Boys Finals: Points A to B

March 22, 2012

Loaded expectations come with being the favorite for any MHSAA championship. 

But a pair of favorites and two groups of strong contenders make for loaded fields for both the Class A and B Boys Basketball Finals this weekend at Michigan State's Breslin Center.

In Class B, reigning champion Lansing Sexton is a heavy favorite, but 2011 runner-up Muskegon Heights and 2010 champion Detroit Country Day also are in the mix. And in Class A, top-ranked Saginaw and No. 2 Romulus both have reached the final weekend of the MHSAA winter season.

Below is a schedule for Friday's Semifinals and all four Saturday Finals. Tickets cost $8 per session, and parking at Michigan State is $5. All Semifinals will be streamed live at along with the press conferences after each, and the A Final will be broadcast live on Fox Sports Detroit -- with Class B then broadcast on delay at 10:30 p.m. Saturday. Click for scores as they come in, and return to Second Half for coverage of all 12 games this weekend at Breslin.

Friday's Semifinals
Class A

Rockford (21-5) vs. Romulus (22-3) - 1 p.m.
Saginaw (24-2) vs. Macomb L'Anse Creuse North  (22-4) - 2:50 p.m.
Class B

Stevensville Lakeshore (23-2) vs. Muskegon Heights (20-6) - 6 p.m.
Detroit Country Day (21-5) vs. Lansing Sexton (25-1) - 7:50 p.m.

Saturday's Finals
Class A - 4 p.m.
Class B - 8 p.m.
Class C - Noon
Class D - 10 a.m.

Now, a look at this season's Class A and B Semifinalists (Click for previews of the Class C and D Semifinalists.):

Class A

22-4, unranked
League finish:
First in Macomb Area Conference Red
Jay Seletsky, 10th season (140-80)
Championship history:
Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins:
54-52 and 64-59 over Romeo, 51-50 over Fraser (Regional Semifinal), 43-41 over Detroit Denby (Regional Final).
Players to watch:
Tyler Conklin (6-3 jr. G – 12 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 3.0 apg), Robert Hopkins (6-3 jr. G – 9.5 ppg).
L’Anse Creuse North might be the biggest surprise of this weekend after finishing 10-11 a year ago and posting two sub-.500 records over the last three seasons. But Seletsky has led the team to three league titles in five seasons, and his team knows not only how to win, but how to win close games – eight wins this season were by three or fewer points, and two more were by four points.

21-5, unranked
League finish: Tied for first in O-K Red
Coach: Nick Allen, first season (21-5)
Championship history: One MHSAA title (2003).
Best wins: 62-55 over Class B honorable mention Grand Rapids Christian, 36-35 over Hudsonville, 43-32 over East Kentwood, 55-53 over Okemos (Quarterfinal).
Player to watch: Chad Carlson (5-9 jr. G – 13.2 ppg, 59 3-pointers).
Outlook: After a tough league race that ended with Rockford sharing the championship with both Hudsonville and East Kentwood, Rockford was plenty prepared for the tournament – and came back from 10 down in the second half to win the Quarterfinal. Carlson runs the point and is the player teams focus on most. But four more – 6-1 Alex Durkin, 6-3 Mitch Caywood, 6-1 Chase Fairchild and 6-6 Ivy Johnson – all average 5.5 points per game and help bring a physical edge.

22-3, No. 2
League finish: First in Western Wayne Athletic Conference
Coach: Nate Oats, 10th season (195-50)
Championship history: One MHSAA title (1986), one runner-up finish.
Best wins: 67-62 over No. 5 Detroit Pershing (Quarterfinal), 76-62 over No. 10 Saginaw Arthur Hill, 83-67 over No. 9 Kalamazoo Central, 86-51 over Class B honorable mention Muskegon Heights, 60-59 over Class B No. 3 Detroit Country Day, 69-57 over Class B No. 9 Dearborn Heights Robichaud.
Players to watch: Elbert Matthews (6-4 jr. G – 13.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.3 apg), Raven Lee (6-3 sr. G – 12.7 ppg, 3.0 apg), Wesley Clark (6-0 jr. G – 12.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.3 apg, 2.4 spg, 37 3-pointers).
Outlook: Romulus regularly plays one of the state’s toughest regular-season schedules, and regularly drives deep into the Class A tournament. The Eagles’ run to a runner-up finish in 2005 was the first of five Regional and six District championships in the last eight seasons under Oats. Lee has committed to sign with Eastern Michigan.

Record/rank: 24-2, No. 1
League finish: First in Saginaw Valley League
Coach: Julian Taylor, first season (24-2)
Championship history: Five MHSAA titles (most recently 2008), four runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 88-76 and 66-62 (District Final) over No. 10 Saginaw Arthur Hill, 71-62 over No. 2 Romulus, 73-59 over Bay City Western.
Players to watch: Travontis Richardson (6-2 sr. G – 15 ppg), Julian Henderson (6-2 jr. F – 12 ppg).
Outlook: Like Romulus, Saginaw annually plays a strong regular-season schedule featuring not only tough competition from the Saginaw Valley, but also many of the best from the Detroit area and beyond. Those two losses this season were by five to Arthur Hill – a loss which Saginaw later avenged – and late, by a point, to No. 9 Kalamazoo Central. Five other players average at least eight points per game behind solid backcourt duo Richardson and Henderson.

Class B

21-5, No. 3
League finish: Does not play in a league.
Coach: Kurt Keener, 34th season (653-176)
Championship history: Eight MHSAA titles (most recently 2010), one runner-up finish.
Best wins: 89-52 over Harper Woods Chandler Park (Regional Final), 110-75 over Class D No. 7 Southfield Christian, 65-55 over Class A No. 10 Saginaw Arthur Hill.
Players to watch: Robert Puleikis (6-9 sr. C – 12.5 ppg, 9.8 rpg), Jodan Price (6-7 sr. F – 11.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.1 apg), Austin Price (6-3 jr. G – 10.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.9 apg).
Outlook: All eight of Country Day’s championships have come under Keener, and the Yellowjackets face a familiar opponent to start this potential run – Sexton, which Country Day beat in the 2010 Final and lost to in a 2011 Semifinal. Puleikis earned an all-state honorable mention this week and is one of a number of sizable Yellowjackets – the team also brings 6-6 and 6-3 players off the bench.  

25-1, No. 1
League finish: First in Capital Area Activities Conference Blue
Coach: Carlton Valentine, sixth season (122-25)
Championship history: Four MHSAA titles (most recently 2011), two runner-up finishes.
Best wins:  56-37 over No. 9 Dearborn Heights Robichaud (Quarterfinal), 66-56 over No. 4 Lansing Catholic (District Final), 80-71 over Class A No. 9 Kalamazoo Central, 70-57 and 93-80 over Class A honorable mention East Lansing, 72-60 and 75-58 over Class A No. 3 Lansing Eastern,
Players to watch: Bryn Forbes (6-3 sr. G – 18 ppg, 44 3-pointers), Anthony Clemmons (6-1 sr. G – 15 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 4.1 apg), Denzel Valentine (6-6 sr. G – 14.2 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 8.4 apg), Jalen Hayes (6-7 jr. F – 12.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg).
Outlook: Despite a one-point loss to Detroit Pershing during the season’s first half, it’s fair to argue Sexton is the state’s top squad, regardless of class. Four starters are back from last season, and all will play at the Division I college level – Valentine was named Associated Press Class B Player of the Year this week and has signed with Michigan State, while Clemmons has signed with Iowa, Forbes with Cleveland State and Hayes has a number of offers. The team’s top two guards off the bench last season also are back, and 6-9 freshman Trevor Manuel mans the middle.

20-6, honorable mention
League finish: Does not play in a league.
Coach: Keith Guy, ninth season (189-39)
Championship history: Six MHSAA titles (most recently 1979), eight runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 51-44 over No. 8 Cadillac (Quarterfinal), 64-51 over Rockford, 84-78 over Class A honorable mention Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills, 67-54 over Class C No. 7 Shelby
Players to watch: Juwon Martin (6-5 jr. F – 15.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg), Deshaun Thrower (6-0 soph. G – 11 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.4 apg), Mike Davis (6-4 soph. F – 10.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg).
Outlook: Although Muskegon Heights is seeking its first championship in more than three decades, few teams are more regular guests at Breslin Center. The Tigers are reigning runners-up and also finished runners-up in 2005. They’ve won their District every season under Guy, and also five Regionals including their last three. And this could be just the start on that next championship – the team has just three seniors, but six sophomores including two who start and Davis, a big contributor off the bench.

23-2, No. 7
League finish: First in Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference
Coach: Sean Schroeder, 10th season (164-70)
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 44-35 over Sturgis (Regional Semifinal), 65-55 over No. 10 Otsego (Regional Final), 58-48 over honorable mention Grand Rapids Christian (Quarterfinal), 69-63 over Class A No. 9 Kalamazoo Central.
Players to watch: Austin Kaiser (sr. G – 10.1 ppg, 36 3-pointers), Loren Johnson (sr. G – 10 ppg, 3.4 apg).
Outlook: Lakeshore has won 16 straight and lost only to Kalamazoo Central and Niles this season. The Lancers won their second Regional title and third District and league titles in six seasons. Balance is key – seven players average between six and 10 points per game, with senior Ryan Avery also among three at 10 ppg.

PHOTO: Lansing Sexton senior guard Anthony Clemmons (right) is back trying to lead the Big Reds to a second-straight Class B championship.