb back.

Verona opened conference play with an impressive win over Sun Prairie but has lost back-to-back games to Craig and Madison West.

Freshman Andrew Murphy leads four players averaging in double figures, scoring 16.4 points a game. Defensively, the Wildcats are allowing 65.8 points a game.

Parker picked up its first victory at Beloit’s Barkin Arena since 1987 on Tuesday and hopes for a second consecutive road victory at Verona. The Vikings began the season with five consecutive road games.

Tre Miller and Jake Naber have been a dynamic duo for Parker. The junior point guard and senior center are averaging 22.2 and 21.0 points per game, respectively.

Junior Sam Bess played his first game of the season against Beloit and finished with 14 points.

Best guess: Parker 68, Verona 61.

Whitnall (2-1) at Milton (4-1), boys, nonconference, 1 p.m., Saturday, at Milton High School: This matchup features two teams both ranked in the top 10 in the wissports.net Week 2 poll. The Red Hawks are ranked eighth and the Falcons are ninth.

Whitnall’s only loss was to Menomonee Falls, currently ranked eighth in Division 1.

Danilo Jovanovich, who holds NCAA Division I scholarship offers from DePaul, Illinois, Milwaukee, Penn State, Toledo, USC and Wake Forest, is one of the top players in the state. The 6-foot-8 senior is averaging 28.5 points a game.

Milton counters with Jack Campion. The senior is considered one of the top point guards in the state and is averaging 17 points and 10 assists a game.

Best guess: Whitnall 73, Milton 59.

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