Team rankings don’t mean anything in March. It’s all about getting to the Breslin. Here are the four Class A teams most likely to make it nearly four months from now.
Lansing Everett 1/4: Grand Rapids Christian This will be the first full season for the Eagles’ D1 trio of Mr. Basketball favorite Xavier Tillman, James Beck and junior Duane Washington. There’s some talent on the wings with senior Emmet Warners and junior Seth Milner both 6-5. Muskegon knocked the Eagles out of the regional last year and are better now with the addition of 6-5 seniors Grandville transfer Sam Cornett and Markell Jackson, who was on the team last year but on the bench after transferring from Loy-Norrix. He’s now the most talented player on the roster. Steady point guard play from junior Willie Shanks and/or sophomore DeAndre Carter will be crucial to the Big Reds.
The point is crucial as well for the third most likely team to emerge from the Westside, Kalamazoo Central. The onus will be on junior James Vallar there. And senior forward Isaiah Livers, headed to Michigan, needs to be closer to 24 a game than 14 to fit the model of players that have led teams to Class A titles. West Ottawa is a trendy name as they return all their key players notably bookend forwards Jake VanTubbergen and Tyler Bosma. The Panthers have never won a district and they’ll host one full of teams with guards who’ll break your heart — Holland, Jenison and Wyoming. The favorite to meet the Grand Haven regional winner is East Lansing. The Trojans return everyone from a team that went 20-0, with an assortment of upperclassman shooters around the state’s top junior 6-9 Brandon Johns. Another situation where point guard improvement, from junior Malik Jones, goes a long way.
U-of-D 1/4: Detroit U-D Jesuit Cassius Winston has moved on, but the program endures for the defending state champion Cubs. All eyes will be on his successor at point guard, sophomore Julian Dozier. They have three D1 post players in 6-9 senior Ike Eke (Marquette), 6-8 senior Greg Eboigbodin (UIC) and 6-9 sophomore Jalen Thomas. They’ll have go get past the PSL’s most talented team, East English Village, in the Fordson regional. EEV graduated three D1 athletes, including Mr. Basketball finalist Karmari Newman, and sent another to a D2 power, but bring in a point guard likely to be on the 2018 Mr. Bball ballot, David Dejulius, and another junior D1 prospect 6-5 Zavon Godwin. Which makes all-state senior guard Greg Elliott the Jimmy Butler of this win-win scenario.
Nothing is guaranteed for EEV because they’re in the same district as teams with coaches who know the way to Breslin and have done it more than once, if not yet at Detroit King and Cass Tech respectively. Expect U-D’s opponent at Calihan to be Wayne Memorial. The Zebras have a JYD senior forward in Keion Epps and a talented backcourt featuring the scoring of junior Rashad Williams. It’s not inconceivable to picture any of the Ann Arbor schools in Wayne’s stead. Pioneer has a dangerous mix of seniors who have won and sophs with D1 talent. Huron lost a coach but not leading scorer senior Jack Smith as well as the Emory Bros. And at Skyline there’s the state’s most ESP backcourt juniors Brandon Wade and Jack Ammerman. Belleville will also be dangerous as the Tigers’ junior class is as talented as any.
U-of-D 1/4: Warren De La Salle The Pilots have now seen three D1 players depart early but they continue to just win. The biggest hole to fill though will be the expected one of CMU’s Kevin McKay. DLS will have no superstar or exceptional size, but a healthy junior Justin Fischer at the point covers a lot of ills. This is a team similar is size, talent, temper to the one that lost to Detroit Redford in the 2007 semifinals. North Farmington remains in good shape for a repeat trip to East Lansing as they return one of the state’s most explosive guards senior Amauri Hardy. They’ll have to get past West Bloomfield in district play and the Lakers have a dangerous senior guard of their own Kevin McAdoo. For a darkhorse pick Novi which has a nice mix of athletes and skill.
Davison 1/4: Clarkston The defacto quarterfinal game will come in a regional semifinal at Grand Blanc. Dakota won this game last year by two in double OT but won’t have the home court this time (though they also won at Clarkston in the regular season). The principles are back from that game, including Clarkston’s possible Mr. Basketball finalist Dylan Alderson and the state’s best point guards Dakota senior Jermaine Jackson and Clarkston junior Foster Loyer. Loyer and Dakota junior forward Thomas Kithier will be MSU teammates. Dakota added 6-9 senior Jack Ballantyne from De La Salle, Clarkston added 6-9 sophomore Taylor Currie from Ohio. Give the Wolves the slight nod this year on the strength of an underrated junior class full of guys with good chemistry who can shoot and grind on D. Saginaw is the pick to meet Clarkston in the quarterfinal. They have a fire and ice senior backcourt of Qua Southward and Chaz Woods. Traverse City West has some sleeper potential out of the North.