North Central didn’t have long to stew over its first loss of the season, a 51-50 setback to Ben Davis on Friday.
Just minutes after it was over, North Central coach Doug Mitchell had already turned his attention to the Marion County tournament. The Class 4A second-ranked Panthers (9-1) open at No. 8 Lawrence North (9-1) in the tournament’s marquee first-round game on Tuesday night.
“I think we’re looking forward to this,” Mitchell said. “It’s a great lineup we’re in on our side.”
Two of the state’s four top-ranked teams are in the field. Class 2A top-ranked Park Tudor (9-0), the two-time defending county champion, could meet 4A No. 1 Southport in a quarterfinal game on Wednesday. There are five state-ranked teams in all in the 16-team field, which has returned the Saturday championship to Southport instead of the home site of one of the finalists as it had been the last couple years.
Here’s a look at the matchups, potential matchups, players to watch and predictions:
*North Central (9-1) at Lawrence North (9-1), 7 p.m.: These teams will meet again in 10 days, on the same court. Lawrence North guard Pat Bacon has had a fantastic start to his senior season, including a 35-point game in a win last week over Tech. Freshmen Kevin Easley and Antwaan Cushingberry have also been big for the Wildcats, who face a brutally tough schedule the next six weeks. North Central was by far held to a season-low in points in a 51-50 loss to Ben Davis last week. Kris Wilkes, a 6-7 sophomore, and senior guard Wes Stowers have led the Panthers to a better start than most people probably expected. The pick: I like North Central in a close game.
*Perry Meridian (8-4) at Warren Central (5-6), 7 p.m.: Warren Central has made it to the Marion County finals three times in coach Greg Graham’s six seasons, though the Warriors lost all three games. Warren Central is led by junior guard Djimon Henson, who has offers from IUPUI and Western Illinois. His last-second 3-pointer in last year’s sectional gave the Warriors a dramatic win over Cathedral. Perry Meridian is led by Dylan Windler, a Belmont recruit who is averaging 27.8 points and 9.9 rebounds. These teams last met five years ago in the county tourney. The pick: Warren Central. The Warriors have played the second-toughest schedule in the state per the Sagarin Ratings.
*Lutheran (3-7) at Ben Davis (7-3), 7 p.m.: Ben Davis has knocked off North Central and Pike and nearly beat Southport. The Giants are without 6-6 senior Brennan Gillis for a while, but have enough to make a run this week. Senior DeShon Tate is one of the better guards in the area and the Giants have some beef inside with LeShaun Minor and Tylor Shane. Tommy Miner is leading Lutheran with 12.1 points a game. The pick: Ben Davis.
*Brebeuf Jesuit (6-6) at Speedway (5-4), 7 p.m.: Seniors Andrew Terrell and Aaron Banks lead a Brebeuf team that has picked it up since starting the season 1-4. Senior Anthony Jones is Speedway’s top player. The Sparkplugs have lost four of their last five. The pick: Brebeuf Jesuit.
*Park Tudor (9-0) at Beech Grove (3-7), 7 p.m.: Park Tudor guns for its third consecutive Marion County title but it also had Trevon Bluiett for its two title teams. This Park Tudor team is still very good, however, led by guard Bryce Moore, a Western Michigan recruit, and fellow seniors Dwayne Gibson and Evan Frank. The sophomore class is also promising with 6-9 Jaren Jackson Jr. and guard Kobe Webster. Beech Grove has been balanced this season, led by sophomores Chase Andries (9.6 ppg) and Jordan Boyd (9.4 ppg). The pick: Park Tudor. The Panthers won a December meeting, 81-48.
*Southport (10-0) at Decatur Central (3-6), 7 p.m.: If the top-ranked Cardinals can win the opener, they can return home for the rest of the tournament. Southport is incredibly balanced, led by 6-10 junior Joey Brunk (17.3 ppg, 8.5 rebounds), senior guard Malik Bennett (17.7 ppg, 4.0 assists) and sophomore guard Paul Scruggs (15.9 ppg, 8.3 rebounds). The Hawks are led by senior guard C.B. Bennett (17.8 ppg) and junior guard Antoine Divine (15.0 ppg). The pick: Southport.
*Pike (6-2) at Franklin Central (3-8), 7 p.m.: Pike has four players – junior Justin Thomas (12.9 ppg), senior Tahjai Teague (12.6 ppg), sophomore Justin Roberts (13.6) and senior Jeff White (10.4) – averaging in double figures. Junior Marcus Burk (20.2 ppg) is quietly having a big season for Franklin Central. The pick: Pike.
*Roncalli (7-2) at Lawrence Central (3-9), 7 p.m.: This could be a great matchup, starring Roncalli senior Jimmy King (27.0 ppg) and Virginia recruit Kyle Guy (17.7 ppg). Guy is joined by fellow junior guard Mehki Biffle (14.5 ppg). The pick: Lawrence Central. Maybe a minor upset, but the Bears are better than their record shows.
That leaves quarterfinal matchups of North Central-Warren Central, Ben Davis-Brebeuf Jesuit, Park Tudor-Southport and Pike-Lawrence Central on Wednesday. Give me North Central and Ben Davis on one side and Southport and Pike on the other to set up Friday’s semifinal matchups. I’ll take North Central vs. Southport in the championship on Saturday with the Cardinals winning a close game on their home court.
Follow Kyle Neddenriep on Twitter: @KyleNeddenriep