The decision the Hoosier Crossroads Conference made in not inviting Harrison, Lafayette Jeff and McCutcheon back into the fold was a wise decision, one that was generally regarded as a positive move among the four Hamilton County schools.

But going from 10 teams to seven teams puts more of a premium on HCC victories, as well as making it even more difficult to win a conference championship.

Basketball is a prime example of this in the first season of the seven-team conference.

Things are heating up, starting with the girls' basketball race. We're heading into the biggest weekend of 2015 for the girls, and the HCC champion will be crowned within a couple of weeks.

Time is running out on any team with two or more losses. Simply not much time for those teams to get back into the thick of things. The race is just about over for all practical purposes.

Hamilton Southeastern won the past four HCC championships, going 34-2. The Lady Royals are 3-0 in the conference this season and 13-2 overall.

That's quite an about face from last year's 12-10 season mark, for sure.

At 4-0, Noblesville is the only other conference unbeaten this season. The Class 4A No. 6 Lady Millers are 14-1 overall. They play host to No. 11 HSE on Jan. 31. Obviously, that's where the HCC title should be decided.

First, though, the Lady Royals have a major test this weekend, when Westfield pass a call on Friday.

Don't be fooled by Westfield's six losses in 15 starts. The Lady Shamrocks have some experience. They have given HSE problems in the past. They defeated HSE twice in the 2013-14 season, but they finished one game behind the Lady Royals in the HCC.

And the past four match-ups between the schools have produced single-digit outcomes. Look for another close finish.

The Lady Rocks also have two losses in the HCC, as does defending Sectional 8 champion Fishers. The No. 19 Lady Tigers (12-3) have lost to both Noblesville and HSE.

Stranger things have happened, but .... I cannot see Noblesville and HSE each losing two games in the conference.

Westfield, however, should be a formidable opponent for the Lady Royals, while Zionsville (2-10, 0-3 HCC) not so much in The Mill against Noblesville.

Not real sure which team has the edge in the HCC, though you have to agree that the remaining schedule favors Noblesville.

Yep, they should be unbeaten for that final showdown against HSE.

This is coach Donna Keck's best team in seven seasons at Noblesville.

The Lady Millers may never have a more golden opportunity to win a conference title.

They are balanced and experienced. They have solid rebounding, and the return of point guard Becca Bergman from last year's season-ending knee injury is about as good as it gets for a team that produced a 16-5 record despite sorely missing experience at the point.

While Noblesville junior Alexis Shannon leads the HCC in scoring (21.1 ppg), Beckman also knows how to deliver. She averages 9.9 points, 5.2 assists and 3.2 steals.



Looking at the HCC boys' race



There's a good chance there will be a new champion this season, here.

Like the HSE girls, the Royals' boys have been dominant in the HCC. They have won five successive crowns. But they saw their 44-game conference winning streak come to an end at the hands of Avon in the second game of the season, and they are now 3-9 overall and 0-2 on the conference.

Again, two losses? Ouch. The Royals would need some help along with four HCC wins to challenge for another title. Though if any team could do it, I'd have to think HSE is a team to keep an eye on. Those "been-there-and-done-it' credentials could mean a lot.

Four particularly strong HCC teams play this weekend.

The biggest game finds Fishers (6-6, 2-0 HCC) at 4A No. 7 Brownsburg (9-3, 1-0), while Noblesville (9-3, 1-1) also takes on Zionsville (7-4, 1-0) in The Mill.

If I were going to pick an eventual champion, the Fishers-Brownsburg winner would be a good place to start. Facts are facts, and both play ridiculously tough schedules.

Fishers has lost to No. 5 North Central and No. 12 Pike. Conference wins have come against Noblesville and HSE. Brownsburg twice fell to No. 1 Southport; the other loss was to Pike.

Still, should the Tigers defeat Brownsburg ... watch out! A 3-0 start would be huge. The last time they were 3-0 was in the 2011-12 season. They pushed their HCC record to 5-0 but finished second in the conference after losing to HSE and Noblesville.

You'd have to like their chances of either winning or sharing the title this time if they get past Brownsburg. Two of Fishers' final HHC games are against Avon and Westfield, teams with losing records. The Tigers also play Zionsville in their conference finale on Feb. 20 in the Tiger Den.

Should be interesting.



Mark Morrow, an award-winning sportswriter, and author, is in his 52nd year as a member of the Indiana media. You can follow Morrow on Twitter at mmediamarko12. He can be reached at mark@thetimes24-7.com