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Predicting the United-8, Southeastern basketball conference standings

Jan. 2—With holiday hoops now in the rear-view mirror, it's time for local high school basketball to settle into conference play.

Most of the United-8 Conference played one conference game in mid-December, with the league slate set to resume Friday. The Southeastern Athletic Conference dives in next week.

So, with a few weeks of basketball to evaluate these teams, how will each fare in these two leagues that encompass Robeson County's five high schools and others in the Sandhills region?

Here's a semi-educated guess:

United-8 boys

1. Seventy-First — The Falcons (7-1, 1-0 United-8) reached the third round of the state playoffs last year and the state championship two years ago; junior guard Mylon Campbell (18.7 points, 5.7 rebounds per game) now leads the way with much of that core gone, and in a down year for the United-8 the Falcons should remain on top. Five of their seven early-season wins have come in close games, showing they've still got that ability to finish.

2. Lumberton — A new-look Lumberton (6-5, 1-0) team is 6-2 since senior guard Dimetrious Jones (19.2 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.2 assists) joined the Pirates. While I think there's a pretty big gap from Seventy-First to everyone else — and while I think second to sixth are pretty close and nearly interchangeable here — a Pirates team that is young but talented should still find its way towards the top of the standings.

3. South View — The Tigers (5-4, 0-1) have already matched last season's win total, doing so behind the play of breakout senior guard/forward Chase Evans (15.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.3 steals). While South View has lost four of its last six, it also posted a one-point loss to Seventy-First, showing how competitive the Tigers should be.

4. Jack Britt — While the Buccaneers (6-5, 1-0) struggled last season, most of the core returns, led by junior Ryan Lord (10.1 points, 5.8 rebounds) in the post and guards Jyden McMillan (8.0 points) and Tysean Major (7.0 points, 3.7 assists). Jack Britt has won five of its last six, with the loss coming by one point to Pine Forest in the championship of the Cumberland County Holiday Classic.

5. Purnell Swett — A scrappy and defensive-minded Rams (2-4) team hopes to replicate last year's pattern of starting slow before rallying for a third-place league finish. Junior guard Collin Sampson (19.8 points) scores in bunches, but finding supplemental scoring has been a challenge thus far.

6. Cape Fear — Despite the loss of last year's centerpieces Masaun Bryant, to graduation, and Jeremiah Melvin, a football prospect who isn't playing his senior season, there's still things to like about the Colts (2-6, 0-1) on paper — but the results haven't shown up yet. Behind seniors Connor Moore (11.8 points) and Mekhai Coleman (8.3 points, 5.9 rebounds) and junior Damien Gary (8.5 points, 3.8 assists) in the backcourt, they could certainly outperform this prediction.

7. Gray's Creek — Replacing Eden Hilton-Epps isn't easy, though sophomore forward Zeek Reed (9.7 points, 9.5 rebounds) is an emerging star inside for the Bears (0-6). They've lost five straight by double digits since a two-point loss to West Johnston to open the season.

8. Douglas Byrd — The Eagles (0-10, 0-1) have lost 69 straight games, dating back to a month before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. With three of the top five scorers from last year's roster now graduated, it looks to continue to be a struggle for the Eagles.

United-8 girls

1. Cape Fear — Regional finalists in 3A from last year that lost just one contributor to graduation, the Colts (8-0, 1-0) have their sights on more than a conference title. Jayda Angel (33.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 6.5 steals) grabs the headlines, but seniors Kayla Starling (9.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists) and Aniyah Jones (9.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.3 steals) are strong supplemental pieces beside the star guard.

2. Jack Britt — A Buccaneers (7-2, 1-0) program that's been atop its conference before is getting close to it again with much of the core back from last year's third-place finisher. Senior Zahara Gerald (16.0 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.8 steals) and junior Dezzy Clark (13.7 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.1 assists) are a strong backcourt tandem to lead the way.

3. South View — The Tigers (4-3, 1-0) overcome the graduation loss of standout point guard Neveah Colon, but have solid production from sophomore forward Jordynn Parnell (13.1 points, 7.6 rebounds) and senior guard Nahmiah Aekins (8.6 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 3.0 steals). South View has won three of its last four.

4. Purnell Swett — While the Rams (3-5, 1-0) are a much different team from last year's second-place league finisher, with its top three players now playing collegiately, there's still some talent on the roster. Niyah Locklear (14.4 points, 7.4 rebounds) is one of the league's best post players, and the rest of the roster shows potential, though with little experience.

5. Lumberton — The Pirates (2-6, 0-1) are even younger than the Rams, and while they've only won twice so far one of those wins, a Robeson County Shootout upset of Lake View, showed the team's capabilities. Gabby Locklear provides the backcourt experience, while Andrea Brown has been a breakout star in the frontcourt so far this season.

6. Seventy-First — While the Falcons (3-7, 0-1) are a likely bottom-half team, senior guard Mariyah Massey (10.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.8 steals) is a do-it-all star and freshman Kariana Williams (13.7 points) can be built around for the future.

7. Gray's Creek — Most of the Bears (2-6, 0-1) return from last year, but it's still been a struggle to start the 2023-24 campaign. Senior post Danejah Purdie (10.6 points, 9.4 rebounds) and sophomore guard Kaitlyn Hopkins (9.2 points) will try to provide a spark into league play.

8. Douglas Byrd — While not losing quite as frequently as their male counterparts, the Eagles (2-7, 0-1) have primarily played blowout losses through nonconference play. A junior-heavy team is led by guard Shania McLucas (14.9 points).

Southeastern boys

1. Fairmont — The Robeson County Shootout champions have posted a strong resume to start the season. The Golden Tornadoes (9-1) have depth in both the frontcourt and backcourt, with Shootout MVP Landon Cummings (16.6 points, 5.9 rebounds) leading the way.

2. West Bladen — The Knights (9-1 entering play Tuesday) have looked just as strong as Fairmont, winning the Bladen Offroad Christmas Tournament last week, and shared the regular-season conference title last year. Four players provide 90% of the scoring — junior forward Chase Williams (19.2 points), junior guard Hezekiah Adams (13.5 points), sophomore guard Jackson Pait (11.5 points) and sophomore guard Tylik McCall (8.8 points).

3. St. Pauls — While West Bladen and Fairmont are a clear top two, St. Pauls and Red Springs are also capable of contending for the conference title. The Bulldogs (7-5) have been searching for consistency, especially in the backcourt, but may have the league's best post player in sophomore Tyson Thompson (13.2 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.4 blocks).

4. Red Springs — A veteran Red Devils (5-7) team has struggled through the season's early weeks, but has a backcourt capable of competing with anyone in the league, led by seniors Kaedon Porter (16.5 poitns, 4.9 rebounds, 4.5 assists), Makhi Arthur (15.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.2 steals) and Kohnner Oxendine (11.5 points).

5. Clinton — The Dark Horses (3-1) didn't win a conference game last year, but have a senior-heavy roster this winter. With several players from the regional-champion football team, they'll definitely be athletic and physical, behind junior wing Nydarion Blackwell (14.0 points) and senior wing Gregory Coxum (13.0 points).

6. Midway — The Raiders (6-2) saw seven of their top eight players from last year's team graduate; senior Tripp Westbrook (10.7 points), the lone returner from that group, will have to lead a young team. Midway has won three straight, but two of those are against a struggling Hobbton team.

Southeastern girls

1. Fairmont — After sharing the regular-season conference title last season, Fairmont (11-2) looks to earn the outright crown to add to its Robeson County Shootout title. While the roster could be considered top-heavy, that core — junior forward Taniya Simms (14.8 points, 12.3 rebounds, 2.2 blocks) and junior guards Niah Smith (10.3 points, 5.4 assists, 3.8 steals) and Miah Smith (9.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 5.1 steals) — provides more than enough production.

2. St. Pauls — The four-time-reigning conference champion Bulldogs (6-2) won each of those titles with Jakieya Thompson, but will still be a force after her graduation. Senior Jashontae Harris (21.0 points, 5.3 assists, 3.7 steals) and junior Zhariana Shipman (16.7 points, 2.9 assists, 2.6 steals) lead the backcourt, and close on-court results from the Shootout prove the Bulldogs aren't too far behind Fairmont.

3. Red Springs — There certainly appears to be a well-defined top two and bottom four in this conference. While the start to the season has been a struggle for Red Springs (2-8), they're still the best bet to lead the second group, led by the inside play of junior Monica Washington (10.4 points, 14.9 rebounds).

4. West Bladen — A Knights (3-4) team that blends youth and experience enters Tuesday having won three straight since a four-game losing streak to start the season. After finishing last last season, the Knights should take a step forward ahead of the two Sampson County teams.

5. Midway — The Raiders (4-4) are young after three of their top four players from last season did not return. Senior guard Morgan Williams (7.4 points) is the exception, while sophomore center Peyton Herring (6.6 points, 7.8 makes a frontcourt impact). The even record and three-game win streak is misleading with two wins over winless Hobbton.

6. Clinton — With five of the top six scorers from last season graduated, the Dark Horses (4-1) play mostly freshman and sophomores, with senior forward Ava Williford (12.0 points, 2.3 assists, 5.5 steals) providing the only significant experience. Clinton has won four straight, but could struggle in the league with its youth.

Sports editor Chris Stiles can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at cstiles@robesonian.com. You can follow him on X/Twitter at @StilesOnSports.