It is time for semistate boys basketball and Bounce couldn’t be more excited! Just two teams have made it to their respective final fours.
It should make for an exciting afternoon at Elkhart on Saturday with these two teams hopefully cheering each other on with a chance to advance to state.
CLASS 2A ELKHART SEMI STATE
Carroll (Flora) vs. Central Noble, 4 p.m. Saturday at Elkhart
Projected Winners: Central Noble by 8
It is the battle of the Cougars and someone will be making their first-ever trip to the IHSAA state finals.
Yes, Carroll knocked off top-ranked Monroe Central for its trip to semistate. But does that just make us question just how good Monroe Central really was?
Prior to the postseason, Carroll had just two wins over teams that were more than four games above .500.
That said, Monroe Central had nothing the caliber of Conner Essegian or Logan Gard. Central Noble boasts five All-NECC players with those two, Ryan Schroeder, Conner Lemmon and Jackson Andrews. That five alone is stone-cold solid and it is hard for anyone to match that. They pick each other up as they can all take over games at various times. Blackhawk Christian really looked like the last big hurdle for Central Noble, even when Monroe Central was still in the field. Everything about this matchup comes up Central Noble: it has the best player, the best starting five and the more experienced coach.
Central Noble will need to handle the favorite role now. It was possibly considered a sectional underdog by some because of Eastside’s play this season and the Cougs were absolutely the underdog in the regional round. But all five of the starters stepped up, as did sophomore Sam Essegian, who Central Noble called upon for his length on defense in the regional final.
Credit is due to Carroll for its second half against Monroe Central, where it held the Golden Bears to just nine points and one made field goal. Jake Skinner finished with a game-high 17 points while Chris Huerta scored 15 for Carroll.
Carroll is in its first-ever semistate and it sits with just one loss this season, it ranked 94th overall in the final Sagarin Ratings with opponents this season having a combined overall losing record. The lone loss came January 28 at Class 1A North White. It has played just five opponents higher than Class 2A vs. nine for Central Noble.
Matchup to look forward to: Logan Gard versus Owen Duff
Do these two matchup at all actually? I don’t know, I am not in either team’s practices. But we look at Duff as a guy who can score around the rim and rebound at a high rate and Gard could be a great foil.
We learned last week, again, that Gard isn’t just an interior presence and that his play translates all around the floor. Duff is similar in that regard, he can do a lot of things really well and will lead the charge for the Carroll Cougars. In the regional semistate win over Rensselaer Central, Duff posted 21 points and 11 rebounds. In the nightcap, an upset of top-ranked Monroe Central, Duff helped lead Carroll with 12 points and was really a guy that pushed the Cougars in the second half.
Gard, as you should know, hit perhaps the most critical shot of Central Noble’s regional win over Blackhawk Christian. It adds to the lore of Gard, who has increased his interior presence. What is often and what he reminds us constantly is that he is more than efficient floating out to the midrange and, on occasion, behind the arc. Gard can take control of games when need be and this showdown could be a fun battle for momentum.
What Central Noble needs to win: Feed the beast
With 13 more points, Connor Essegian will be one of the 10 best scorers in the history of the state of Indiana. Does that need repeated? This is Indiana and Essegian has already secured his spot as one of the best scorers ever, but getting to that top 10…that is legendary status.
With 2,483 points in his career, he is currently chasing Cooper Neese for that 10th spot. It would take a monster two games to reach any higher than that, but getting to No. 10 10 and surpassing Neese, who was huge for Cloverdale five years ago, is amazing. Just look at the people behind Essegian already: James Blackmon Jr., Eric Gordon, Shawn Kemp, Steve Alford and so many more.
So what do you do if you are the Cougars from Albion? Give Connor the ball. Everyone has thrown the kitchen sink at Essegian this season and it just hasn’t worked. He scored 47 in the regional semifinal and then, after actually being held virtually scoreless early in the regional title game opposite the defending state champions, he ended up with 30.
Central Noble has plenty of offensive firepower, even if the attention in that area is always on Essegian. That said, Essegian needs the ball and he will deliver with it. Central Noble has gotten here with a solid scoring hierarchy and clearly there is no reason to deviate from that right now. Essegian is a beast of an offensive talent…so feed him.
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