The landscape of high school basketball in the Lake Norman area changed forever last year with the inception of the I-Meck Conference, which merged most of the former ME-CA 7 with Lake Norman and Mooresville, creating a local super league in most sports.
Boys' basketball has been no exception.
Despite finishing fourth in the regular season, West Charlotte and star guard J.T. Terrell made a magical run to win the tournament in its inaugural year. However, Lake Norman got the last laugh by winning the 4A state championship in Raleigh.
This season, the I-Meck is again amongst the state's best conference with a different look at the top of league.
North Mecklenburg has emerged as one of the best teams in the league despite losing star forward Bernard Sullivan and Phillip Anglade to Davidson Day.
Although the Vikings had a down season last year, coach Duane Lewis and company are no strangers to winning, having been consistently one of the best teams in their conference while also being crowned state champs in 2005.
Meanwhile, West Charlotte, led by senior Jacoby Davis, has also been strong, dominating most of its opponents all season long.
Losing to the Vikings two weeks ago, the Lions were tied atop the standings with North heading into this week.
Vance and Mooresville have flirted with top spots in the I-Meck, but have seen its ups and downs. Hopewell, Lake Norman and Mallard Creek are in rebuilding mode, but still have an outside shot at being a factor in the tournament, while Hough is still looking to prove itself in its first year as a school.
I-Meck tournament breakdown
North Meck came into the season without great expectations, but Lewis and seniors Carlin Bremner and Jermaine Forte had other ideas.
The Vikings have emerged as one of the conference and state's best teams at this point, with Bremner leading a veteran team.
Junior point guard Shivaughn Wiggins (11 ppg, 7 apg), who transferred from Lake Norman Charter, has also been a big factor, allowing Bremner to move more off the ball.
The Viking interior has also been a surprise with Forte, senior Karl Barkley and sophomore Tahjai Watt stepping up their games.
North Meck has the talent to win it all, but has won a lot of tight games in the end and will be tested by the league's top tier teams.
West Charlotte was expected to be a standout team this season, and they have lived up to expectations.
Senior guard Jacoby Davis, a North Florida recruit, has been everything he was expected to be, scoring 20 points per game and has been at his best of late.
But the Lions' strength is inside, where 6-foot-8, 260-pound sophomore Kennedy Meeks has come of age, averaging 13 points and 11 rebounds per game. Meeks and smaller, but quicker, forwards Michael Brown and Juwan Byers can dominate at times.
If Davis and Meeks can play up to expectations, expect the Lions to be there in the championship with a great shot to win it all again.
Like North Meck, Vance lost its two top players in Marquis Rankin (Hargrave Military) and Braxton Ogbueze (United Faith) to other schools, but the Cougars have reloaded nicely and could be a factor next week.
Vance is led by the inside duo of 6-foot-5 seniors Kenyan Harper (10 ppg, 8 rpg) and Juwan Springs (13 ppg, 8 rpg), who are long but slender.
The Cougars' fate may lie within their backcourt, where junior Ivan Lowe and senior Eric Lusha lead a deep unit.
The Blue Devils have as much talent as any team in the league and also have the experience to make a run similar to West Charlotte last year.
Junior Shawn Lester, who averages 17 points a game, is capable of lighting up at any moment. If he, senior point guard Isaiah Johnson and wing Kendrick Johnson get hot, the Devils could be very dangerous.
Mooresville has been hard to predict game-by-game this year, and will be a wildcard again in the tournament.
After dominating the league the last two seasons, Hopewell has been in rebuilding mode for most of the season under first-year coach Damon Bost.
But Bost and seniors Elliott Pope and Michael Russell have been getting better and could be peaking at the right time.
Hopewell has a chance to be a factor in the I-Meck tournament, but must play very well to do so.
The Mavericks have been inconsistent all year, but have a had a chance to win most games in league play.
Junior Dominique Williams , a 6-foot-7 forward who averages 15 points per game, is a dangerous talent that could give opponents fits inside.
Mallard Creek will have to show they can play well consistently to even get out of the first round of the tournament.
The defending 4A state champions lost nearly everything from a year ago and this season has been a struggle.
Coach Brandon Jolly will look to senior guard Brian Whalen, the team's only returning starter from last year, to help his team on their way to upset some of the top conference teams. Getting out of the first round could be a big boost in confidence for the Wildcats.
The Huskies have made strides as a first-year program under Justin Batts, but will hard-pressed to make any sort of impact in the I-Meck tournament.
Hough could gain momentum for next season with a win or a tight game in the first round against the top team in the conference.