Boys Basketball Tournament Preview: Romulus could surprise in Class A but G.R. Christian is team to beat
Romulus – Jarret Smith is in his fifth season as head coach at Romulus and he’s never been as enthusiastic about his program as he is now.
The Eagles are 15-4 entering Monday’s Class A district opener against Taylor Truman at Allen Park and there are few, outside of the Romulus camp, that think the Eagles will make a serious run in the tournament.
That’s all right with Smith. Even he said his team could be a year away from being one of the state’s best but that’s not to say Romulus could surprise one or two teams in the tournament.
Of Smith’s top eight players, six are juniors. He returned two starters from last year’s team and his best player could be junior Kaevon Merriweather, a 6-2 point guard. Merriweather is averaging 15 points and eight assists.
“He’s the best point guard in the state,” Smith said. “He’s a gym rat. He’s a competitor.”
The other returning starter is senior Jaren English, a 6-5 wing who’s averaging 14 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
Other top payers include junior Bradean Morgan (6-3) who’s averaging 11 points and senior Dylan Price (6-2) whom Smith said is one of the best perimeter shooters in Wayne County. Price is averaging 13 points; 17 in the last 10 games.
“He’s a young Clay Thompson,” Smith said of Price. “His form is perfect.
“We were under the radar at the beginning of the season. We weren’t ranked in the top 25. This is the best regular season we’ve had since I’ve been here. We play team ball. We’re getting better.”
Romulus does not own a bad loss. The Eagles lost to Clarkston by six points and to U-D Jesuit by 13. Clarkston and U-D are considered serious contenders for the state title.
Romulus ended its regular season with a modest two-game winning streak with victories over Ann Arbor Skyline (110-87), perhaps the top team in Washtenaw County, and at Kalamazoo Central (73-63), a team that was ranked No. 7 in Class A before that game.
The Eagles will likely play Wayne Memorial (17-3), another team that’s flown under the radar this season, in a district final. Belleville, which tied Romulus at 9-1 for the Western Wayne Athletic Conference title, looms in a regional semifinal with, perhaps, a rematch with Skyline in a regional final. I look for Romulus to reach a quarterfinal.
The other quarterfinalist should be either Detroit Cass Tech, Detroit East English Village Prep, Detroit King or U-D Jesuit.
The district at Farmington is most intriguing. You’re not going to have the state champion come out of this district but we could see a semifinalist. North Farmington, a finalist last season, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s and West Bloomfield all have a shot to win this district. The survivor will be favored to get out of the region.
In the other region in this bracket I have Warren De La Salle. De La Salle’s district is weak and the Pilots should face Warren Woods Tower, a team that defeated De La Salle in December, in a region final.
In a bit of a surprise, I have O.L. St. Mary’s reaching a quarterfinal along with De LaSalle.
Another quarterfinalist will be either Clarkston or Macomb Dakota. These teams have met each of the last two seasons in the regionals with Clarkston the winner in 2015 and Dakota gaining revenge last season. This matchup with be in a regional semifinal and I’m going with Clarkston. The game within a game here is the matchup of point guards, Clarkston’s Foster Loyer and Dakota’s Jermaine Jackson, Jr. Those in the Dakota camp feel slighted that Jackson was not selected to be one of the six Mr. Basketball candidates. Jackson could be playing with a chip on his shoulder. Loyer is considered one of the top players in the class of 2018.
The other quarterfinalist should be Flint Carman-Ainsworth, a team Clarkston defeated, 60-47, on Jan. 3.
In other bracket a regional semifinal between Kalamazoo Central and East Lansing should take place. It promises to be one of the top games in the tournament in this class. It will feature Central’s Mr. Basketball candidate Isaiah Livers going against East Lansing’s Brandon Johns, whom many believe will win the Mr. Basketball award in 2018. I’m going with East Lansing.
The other bracket features another much-anticipated game, Grand Rapids Christian and it Mr. Basketball candidate, Xavier Tillman, against Muskegon. This will also be a regional semifinal and I’m going with Christian.
The Christian-East Lansing quarterfinal game could be the best game anywhere, in any class, in the state. Christian is ranked No. 1; E. Lansing No. 2.
Semifinals: Clarkston vs. O.L. St. Mary’s; U-D vs. G.R. Christian
Final: Christian over Clarkston
It appears this class is a three-team race with New Haven, River Rouge and Wyoming Godwin Heights, the 2015 champion, leading the pack.
It’s interesting to note that each of these three teams played a team in a different class this past week and all three opponents could win a state title. New Haven defeated Class C Flint Beecher in triple overtime, River Rouge defeated Southfield Christian, a Class D team ranked No. 2, and Godwin Heights lost to Grand Rapids Christian, one of the favorites to win Class A.
Upsets are the norm rather than the exception in tournament play so let’s look at other contenders.
Detroit Collegiate Prep at Northwestern is a veteran team that lost to Detroit Henry Ford, the eventual champion, in a regional semifinal last season. Look for the Colts to be the team that advances in its region this time around.
In the other bracket you have New Haven, another veteran team that has a superstar in sophomore Romeo Weems. I like New Haven to get past Collegiate Prep but an upset is possible.
Moving down the bracket, Benton Harbor should set past a competitive district at Coloma and advance to a regional final where the Tigers will likely play Wayland Union. This game would be a toss-up.
Hudsonville Unity Christian shouldn’t have much difficulty advancing to the quarterfinals where it will play the Benton Harbor-Wayland winner. Perhaps a bit of a surprise but I’m going with Unity Christian to reach the semifinals.
It’s likely no team will come within 10 points of Godwin Heights in the districts or regionals. Its opponent in the quarterfinals will be River Rouge and what a quarterfinal that should be.
In the other bracket look for Big Rapids and Freeland to meet in a quarterfinal.
Semifinals: New Haven vs. Unity Christian; Big Rapids vs. River Rouge
Final: River Rouge over New Haven
Beecher has set the standard in this class recently as the Bucs have won the last two titles and many favor Beecher to win a third consecutive despite its X losses.
It seems there is a chink or two in Beecher’s armor this season but is there a team out there that can exploit Beecher’s weaknesses?
In the top bracket the regional semifinal between Michigan Center and Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central could be competitive. I’m going with SMCC because of its tournament experience. The Falcons won a region title in 2015 and lost in a regional semifinal last season. The winner will waltz into a quarterfinal.
The other quarterfinalist should be Detroit Cornerstone or Detroit Edison. Cornerstone took care of Edison, 60-34, in January but Edison didn’t have P.J. Mitchell in the lineup. Mitchell is a difference-maker at the point guard spot but I’m going to Cornerstone and Jamal Cain.
Another quarterfinal will have Beecher against Breckenridge. Morley Stanwood could defeat Breckenridge in a regional final.
In the bottom half Niles Brandywine should reach a regional final where the Bobcats will play the winner of the Schoolcraft-Kalamazoo Hackett regional semifinal. These teams split their season series and are 19-1.
Muskegon Heights Academy should receive little resistance in reaching a regional final and its opponent could be Carson City Crystal, Dansville, Laingsburg, Pewamo-Westphalia, Grandville Calvin Christian or Grand Rapids Covenant Christian. I’m taking Pewamo-Westphalia even though the Pirates open with Carson City Crystal, a team it lost to, in overtime, a month ago.
Top-ranked McBain doesn’t have an easy path to the quarterfinals but I don’t see an upset taking place here.
In the other bracket, the Norway-Iron Mountain district semifinal is one of the top district games. These teams spilt their two regular season games. Negaunee should reach a regional final and defeat Iron Mountain to reach a quarterfinal.
Semifinals: Monroe St. Mary C.C. vs. Beecher; Pewamo-Westphalia vs. McBain
Final: Beecher over McBain.
The drama in this class will unfold in a state semifinal when top-ranked, two-time defending state champion and recent owners of the state’s longest winning, Powers North Central, takes on an athletic, experienced and No. 2-ranked Southfield Christian team.
This isn’t to infer that there won’t be drama, albeit on a lesser scale, in other parts of the state so let’s have at it and see what the luck of brackets have to offer elsewhere.
Hillman is the benefactor of a favorable bracket and should reach a quarterfinal without too much trouble.
North Central must get past conference rivals Carney-Nadeau and Bark River-Harris in the districts before facing Painesdale-Jeffers in a regional semifinal. The regional final should be a breeze.
There is no team that will come within 20 points of Southfield Christian in its region and I look for the Fowler-Fulton winner, coming out of the Fulton district, to face Christian in a quarterfinal.
In the bottom half of the bracket Bellevue should reach a quarterfinal and face Lansing Christian. Christian should have a more adventurous journey with teams like Pittsford and Plymouth Christian in its way.
Once-beaten Baldwin is the team to beat in the Big Rapids Crossroads Academy region. But Baldwin did lose to Crossroads during the season and lightning could strike again.
In the other bracket I like Frankfort to get past Bellaire in a regional semifinal but to lose to Buckley in the final.
Semifinals: North Central vs. Southfield Christian; Lansing Christian vs. Buckley
Final: Southfield Christian over Buckley