It is time for semi state 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 3A ELKHART SEMI STATE
Mishawaka Marian (23-3) vs. Leo (21-5), 6 p.m. Saturday at Elkhart
Projected Winners: Mishawaka Marian by 2
Let me start out with saying this could very well be the state title game. The state, let alone the south, does not have a power like Silver Creek was last season.
Mishawaka Marian has not lost since January 4 and their two losses being to Westfield and Cathedral highlight how good they are. Mishawaka Marian plays a very tough schedule and have come out of it mostly clean while winning by nearly 20 points per game on average. Their four postseason games have had an ebb and flow to them with two blowouts and two nail biters, showing that they can win any kind of game.
Leading scorer Deaglan Sullivan shoots 57 percent from the field, behind only sophomore Zion Rhoades, who hits 76 percent of his shots but has taken the sixth most amount of shots this season. Mishawaka Marian is pretty balanced with Sullivan leading the way at 17.2 points per game and Richard Brooks adding 15.2 per contest. All six of their regular players average six or more point per game while also averaging at least 2.5 rebounds per game. Sullivan is also third in rebounding while leading Mishawaka Marian per game in assists (4.5) and steals (2.7).
Mishawaka Marian does things right and they do them efficiently. It is difficult to speed them up and force them into mistakes. That kind of quality control can go a long way.
Matchup to look forward to: Richard Brooks vs. Jackson McGee
Leo is arguably playing their best basketball lately, and like last season it comes after some setbacks down the stretch of the regular season. Like last season, there is a non-senior who is stepping up and helping lead the charge. Sophomore Jackson McGee had 14 points in the Regional final win over NorthWood, but has been playing the best basketball of his career outside of that too. Even down the stretch of the season, McGee’s shooting propelled Leo to fight back against Blackhawk Christian and he had 14 points in a Sectional win over Bishop Luers.
It has seen the underclassman firmly planted in the postseason starting lineup on a senior laden team.
Richard Brooks is a comparable talent for Mishawaka Marian. He can get to the rim, but Brooks has been an ace shooter, hitting 44 percent of his long range shots while leading Mishawaka Marian in three point makes (63) and attempts (143). We could very easily see these two trade shots on Saturday.
What Leo needs to win: Defend at a championship level
Chances are that I lost most Leo fans by now because of my projected winner. But just because Mishawaka Marian is the favorite in this game doesn’t mean I am throwing Leo’s chances out the window. Admittedly, I basically did that last season when semi state rolled around and was I ever wrong. Leo can absolutely win this game, hence the narrow spread listed above.
Here are two difference’s from last season’s win over South Bend St. Joe: Mishawaka Marian doesn’t have as high-powered of offense and Leo doesn’t have Blake Davison. Again, no knock on the Lions but Davison is arguably the best player in program history.
So how does Leo win? They do what got them to the state finals last season: defend out of their minds. With this game lingering, memories of Xavier Middleton’s semi state classic come to mind. Middleton is back and Leo should really lean on him again this season whether its Deaglan Sullivan or Richard Brooks that he ultimately draws. And behind that, Leo does have defensive strength and experience with the likes of Ayden Ruble and Brody Hiteshew. A really interesting twist will be who Caedmon Bontrager and DJ Allen match up with. Conventional wisdom is Kaleo Kakalia, the 6-foot-6 leading Mishawaka Marian rebounder, but a guy who is not just an interior threat so those two will have to agile defensively.
Leo can score and they have a lot of guys to chip in on that. We saw that in the Regional semi final and final games with different leading scorers each way. By this point in the season, they should be comfortable there. To return to state for a second straight season, Leo has to be able to protect on the perimeter where Mishawaka Marian hits 41 percent of their three pointers.
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