With Hopewell and Lake Norman all but securing a spot in the state playoffs, the last two automatic bids in the I-Meck are still up in the air. Vance, ranked No. 5 in the Observer's Sweet 16 poll, currently has sole possession of the third spot.
North Mecklenburg, a strong team that is undefeated in non-conference play, still has a chance at that final automatic bid, though their window of opportunity is slowly closing.
If the Vikings lose this game, they will have to start fighting for a wildcard bid from the NCHSAA.
During the first meeting between these two teams, both squads struggled offensively. North Mecklenburg led at the half 17-14, but the Cougars went on an 11-2 run to begin the third quarter and an 8-2 streak to begin the fourth to take the 50-43 win.
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North Mecklenburg head coach Duane Lewis said his squad still played tight and made the game a one possession game with 30 seconds to go.
"I thought we just didn't get the ball to bounce our way at the end of the game," said Lewis in an e-mail.
Lewis said he expects a hard-nosed game against Vance, which he described as a very good defensive team.
North Mecklenburg (12-7, 1-7 through Jan. 28) is at the bottom of the conference after an unexpected 0-5 start in the I-Meck.
The Vikings have kept it close in most of the games against their I-Meck opponents, but have been able to close games out. They've loss all but one game by less than 10 points. The only exception was their 20-point loss to West Charlotte Jan. 26.
Against the Cougars in January, junior forward Bernard Sullivan fought through double teams to finish the night with 18 points. Carlin Bremner also saw a lot of defensive pressure and was held scoreless during the first half. Bremner finished the game with 10 points.
Bremner, a 5-foot-11 guard, has the ability to explode during games and has scored 30-plus points twice this season. A big game from him could propel the Vikings to another I-Meck win.
A third scorer will also have to step up to take advantage on the extra pressure on Sullivan, a 6-foot-8 Division I prospect, and Bremner.
Lewis explained that in order for his Vikings to return to Huntersville with a win, they'll have to limit their turnovers and to get back defensively.
He added that winning against the Cougars would be huge for the team.
"We've played everyone so tough, in fact leading just about every game in the fourth, so I'm sure getting a win against Vance would raise our spirits," said Lewis.
No. 5 Vance (13-5, 5-3 through Jan. 28) kicked off the season with seven straight wins, but struggled at the Chick-fil-A holiday tournament in South Carolina.
The Cougars have done well in the I-Meck and hold sole possession of third place behind Hopewell and Lake Norman - the only two teams they have lost to in the conference.
Vance coach Will Robinson has said that his team boasts the best backcourt in the state with Marquis Rankin and Braxton Ogbueze.
Rankin, a 6-foot-1 point guard, is a speedy player who has an uncanny ability to find his teammates where they're most comfortable. All season long Rankin has been fighting through injuries, but he has still been able to contribute for the Cougars.
Rankin, the fourth best point guard in the nation according to Scout.com, has received scholarship offers from Clemson, Georgia, South Carolina, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech. North Carolina and Ohio State are also interested.
Ogbueze, only a sophomore, led Vance with 16 points against the Vikings in January while Rankin added nine points, five rebounds, five assists and four steals. Senior forward Charles Robinson added 12 points.
Ogbueze has also received some attention from ACC schools. According to Scout.com, he already has offers from Virginia and Virginia Tech and has interest from Clemson.