Team rankings don’t mean anything in March. It’s all about getting to the Breslin. Here are the four Class C teams most likely to make it nearly three months from now.
Levane Blake holds down the paint for defending Class C champion Flint Beecher.
Davenport 1/4: Pewamo-Westphalia P-W did it in football, now we have them as the “local” Class C rep at the Breslin Center. A step before that is a smaller but still terrific college venue, Davenport for the quarterfinal. That’s of course if they can even get out of one of the state’s toughest districts, at Bath. Despite getting a late start because of their championship football run, P-W was undefeated through the first week of the new year. Senior Ryan Smith is back at the point and another senior, Jimmy Lehman. 6-5 sophomore Andre Smith has a lot of potential. Also in the Bath district, 6-9 Dansville sophomore Caleb Hodgson is the top college prospect, while the host school and Carson City-Crystal have shooters that can knock you out on a given night, Bath junior Harry Gilstrap and CCC senior Kaleb Barrett. The team that survives the Bath district will likely have to get past 2016 state runner-up Grandville Calvin Christian and Muskegon Heights. As always, the Heights has guard depth and will press and run. They brought in the new year by knocking off a pair of Class A teams, Petoskey and Traverse City West. No one in Class C can cover Calvin’s 6-10 junior Blake Verbeek, but this team is still finding itself as an all-state guard like the graduated Tony Dewitte isn’t readily replaced. Pewamo-Westphalia would face the winner of the Bangor regional. Right now Niles Brandywine and Kalamazoo Hackett are undefeated. Brandywine senior guard Hunter Slaughter is streaky enough to beat most anyone or lose to a lot of teams, so that’s a scary proposition. Hackett is the steadier more traditional of the two, with a size advantage with 6-6 senior Teddy Oosterbaan.
Tecumseh 1/4: Michigan Center Hanover-Horton traditionally rules the Napoleon district. But this could be the year Michigan Center gets past their Cascades Conference rival. MC is undefeated, including two neutral courts wins at Williamston’s Christmas tournament including Class A DeWitt. Michigan Center is a classic, local Class C team with balance, shooters, chemistry and pace. Senior Austin McKenzie is a smart point guard who can shoot it, senior guard Kylen Brown scores and creates off the dribble and Connor Pelham plays bigger than his 6-3. Michigan Center would likely first see Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central in the Hudson regional. SMCC just continues to roll, with all-staters following all-staters. The most recent is 6-7 senior Nick Welch and St. Mary has started undefeated in a quest for a third-straight season with at least 20 wins. Led by 6-4 senior Hunter Gallagher, Sand Creek is undefeated thus far and could await in the regional final.
Then there’s the Bishop Foley regional is the most talented in Class C. From the Loyola district there’s the host school, a 2016 semifinalist, and Cornerstone, which has 6-6 senior Jamal Cain going to Marquette and senior guard Davion Bradford a scholarship player himself. On the other side it will be Detroit Edison or Pershing. Edison hasn’t been great but future CMU point guard Pierre Mitchell, formerly of Loyola, is soon eligible and will helps things fall into place. 6-7 junior Deante “Spider” Johnson is an impact big man at this level. Surely Pershing is the only 0-5 team in Michigan with legitimate final four hopes. The Doughboys have lost to the likes of Macomb Dakota and Belleville in non-league and PSL games to East English Village and Detroit King. Edison and Pershing will play a district preview next week.
Mt. Pleasant: Flint Beecher Who else? Beecher will be playing for its third straight state championship and fifth in the past six seasons. The only interruption to the streak came in 2014 when Pewamo-Westphalia knocked them out in the quarterfinals and Josh Jackson’s Consortium team ended up winning it all. Beecher’s backcourt returns, seniors Jordan Rowland and all-stater Malik Ellison, as does senior center Levane Blake. And the tradition will continue, as 6-2 Jalen Terry is one of the state’s top freshmen. Beecher is 5-2 thus far, including a win over 2016 Class A champion Detroit U-D Jesuit and losses to Detroit East English Village and 2016 Class C state champion Henry Ford.
Petoskey 1/4: Manton The “jewel of Northern Michigan gyms” has hosted some amazing post-season games that haven’t involved Petoskey, most notably 2003 when a Charlevoix and Traverse City St. Francis regional had them wrapped around the upstairs track. This March, Manton beating Negaunee could add to the lore. Both are undefeated now. But Manton may not stay clean for long, as they go to unbeaten McBain on Wednesday. McBain would be the safe pick to win this quarterfinal, as they Ramblers did a year ago with one of the very best on the bench when it comes to bracket navigation Bruce Koopman. Senior guard Logan Eling maxes out his talent and was all-state caliber in the non-league schedule; if senior forward Craig Sterk would his he’d be the top frontcourt player in the entire division. Junior guard Seager Wiltzer has emerged as a consistent third scorer. Manton’s confidence had to be buoyed when McBain took a scrimmage loss to Buckley, a Class D team that like the Rangers has a bunch of guards who push tempo and knock down 3. The Rangers began the season by beating the two Class A teams favored to win the Big North, Traverse City West and Petoskey (while to its credit McBain just beat the third possibility in the Big North, Cadillac). Manton junior Jayden Perry is the kind of tough kid, a scoring threat that also keeps teammates happy, that you can win with big as a high school point guard. He pairs in the backcourt with another small but dangerous junior Hunter Ruell. This is a balanced team as senior Treh Helsel and soph Trever Salani can get ou 20 if needed while 6-4 senior Wyatt Baker plays with a motor and edge around the hoop.
The Manton/McBain district winner will likely face Maple City Glen Lake in the Houghton Lake regional. Glen Lake is undefeated so far and has the best young player in the North, 6-3 sophomore Xander Okerlund, and some length with 6-5 junior Cade Pedersen and 6-5 senior Oscar Okerlund. But Elk Rapids won’t be an easy out in their district at TCSF, as this is now more fully Brett Graham’s team in his second season on the bench. Another Lake Michigan Conference team, Boyne City, should also end up at Houghton Lake, a young team with one of Class C’s top athletes 6-4 Mason Gardner. Negaunee is undefeated and favored to win the Escanaba regional for the right to represent the UP in P-town. 6-7 senior Trent Bell is dominant in the paint averaging 21 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocks per game. Neganuee shouldn’t take anything for granted. They were 19-1 in the 2016 regular season, then lost in their district opener to Ishpeming.