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)

MSHSAA Class 5 District 5-8 Preview

tatum

District 5 – Fort Zumwalt West, Francis Howell, Holt, Timberland, *Troy

Much like district 1, I haven’t had the opportunity to watch these teams this year, with the exception of fifth seeded Troy. I could try to throw together some poorly written, uneducated preview of these teams, but it would be just that. District 5 is the weakest district by record of any in the state. I’m forced to assume that Zumwalt West is the favorite given that they are the one seed. Look for the Jaguars to advance to the sectional round.

Winner: Fort Zumwalt West

District 6 – Fort Zumwalt South, Fort Zumwalt North, Francis Howell North, Francis Howell Central, *Fort Zumwalt East

This is a very interesting district. A two horse race between district rivals Zumwalt South (20-4) and Zumwalt North (16-8), look forward to a competitive championship. The two teams met twice in the regular season, splitting the series. On February 6th, South walked away with a 72-67 victory, behind a 26 point performance from their leading scorer Preston Whitfield. However, North got their revenge on February 21st, winning a tight one 58-55. Whitfield was held to his season average of 19 in that contest, while brothers Chaz and Zach Glotta combined for 35.

The Glotta brothers will be the difference in the game in the rematch. On the season they combine to average nearly 40 points/game. If allowed to reach that mark in the district finals, North will surely come away with a victory. The other question is how much Marshawn Blackmon (15 ppg) and the rest of South’s supporting cast can step up around Whitfield. In South’s victory over North, the supporting cast scored 46 points, compared to only 36 in their loss. The Glotta’s scoring ability, and North’s prowess from long range will eventually be too much though, and the Panthers should come away with a victory.

Winner: Fort Zumwalt North

Players to Watch: Chaz Glotta (Zumwalt North), Preston Whitfield (Zumwalt South), James Gleeson (Howell North)

District 7 – *Hazelwood Central, McCluer North, Hazelwood East, Hazelwood West, McCluer

Year after year, this district is one of the most competitive in the state and this year should be no different. Ultra talented Hazelwood Central (21-5) should be considered the favorite, but also has a history of postseason failure under highly scrutinized coach Josh Martin. Central is loaded with size, and has plenty of talented guard play to match. There is no “star” on the court for the Hawks, there are five of them.

On the contrary, the Hawks biggest competition, the McCluer North Stars (18-7), feature one of the top “stars” in the area (pun intended). Rashad Lindsey averages over 21 points/game for North, and has fellow double digit scorer Demarco Owens helping him out. The Stars fell to Central by 6 earlier in the season, but this is the post season. If history tells us anything it’s that North is a force to be reckoned with come March while Central will likely underachieve. History repeats itself, which is why I have the Stars advancing to the sectional round.

Winner: McCluer North

Players to Watch: Rashad Lindsey (McCluer North), Jimmy Jones (Hazelwood East), Xavier Sneed (Hazelwood Central)

District 8 – Chaminade, Ladue, *SLUH, Ritenour, Riverview Gardens

If you have paid any sort of attention to high school hoops over the past two years, you’ve heard the name time and time again. Jayson Tatum is the best player in the state of Missouri, and one of the best in the country, making Chaminade (23-2) a heavy favorite. Tatum’s stat line is awe inspiring averaging 26 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks, and 2 steals per game while playing the point guard position at a towering 6’7. Grant Hollander, Mike Lewis, Damon Patterson, and Tyler Cook round the most complete team in the area. Losing only to CBC and McCluer North, there may be no stopping the Red Devils of Chaminade.

That is not to say that this district isn’t full of talent because it is. Ladue (21-4) is as entertaining and talented a team as you could ask for. Senior point guard Cornell Johnston is an absolute pleasure to watch.  Short in stature (5’7) but certainly not in talent (17 points, 9.8 assists, 3 steals per game), Johnston put Tatum and Chaminade on the ropes in last year’s district final. Andrew Maddock averages just under 12 points and 10 rebounds per game to help out Cornell. SLUH (15-11) has been plagued by a tough schedule that they hope has prepared them for a run into the postseason. Austin Sottile (17 ppg) will try to carry SLUH into the sectional round, but it will be a daunting task having gone 0-4 combined against Ladue and Chaminade this year.

Winner: Chaminade

Players to Watch: Jayson Tatum (Chaminade), Cornell Johnston (Ladue), Austin Sottile (SLUH)

Strap in hoops fans, the postseason is filled with talent. I will be making my way down to SLUH on Tuesday night for the District 8 semifinals and will hopefully have a recap, as always thanks for reading.

It’s not crazy, it’s sports

AJ

MSHSAA Class 5 District 1-4 Preview

barnett

Credit: UMhoops.com

One of my favorite times of year is here once again. The high school basketball playoffs are about to begin. Districts get underway Saturday, March 1st. Nothing beats the feel of a high school gym filled with passionate fans, and kids playing their hearts out, many of them knowing it could be the last game they ever play. Class 5 is loaded this year, particularly on the St. Louis side of the state. Although Columbia Hickman may well be considered the favorite to win the state title, most of the other contenders will play right here in St. Louis, Districts 1-8. I’ve had the pleasure of watching many of the top teams across the area this year, and am excited to share my thoughts in this district overview. Today I break down districts 1-4, 5-8 will be previewed Saturday morning!

-Teams are listed in order of seed

*Represent host team

District 1 – Jackson, Oakville, Poplar Bluff, Fox, *Seckman

I had the pleasure of watching Jackson play a very talent laden CBC team via the CBC Student Network (@CBCCSN), but the rest of this district has eluded my eyes this year. Common sense would tell me that Jackson will meet Oakville for the district title. While I came away impressed with how Jackson competed at CBC, Oakville (18-7) is dangerous. Led by 6’10 SLU commit Austin Gillman (17 points, 10 rebounds, 3.6 blocks per game). When it comes down to it, great players win big games and Oakville will lean on Gillman to take them into the sectional round.

Winner: Oakville

District 2 – *Lafayette, Parkway South, Marquette, Eureka, Summit

In my opinion Lafayette should run away with this district. Coach Scott Allen has the Lancers playing at a very high level (21-4) with quality wins over the likes of Webster Groves and Hazelwood Central. Senior sharpshooter Nate Messer is the team’s leading scorer (14 ppg, 47% 3pt), while point guard Adam Witzig has done a nice job running the show. Football standout Evan Scales and his brother Cameron provide much needed athleticism to this Lancer squad.

However besides Summit (6-19), who graduated nearly their entire team from 2013, every team has a shot. Mason Bendigo of Eureka (8-17) scored 51 against Northwest last week, any performance like that would bring Eureka a district title. Brooks Gerrity of Marquette (11-12) is a dynamic shooter, and in a game against longtime rival Lafayette, you never know what could happen. Lastly, Jeremy Verges of Parkway South (14-9) can really score, pouring in almost 20/game this year. No matter though, Lafayette has beaten every team in this district this year, and barring an off night should walk away with the trophy.

Winner: Lafayette

Players to Watch: Jeremy Verges (P South), Brooks Gerrity (Marquette), Mason Bendigo (Eureka)

District 3 – CBC, Parkway Central, Parkway West, Pattonville, DeSmet, *Parkway North

Under new coach Justin Tatum, CBC (19-7) is battle tested and primed for a deep run into the state tournament. Frankly, if CBC plays the way they are capable, no one in district 3 has much of a chance. Jordan Barnett (Texas signee, 20 ppg) is one of the best talents in the area. Ranked 85th in the country on ESPN’s 2014 100, Barnett is complimented by sophomore guards Jordan Barnes (14 points, 4.6 ast per game) and Christian Willis (10 ppg). Having played nationally ranked opponents from all over the country, the Cadets are more than prepared for the big time.

Parkway Central’s (16-9) Nathan Biggs (15 ppg) and Jarrett Cox-Bradley (16 ppg) are the biggest threat to CBC. Parkway West (15-10) could also pose a threat given the talent of guard Jake Socha (17 ppg). Developing freshmen Wyatt Yess has also been impressive for the Longhorns (12 points, 7 rebounds, 2.5 blocks per game). At the end of the day, no team has the talent or the athleticism to play with CBC for a full 32 minutes. The Cadets should ease through this one.

Winner: CBC

Players to Watch: Jordan Barnett (CBC), Nathan Biggs (P Central), Jake Socha (P West)

District 4 – Webster Groves, *Kirkwood, Vianney, Mehlville, Lindbergh

Another district made more interesting by a long standing rivalry. Kirkwood (18-7) and Webster Groves (21-4) both pose legitimate threats to not only win the district, but make a run deep into March. The Griffins of Vianney (14-10) are young, and talented, but I believe they are a year away from a sectional birth. Mehlville (10-14 and Lindbergh (9-15) would both require a miracle to make it through district 4.

That leaves Webster and Kirkwood, two very defensive minded teams. Jay Blossom brings an intensity to Webster on the defensive end year in and year out that no other program can seem to match. On the other hand, Kirkwood is loaded with athletes this year that can really defend especially against inferior guard play. When the two teams met back on January 24th, the Statesmen of Webster escaped with a two point victory. In my opinion these teams are as evenly matched on both ends of the floor as they come. Kirkwood does have the home court advantage, but the postseason experience of Jay Blossom gives Webster the slight edge.

Winner: Webster Groves

Players to Watch: Alex Floresca (Webster), Evan Booker (Kirkwood), Tanner Cochran (Vianney)

It should be fun to see how these districts pan out, Be sure to check GSC tomorrow for the district 5-8 preview! As always thanks for reading and give me a follow on twitter @GSC_AJ

It’s not crazy, it’s sports

AJ