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2017 Boys Basketball State Tournament Preview

Division I

By Jeff Rapp, SportsRappUp.com
Massillon Jackson (26-2) – Last year, it was undefeated Lima Senior that had to squeak by traditional power Toledo St. John’s Jesuit to punch a ticket to the state final four; this time Massillon Jackson overcame the same hurdle – but the result was more forceful. The Polar Bears put together a 20-4 second-half run that propelled them to a 54-38 win and a net-cutting ceremony at The Jar (James A. Rhodes Arena) in Akron. Jackson’s calling card – a stifling defense that has held teams under 38 percent shooting this season – was on display again as well as a balanced attack. Coach Tim Debevec’s team is loaded with college-bound student-athletes, including 6-7 forward Kyle Young (signed to play at Butler), 6-5 forward Logan Hill (Toledo signee) and guards Kyle Nicolas and Dillon Dingler, who are promised to the baseball programs at Ball State and Ohio State, respectively. Young owns team-best averages of 18.0 points and 6.4 rebounds per game while shooting right around 59 percent from the field. Federal League champions for the third straight season, the Polar Bears are no stranger to postseason success. They’ve captured a district title eight times, won a regional three times and were the Division I state champs in 2010.
Lakewood St. Edward (23-5) – Getting past top-seeded Cleveland St. Ignatius and perennial state power Garfield Heights to reach Columbus immediately stamps St. Ed as a legitimate threat to win it all. So does the man on the sideline, longtime coach Eric Flannery, who just picked up career win No. 400 in the overtime thriller on Saturday. Flannery’s trusting, share-the-basketball style has enabled the Eagles to produce about 76 points per game this season and has allowed a starting lineup consisting of three seniors and two freshmen to jell. The seniors – point guard Tommy Schmock, off-guard Jack Sullivan and hulking post presence Kelvin Calhoun – all are double-figure scorers while Schmock mixes in 7.6 assists per contest. He loves to set up teammates but also is slippery on the drive and can finish around the basket with either hand. St. Edward has produced countless standout athletes over the years, including basketball stars such as Stevie Logan, Sam Clancy Jr., Jawad Williams, Delvon Roe and Matt Stainbrook, to name just a few. In the last 21 years under Flannery, St. Ed has racked up 15 district championships and eight final four appearances. The Eagles last won it all in 2014.
Pickerington Central (26-2) – There was a lot of symbolism in the heartfelt postgame hug between Jerry Francis and his son, Jeremiah, after Pickerington Central dispatched crosstown rival Pickerington North in the regional final staged at packed-in Ohio Dominican University Saturday night. Jerry helped Columbus Wehrle become an area superpower in the 1980s before playing at Ohio State, coaching at the collegiate level and, later, at Pick Central. A 6-2 sophomore who is finding his own spotlight, Jeremiah has taken that mojo and now has the goods to take the Tigers all the way. The younger Francis was just named the OCC Ohio Player of the Year but he has a lot of help, starting with 6-11 center Sterling Manley. A North Carolina signee, Manley has overcome a broken leg suffered last year in time to average 14.8 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game as a senior. Francis checks in at 15.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg and 5.1 assists per game. Forward Adrian Nelson, a 6-6 junior, is another option and potential game-turner on defense. Jerry Francis coached the Tigers to the 2012 state title with the likes of Jae’Sean Tate, Caris LeVert and Taco Charlton. Coach Eric Krueger will try to make it two crowns in six years for Central.
Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller (27-0) – Coach Carl Kremer and his familiar blue sweater vest are headed back to the state tournament. This time, he’ll bring an undefeated Moeller squad that has held teams in the low 40s in scoring average and has handled every style of play it has faced. A program known for toughness, clutch pay and versatile forwards – anyone remember Matt Sylvester, Bobby Brannen or Josh Duncan? – Moeller is led by a similar player in 6-5 senior Keegan McDowell (13.3 points per game). Sophomore guard Miles McBride adds 10.7 ppg while the team’s other starters all average at least 7.0 ppg. Winners of 18 of the last 23 Greater Catholic League titles, the Crusaders are as tradition-rich as any program in southern Ohio yet have never posted an undefeated season. A hard-fought 38-32 win over Cincinnati LaSalle in the regional final was Moeller’s third straight this season against a Lancers team that finished 24-4. Kremer and the Crusaders seem to like odd-numbered years. They won state titles in 1999, 2003 and 2007. If Moeller is able to defeat Pickerington Central and would end up facing Massillon Jackson in the D-I final, it would set up a rematch of the 2010 championship game.

Division II

By Jeff Rapp, SportsRappUp.com
Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary (23-5) – The Fighting Irish just keep on fighting, which is one reason why they can’t ever be counted out. Plus, they always seem to have more than their share of athletes who give effort for head coach Dru Joyce, who dates back to the LeBron era at the school. SVSM won three state titles with a young King James in the program but has won three others as well and could be closing in on a seventh. If you date back to the 1980s, when players such as Curtis Wilson and Jerome Lane were on hand, and look at the abundance of talent from then to now, it begins to explain why the school has won a whopping 27 district titles. This year’s postseason march included six straight wins by an average of 39 points. A highly productive senior backcourt explains the dominance – 6-3 Jayvon Graves averages 21.5 points per game and 6-1 point guard Jon Williams augments with 12.7 ppg and more than four assists per outing. They push the pace – and few keep up.
Wauseon (26-1) – Coach Chad Burt stresses defense, and the results speak for themselves. Armed with length and a disciplined group, the Indians simply shut down opposing offenses and then batter teams inside. They allowed just 37.9 points per game this season through a district final win then suffocated Sandusky, 54-33, in a regional semifinal. A 54-45 win in overtime over Elida secured a berth in the state tourney and required two clutch free throws by Brooks Gype with 22.4 seconds left to force the extra session. Gype, fellow junior Austin Rotroff and senior guard Carter Bzovi all average between 12 and 15 points per game. The 6-9 Rotroff checks in at 13.0 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game. The Indians’ lone loss this season was way back on Dec. 6, a 59-52 setback vs. Genoa with Rotroff out of action. Burt was a starter on the 1994 Wauseon team that finished as state runner-up. Success in Columbus could match or surpass that showing.
Columbus Eastmoor Academy (22-6) – After blasting London and City League rival Independence to the get the postseason ball rolling, the Warriors survived an overtime scare against Columbus DeSales to set up a showdown with City League champion Columbus South. Third-seeded Eastmoor took down South 61-49 in that district final and ended up cutting down the nets at Ohio University’s Convocation Center with two more victories in regional play. The Warriors are deep, athletic, quick and difficult to keep off the offensive boards. When coach James Miranda’s squad plays with offensive efficiency, the ceiling rises considerably. The standout is 6-4 junior guard Taevion Kinsey, who put up averages of 16.1 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists. The team’s leading inside threat is 6-6 Tariq Brown. Eastmoor was bombed by Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph in a Division III state semi two years ago. Now the goal is to learn from that experience and find greener pastures in D-II.
Trotwood-Madison (26-2) – The high school postseason always is filled with statement performances, and one of the biggest ones of recent weeks may have been Trotwood-Madison’s takedown of Dayton Dunbar in a Division II regional final. Coach Rocky Rockhold implores his team to finish the job, and the Rams did just that before a capacity crowd at Fairmont Trent Arena, posting an 83-54 win. Back in January, Trotwood topped its future state semifinal opponent, Akron SVSM, 100-61. Senior Torey Patton, a 6-3 guard, is sewing up a monster senior season and arrives to the Schottenstein Center with eye-popping statistics of 20.3 points, 9.0 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 4.1 steals per game. Against Dunbar in the regional final, senior Amir Foster (15.7 ppg) led Trotwood with a game-high 22 points, while junior Myles Belyeu (14.8 ppg) added 16 points and sophomore Amari Davis (15.3 ppg) 11. Trotwood last appeared in the state tournament in 2014, losing to Upper Arlington in the semifinals. The Rams were state runners-up in 2006, losing to Canton McKinley in the championship.

Division III

By Kurt Stubbs, JJHuddle.com
Cleveland VASJ (21-6) vs. Proctorville Fairland (25-1)
The Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph Vikings are embarking on uncharted waters as Babe Kwasniak’s team will be entering its fifth straight state tournament and 16th overall. The boys from Lakeshore Boulevard own two state championships (2013 and 2015) and an equal amount of runner-up finishes in the past four seasons. The Viking Village will once again look to tie MIddletown for the most boy’s basketball state championships with seven. The Vikings come to Columbus after battling through a brutal schedule, which featured three state semifinalist teams in Lakewood St. Edward, Akron SVSM, and Lutheran East along with two of the nation’s best in La Lumiere (IN) and Paul VI (VA). VASJ arrives in Columbus with relative ease, outside of an overtime decision in the district semifinals against Beachwood. Senior William Butler scored 20 points as the Vikings held on for a (63-58) verdict. The Cleveland-based school’s additional four tournament games were won by an average of just over 32 points per game. Sophomore point guard Jerry “Gene” Higgins, the NE Lakes District Player of the Year, is the engine that makes this VASJ team run. Higgins is as tough as they come and is capable of willing his team to victory. Sophomore Alonzo Gaffney, a 1st team all-district performer, enjoyed a solid state tournament showing a year ago scoring 11 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in a semifinal victory over Lynchburg-Clay, and the Vikings will need his inside presence this weekend if they hope to capture state gold. Gaffney, who is the son of former Cincinnati Bearcat basketball player Kevin Gaffney, is drawing interest from several Division 1 schools. Seniors Butler and Danny McGarry are also capable scorers for the North Coast League member school. Joe’s will face a Southeast Ohio squad for a second year in a row, but this time it’s Proctorville Fairland, a team knocked out by last year’s Viking opponent Lynchburg-Clay. This is SE Ohio’s best DIII team in recent memory, led by a host of talented juniors. Fairland rolled through sectional and district play winning its games by an average of 30 points a contest. Things got a bit more challenging in the regional as the Dragons faced Sugarcreek Garaway in the semifinals, a team they played in late December at a holiday tournament in Tuscarawas County and cruised to a (80-52) victory. Round two wasn’t quite as comfortable as the Dragons outlasted the Pirates by just five points. Fairland would have to beat another Inter-Valley Conference team to advance to the state tournament in perennial power Berlin Hiland. Coach Nathan Speed’s team used 24 points from junior Luke Thomas and classmate Gunner Short’s 14 points to beat the Hawks, 61-47. Fairland, a team making its first state tournament since 1961, has used a balanced attack to secure 24 wins to just one loss. The Dragons only loss came to Division I District Finalist Hilliard Bradley.  The Lawrence County entrant, led by its strong junior class, defeated West Virginia big school state champion Huntington High and Dayton power Chaminade Julienne during a regular season that didn’t have many close calls. SE District Player of the Year, Isaiah Howell, leads the balanced attack that has earned 20 wins this season by double digits. Fellow 1st Team all-district performer Thomas and 2nd teamer Short combined for over 30 points a game. Kollin Van Horn, Ty Staten, and Keedrick Cunningham are also capable scorers.
Cincinnati Roger Bacton (24-4) vs. Archbold (22-5)
Archbold arrives in Columbus thanks to discipline, three-point shooting, and a stingy defense that gave up a total of 60 points in its two regional games. The Blue Streaks, coached by veteran Doug Krauss, held Oregon Cardinal Stritch Catholic to just 10-of-38 shooting in their regional semifinal contest and then smothered redhot Marion Local, allowing the Flyers just three points in each of the 2nd and 3rd quarters. The Blue Streaks own just five losses, all by eight points or fewer, to state semifinalist Wauseon (twice), DII regional finalist Elida, Ottawa-Glandorf (20-2) in the regular season, and Defiance in overtime. Archbold, a member of the Northwest Ohio Athletic League along with DII entrant Wauseon, is led by 6-foot-2 junior Bryce Williams, who totaled 42 points in the two regional wins. Williams is supported by fellow classmates Eli Miller and Kaiden Bedsole along with 6-foot-5 sophomore Rigo Ramos. The Streaks return to Columbus for the first time since making three appearances in four years from 2003-2006. This will be Archbold’s eighth showing overall and fifth under Krauss with its best finish in 1996 as runner-up. The Blue Streaks won’t face North College Hill’s Bill Walker this time around like they did in 2006, but they’ll face another Southwest District power in Cincinnati Roger Bacon. The Spartans have been turned away in the state semifinals two of the past three seasons, and on the 15th anniversary of one of the state’s greatest upsets, Coach Brian Neal’s team is looking to celebrate with its third state championship in school history and first since taking down a LeBron James led Akron SVSM squad in 2002. Roger Bacon is led by senior trio Craig McGee, James Johnson and Justin Johnson. The Spartans’ path to Columbus featured a regular-season rematch with Tipp City Bethel and regional games with one-loss Versailles and previously unbeaten Cincinnati Summit Country Day. McGee scored 17 points in the win over Versailles and followed with a 28-point showing against Summit shooting 9-of-10 from the field and 4-of-4 from three-point range. Talented sophomore Alec Pfriem totaled 12 points and eight rebounds and Justin Johnson came off the bench to add 12 points in the regional title game. James Johnson backed McGee in the regional semis triumph with 15 points and nine rebounds. Coach Neal’s team plays a terrific schedule in the Greater Catholic League, which is a big reason the Spartans are always tournament prepared. 

Division IV

By Kurt Stubbs, JJHuddle.com
Delphos St. John’s (21-4) vs. Lutheran East (18-9)
Delphos St. John’s brings the mighty Midwest Athletic Conference back to the state tournament for the first time since Versailles finished runner-up in 2013. New Knoxville was the last MAC team to win a boys basketball championship back in 2008. A conference that dominates small school football has been unable to do so in similar fashion in basketball in recent years. For instance, the Blue Jays made five state tournaments from 1990-2002, finishing runner-up twice and winning the state championship in 2002, which was the last time the Allen County school reached the State Final Four. This group of Blue Jays started the year 3-3, but following a two-point loss to Convoy Crestview, Aaron Elwer’s team won 18 of its next 19 games to reach the state semifinals. Senior Timothy Kreeger, a 1st Team All-MAC performer and NW District POY, leads the team in both scoring and rebounding. Kreeger had 14 points, nine rebounds and six blocks in a regional semifinal triumph of Holgate and the defense held the Tigers to just 24 percent shooting. Kreeger notched another 12 points in a one-point regional final victory over a very good Mansfield St. Peter’s team and classmate Owen Rode tallied 16 points. DSJ also avenged the loss to Crestview by defeating the Knights in the district finals. Lutheran East, DSJ’s counterpart, earned its way to Columbus after playing one of the toughest regular-season schedules in Ohio and using grit and determination to overcome battles with Mogadore and Dalton in district play before needing overtime to defeat Malvern in the regional semis and holding on for a three-point triumph of Warren JFK. The latter knocked out defending Div. IV champion Cornerstone Christian during district play. The Falcons may have the most losses of any team at the state tournament, but don’t be fooled, as six of those nine setbacks came to D1 powers Canton McKinley, Cleveland Heights, St. Ignatius, Lakewood St. Edward, Garfield Heights and Maple Heights. The other three came to D3 participant Cleveland VASJ, defending champ Cornerstone Christian, and D2 regional entrant Youngstown Ursuline. Coach Anthony Jones has quickly restored the Falcons’ program that secured two state tournament trips between 2005 and 2009 under Roger McClinton. The Falcons, who reached the regional final a year ago, have pieced their team together with transfers Maurico Tate (Westlake), Jordan Burge (Shaker Heights), Justin Motley (Cleveland Glenville) and Travis Sanders along with Tyler Powell moving in two years ago. Burge and Tate combined for 35 points per game in their first season with Lutheran East. Junior Keandre Graves and Powell are also double figure scorers. With the influx of newcomers, the Falcons lost some key talent as well to other schools. Burge scored 27 points to help LE overcome a 14-point 1st half deficit and 54 points from Jaret Majestic and Mark Mayle to defeat Malvern. Powell (18 points) and Tate (13 points) combined for 31 points in the OT victory. Tate, Sanders and Burge totaled 44 points in a wire-to-wire regional final win over a very good Warren JFK team. The Falcons had to watch in the game’s final seconds as Byron Taylor’s game-tying triple was off the mark sending Lutheran East back to Columbus.
Columbus Wellington School (21-7) vs. Lima Perry (24-3)
Wellington got off to a slow start, beginning the season 4-4 before winning 17 of its next 20 games to reach the State Final Four in consecutive seasons. The Jaguars’ only defeats down the stretch were to a good Zanesville Rosecrans team and Div. I regional participants Upper Arlington and Columbus St. Charles. Wellington got much better after the New Year with the insertion of transfer Solomon Pierre-Louis into the lineup. The Columbus Academy transfer was second on the team in scoring at just under 11 points a game. The Jaguars are making their third state tournament appearance and second in as many years. Coach Artie Taylor, the former headman at Ohio Dominican University, has a team with state tournament experience. Dustin Harder, 6-foot-9 senior, leads the team in scoring and rebounding and contributed 11 points and eight rebounds in Wellington’s regional final win over high scoring Portsmouth Clay that featured three 1,000-point scorers. Sophomore Dallas Patrick paced the winners with 18 points and Pierre-Louis added 17 counters. Noah Berry, a 6-foot-7 junior, chipped in 10 points and 15 rebounds as the Jaguars out rebounded Clay by a sizable margin. Pierre-Louis and Berry combined for 28 points in a hardfought win over Waterford in the regional semis. Wellington’s opponent will be Lima Perry out of the Northwest Central Conference. The Commodores come into Thursday’s semifinal winners of 20-straight contests after starting the season 4-3, which included three consecutive losses in late December. However, this isn’t even close to the real story behind this group of Allen County overcomers. Lima Perry lost assistant basketball coach and head football coach Herb Lane Jr. before its regional semifinal encounter with Fort Loramie when the 44-year-old was tragically killed in an automobile accident on Monday, March 13th. The Commodores, behind head coach Matt Tabler, rallied behind their fallen assistant coach and were able to secure an emotional win over Fort Loramie before dismissing Cincinnati Christian to punch their ticket to Columbus. Senior Orion Monford scored 20 points and NWCC Player of the Year, Jakoby Lane-Harvey, finished with 11 points in the Commodores two-point win over Fort Loramie. Monford added 21 points in the win over Cincinnati Christian and junior reserve Logan Dray supported Monford with 13 points. Perry, a senior dominated team, is the veteran group of the quartet of Div. IV teams and that could prove to be a huge factor, as it often does.