March Madness is here. Which means it’s time to fill out a bracket.
The NCAA Tournament will command your attention over the next several weeks. But don’t forget about the other ‘Big Dance’ that’s happening in New York City. A champion will be crowned at the GEICO High School Nationals on April 6.
And since it’s that time of year, I think it’s only right to do a little High School Bracketology.
Here’s a look at some predictions courtesy of Michael McLamb at Mars Reel:
No. 3 IMG Academy (Fla.) vs. No. 6 Sunrise Christian (Kan.)
Prediction: IMG Academy
The last time IMG Academy appeared in the GEICO Nationals was back in 2017. The Ascenders entered that tournament as the No. 2 seed and were stunned by North Carolina private school Greensboro Day.
In an unprecedented upset, Greensboro Day defeated IMG by a resounding score of 59-40.
I don’t expect the Ascenders to go down this time. Sunrise Christian is more than capable of pulling off the upset. I’d hesitate to even call it an “upset,” because Sunrise certainly has the talent to make a run. But I’m picking IMG in this game.
The Ascenders only took one loss this year, that was a 72-67 defeat against Mountain Brook (Ala.) in the City of Palms Classic. They gained wins over fellow GEICO teams Oak Hill and University School and they racked up quality wins over DeMatha (Md.) and Huntington Prep (W. Va.).
I like the way IMG is built. Three McDonald’s All-Americans headline the roster in Josh Green (Arizona signee), Armando Bacot Jr. (North Carolina) and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (Villanova). Junior guards Noah Farrakhan and Jaden Springer also round out a strong starting rotation.
Sunrise will counter with 7-foot-1 center N’Faly Dante.
Dante is the star of this Sunrise team, but he is surrounded with several high-major players. Austin Crowley (Vanderbilt), Jordan Turner (Baylor), Bryce Cook (SMU) and Grant Sherfield (4-star senior) are all high-level guards/wings that will problems for IMG.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Sunrise Christian pulls out the win… But I like IMG Academy in a close one.
No. 2 Montverde Academy (Fla.) vs. No. 7 University School (Fla.)
Prediction: Montverde Academy
The second game of the GEICO Nationals will be a rematch of last year’s championship.
Montverde defeated University School to claim the 2018 title. R.J. Barrett dropped a game-high 25 points and 15 rebounds to lead the Eagles to an emphatic 76-58 victory.
These are two very different teams from a year ago.
Although U-School does return its two biggest contributors in Vernon Carey Jr. (Duke signee) and Scottie Barnes, the Sharks are not the same squad. The losses of Trey Doomes (now at West Virginia) and Drue Drinnon (New Mexico) were significant for U-School. The Sharks have relied on players like Roger McFarlane (3-star junior), Jace Howard, and younger brother Jett Howard to pick up the pace in their absence.
U-School did win another Florida state title, but they weren’t quite as impressive against nationally ranked teams. The Sharks loss by nearly 40 points to IMG, they loss to Sierra Canyon (Calif.) by 16, and they fell at home to Sunrise Christian by 8.
It also seems possible that Vernon Carey could be sidelined due to a lingering ankle injury that he suffered in the state playoffs.
With that said, I think Montverde will control this game. The Eagles have looked unphased since falling against La Lumiere at the Cancer Research Classic back in January. They demolished several of the best teams in the country down the stretch. They defeated Sierra Canyon by 21, Ranney School by 38, and they buried Oak Hill in Tampa by 25.
Montverde is loaded with D-I talent including McDonald’s All-American Precious Achiuwa, Cade Cunningham (5-star junior), Omar Payne (Florida), Moses Moody (4-star junior), Balsa Koprivica (Florida State) and the list could go on.
This is the hottest team in the country right now, and I think they get the first round win.
No. 1 La Lumiere (Ind.) vs. No. 8 Bishop Gorman (Nev.)
Prediction: La Lumiere
La Lumiere enters the GEICO Nationals as the lone undefeated team in the field. The Lakers put together a dominant regular season, claiming victories over several teams which will appear in the tournament: Montverde Academy (2x), Bishop Gorman, Sunrise Christian and Wasatch Academy.
La Lumiere is led by McDonald’s All-American Isaiah Stewart (Washington signee), Keion Brooks (Kentucky), Gerald Drumgoole (Pittsburgh), Wendell Green (3-star junior) and Paxson Wojcik (Loyola-Chicago).
This will be a rematch of a game that occurred at the Cancer Research Classic on Jan. 4th.
La Lumiere defeated Bishop Gorman in that meeting by a score of 67-54. I think La Lumiere gets it done, but if I had to pick a major upset in any of these first round games— I’d take Bishop Gorman.
I think a team that’s playing with nothing to lose is always dangerous. And Bishop Gorman meets that description.
Prep schools like La Lumiere, Montverde, IMG and Oak Hill prepare for months to win the GEICO Nationals— they have everything to lose. Bishop Gorman recently won its eighth consecutive state title. I think the Gaels will enter this tournament playing with freedom and a mindset to wreak some havoc.
Bishop Gorman will also benefit from already facing La Lumiere. I sat courtside at that previous game. The final score of 67-54 was not indicative of how close it was. La Lumiere pulled away late, but Bishop Gorman was right there almost the entire way.
The Gaels are led by nationally ranked prospects Isaiah Cotrell, Zaon Collins, Noah Taitz and Will McClendon.
My prediction is still La Lumiere, but I think this could be a lot closer than people are expecting.
No. 4 Oak Hill Academy (Va.) vs. No. 5 Wasatch Academy (Utah)
Prediction: Wasatch Academy
It’s been somewhat of a weird season for both of these programs, but I like Wasatch Academy to come in and steal a minor “upset” over Oak Hill.
McDonald’s All-American Cole Anthony and Kofi Cockburn (Illinois signee) will make a much-anticipated return to New York City for this game.
The duo has plenty of experience playing at Christ the King High School (the host site of the tournament). Kofi played at Christ the King for three seasons and Anthony played at rival Archbishop Molloy.
The two transferred to Oak Hill with hopes of winning a national championship in the Big Apple. They were joined by Cam Thomas (5-star junior) and Christian Brown (Georgia) along with returners Evan Johnson, B.J. Mack (South Florida) and Darrick Jones Jr.
Oak Hill has really struggled against top-ranked competition this season. The Warriors got crushed by Montverde in an ESPN televised game by 25 points. They also loss to Philadelphia power Imhotep Charter by 10 and got handed a surprising loss versus Teays Valley Christian (W. Va.).
Wasatch Academy also had some struggles. The Tigers looked unimpressive at the M.A.I.T. Invitational in late January. They were defeated by almost 30 points against the Mobley Brothers and Rancho Christian (Calif.), and then loss by 12 versus St. Louis powerhouse Vashon.
My pick is Wasatch though, because I think the Tigers looked stronger down the stretch. The team almost gave La Lumiere its first loss of the season in February. The Lakers barely squeaked past Wasatch winning 53-52.
The Tigers also picked up a statement victory over fellow GEICO Nationals team Sunrise Christian on Feb. 9, winning 65-53 at the Heartland Hoops Classic.
Wasatch might not have the big names like Oak Hill has with Cole Anthony, but the Tigers are loaded with D-I talent: Tre Williams (Minnesota signee), Tristan Enaruna (4-star senior), Mady Sissoko (4-star junior), Caleb Lohner (4-star junior), Leonardo Colimerio (4-star junior) and the list could go on.
If I’m wrong on this prediction, it’s because I’m undervaluing the competitive fire of Anthony and Cockburn to claim a title in their city, and also head coach Steve Smith’s lengthy experience at this event (which includes a national title in 2016).
But my pick is Wasatch to reach the next round.
No. 2 Montverde Academy (Fla.) vs. No. 3 IMG Academy (Fla.)
Prediction: IMG Academy
This would be an entertaining semifinal matchup. I went back and forth between these two teams. Montverde has more depth than IMG, but something tells me that IMG finds a way to win.
The Eagles have struggled at times offensively. They are probably the most athletic team in the country. But when the game gets tight, who will they turn to get a bucket? Precious Achiuwa and Cade Cunningham are both strong all-around players, but I think IMG has the greatest offensive weapon in Josh Green.
Both teams defend and rebound at a high-level. I think this could turn into a grind-it-out type of game, and with that, I think IMG has a little more offensive firepower to get some clutch buckets down the stretch. IMG also has a slight advantage in the post with Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Armando Bacot.
I could see this game going either way, but my gut tells me that IMG gets the win.
No. 1 La Lumiere (Ind.) vs. No. 5 Wasatch Academy (Utah)
Prediction: La Lumiere
This would be a rematch of a Feb. 1 game at The Bob Kirk Invitational in Maryland. Wasatch had a chance to close out La Lumiere at the free throw line during that game. With 19.7 seconds remaining, Wasatch senior Tre Williams stepped to the line with his team holding a 52-51 lead.
Williams missed the front-end of a one-and-one. La Lumiere rebounded the ball and dribbled the length of the floor and got fouled.
Gerald Drumgoole calmly stepped to the line and buried two free throws to give La Lumiere a 53-52 lead with 7.3 seconds remaining. Wasatch received one final chance to win. Leonardo Colimerio got a decent look from mid-range, but the shot rimmed out.
The Lakers escaped with a 53-52 victory.
I think this would be another close game. After Wasatch struggled at the M.A.I.T. Invitational, the Tigers gained a key transfer student and found their rhythm.
Caleb Lohner was previously at Flower Mound High School in North Texas. Lohner played almost the entire regular season with Flower Mound, but on Jan. 30th it was announced that he would be transferring to the Utah prep school.
Wasatch has benefited greatly from his versatility and high-volume productivity.
With that said, I’m still picking La Lumiere.
Like I said previously, the Lakers just know how to win. I think La Lumiere does the same against Wasatch to reach the national championship against IMG.
No. 1 La Lumiere (Ind.) vs. No. 3 IMG Academy (Fla.)
Prediction: La Lumiere
Sorry to disappoint those who were hoping that I’d go against the grain and pick somebody other than the No. 1 seed in the tournament. But my prediction is La Lumiere to cut down the nets and win a national title.
The GEICO Nationals has a tendency to favor the team with the biggest star. When looking at the event’s previous Most Valuable Players— R.J. Barrett, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ben Simmons to name a few— that much becomes clear. And although he isn’t the nation’s top-ranked player in the country, Isaiah Stewart is that type of talent for La Lumiere.
Only a few players in the 8-team field can actually claim previous experience at the GEICO Nationals. Isaiah Stewart is one of them. His squad got bounced in the first round at the 2018 event. Since that loss, Stewart has returned on a mission.
Isaiah Stewart is the heart and soul of this team. Other players like Keion Brooks and Gerald Drumgoole might lead the team in scoring on a given night, but Stewart provides the Lakers with the intangibles that championship teams need.
Stewart’s leadership and all-around productivity will be the difference for La Lumiere. He’s hungry for a title, and I think his team will rise to the occasion with him.
We’ll see what happens on April 4-6. Much like March Madness— what happens in real-life tends to be way better than any bracket prediction.
I’ll never forget last season watching Lone Peak (Utah), a team featuring just one Division I player, nearly defeat one of the best high schools teams that I’ve ever seen.
Steven Ashworth is currently serving his two-year mission with the LDS Church; but when he returns, he will play at Utah State. In his final high school game, Ashworth dropped an incredible 29 points in the second half versus eventual national champion Montverde.
Lone Peak came just short of pulling off the greatest upset in the event’s history (87-82).
Anything can happen. Which is why this is my favorite event of the year.