This weekend in Columbus, the state of Ohio will crown four state champions on the basketball court. The Cleveland area will be well represented with four area teams looking for state titles. The Eagles of St. Edward, the East Tech Scarabs, the St. Vincent-St. Mary Irish (SVSM), and the Villa-Angela-St. Joseph Vikings (VASJ). All four teams will be tested in their journey to add a state championship trophy.
The big boys. Both St. Edward and East Tech will look to win the state's "big school" division crown. Fortunately or unfortunately, only one of them will get a chance to, as the Eagles and Scarabs will square off in the semi-finals, Friday at 5:15 p.m.
Scouting St. Edward.... The Eagles have been ranked at the top of the polls, or near the top of the polls the entire season. They are considered the favorite to win the title. Coach Eric Flannery has the Eagles playing great defense, especially this post season. St. Edward is allowing just 46.6 points a game. If the Eagles score, they win. Led by Kipper Nichols, Marsalis Hamilton, and Tony Vuyanich, the Eagles have not lost when they have scored 59 points or more. The Eagles create match-up problems with their size, but there may be one way to beat them. One Cleveland area coach, when asked how beat, or at least stay with the Eagles, said:
You have to zone them. If they make shots, they are going to win. Their front court is the best around. You can't play man-to-man because of their size and ability. You have to slow the game down, limit possessions, and hope their guards have off shooting nights
Scouting East Tech.... The darlings of this year's tournament, the Cinderella's. The first Cleveland public school team since East High in 1985 to reach the state semi-finals. No one thought they would beat Mentor. They did. No one thought they would beat Shaker Heights. They did. No one thought they would beat Uniontown Lake in the regional final. They did. The Scarabs create match-up problems themselves with their four guard lineup. Freshman Markell Johnson is putting his name on the map in the area, after scoring 27 points in the regional final against Lake. KT Taylor, Anthony Carmon, Johnell Free, and Johnson will all to have to have monster games for the Scarabs to keep this run going against the Eagles. That same Cleveland area coach gave his opinion on how to beat East Tech:
They are so good at attacking gaps and getting to the rim, or pulling up and hitting jumpers. They have four guys that can really score. On the other end of the floor, you have to take care of the ball and not let them out in transition, because they will run a layup line if you turn the ball over. Be patient on offense, and try to take advantage of the four guard lineup.
Prediction.... On paper, it seems like St. Edward should win this game easily. Games aren't played on paper. East Tech will give the Eagles all they can handle. The Scarabs will sit in their 1-3-1 zone and force the Eagles to hit outside shots. Their four guard lineup will give St. Edward fits. For a while. St. Edward is just too big and too good, and will use their height, take care of the ball, and advance to the state title game, where they will play the winner of the game between Upper Arlington and Trotwood-Madison.
SVSM is making going to the state tournament a regular trip, as they will make their ninth trip since 2000. The Irish will get what they wanted since last year, a rematch with Columbus Bishop Watterson in the semi-finals. They will meet on Thursday at 2 p.m.
Scouting SVSM.... This a game the Irish want. They fell to Bishop Watterson 55-52 in last year's title game, shooting just 34 percent for the game. Don't let their 19-9 record fool you, as they have played a number of Division I teams. They are led by super sophomore V.J. King. King missed part of the year with a wrist injury, but now that he is fully healthy, the Irish are playing their best basketball of the year. Virginia Tech recruit Jalen Hudson provides leadership, and realizes that regional championships are nice and all, but the state championship is really their only goal. In a quote to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Hudson summed it up like this:
It feels great. I’m looking this year to actually finish it. These are not the nets we want....SVSM's Jalen Hudson
The same Cleveland area coach gives his opinion on what the Irish bring to the table:
Now that King is healthy, they become a handful. When they decide to play defense, they win. To beat Watterson, they have to continue to play the kind of defense they have been playing in the tournament. They need to guard the three, as Watterson has some good shooters. V.J. King has to play like one of the best sophomores in the country, which he is. If they can turn Watterson over, and speed up the game, they will win
Prediction.... Watterson is very good. They beat what many to believe, is the state's best team, regardless of division, VASJ during the regular season. They will want to get into a grind it out type of game, where every possession is like pulling teeth. The Irish have seen it, and will adjust. King and Hudson remember last year's game, and don't want a repeat. The Irish will win a nail-biter and advance to play in the state title game. They will take on the winner of the game between Norwalk and Dayton Thurgood Marshall.
In Division III, VASJ will attempt to do something that no other Ohio school has done: Win state championships in all four divisions. They easily won the Division IV title last season, and with growing enrollment at the school, have moved up to Division III this season. The Vikings will take on Columbus Bishop Ready in the state semi-final Friday at 10:45 a.m.
Scouting VASJ.... Where to begin? The Vikings are loaded. Arguably, they are the best team in Ohio regardless of Division, when healthy. Scary part is, they start five juniors, and 11 of their top 12 players will be returning next year. Don't let their seven losses fool you. Five of those losses came to nationally ranked teams, another loss was by just six points to St. Edward, who is playing for the Division I championship this weekend. Carlton Bragg, a 6'9" forward, is one of the top 15 juniors in the country. Derek Pardon, a 6'8" center, just got an offer from Northwestern. Brian Parker, a 6'3" forward, is the their "glue guy". All he does is stuff the stat sheet. Shooting guard Simon Texidor is their three point bomber, and point guard Maurice Johnson runs the show, and has a huge impact on the game without ever scoring. It is as good of starting five as there is in the state. Can they be beat? Sure, but it won't be easy. The same Cleveland area coach isn't quite sure how to beat them either:
You really pick your poison with them. If you are going to play man-to-man, then Bragg and Pardon are going to beat you inside. If you play zone, you MUST rebound. VASJ is an outstanding offensive rebounding team. Parker is a problem because he is just so much stronger than anyone who is guarding him. You have to double the post and make them swing the ball, and you have to find Texidor because he can really shoot it. They are not real deep, so if they get in foul trouble, it could be an issue. Offensively, you can't get discouraged when Bragg and Pardon block shots, because they will.
Prediction.... VASJ is the heavy favorite in Division III, and it will be a surprise if they DON'T win the state title. Ready will do what all teams do against VASJ, which is slow the game down and limit possessions. That may work in keeping the game closer than what it should be, but it won't win them the game. VASJ will roll into the final, where they will play the winner of the game between Cincinnati Roger Bacon and Lima Central Catholic.
Good Luck to all Cleveland area teams this weekend. If things fall the right way, the Cleveland area could bring home three state championships.