When play resumes following the holiday break, the race will be on for the top in the Peninsula Conference standings.
The Eagles of Cook Inlet Academy will look to win their third conference title in as many years, featuring three senior starters and a slew of role players who figure to see significant playing time.
A revamped Ninilchik squad, playing with six athletes who are new to the varsity level, hopes to remain competitive after starting 0-3.
Nikolaevsk fell a game shy of the Class 2A state tournament last season, placing third in the conference, and will look to crack into the top two.
Rounding out the league is Bristol Bay, Lumen Christi and Whittier.
The following is a closer look at Cook Inlet, Ninilchik and Nikolaevsk:
Cook Inlet Academy
Justin Franchino's expectations haven't changed.
"Every year I tell our guys our goal is to win regions," the Cook Inlet Academy boys basketball coach said. "Every year we are right there, and as long as we work hard, we will be there. Anything is achievable."
The Eagles have won two Peninsula Conference crowns in a row, knocking off the Wolverines of Ninilchik the past two title games.
To make it three straight, the Eagles must receive significant contributions from a trio of seniors -- David Reischach, Cody Munn and Matthew Moffis.
Reischach and Moffis will provide the bulk of the scoring. Munn, who wasn't eligible for the Cook Inlet Classic, anchors CIA in the post.
"He's gotten better under the post and he's improved defensively," Franchino said.
Despite having a talented trio, Franchino said the team will only be as good as its role players.
That means the onus will fall on players such as seniors Tyler Solie and Jacob Boudreaux, sophomores Keefe O'Dell and Koebrn Mlyarnik and a trio of freshman -- Riley Solie, Zac Taplin and Blake Riley.
CIA must also replace former standouts Josh Holly and Jacob Grinestaff.
"We've got three great players, but you've got five on the court at a time," Franchino said. "We've got to have five guys being threats."
One of the largest hurdles for the Eagles this season is the schedule.
The team has just four home games remaining, despite the fact the season started two weeks ago.
After the Yakutat Tournament in early January, CIA plays three home contests in as many nights Jan. 20 to 22. Following that, it's on the road the rest of the season -- including tournaments in Seldovia and Delta Junction, as well as single games at Ninilchik, Lumen Christi and Nikolaevsk.
Franchino is using the road schedule as a motivator.
"It will get them used to playing in hostile environments," he said. "That's just how it goes. Last year we had quite a few home games."
Defense, defense, defense.
That's been and will continue to be the focus for the Ninilchik boys basketball team as it embarks on a season with six players who have never played varsity ball.
The Wolverines experienced huge turnover during the offseason, losing many of their key ingredients after reaching the Peninsula Conference title game a year ago.
"We lost just about everybody," coach Keith Presley said.
That leaves the new-look Wolverines with plenty of learning to do in a difficult league. Most notably they are without Quinn Bennett, Hunter Cooper and Jeff Klapak, all of whom were consistent starters in 2009-10.
To combat the roster makeover, Presley is preaching the importance of defense.
Although the squad doesn't have the offensive firepower it had last season, the coach said, it is capable of playing solid defense.
So as the newcomers gain confidence and learn to play alongside one another, the expectation is to give 100 percent on the defensive side of the ball.
The Wolverines also plan to slow the pace of the game down as their athletes adjust to varsity play, hoping they don't get overwhelmed.
"You can always bring good defense," Presley said. "That's the challenge -- getting guys to buy into that."
Post player Sam Bennett returns after a strong 2009-10 season and will be a focal point of the offense, Presley said, while Jack Wheeler and Jayke Cooper also will see large roles after a productive opening two weeks.
Ninilchik lost its first three games, contests in which Presley said the squad was overmatched.
His hope is to remain competitive and peak toward the end of the season.
"I'd like to play presentable basketball by the end of the season," he said. "Right now I'm feeling like we aren't doing that.
"Right now they are still kind of defining themselves."
A year after placing third at the Peninsula Conference tournament and missing state by one game, Nikolaevsk looks to take the next step.
The team lost four seniors -- Jonah Yakunin, David Ivanov, Christopher Kalugin and Peter Konovalov.
Four sophomores return after seeing playing time as freshman, giving the team more experience.
Peninsula Clarion ©2014. All Rights Reserved.