By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Beginning tonight, 128 boys basketball District titles are up for grabs across our state.
Of course, some teams are favored – and we’ve told you about many of them over the last three months. But if we learn anything from year to year, it’s that we should expect plenty of the unexpected over the next three weeks.
Over the next two, we’ll alter the format of our Breslin Bound reports – powered by MI Student Aid – still looking at some of the key results from last week but also at three of the most eye-catching brackets in each class for the upcoming week of playoffs.
This week, that means we’ll take closer looks at 12 Districts total in addition to scores from last week that saw some of the state’s best match up one more time before single elimination games begin. (Click here to navigate brackets for all 128 tournaments.)
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. Detroit U-D Jesuit 68, Detroit Edison 63 – The Operation Friendship headliner went to the Detroit Catholic League A-B champ, but Class C and Public School League champ Edison could be tough to beat this month after playing much larger opponents all season.
2. Holland West Ottawa 59, Grand Rapids Catholic Central 49 – These two are expected to be among contenders this month in Class A and B, respectively; they finished the regular season a combined 35-4.
3. Clarkston 48, Hazel Park 38 – The Wolves played without injured star guard Foster Loyer and still won the Oakland Activities Association Red title outright by finishing a sweep of the second-place Vikings.
4. New Haven 81, Flint Beecher 70 – The reigning Class B champ downing the reigning Class C champ didn’t shock, but Beecher giving New Haven its second-closest game this season could be a sign the Buccaneers are rising as the tournament approaches.
5. Manton 75, Buckley 62 – These two are hoping to make return to trips to the Breslin Center in Class C and D, respectively, and got a nice tune-up with this late February rematch after Manton won the first meeting 62-60 on Jan. 20.
Districts at a Glance
These could be among our most competitive brackets. Host sites are in bold:
Ann Arbor Skyline
Ann Arbor Huron (15-5), Ann Arbor Pioneer (11-9), Ann Arbor Skyline (19-0), Dexter (13-6), Pinckney (7-13), Romulus (12-7).
Skyline won the Southeastern Conference Red title for the second straight season but took another step into the elite with nonleague wins over Belleville, Detroit Pershing and Wayne Memorial among others. Huron is an intriguing District Final opponent; the River Rats lost to Skyline twice but cut the margin in half from the first meeting in losing 58-49 on Feb. 12. Romulus, which finished second to Belleville in the Western Wayne Athletic Conference Blue, always seems to shine at tournament time and shouldn’t be forgotten despite closing the regular season with five straight defeats including a big one to the Eagles.
Berkley (10-10), Detroit Renaissance (13-7), Detroit U- D Jesuit (17-3), Hazel Park (18-2), Oak Park (18-2), Warren Fitzgerald (12-5).
Six teams from six leagues make up this District, with U-D Jesuit the champion of the Detroit Catholic League Central and Oak Park the champ of the Oakland Activities Association White. Hazel Park finished second in the OAA Red with both losses to reigning Class A champion Clarkston, while Renaissance and Fitzgerald also were contenders in their leagues and Berkley started this season 10-1 before a difficult second half set in. Jesuit has won eight straight, but Hazel Park took a win from the Cubs 74-63 on Dec. 15.
Alpena (9-10), Gaylord (11-9), Marquette (14-5), Petoskey (18-2), Traverse City Central (12-8), Traverse City West (12-7).
This District also features multiple league champions – Marquette from the Great Northern Conference and Petoskey from the Big North Conference. Those two met in the first game of this season, with Petoskey winning 55-38, but we could find out how much has changed over three months if they meet Friday. The Northmen have statewide aspirations, and their only losses were at Grand Haven 56-39 on Dec. 29 and 43-38 to league runner-up Cadillac (13-7) on Feb. 6. West advanced to the Regional Final last season.
Pontiac Notre Dame Prep
Algonac (1-18), Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood (18-2), Macomb Lutheran North (6-14), New Haven (20-0), Pontiac (5-14), Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (11-9).
Reigning Class B champion New Haven would be a District favorite regardless of bracket, riding a 46-game winning streak and with only one opponent coming closer than 11 points this winter. But Cranbrook is an intriguing possible opponent in the District Final. The Cranes are coming off one of their two defeats, to Macomb Area Conference Bronze champion Madison Heights Madison, but won both the Catholic League Intersectional #1 and the C-D tournament title to highlight their best season this decade.
Remus Chippewa Hills
Alma (15-5), Big Rapids (15-5), Clare (17-3), Remus Chippewa Hills (6-14), Shepherd (6-14), Stanton Central Montcalm (7-13).
A pair of league champions meet in an opener tonight – Alma shared the Tri-Valley Conference Central, and Big Rapids shared the Central State Activities Association Gold title. The Cardinals fell in their opener a year ago, to eventual Class B runner-up Ludington, but are only two years removed from a Semifinal run. Awaiting on the other side of this bracket Friday could be Clare, which finished second in the Jack Pine Conference but is riding an eight-game winning streak and won a District title last year.
Grand Rapids South Christian (13-7), Grand Rapids West Michigan Aviation Academy (13-7), Kentwood Grand River Prep (9-9), Wyoming Godwin Heights (19-1), Wyoming Kelloggsville (17-3), Wyoming Lee (4-16).
Godwin Heights would be considered a New Haven-level slam dunk in just about any District as well, with its only loss Dec. 29 to Class A Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (18-2). But there are some dangerous games here. On the other side of the bracket, Kelloggsville was the runner-up to Godwin Heights in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Silver, but cut the margin from 29 to 12 when the teams met a second time Feb. 6. Kelloggsville must be careful tonight with the Sailors, who played mostly Class A teams in their league. Also notable, Aviation Academy finished third in the Alliance League and has improved three wins this season.
Burton Atherton (13-6), Burton Bendle (11-9), Burton Bentley (15-5), Flint Beecher (12-8), Flint Hamady (13-5), Montrose (10-10).
Beecher has won three straight Class C championships and five of the last six, and the Buccaneers’ record this season again requires context because five of those losses came to Class A contenders and two came to Class B powers including New Haven. The other loss, however, came to Hamady 77-71 on Feb. 2, and the rivals shared the Genesee Area Conference Red title. Likewise, Atherton and Bendle shared the GAC White title, and Bentley shared the GAC Blue championship – its first league title in 41 years. Hamady would have to beat Bendle and Bentley to reach Friday’s District Final, while Beecher takes on Montrose tonight and then would see Atherton.
Holton (6-14), Kent City (20-0), Muskegon Western Michigan Christian (12-8), North Muskegon (17-3), Ravenna (11-9).
A pair of league champions could face each other for this District title as well – Kent City won the CSAA Silver, and on the other side of the bracket is West Michigan Conference champ North Muskegon. But both should be cautious of Lake Michigan Conference runner-up Western Michigan Christian. The Warriors finished second in that league to reigning Class B runner-up Ludington and face Kent City on Wednesday. They also own a 46-40 win over North Muskegon from Dec. 22.
Maple City Glen Lake
Grand Traverse Academy (12-7), Manton (17-3), Maple City Glen Lake (18-2), Traverse City St. Francis (15-5).
Manton shared the Highland Conference title, Glen Lake shared the championship in the Northwest Conference and St. Francis won the Lake Michigan Conference outright. Grand Traverse also was in a title mix before finishing runner-up in the Cherryland Conference. There is some familiarity despite the different leagues, of course. Glen Lake beat St. Francis 49-40 on Jan. 20, and Manton – which went on to make the Class C Semifinals – beat Glen Lake in the Regional last year after Glen Lake beat St. Francis for the District title.
Athens (16-4), Battle Creek Calhoun Christian (12-8), Battle Creek St. Philip (10-9), Bellevue (19-1), Marshall Academy (16-2).
Bellevue and Athens finished first and second in the Southern Central Athletic Association West, respectively, and are on opposite sides of the bracket. Bellevue has won five straight District titles and posted two big wins on Athens during the regular season. The Indians will be part of an intriguing District Semifinal on Wednesday regardless of which team wins tonight’s opener. St. Philip finished third in the SCAA West and beat Athens 52-51 on Feb. 16, while Marshall Academy won the Mid-South Conference title.
Bear Lake (17-3), Brethren (8-12), Buckley (15-5), Fife Lake Forest Area (10-10), Mesick (3-17)
Buckley features three 1,000-point career scorers who experienced last season’s Class D runner-up finish, and the Bears have won 12 of their last 14 to keep a share of the Northwest Conference title against some of the best Class C/D competition in the state this winter. But they could meet a Bear Lake team in the District Semifinal that won its first league title since 2008 and also includes a 1,000-point scorer in Kaiden Hejl.
Bark River-Harris (12-7), Carney-Nadeau (13-7), Felch North Dickinson (2-18), Powers North Central (16-4), Stephenson (6-14).
This season saw three-time reigning Class D champ North Central’s record 84-game winning streak end. It also saw the rebuilt Jets win the Skyline Central Conference small-school division title, and they head into this week on a seven-game winning streak that has included victories over large-school champion Munising (17-3) and runner-up Bark River-Harris. North Central and Bark River-Harris could meet again Wednesday; Carney-Nadeau finished third to the Jets in league play and could await on the other side.
PHOTO: Baldwin and Beal City players work to gain possession during the Aggies’ 55-54 win Jan. 16. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)