MSHSAA Sectional Preview

The high school basketball playoffs never disappoint, and this year’s districts were no different. We saw Ladue shockingly knock off power house Chaminade. Five win Troy made a run and captured a district title. It took a buzzer beater from Eli Hlinak to get Zumwalt South by Zumwalt North in their district final. Adam Witzig and Nate Messer converted free throws with under a second to go to lead Lafayette into sectionals. Lastly, a late three from unlikely source, senior Quaron Gooch took the Hazelwood Central Hawks past McCluer North. Not every district came down to the wire (i.e. Webster & CBC wins) but this had to be one of the most exciting district rounds to date. The sectional round which gets underway tomorrow, should be no different.

Jackson (23-5) vs. Lafayette (23-4)

This should be the grittiest game of the bunch between two very different teams. Jackson will try to grind you down with their abundance of size. On the other hand, Lafayette may not possess a lot of size, but they grind you down by having long possessions, almost always resulting in good shots and playing solid defense. Jackson is a tough one for me given that I’ve only seen them play once against an elite CBC team, but it seems like Lafayette has risen to the occasion more often than not this year. Neither team has one star, both have balanced scoring attacks led by Karson King (Jackson) and Nate Messer (Lafayette).

Jackson’s best shot is to dominate the glass. They average just over 30 rebounds per game while Lafayette’s average is in the low 20’s, if the Indians can utilize their size, look out. Lafayette tends to live and die by the three pointer. Six Lancers have taken 50+ three point attempts this season, like most teams with this strategy, it will be the difference maker going forward. In what I project to be a low scoring affair, the Lancers of Lafayette should be able to advance to the regional finals if their outside shooting doesn’t fail them.

CBC (20-7) vs. Webster Groves (23-4)

Offense, meet defense. Don’t let the seven losses (many of which were to out of town opponents) fool you, CBC is as good as it gets. The Cadets only loss to a local team this season came to arch rival, and already eliminated Chaminade. As I talked about in my district preview, Jordan Barnett is the best senior in the state of Missouri. The supporting cast of Jordan Barnes, Christian Willis, and Beau Bommarito has the Cadets considered favorites to win the state championship. New coach and former state champ Justin Tatum has done a masterful job mixing his up tempo style with the style Bob McCormack had used in previous years at CBC.

When it comes to coaching though, NEVER discount Jay Blossom of Webster.

Credit: STLhighschoolsports.com

Credit: STLhighschoolsports.com

Like Tatum, Blossom is a former state champion. Intense man to man defense is the name of the game for the Statesmen and that defense will have to be at its peak to slow down CBC. Last year I watched Webster struggle with its youth, but thinking to myself that Blossom could make these kids into a special group. They might be a year away from “special,” as none of the key contributors on this Statesmen team are seniors, but the turnaround has been quicker than expected. One key to the season for Webster has been the emergence of junior forward Stephen Harris as the team’s leading scorer. Last season Sam Craig, Alex Floresca, and the rest of the Statesmen starting five contributed at a high level, but Harris seemingly came out of nowhere during the Meramec tournament and hasn’t slowed down since. Also, Harris’ tremendous length makes him an asset for the Webster defense, I imagine he will be matched up against Barnett in this contest.

I look for Floresca to dominate inside for Webster in this one, as he will often times be the only true big on the floor for either team. Only Beau Bommarito and Sam Craig present a sharp shooting quality for either team so three point shooting should not be the difference. Eventually I think it will be the athleticism of the Cadets that brings the separation between these two teams. Webster is better conditioned than anyone to get up and down with CBC, but the athletes just aren’t there. Barnett and Barnes should be able to dominate the game although I could see the youth of Barnes being troublesome against the frenetic Webster defense. However, the Cadets aren’t state favorites for nothing, look for them in regionals.

Fort Zumwalt South vs. Troy

Troy is the surprise team in sectionals, nearly doubling their win total as they advanced through districts. Their three point shooting ability, and scoring prowess of JD Powell makes them a dangerous underdog. Unfortunately, they haven’t shown the ability to beat a quality opponent this season. Sure it was shocking that they won the district championship, but they were also fortunate to be placed in the weakest district the state has to offer.

Zumwalt South should prove to be a formidable opponent for the Trojans. I talked about Preston Whitfield in my district preview, and the junior guard did a marvelous job for South in districts. It would take a minor disaster for South to blow this, especially after a buzzer beating victory over rival Zumwalt North in the district finals.

Hazelwood Central vs. Ladue

In my opinion, the most exciting of the sectional match ups. These two met back on December 9th, and the Hawks of Hazelwood Central prevailed 56-51. The Hawks were without guard Ranell Crossland for that matchup, as he was not eligible until second semester. I had the opportunity last week to briefly speak with Chaminade coach Frank Bennett at the Ladue vs. SLUH district matchup. He had this to say about Hazelwood Central. “They have so much talent man, so much talent, they are a problem for a lot of teams.” Coach Bennett is exactly right, the Hawks are big, they are deep, and they are athletic. It’s a problem for any team trying to slow down the Hazelwood Central attack, or penetrate their fast paced defense.

If any team is up to the task, it may be the Ladue Rams. Why? The answer is simple, Cornell Johnston. The best point guard in the state of Missouri, and in my opinion, the most exciting player in the state. Johnston and the Rams will look to upset another powerhouse after toppling Chaminade in the district finals.

Credit: STLhighschoolsports.com

Credit: STLhighschoolsports.com

At only 5’7, no player that I have watched controls or dominates the game quite like Johnston. He is a one man press breaker, a one man delay game, and at times a one man offense. Coach Bennett had this to say about the Rams’ point guard. “You can’t fall behind this team, because once you do, you have to chase that little guy around the gym, and you’re not going to catch him.” I’m sure he would say the same now after Johnston upset his Red Devil squad on Friday night.

It’s going to be up to Central coach Josh Martin to devise a strategy to get his Hawks the early lead on Ladue. If not I’m afraid it may be all over. Coach Bennett is exactly right, and I believe Ladue is the hardest team to make a comeback against. The quickness and escapability of Johnston gives him the ability to run minutes off the clock each possession. Unfortunately for the Rams, the well rounded talent of Central may be too much. Ladue relies heavily on Johnston while the Hawks are able to lean on any number of players to get it done. Hazelwood Central advances.

My predictions may be way off. I only predicted three out of eight district champions correctly. One thing I do know is that the sectional round is loaded with talent and excitement and high school basketball fans should make their way out to any one of the locations to see some ball on Wednesday.

It’s not crazy, it’s sports

AJ (GSC_AJ)

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