C-D Preview: All Eyes on Thursday

March 22, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

It's rare that Michigan's smallest schools are the headliners of the MHSAA's Boys Basketball Finals. 

But as the final weekend of the tournament gets underway Thursday, the evening session's first game arguably is the most intriguing matchup of the entire event. 

Two-time reigning Class D champion Powers North Central will try to extend the longest active winning streak in the country against a recent three-time champion in Southfield Christian that played in Class C the last two seasons. The Jets have won 81 straight games, breaking the MHSAA record with their 66th straight victory earlier this winter. 

That's just one of what should be an entertaining collection of games in Class C and D this weekend. All four Class C and D Semifinals will be played Thursday, with all four championship games Saturday. 

Semifinals - Thursday
Class C

Detroit Edison PSA (14-11) vs. Flint Beecher (21-5), 1 p.m. 
Grand Rapids Covenant Christian (20-5) vs. Manton (21-4), 2:50 p.m.

Class D
Powers North Central (26-0) vs. Southfield Christian (21-5), 6 p.m. 
Lansing Christian (19-6) vs. Buckley (25-0), 7:50 p.m.

Finals - Saturday
Class A - Noon
Class B - 6:30 p.m.
Class C - 4:30 p.m. 
Class D - 10 a.m.

Tickets cost $8 per pair of Semifinals and $10 per two-game Finals session. All Semifinals will be streamed live on MHSAA.tv on a pay-per-view basis. All four Finals will be broadcast live on Fox Sports Detroit. Free radio broadcasts of all weekend games will be available on MHSAANetwork.com.

And now, a look at the semifinalists in Class C and D. Click on the name of the school to see that team’s full schedule and results from this season. (Statistics are through teams' Regional Finals.) The Boys Basketball Finals are presented by Sparrow Health System.

Class C

14-11, unranked
League finish: Third in Detroit Public School League East Division 1
Coach: Brandon Neely, fourth season (56-33) 
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 61-48 over No. 2 Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central in the Quarterfinal, 66-60 over Detroit Cornerstone Health & Technology in the Regional Final, 57-51 over Detroit Martin Luther King, 99-81 over Class A honorable mention Detroit East English, 68-67 over Detroit Osborn. 
Players to watch: Pierre Mitchell, Jr., 6-0 jr G; Gary Solomon, 6-5 jr. G (Statistics not submitted).
Outlook: Edison won its first Regional title to advance to this week and will now try to follow the example of its girls team, which won the Class C championship last weekend. The Pioneers joined the PSL this season and split with Class A King and East English and Class B quarterfinalist Osborn – and also avenged an earlier 26-point loss to Cornerstone by winning the Regional Final. Solomon made the all-state first team, and Mitchell earned an honorable mention.

21-5, Tied for No. 4
League finish: First in Genesee Area Conference Red
Coach: Mike Williams, 13th season (250-76)
Championship history: Seven MHSAA titles (most recent 2016), four runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 59-57 over Class A No. 6 Detroit U-D Jesuit, 72-57 and 88-63 over Lake Fenton, 63-54, 77-73 and 80-64 (District Quarterfinal) over Flint Hamady. 
Players to watch: Malik Ellison, 5-7 sr. G (23.8 ppg, 64 3-pointers); Jordan Roland, 5-11 sr. G (12.6 ppg); Levane Blake, 6-7 sr. C (7.7 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 3.7 bpg).
Outlook: Beecher has won the last two Class C championships and four of the last five, and enters with the Class C Player of the Year from The Associated Press in Ellison – who with Blake and Roland started in last season’s championship game (Ellison and Blake also started in the 2015 Final). Blake and Roland both earned all-state honorable mentions this season to go with Ellison’s top honor. The losses were all to Class A and B teams, including B semifinalist New Haven (in triple overtime) and reigning champion Detroit Henry Ford

20-5, unranked
League finish: Does not play in a league.
Coach: Tyler Schimmel, third season (48-20)
Championship history: Class D champion in 1994, 1993 and 1973. 
Best wins: 51-50 over Muskegon Heights Academy in the Regional Final, 56-52 (2OT) over No. 7 Pewamo-Westphalia in the Regional Semifinal, 80-67 over Class D No. 8 Lansing Christian, 61-47 over Spring Lake. 
Players to watch: Carson Meulenberg, 6-6 jr. F (13.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg); Benji Kuiper, 6-0 sr. G (10.6 ppg, 49 3-pointers, 5.1 apg).
Outlook: Covenant Christian is back at the Semifinals for the first time since 1994 and for the first time ever as a Class C school. The Chargers played a regular-season schedule filled with larger schools, making their streak of 13 wins over their last 14 games especially impressive. Kuiper earned an all-state honorable mention and distributes to a starting lineup with four juniors. In addition to Kuiper’s sharp-shooting, teammate Tyler Cammenga had 64 3-pointers entering the week; he and forward Trenton Koole both add 9.1 ppg.

21-4, unranked
League finish: Second in Highland Conference
Coach: Ryan Hiller, 11th season (123-119)
Championship history: Class C (Lower Peninsula) champion 1946, Class C runner-up 1996.  
Best wins: 51-49 (OT) over Negaunee in the Quarterfinal, 54-48 over No. 1 McBain in the Regional Final, 58-32 over Beaverton, 52-48 over Petoskey, 76-72 over Traverse City West. 
Players to watch: Jayden Perry, 5-7 jr. G (16 ppg, 53 3-pointers); Hunter Ruell, 5-8 jr. G (12.7 ppg, 3.6 apg, 50 3-pointers). 
Outlook: Manton’s only two losses over its last 17 games were to undefeated Buckley and McBain, which Manton then upset during the tournament. The Rangers have increased their win total for four straight seasons. Perry earned an all-state honorable mention and has the most attempts among a trip of sharp shooters – in addition to Perry and Ruell, sophomore guard Trevor Salani also had 48-pointers entering the week and averages 11 points per game.

Class D

25-0, No. 4
League finish: First in Northwest Conference
Coach: Blair Moss, fourth season (53-36)
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 48-37 over Wyoming Tri-unity Christian in the Quarterfinal, 50-38 and 56-41 over No. 8 Frankfort, 77-73 over Manton, 78-39 and 63-60 over Maple City Glen Lake.
Players to watch: Denver Cade, 6-2 jr. G (21 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 3.6 apg); Austin Harris, 6-3 jr. C (18.5 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 5.5 apg, 2.4 bpg).
Outlook: Buckley has advanced to its first Semifinals with only two wins by fewer than 10 points this season and without a senior in the starting lineup. The Bears set the tone with a District title in 2016, and have simply dominated led by Cade, an all-state first-team selection, and honorable mention pick Harris. Those two also had combined for 103 3-pointers heading into this week, both making more than half their attempts from behind the arc. Junior guard Joe Weber adds another 10.9 points and 3.5 assists per game.

19-6, Tied for No. 8
League finish: Tied for first in Greater Lansing Activities Conference
Coach: Chris Mustaine, first season (19-6) 
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.  
Best wins: 63-36 over Webberville in the District Semifinal, 74-63 over Olivet, 54-39 over Wyoming Tri-unity Christian, 56-42 over Leslie.
Players to watch: Matt Havey, 6-1 sr. G (17.9 ppg, 58 3-pointers); Preston Granger, 6-4 sr. C (15.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg).
Outlook: Lansing Christian is back at the Breslin Center for the first time since 2013 and after bouncing back from a brief lull at the end of the regular season. The Pilgrims dropped three of their final four games before the playoffs, but stormed back to win all of their tournament games by at least 10 points. Havey is an impressive shooter; the all-state first-teamer was hitting 42 percent of his 3-point tries entering the week. Granger also earned an all-state honorable mention, and senior guard Forrest Bouyer adds 10 points, 6.2 assists and 3.9 steals per game.

26-0, No. 1
League finish: First in Skyline Central Conference West
Coach: Adam Mercier, 11th season (186-78)
Championship history: Class D champions 2016, 2015 and 1984.
Best wins: 74-61 over No. 3 Hillman in the Quarterfinal, 75-73 over Dollar Bay in the Regional Semifinal, 76-29, 84-52 and 79-60 (District Final) over No. 7 Bark River-Harris.
Players to watch: Jason Whitens, 6-5 sr. G (22.6 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 6.1 apg, 3.1 spg); Dawson Bilski, 6-3 sr. G (19.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 4.0 apg).
Outlook: North Central has now won 81 straight games, including through two straight Class D title runs. Whitens was named Class D co-Player of the Year by The Associated Press and was a Mr. Basketball Award finalist, and Bilski also made the all-state first team. They’ve both started on all three Breslin teams, while senior guard Bobby Kleiman (10.6 ppg) was a main sub the last two seasons and senior guard Marcus Krachinski (10.6 ppg) played a big role off the bench during last season’s run. A number of players also were part of the last two 8-player football MHSAA champions. Bilski will continue next season at Michigan Tech, and Whitens is choosing from a number of college options.

21-5, No. 2
League finish: First in Michigan Independent Athletic Conference Blue
Coach: Josh Baker, sixth season (110-18)
Championship history: Class D champions 2014, 2013 and 2012.
Best wins: 64-42 over No. 10 Fowler in the Quarterfinal, 72-65 over North Farmington, 87-77 over West Bloomfield, 73-55 over Detroit Cornerstone Health & Technology.
Players to watch: Bryce Washington, 6-3 jr. G (18.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg); Brock Washington, 6-4 sr. G (13.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg).
Outlook: Southfield Christian played in Class C the last two seasons and won two District titles, and returns to Class D with plenty of star power again. Washington was named co-Player of the Year with Whitens, and Brock Washington also made the all-state first team. Sophomore guards Harlond Beverly (12.4 ppg) and Caleb Hunter (11.6) also offer scoring punch, and all four had at least 22 3-pointers this season entering this week. Three losses came to Class A teams, and the other two came to teams in Class B including one to semifinalist River Rouge. 

PHOTO: Powers North Central's Bobby Kleiman (21) drives around a Bark River-Harris defender during their first matchup this season. (Photo by Paul Gerard)