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Boys Basketball Tournament Preview: Loyer’s knee injury could keep Clarkston from a second consecutive state title

By: TJ Kelley, March 5, 2018, 1:47 pm

Get ready and take advantage of the boys basketball tournament, which begins on Monday with district play at various locations through the state and ending on March 24 in East Lansing at the Breslin Center with the four state championship games.

Here’s a look at the tournament including predictions.

District semifinals are Wednesday and district finals are Friday.  Regional semifinals are March 13 with the finals on March 15. The 16 quarterfinals are March 20. The Class C and D semifinals are March 22 with the Class A and B semifinals the following day.

The state’s largest schools will aim to dethrone preseason Class A favorite, Clarkston, and of the nearly 200 schools participating, five to 10 are considered legitimate contenders. Clarkston (19-1), ranked No. 2, received a stroke of bad luck in last week’s victory over West Bloomfield as Michigan State signee Foster Loyer suffered a partial tear of the meniscus in his left knee.  The severity of his injury and whether he plays or not in March will be determined today.  If he is given the go-ahead to play, his presence on the floor will keep Clarkston as the favorite.  If he is not, Clarkston will have an uphill battle after a district that they should win whether or not they have their point guard. 

Presuming No. 9-ranked Troy (17-3) and West Bloomfield (11-9) win their respective district titles, Clarkston would have to beat each of these conference foes for the third time this season in the regionals to reach the quarterfinals.  Troy played Clarkston as well as any team outside of the Wolves’ one loss to Detroit East English Village Prep.  If Clarkston gets through the regional, it will more than likely play Flint Carman-Ainsworth (18-2) in a rematch from the first week of the season, a game won by Clarkston, 72-67. 

Should Clarkston leap these hurdles, No. 3-ranked Hazel Park (18-2) likely awaits in a semifinal. Clarkston won the two previous meetings against Hazel Park, including last week, with Loyer out, 48-38.

Fans could be in for a treat if Clarkston reaches the final as the Wolves will likely play top-ranked Ann Arbor Skyline (20-0) in the championship game.

Prediction:  Clarkston repeats for its second state title.

With no Loyer, Clarkston will be eliminated in the regional final against West Bloomfield and Hazel Park takes down West Bloomfield in the state semifinal before meeting up with Skyline for the Class A championship.  Hazel Park has no easy path as the Vikings will more than likely meet with Catholic League champion and No. 4-ranked U-D Jesuit (17-3), in a district semifinal and then host Detroit Renaissance (14-6) in the district final.

The Region 6 semifinals should have Hazel Park defeating Livonia Stevenson (13-7). Detroit Cass Tech (16-4) moves past Farmington (13-7) setting up a strong regional final which Hazel Park wins.  Hazel Park would be the favorite in a quarterfinal against Warren DeLaSalle (13-7).  Hazel Park defeated U-D Jesuit in the regular season and West Bloomfield twice during league play.

Skyline’s path to the final begins today with a win over Ann Arbor Pioneer (11-9) before defeating Romulus (12-7) in a district semifinal. Ann Arbor Huron (15-5) will await Skyline in a district final.  Skyline moves on to Region 8 at Salem and could play an upset-minded Howell (11-9) in a semifinal. Look for Skyline to defeat Novi (12-8) in a regional final.  The quarterfinal at Detroit Mercy is going to be quite a game with Skyline meeting Belleville (15-5) for an opportunity to compete in a state semifinal.  Skyline’s state semifinal opponent should be Holland West Ottawa (18-2) before moving on to the state championship game vs. a healthy Clarkston team or a senior-laden Hazel Park team.

West Ottawa is ranked No. 8 and will need regional wins over Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (18-2) and Muskegon (16-3) before advancing to a quarterfinal at Lansing Eastern against Okemos (16-4).  A quarterfinal win for West Ottawa sets up the state semifinal matchup with Skyline where the Panthers’ season ends.

No matter which teams are playing on one leg or at full strength, the Class A champion will earn it as there are no slam dunks in what has become one of the state’s most competitive races.

Ask 10 people who will win Class B and you’ll likely receive 10 different responses as there is no favorite despite defending state champion and top-ranked New Haven’s 20-0 record.  The separation is slim as tough one-loss teams are peppered throughout the state. Detroit Public School League West champion Detroit Henry Ford’s grueling schedule led to a 15-5 record and is the pick to win their second state championship in three years.

There are no easy paths in this class either and Henry Ford will have a difficult task starting today with Detroit Cornerstone (10-8) at Detroit Mumford.  The Trojans, ranked No. 8, will more than likely go on to meet a highly competitive Mumford (15-1) team on Wednesday and one of the state’s most talented teams in Detroit Old Redford Academy (14-5) on Friday for the district championship.

The regional play thickens for the survivors. Henry Ford’s first opponent in Region 12 at Livonia Clarenceville is uncertain but look for Detroit Henry Ford School for Creative Studies (11-7) with possible Mr. Basketball candidate Trevion Williams (Purdue) to be its regional semifinal opponent. The Trojans will likely play No. 4-ranked River Rouge (18-1), which was a semifinalist last season and spent most of this season as the No. 1 team before losing to Class D favorite, Southfield Christian, on the road. River Rouge’s 14 state championships are the most in boys’ basketball history. 

Look for Henry Ford to find play Dearborn Divine Child in a quarterfinal at Chelsea. Like the Trojans, Divine Child (14-6) won its league (Catholic League-AA) with one loss and put together a strong schedule that the Falcons are hoping will help in its title run.

The state semifinals should be loaded and could feature the last three state champions plus Benton Harbor (19-1), a semifinalist a year ago. Benton Harbor, ranked No. 3, could play No. 5-ranked Williamston (18-2) in a quarterfinal. Williamston has been ranked all season and it shouldn’t be a shock if it makes the trip to the Breslin.

Look for undefeated New Haven and Wyoming Godwin Heights (19-1) in the other semifinal bracket. It would make a must-see game as New Haven will seek back to back titles and No. 2-ranked Godwin Heights will go for its second title in four years.  New Haven’s playoff path should see them defeat Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood in a district final before facing a rejuvenated Detroit Country Day squad for the Region 13 championship.  No. 7-ranked Bridgeport (19-1) is the pick to face New Haven in the quarterfinals.

After winning the title in 2015, Godwin Heights had been the preseason pick to win in 2016 and 2017 but early playoff losses thwarted the program’s second basketball championship.  Godwin Heights’ tournament run should start with a victory over Wyoming Kelloggsville (17-3) in a district final before taking on Grand Rapids Catholic Central (17-2) in the regionals. The Wolverines travel north to Big Rapids for a quarterfinal matchup with last year’s state runner-up, Ludington (14-6).  A win here should pave the way for the Godwin Heights-New Haven meeting. 

Henry Ford’s schedule set them up to get to this semi-final matchup with Benton Harbor and the Trojan’s will win a tight game to play Godwin Heights, which will stop New Haven’s quest for back to back championships.  The title will be Henry Ford’s after defeating Godwin Heights in Saturday’s championship game.

Henry Ford head coach Ken Flowers credits his schedule and his team’s mindset for its success so far.

“I believe this year’s regular season has really prepared us to make a deep run into the state tournament,” he said. “Playing a rigorous regular season all over the state and playing in the best league night in and night out has really sharpened us.  My favorite quote to my student-athletes is “iron sharpens iron.”  That’s the only way to get better.  But we all know records don’t mean nothing this time of year.  It’s about who is healthy, who is playing the best, and who wants it the most.”

The parity in Class C sets up for a dozen legitimate title contenders with Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (20-0) ending the season ranked No. 1. However, none of its victories were against ranked opponents.  On the other hand, No. 2-ranked Laingsburg (15-3), No. 5 Detroit Edison (10-10), No. 3 Flint Hamady (13-5), No. 8 Flint Beecher (12-8), No. 4 Grand Rapids Covenant Christian (16-4), No. 6 Detroit Pershing (10-10), No. 7 Maple City Glen Lake (18-2), No. 9 Manton (17-3), McBain (17-3), Grandville Calvin Christian (14-6), Kalamazoo Christian (18-2), and Dansville (14-6) were all tested by playing ranked teams.  With that being said, Detroit Pershing gets the nod as the next Class C champion.

Pershing should get through its district at Warren Michigan Collegiate and the Doughboys should play Edison in the regionals.  Edison whipped Pershing, 82-45, in the PSL final. In speculating these teams meeting in a regional semifinal, it would be the fourth time the two schools would play this season. Pershing won the first two. The winner will likely face Madison Heights Bishop Foley, the host school, in a regional final.  The quarterfinal matchup should have the Doughboys playing defending Class C champ Flint Beecher, upstart Flint Hamady, or undefeated Unionville-Sebewaing (20-0) at West Bloomfield in a quarterfinal. A win sends Pershing to the Breslin Center for the first time since 2009 when the Doughboys won the Class A title. Pershing will face Covenant Christian in the top half of the Class C semifinal bracket before upending St. Mary’s C.C. for the Class C championship.

On their way to the Breslin, Covenant Christian hosts the district and defeats Calvin Christian for a second time this season.  The Chargers then move on to the regional at Pewamo-Westphalia to defeat Ithaca (13-7) in a semifinal and a tough Laingsburg team in the final.  Covenant Christian’s challenging schedule proves beneficial in its quarterfinal win over Kent City (20-0).  The return trip to the state final is ended with a loss to Pershing.

In the bottom half of the bracket, St. Mary C.C. survives a district scare from Ottawa Lake Whiteford (16-2).  Moving on to the region at Petersburg-Summerfield, St. Mary C.C. defeats Pittsford (13-6) before its toughest game against Hanover-Horton (18-2). A win places the Falcons in a quarterfinal at Kalamazoo Loy Norrix against hometown Kalamazoo Christian.  That quarterfinal win pits St. Mary C.C. against McBain in a semifinal where the Falcons prevails for an opportunity to lift the championship trophy with a win over Pershing.

McBain’s path to the Breslin starts with a district victories over Lake City (5-14) and Houghton Lake (11-9) and sets up a regional semifinal at Houghton Lake against a talented and tall Maple City Glen Lake team, and then a win over Whittemore-Prescott (15-5).  The quarterfinal at Petoskey will see McBain end Iron Mountain’s (19-1) season before the Ramblers meet St. Mary C.C. in a semifinal.

Pershing coach Wydell Henry credits the regular season for his team being so well-prepared at this time.

“We played the toughest schedule in the state and we are battle tested for sure,” he said.

Southfield Christian (16-4) was the preseason Class D favorite and have been the No. 1-ranked team for most of the season as it easily played the toughest schedule among Class D schools.   The Eagles won three straight D titles (2012-14) and were a semifinalist last season.

Southfield Christian’s title run starts with a district victories over West Bloomfield Frankel Jewish Academy (9-9) and Michigan Math & Science (11-7).  A pair of 15-5 teams, Auburn Hills Oakland Christian and Marine City Cardinal Mooney await in the regionals.  Wins there set the stage for a rematch of last year’s tournament win against Fowler (15-5) in a quarterfinal at Goodrich.  Southfield Christian’s state semifinal foe will more than likely be No. 3 Dollar Bay (20-0), which hasn’t seen a team like the Eagles this season and neither has Frankfort (18-2), which will reach this season’s final for the first time in school history.

Dollar Bay’s path to the Breslin starts at home with a district victory over Chassell (12-8) and then on to Negaunee region where a win over Rapid River (17-3) in the semifinal. Fans had better get their tickets early for a rematch against No. 4 Ewen-Trout Creek (19-1).  The previous meeting was played in front of a soldout crowd at Michigan Tech.  Expect Dollar Bay to make it 2-0 against Trout Creek before a quarterfinal game against Cedarville (17-3).  Dollar Bay’s quarterfinal win sends it downstate to East Lansing and a matchup against Class D favorite, Southfield Christian.

The lower half of the Class D bracket is primed for memorable games as ranked teams dominate the stage.  Frankfort will end 20-0 Hillman’s season in a region semifinal at Traverse City Central before defeating Bellaire (15-5) in the final.  Next is the quarterfinal at Traverse City West is N. 6 Buckley (15-5), a team Frankfort defeated twice during the regular season.  That quarterfinal win pushes the Panthers into a state semifinal against storied Wyoming Tri-unity Christian before the Class D final meeting with Southfield Christian.

Tri-unity Christian (14-6) has won four Class D titles and will seek a fifth kick-started by avenging a regular season loss against No. 10 Wyoming Potter House (15-5).  The Lansing Christian region starts with a semifinal win over Marcellus Howardsville Christian (15-5) and then a huge win over Bellevue (19-1) in the final.  Next for the Defenders is a win over Adrian Lenawee Christian (14-5) advancing them to the state semifinal where Frankfort will prove to be too much.

“I think the benefit of playing a tough regular season schedule is, number one, it helps you to see that you can play and compete with anyone in the state,” Southfield Christian coach Josh Baker said. “And, number two, it consistently shows your areas that need improvement and where you need to get better.”