Detroit Free Press special writer Keith Dunlap gives a class-by-class breakdown of the boys basketball state tournament, which continues on Tuesday with the quarterfinals.
TOP STORY: Three of the eight quarterfinalists are from Oakland Activities Association. And two of them will form an all-OAA quarterfinal when Troy plays West Bloomfield at Calihan Hall in Tuesday’s second game. Clarkston, the other OAA team, will take on Saginaw at Davison. The winners of those games will play at 1 p.m. on March 24 at Michigan State’s Breslin Center, setting up a potential all-OAA semifinal.
BEST MATCHUP: Grand Rapids Christian vs. Kalamazoo Central at Lansing Everett. Led by Michigan signee Isaiah Livers, Kalamazoo Central knocked off unbeaten East Lansing in a regional final on Wednesday. Now, the Maroon Giants will try to take down another unbeaten, No. 1 Grand Rapids Christian, led by Michigan State signee Xavier Tillman. Romulus vs. defending champion Detroit U-D Jesuit at Calihan Hall (5 p.m.) also is worth watching.
TEAM TO WATCH: Clarkston is chasing its first state title in Dan Fife’s 36th year as coach. The Wolves are 1-9 in the quarterfinals under Fife and will face a longtime rival Saginaw. However, Clarkston enters as the favorite and the path to the championship seems more favorable than in past years.
DARK HORSE: Romulus was honorable mention in the state rankings to end the regular season, but it has lived up to its pre-tournament billing as a potential title contender. The Eagles were impressive in a 72-55 win over 20-win Belleville in a regional semifinal, and are well-equipped to dethrone defending champion U-D Jesuit on Tuesday.
NAMES TO KNOW: Tillman is considered the top prospect in Michigan for the 2017 class, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. He also is one of the top power forwards in the Midwest, and might be the favorite to win the Hal Schram Mr. Basketball Award. Livers is the other Mr. Basketball finalist left in the field. Clarkston junior point guard Foster Loyer (Michigan State commit) scored 31 points in a regional semifinal win over No. 5 Macomb Dakota.
TOP STORY: The state rankings didn’t matter much going into regional play, as only four ranked teams advanced to the quarterfinal round — No. 2 River Rouge, No. 3 New Haven, No. 5 Benton Harbor and No. 8 Ludington. No. 1 Wyoming Godwin Heights was unbeaten until losing in a regional semifinal to Williamston.
BEST MATCHUP: Williamston (21-4) vs. River Rouge (23-1) at Chelsea. Many expected this to be a matchup of No. 1 Godwin Heights vs. No. 2 River Rouge, but Williamston spoiled that with a tremendous performance that eliminated Godwin Heights last Monday, 69-65.
TEAM TO WATCH: New Haven. The Rockets (24-1) never have been past to the quarterfinal round, but are a good bet to do that for the first time against Detroit Osborn (16-9) at Marysville. Senior guard Eric Williams and one of the nation’s top sophomores, Romeo Weems, are capable of leading the program to its first Final Four appearance and first state title.
DARK HORSES: Williamston entered the state tournament unranked but feels it shouldn’t be underestimated after upsetting No. 1 Godwin Heights. The Hornets aren’t a team with star power, but are a cohesive unit that battles. The same can be said for Ludington (23-2), which quietly has a banner season going ahead of its quarterfinal against Lake Fenton at Bay City Central.
NAMES TO KNOW: Should New Haven advance to Breslin, look for several college coaches to travel to East Lansing to take a peek at Weems. Senior point guard Darian Owens-White is a key component for River Rouge.
TOP STORY: Two-time defending champion Flint Beecher has solidified its status as as the tournament favorite. The Buccaneers are one of two ranked teams left in Class C. The other is No. 2 Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central, which is unbeaten but hasn’t played the schedule Beecher has.
BEST MATCHUP: Kalamazoo Christian vs. Grand Rapids Covenant Christian at Davenport University. Kalamazoo Christian (18-7) and Covenant Christian (19-5) entered the tournament unranked but both scored regional semifinal upsets in overtime over teams mentioned in the state rankings. Kalamazoo Christian beat honorable mention Schoolcraft, 53-47, and Covenant Christian beat No. 7 Pewamo-Westphalia in double-overtime, 56-52.
TEAM TO WATCH: Flint Beecher. It would be a surprise if Beecher didn’t win the title. Beecher’s five losses were to Class A or Class B teams, including a seven-point loss to Macomb Dakota and a three-overtime defeat to New Haven. The Buccaneers are in great shape to three-peat and make it five state titles in six years.
DARK HORSE: Manton, a school located 35 miles south of Traverse City, flew under radars entering the tournament. But its upset of unbeaten and No. 1-ranked McBain in the district round changed that, and it went on to beat Maple City Glen Lake and Boyne City in the regional round to set up a quarterfinal against Negaunee at Petoskey.
NAMES TO KNOW: Beecher senior point guard Malik Ellison is a 5-foot-10 playmaker, but he plays like he is 6-10. Just extended an offer from Eastern Michigan, Ellison hit the game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer in a semifinal against Detroit Loyola last year. Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central senior Nick Welch is a 6-7 forward who has signed with Northwood.
TOP STORY: No. 1 Powers North Central and No. 2 Southfield Christian still are on track for a semifinal showdown; the teams have combined to win the past five state championships in Class D. Southfield Christian won three titles in a row from 2012-14 before moving to Class C the last two years, when Powers North Central won back-to-back titles.
BEST MATCHUP: Powers North Central has to dispatch No. 3 Hillman in a quarterfinal at Sault Ste. Marie to get to that potential semifinal against Southfield Christian. Hillman is 24-1 and will try and break Powers North Central’s 78-game winning streak, which is the longest in the nation.
TEAM TO WATCH: Southfield Christian. It’s easy to wonder what things would have been like the past two years had Southfield Christian stayed in Class D instead of competing in Class C. It’s possible Southfield Christian would be working on a sixth straight title, but the Eagles definitely have the talent to make it four in the past six years.
DARK HORSES: Powers North Central and Southfield Christian are overwhelming favorites, but Buckley is a team that could disrupt the status quo. Buckley is unbeaten going into a quarterfinal matchup against Wyoming Tri-Unity Christian, a program that has made several deep runs in the state tournament. Lansing Christian was ranked No. 8 going into the state tournament and is typically a solid program.
NAMES TO KNOW: Jason Whitens of Powers North Central is a Mr. Basketball finalist who has been instrumental in helping the program win two titles and amass its nation-leading winning streak. Southfield Christian has a pair who are brothers and Division I college prospects, senior Brock Washington and junior Bryce Washington. Both are lithe, versatile players who can play four positions on the floor.