Saturday at 4 p.m., the semistate round of boys basketball will take place and Northeast Indiana’s lone remaining team, Blackhawk Christian (26-2), will face off against Lafayette Central Catholic (24-2) at 4 p.m. in Elkhart with the chance to play for a state title on the line. This is the second straight trip to the semistate round for the Braves and their fifth trip to semistate overall; only in 2004 did they advance to state.
For Lafayette Central Catholic, they have won a Regional title 12 times now and have advanced to state five times, the last time coming in 2017.
1. BLACKHAWK’S NEED TO AVENGE
The Braves haven’t hinged their 26-2 season on last season, but the reminder of falling a game short of the state title game in 2018 plays a role in the story. The Braves were also 26-2 last season when Southwood saw just about everything go right for them on a day when the Braves saw many things go wrong. The returning Braves, even if deep down, want to avenge that loss.
Blackhawk Christian needs to have lessons learned from that game this time. While you can’t go back and take away Frankie Davidson’s 2018 illness, there are areas they can be ready for. Life Southwood a year ago, Lafayette Central Catholic will need to shoot the ball extremely well and play top notch defense. That will force the Braves guards to up their intensity and post play, like that of Caleb Furst, will have to be more mistake free than a year ago.
2. NEUTRAL SITE
Knowing that Lafayette Central Catholic was going to be in this game, there was a common expectation last weekend that this semistate game would be played at the Lafayette Jefferson site. Kudos to the IHSAA for not letting that happen, despite some social media outcry. To not warp the sanctity of the tournament, teams shouldn’t be allowed to play true home games past the Sectional round. There was absolutely no reason to force the Braves to play the Knights in Lafayette; placing the game in Elkhart was the right choice.
3. THE “IT” FACTOR
Frankie Davidson is an Indiana All-Star candidate. Caleb Furst is one of the best sophomores in the country. The two of them have an “it” factor that nobody for the Knights have. That comes with the good and the bad. Expectations are higher for them, which they seem to have handled well this season. The good? Every impact play that either of them makes is more impactful.
FOUR PLAYERS TO WATCH
1. ABE HICKS, BLACKHAWK CHRISTIAN
One of the Braves that doesn’t get as much love as he should, Hicks’ quickness has been repeatedly helpful on both sides of the floor. Defensively, he is a consistent tone setter, especially in the full court press. He is a reliable ball handler who does not make many mistakes. Hicks, averaging 7.2 points per game, really has made the most of his one varsity season.
2. CARSON BARRETT, LAFAYETTE CENTRAL CATHOLIC
This junior is 6-foot-5 but will likely see time running the point and setting the tone for the Knights on Saturday. Barrett is very long, built a lot like Frankie Davidson, and has a good court vision. The entire Knight offense will run through him and he works well in space, not something that the Braves are likely to give him. Barrett nearly averages a triple double with team highs in points (14.5), rebounds (11.1) and assists (8.2) per game while shooting at a 61 percent success rate.
He may not have the big focus that a player like Caleb Furst gets, but Barrett has the ability to be very good.
3. CALEB FURST, BLACKHAWK CHRISTIAN
Furst has a knack for taking over games and if he can start hot, there is rarely any stopping him. In the Regional final against Argos, Furst scored the first six points of hte game and the expression on his face changed. He knew he owned that game. Furst will likely look to establish himself quickly and the biggest question is if the Knights have any type of athlete to try and compete with him.
4. A.J. BORDENET, LAFAYETTE CENTRAL CATHOLIC
This sophomore is one of a handful of quality three point shooters. He has hit 37-of-87 shots from deep (43 percent) and shoots 83 percent from the foul line. Like with Barrett, the match up on Bordenet is incredibly important. Throughout this season, Bordenet has been a guy that has righted the Knight ship if it started to veer off course. Of all of Lafayette Central Catholic’s shooters, her may be the one to worry most about.
KEYS TO VICTORY — BLACKHAWK CHRISTIAN
1. STELLAR DEFENSE
The shooting prowess of the Knights is a thing to be concerned about and should give the Braves some pause. They are like Southwood of 2018 in many ways where you can’t slack off shooters and you also can’t let them get to the foul line. Lafayette Central Catholic shoots that ball with a 36 percent success rate from three point range and a 66 percent success rate from the free throw line. But at the top of the roster, three guys shoot over 40 percent from deep and four guys that shoot over 70 percent from the foul line. Blackhawk needs to run the Knights off the three point line without getting into foul trouble.
2. PLAY AT YOUR OWN PACE
There are few schools as good at playing at multiple paces successfully as Blackhawk Christian. They find success at ramping up the speed and also in a slower pace. That will play into their hand as they try to keep Lafayette Central Catholic out of their comfort zone. This seems like a simple key: play coach Marc Davidson’s game. His ability to get his team to adapt to speeds, momentum and injuries all season is what got you here.
KEYS TO VICTORY — LAFAYETTE CENTRAL CATHOLIC
1. MAKE BLACKHAWK SHOOTERS SHOOT
The last thing any Blackhawk Christian opponent wants is for the Braves to hit a stride shooting the ball. But if the Braves aren’t hitting, you have found one of the few holes in their game. If 2018’s Southwood semistate loss is the blueprint, even with a vastly different Blackhawk roster, then there is a chance for the Knights to exploit this is they can create some chaos on the perimeter without chasing the Braves off the three point line. It would be a unique balance of making the Braves comfortable shooting but still being able to make them second guess the shot as they are taking it.
Easier said than done perhaps.
2. LIMIT POOR PASSES
Michael Pulver, Trinity Clark, Frankie Davidson, Zane Burke and Abe Hicks are going to pressure you. More than you think. Possibly more than you are prepared for. If the Knights hope to extend their game past that pressure, be it in the full court or half court, they need to pass the ball strong. Last weekend, the Braves thrived off of lazy possessions from Gary 21st Century and Argos. With how much Lafayette Central Catholic is going to want to get their shooters open shots, they may be prone to making some passing mistakes and they simple can’t do that.
Blackhawk Christian is just different. They have been able to beat everyone (*almost everyone) and they have been able to overpower teams that a Class 1A team traditionally shouldn’t have the ability to overpower. Add the hunger that they have after last year’s semistate loss and you have a dangerous mixture. And if you think that the guys who weren’t a big part of that loss last year at this time don’t want to avenge that loss as much as those who were no the court, you are wrong.
Skill, pressure, confidence and will. It would be hard to convince me that anyone wants this as much as Blackhawk Christian.
It is going to be considered by Blackhawk Christian detractors as a homer pick, but if you’ve seen the Braves do the things that I have seen them do this season, there is no other pick to make.
Bounce picks Blackhawk Christian