Clarkston picked to win first title as the state tournament could see a number of upsets
Muskegon – There’s a belief on the state’s west side, topped with a shot of confidence recently consumed, that the tide has begun to turn.
For years the Class A champion, except for a few exceptions, has come from Lansing or eastward, notably Saginaw, Flint or the Detroit area.
Last season Muskegon won the title in convincing fashion. The Big Reds went undefeated. The closest game they played in the tournament was in a regional final, a 56-48 victory over Hudsonville, another team from the state’s west side.
Look at the top 10 Class A teams this season. In the top five we find Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central at No. 2, East Kentwood at No. 3 and Muskegon at No. 4. Throw in Kalamazoo Central at No. 7 and you have the potential state champion, again, coming from a city west of Lansing.
Region 2 is the best in the state with F.H. Central, E. Kentwood and Muskegon all expected to win their respective districts, and advancing to this region along with, must likely, Hudsonville, which lost to E. Kentwood (52-49) recently on a last-second 3-pointer.
F.H. Central and E. Kentwood are 20-0 for the first time in school history, and Muskegon’s only loss with to E. Kentwood, 58-57, on Dec. 30.
This is a different team than the one that won the title last year. Deshean Thrower is gone and along with his the Mr. Basketball award. This season’s award is likely to go to another Muskegon player, Deyonta Davis. Davis is a 6-9 center who signed with Michigan State. He’s the best shot blocker this state has had in a decade. His ability to score has improved over last season and he remains one of the top rebounders.
Another returning starter is Joeviair Kennedy. Kennedy is an athletic wing who sometimes will move to the point. Kennedy is a leaper. His nickname is “Hip-Hop”. According to Kennedy his father gave him that nickname at an early age because he had good “hops”.
Muskegon coach Keith Guy said Davis and Kennedy “are the best combination in the state. They’re unselfish,” Guy said. “And they’re committed. They’re close even off the court. It’s a brotherhood.
“I love (our chances to repeat). It’s a different look. We’re deeper. We have a lot of guys who can do different things.”
Top district game: Stevensville Lakeshore (18-2) at Kalamazoo Central (19-1), Monday, 7: This is a tough opener for Central. The Maroon Giants haven’t been tested many times this season and if they weather the pressure early they should move on. Pick: Central by 5.
Top region: Region 2 at Holland West Ottawa
2014 champion: Muskegon
Final four: East Kentwood, Saginaw Arthur Hill, Clarkston, Detroit Western.
Sleeper: Ann Arbor Huron
This class does not have the number of high echelon teams it’s had in the past. It’s just one of those lean years.
Milan is ranked No. 1 and the Big Reds have played a good schedule and is the favorite. Wyoming Godwin Heights lost in the first round of the districts last season and appears to be Milan’s top challenger.
Teams to watch for that haven’t had much success in the tournament are Detroit Henry Ford, New Haven and Goodrich.
Henry Ford has a big hurdle to leap over in a district semifinal against Detroit Communication & Media Arts. CMA coach Raphael Peterson will slow the game down offensively and he’s counting on the Trojans becoming impatient and attempting ill-advised shots.
New Haven reached the quarterfinals when the Rockets competed in Class C in 2012 but this is a step up. Look for New Haven to face Detroit Osborn in a regional final in a game that will features teams with strong inside games.
The team keeping Goodrich from reaching the semifinals is Flint Northwestern. If Goodrich is able to upset Northwestern in a regional semifinal the Martians could be playing at the Breslin Center.
Milan could face Benton Harbor in the quarterfinals. These teams met in the state final last year.
Top district game: Flint Southwestern (13-7) at Goodrich (18-2), Monday, 7: Goodrich’s two losses were to Flint Beecher. Southwestern lost to Beecher 65-62 in December. The winner will likely continue on to win the district title. Pick: Goodrich by 4.
Top region: Region 9 at Comstock
2014 champion: Milan
Final four: Milan, Godwin Heights, Northwestern, Henry Ford.
Sleeper: Detroit CMA
Other than Flint Beecher the other three spots in the semifinals are up for grabs.
That’s not to infer Beecher won’t be tested. Either Mount Clemens or Southfield Christian will prove a worthy opponent.
Take the top bracket where we have Iron Mountain, Negaunee, McBain and Beaverton as the most likely candidates to make it to the Breslin Center. Even East Jordan and Elk Rapids hold out hopes of making the semifinals.
In the next bracket we have Laingsburg, Shelby, Grandville Calvin Christian and Bridgman on the top rung. Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian played well early in the season. Just not sure it has enough left in the tank to make a serious move forward.
Of all of the top teams, No. 2-ranked Jackson Lumen Christi has, what appears to be, the toughest road to the semifinals. The Titans must get past Hanover-Horton (19-1), at Hanover-Horton, in a district semifinal then face Hillsdale (20-0) in a regional semifinal.
Top district game: Leroy Pine River (17-3) at McBain (18-2), Wednesday, 6: These teams like to put points on the board. Tough game to pick. The team that starts well just might be the one to advance. They split their two previous meetings, each winning by 19 points. Pick: McBain by 3.
Top region: Region 20 at Sandusky
2014 champion: Detroit Consortium
Final four: McBain, Grandville Calvin Christian, Lumen Christi and Beecher.
Southfield Christian moved up to Class C allowing some other team to claim the title. Christian won the previous three.
Wyoming Tri-unity Christian would normally be the choice but the Defenders are 10-10 though they’ve won six of their last seven.
Cedarville, of all the top contenders, will have the most challenging road to the semifinals. Its region is loaded. If Powers North Central escapes this region it could be that team to reach the Final Four.
The team that remains an unknown of sorts if Waterford Lakes. The Lakers are unbeaten but haven’t made it to the semifinals since 1993.
Top district game: Fowler (12-8) at Fulton (16-4), Wednesday, 7:30. Fulton defeated Fowler twice during the season, 78-70 and 71-66. The winner could go a long way in the tournament. Fulton defeated Fowler at Fowler in a district semifinal last season, 67-46. Pick: Fulton by 5.
Top region: Region 32 at Negaunee
2014 champion: Southfield Christian
Final four: Cedarville, Fulton, Lawrence, Waterford Lakes.
Sleeper: Muskegon Catholic Central