A year ago at this time, the Lake Norman boys' basketball was dominating most opponents on their way to a 26-3 record and a 4A state championship.
Meanwhile, North Mecklenburg was struggling, especially for their standards, going 12-10 overall, including a dismal 3-9 I-Meck record.
Now, things have changed, as the Vikings are one of the hottest teams in the state at 13-2, including 4-1 in I-Meck, while the Wildcats are a respectable 9-5 overall, but have struggled in I-Meck play with a 1-4 start.
North Meck seems to be coming into its own, as they have won eight of their past 10 games, going into the heart of the I-Meck slate. However, the Vikings may have to face some of that without their top scorer, senior shooting guard Carlin Bremner, who has been out a couple weeks with an ankle injury.
Lake Norman and coach Brandon Jolly appeared to have found itself over Christmas break, winning four straight games including the Record & Landmark Holiday Tournament title.
North Meck won the previous meeting with the Wildcats 67-42 at home on Dec. 10, but both teams have improved since that game. Just how much better Lake Norman is, will determine how close this game will be.
North Meck faces a difficult challenge if Bremner can't go, and right now the senior guard is week-to-week. But the Vikings seem to have found a nice chemistry in the last month with point guard Shivaughn Wiggins directing the offense.
If Bremner is available, shooters Kenny Tucker and Karl Barkley get even better because of open looks on the wings and both are capable of lighting it up from beyond the arc and opening the floor for Bremner and Wiggins.
Sophomore Rashaan Brown is starting to contribute solid minutes after recovering from nagging injuries from football season.
Sophomore Tahjai Watt is starting to play well as evidenced by two double-doubles in his last four games, including a 15-point, 14-rebound effort in a win against Vance.
Watt has help down low in the form of senior Jermaine Forte and junior Rashaun Sifford, who are becoming more comfortable in their roles.
North Meck wants to keep pace with first-place West Charlotte and Mooresville, which is tied for second with the Vikings, in the I-Meck standings. Every conference game is huge at this point.
Whether Bremner plays or not is a big factor in every game for North Meck, but the Vikings have won without him recently.
Expect North Meck and Lake Norman to play a tight game that will likely be decided by who makes the big plays in the closing minutes
After a slower start than they are used to, Lake Norman has shown glimpses of improvement in the last month.
But other than senior shooting guard Brian Whalen, who leads the team with 18 points per game, the Wildcats have not gotten consistent scoring.
Junior Najee Pritchett, the MVP of the holiday tournament, has started to score more often and the Wildcats need the added punch to the offense.
Senior forward Chris Patterson, a solid role player on the state championship team last year, has also stepped his game and will need to continue to do so to give the Wildcats an inside presence with Carter Jones.
The Wildcats are always tough at home, and have gotten better since their 25-point blowout loss to North Meck in December. Right now, the Wildcats are desperate for I-Meck wins so they can move up the conference ladder and put themselves in position for a potential postseason berth.
That motivation and playing at home should give them the fuel they need to keep it close and have a chance to win.