Blackhawk Christian will be making just their second state finals appearance this Saturday when they face Barr-Reeve for the Class 1A title. The Braves were last in the finals in 2004 while Barr-Reeve will be seeking their second title in their sixth appearance all time.
The Braves have had quite the run through the season, with just losses in their path, to Class 3A Indianapolis Manual and Class 4A Homestead. So join us in taking a look back at the week leading up to Saturday’s game and ahead at the game itself.
Blackhawk Christian and Barr-Reeve will open the state title slate on Saturday at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis at 10:30 a.m.
BLACKHAWK CHRISTIAN STATE WEEK STORIES
1. THE REMATCH
Blackhawk Christian and Barr-Reeve will face off for the third time in the last two seasons. Both this season and last season, the Braves were victorious against Barr-Reeve in the finals of the late December tournament at North Daviess. This year’s game was a close one with Blackhawk Christian winning 76-68 in overtime, but with a possibly rusty tandem of senior point guard Michael Pulver and sophomore Caleb Furst, who had both missed several games with injuries.
“We’ve seen them a lot on film since then,” Blackhawk Christian coach Marc Davidson said. “I think defensively we are much better than we were at the start of the year so hopefully our guys will continue to be dialed in on the defensive end.”
Both teams are on 17 game winning streaks with the Braves losing once since that meeting and the Vikings not losing at all since they played on December 29.
“Both teams have, I think, evolved pretty significantly in the past couple of months,” Davidson said. “I think playing them head to head is nice in that you know their personnel a little bit more.”
2. A FINAL MORNING IN CLASS 1A
The winner of this game will be part of Class 2A next season. This comes as part of the IHSAA’s success factor planning. How is that for a reward? Both of the teams however are prepared for a bump up, especially the Braves, who played 14 games against Class 3A and Class 4A teams in their 29 games thus far. It is good news too for the loser as the other team will be out of the way in 2020 for a run at a state title. For Northeast Indiana however, the absence of Blackhawk Christian in Class 1A could mean an end to the region’s threat as a Class 1A state contender.
3. DO NUMBERS LIE?
On paper, this is a Blackhawk Christian game to win. The team shoots better from the field and the foul line than Barr-Reeve. The Braves are the leading scoring team in the state (79.9) and have only won games within 10 points on seven occasions while Barr-Reeve has been kept within 10 points in 11 of their 26 wins. The Braves have and 10-plus point advantage in the Sagarin ratings (92.57 versus 81.68), a strength of schedule that is 61 spots tougher (133 versus 194) and three of their five starters have a better shooting percentage than Barr-Reeve’s best shooting starter, .506 from Austin Ainscough.
The numbers are clearly in Blackhawk Christian’s advantage. Does that mean anything once the players take the court?
“We are ready. Our guys are focused and ready,” Marc Davidson said. “It is obviously an exciting time and not a whole lot of people get a chance to still play and practice. We are loving that aspect and are trying to maintain the routine as much as we can.”
FOUR PLAYERS TO WATCH
1. FRANKIE DAVIDSON, BLACKHAWK CHRISTIAN
Davidson will come into this game as the top scorer left in the state tournament and fresh off being named to the IBCA’s Supreme 15 group as one of the best seniors in the state. If you are looking for someone to be fazed by the moment, you may want to look elsewhere. Davidson is going to come to play and if his semistate performance against Lafayette Central Catholic has any carry over, he is going to look to assert himself early and often at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse.
2. KEEGAN O’NEIL, BARR-REEVE
O’Neil is going to draw the tough task of being an interior presence that cannot get into foul trouble. At the top of his game, he is a load to handle in the post. O’Neil getting established down low early is a key for Barr-Reeve because he has seemed to be an underrated passer to and could kick it out for hotter Viking shooters. Whether he is the main emphasis or not, O’Neill will be important from tip to buzzer. He averages 10.3 points and 6.1 rebounds heading into the state final game.
3. ZANE BURKE, BLACKHAWK CHRISTIAN
When you try to stop, or at least slow down Davidson and Caleb Furst you can’t forget about Burke, who quietly has put together one of the best seasons of any sophomore in Northeast Indiana. Burke is a threat in multiple areas of the court, who can shoot well and also get to the basket with toughness if you aren’t paying him enough attention. He comes into the game averaging 13 points per contest and hitting 51.8 percent of his shots.
4. GABE GLADISH, BARR-REEVE
Gladish leads the Vikings with 13.3 points per game and Blackhawk Christian will need to run him off the three point line, where he shoots 38 percent, without letting him get too deep to the rim where he can draw a foul and shoots 81 percent from the foul line. Gladish will be looking to get out into open space on the floor where he can be very effective.
KEYS TO VICTORY — BLACKHAWK CHRISTIAN
1. DON’T LET BARR-REEVE SCORE
It sounds silly, doesn’t it? Of course you don’t want the other team to score. In Blackhawk Christian’s situation, a Barr-Reeve score means time to slow the pace of the game and get into a half court defense to prevent the Braves from running. Blackhawk Christian needs to get out on the break and to do that, their defense has to be stellar and create for their offense.
2. START FAST, FEED OFF THE MOMENT
The semistate game against Lafayette Central Catholic was over by the time the scoreboard hit 11-0 in Blackhawk Christian’s favor. Most people in attendance knew it. When the Braves get a lead and get momentum, they run with it well. This is no different. If Blackhawk Christian can get such strong momentum in their favor out of the gate, they will be hard to beat. In those moments, they feed off their fans too which is critical because Barr-Reeve travels well and portions of Banker’s Life will be boisterous with Viking pride.
“Take enough time to soak this in and enjoy it. But at the same time, when we step between the lines, let’s be focused and let’s be dialed in because there is still unfinished business,” Marc Davidson said of his message throughout the week.
KEYS TO VICTORY — BARR-REEVE
1. KEEP FURST CLOSER TO THE BASKET
If this game comes as much down to the post play as expected, Barr-Reeve will want to make Caleb Furst play off the block as much as possible. Yes, Furst outscores and outrebounds O’Neill and any other individual at Barr-Reeve. Yes, Furst is a great athlete who will play on a high level in college. But, you’d much rather have him on the block against the 6-8, bigger O’Neill than playing from the high post or short corner. If Furst gets room to work off the dribble against O’Neill, Barr-Reeve could have a problem. Pinned down low, O’Neill will have a much better fighting chance because of his size and strength.
2. DON’T GET CAUGHT RUNNING
The opposite of Blackhawk Christian’s key to victory, the Vikings need to stay composed, play slower and smart. The crowd, the arena, the game, the moment: those things all play into teams getting a little too fast of their own good. With a defensive averages of 42.14 points allowed per game, the Vikings have the best remaining defense, by the numbers, in the state. Slow and steady has won the race for Barr-Reeve all season, so find every way to keep playing that pace.
The only team in Class 1A that has shown any stronger presence against the Braves than Barr-Reeve this season was a regional morning game against Gary 21st Century. It took a team that was deep with athletic prowess to test Blackhawk Christian. After that game, they ran up against good teams that were not nearly as athletic and they made Argos and Lafayette Central Catholic look like JV teams in comparison.
Barr-Reeve is better than both of those teams, but not overall as athletic as Gary 21st Century. Blackhawk’s athleticism peaked in overtime in the first meeting with Barr-Reeve and you’ve got to think that his pulsing at a higher rate now than it was in December.
It is not a homer pick. It is simply the pick based on every single sign there is in the pregame.
Bounce picks Blackhawk Christian