We’re one step away from the state finals in Indianapolis, and that means we have four teams left in each class. Special congratulations are in order to Chesterton (Class 4A), Beech Grove (Class 3A) and Carroll (Class 2A) for reaching the semi-state for the first time ever. They are part of a group in the final 16 that honestly has not been this far very often. Only Kokomo (35 regional titles, 3rd most all-time) and Lafayette Central Catholic (13 regional titles) have been here more than 7 times of the 16 left.
As far as taking the next step and reaching the state finals, only six of the 16 have done it: Bloomington North, Cathedral, Jac-Cen-Del, Kokomo, Lafayette Central Catholic, and Leo. All four defending state champions have been sent home now, though Leo was a runner-up last year in Class 3A. Bloomington North (1997), Cathedral (1998 3A), Jac-Cen-Del (2009 1A), Kokomo (1961) and Lafayette Central Catholic (1998 1A, 2000 1A, 2003 1A) are the only teams left that have won state championships.
The format will have four semi-state sites, with two games at each site. The smaller class will play the first game and the larger class the second one. In terms of Purdue guys, the main one to watch is Kokomo’s Flory Bidunga, who has the Kats on quite a Cinderella run and he is rising quickly in 2024 recruiting circles. Cathedral’s Xavier Booker is also a high priority 2023 target.
#1 Chesterton (28-0) vs. Kokomo (19-7) 3:45pm at Lafayette Jeff
It is the best season in school history for Chesterton, as they won their first regional ever despite playing in the tournament since 1924. This year was only their fifth sectional crown ever, so this is not a historically strong program. They are a high scoring club at 65.4 points per game led by senior Travis Grayson, who averages better than 19 points per game. He mostly has some NAIA offers, but Carson Cunningham and Incarnate Word has shown some interest. The rest of the team is under 10 points per game, but it shows their balance.
Kokomo getting this far is honestly a surprise. First year coach John Peckenpaugh has changed things after three consecutive losing seasons, something that had not happened at Kokomo in a century. A huge reason is Bidunga, who came to Kokomo as part of the International Baccalaureate program from the Congo. He is relatively new to the game, but as an athletic 6’10” he has exploded onto the scene. He averages 17.7 points, 13.4 rebounds, and 5.3 blocks. He has great instincts around the rim on both ends of the floor. He has multiple double-digit blocks games and when I saw him against Richmond he had a jaw-dropping 32-20-11, the first known triple-double in the long and storied history of Kokomo basketball. He had a second in the sectional final against Lafayette Jeff.
This should be a fascinating game. Chesterton obviously has the better record, but three of Kokomo’s tournament wins came against teams that beat them in the regular season (Harrison, Lafayette Jeff, and Westfield). Kokomo is also very young, with just one senior, who has played just nine games. In the regional Fort Wayne Snider threw a double and even triple team at Bidunga for most of the game to hold him in check. It worked for three quarters, but he still had a huge impact as Kokomo came back from down 7 in the fourth quarter. If Chesterton employs a similar strategy Kokomo’s four wings will have to be able to hit open shots. If they can do that, Kokomo has a shot. Even if not, the strategy of letting Bidunga just dunk offensive rebounds is effective too. The Kats are playing their best basketball of the season at the right time. the one commons opponent they have is Valparaiso. Kokomo lost to them 50-38 at Christmastime, while Chesterton’s closest game was a 60-57 overtime win over Valpo on February 18.
#8 Indianapolis Cathedral (24-6) vs. Bloomington North (24-3) 3pm at Washington
This is another game to look at, as Purdue has long recruited Cathedral big Xavier Booker for 2023. He is the No. 38 national recruit on Rivals and averages 12.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Most of the Big Ten has offered him, so there is a good chance we’ll eventually see him if he does not end up in West Lafayette. His first official visit this year was to Purdue, so we’re in the running. Cathedral like to score some points, as they average a state best 73 per game. Point guard Tayshawn Comer is also headed to Eastern Kentucky.
Bloomington North has not lost since December 28th and they have been the dominant team in southern Indiana. They are still here with some drama, as they survived Columbus North in double overtime in the sectional semifinals and Bloomington South in overtime the next night. Nick Klaiber leads them at 18 points per game, while 6’6” forward JaQualon Roberts is a 3-star 2023 prospect averaging 14.3 points and 9 rebounds per game.
Cathedral has played the tougher schedule. They survived the grueling North Central sectiona, taking out the hosts, Lawrence North, and Indianapolis Tech in it. The Tech game was a rubber match, as they split two regular season meetings. I expect this game to be pretty close.
#2 Mishawaka Marian (23-3) vs. #8 Leo (21-5) 6pm at Elkhart
Deaglan Sullivan, a junior, leads a strong Marian team at 16.8 points per game. The Knights have not dropped off since Jaden Ivey left them after the 2018-19 season for LaPorte LaLumiere. He is their lone double figures scorer, and their three losses are not bad ones as they lost to regional winners Cathedral, plus regional finalist Westfield and a strong John Glenn team they then beat in the sectional.
Leo is a school that has been building to this moment for some time. They are a senior dominated club that played in last year’s Class 3A state title game, a loss to Silver Creek and Trey Kaufman-Renn. They lost their last two regular season games, but have been great in their five tournament games.
Both teams are almost dead even in scoring around 62 points per game and defensively giving up 46 or so. In terms of common opponents they both have comfortable wins over Ft. Wayne Luers in December.
#4 Sullivan (25-2) vs. Beech Grove (20-6) 1pm at Washington
One of these teams will reach the state finals for the first time, as Beech Grove is this far for the first time and Sullivan won its first regional since 2001. Sullivan’s losses were by two points each to Terre Haute North (a 4A sectional winner) and North Daviess (a 1A regional winner). They both average about 65 points per game and give up about 51 per game. Four Beech Grove’s losses came in a five game span in late December and early January.
Beech Grove’s Anthony Ball is a solid 6’6” junior who averages 15.4 points per game. Randy Kelley is the all-time scoring leader at Sullivan and averages more than 20 points per game. Along with Jackson Hills, Sullivan has a pair of high scorers that are experienced seniors. That makes this game pretty evenly matched.
#3 Central Noble (27-2) vs. # Carroll (24-1) 4pm at Elkhart
Both teams are the Cougars that have had fantastic seasons. Central Noble is led by Wisconsin recruit Connor Essegian, who looks like a Brad Davison clone in his recruiting profile. His team only lost to Fort Wayne South and Eastside, and they average roughly 65 points per game. One of their best wins was by 25 points over 1A power Barr-Reeve, and Barr-Reeve doesn’t lose much at all, let alone by 25 points. Central Noble ousted two-time defending state champ Ft. Wayne Blackhawk in overtime last week.
Carroll is legit and in the semi-state for the first time. They took out No. 1 and previously undefeated Monroe Central last week in the regional final, smothering them defensively 44-23. Their only loss was by one point at North White on January 28th. They are also a very young team made up mostly of juniors and seniors, so they will be a factor next year.
#9 Eastern Hancock (22-5) vs. Providence (19-6) 6pm at Seymour
Eastern Hancock is in the semi-state for the first time since 2003. They are led by Landon O’Neal’s 16.5 points per game, while twins Jacob and Silas Spaulding are also double figures scorers. They have won all of their tournament games by at least 7 points and they played the aforementioned Monroe Central to a two point game. They also lost to Myles Colvin’s Heritage Christian in January. Eastern Hancock has the largest average margin of victory in the state at 22.37 points per game.
Providence was a bit of an upset regional winner over Linton-Stockton last week, but they have done well under class basketball with four regional titles. They own wins over 4A teams New Albany and Jeffersonville, two historically strong programs that are not used to losing to the likes of Providence.
#1 Gary 21st Century (23-4) vs. Lafayette Central Catholic (19-9) Noon at Lafayette Jeff
21st Century likes to score points, as they average 73 per game, second in the state behind Cathedral. They are a northwest Indiana charter school that played a strong 4A schedule. They got good wins over Indianapolis Crispus Attucks, East Chicago Central, and Evansville North. Guard Ashton Williamson is the No. 7 recruit in the state for 2023 at 19.1 points per game and he is receiving some Division I interest.
Central Catholic once again took advantage of a weak sectional and regional plus a tough regular season to walk through the tournament. Their closest tournament game of five was 19 points. They were good enough for a 4A win over McCutcheon and they played a pair of close games with Lafayette Jeff. Clark Barrett, the younger brother of Purdue walk-on Carson Barrett, is a senior averaging 14.5 points per game. Because of the family connection do not be surprised if we see him as a walk-on at Purdue next season. He is also a pretty good football quarterback.
#2 North Daviess (25-3) vs. #10 Jac-Cen-Del (22-5) 4pm at Seymour
North Daviess made it out of the always tough Barr-Reeve/Loogootee sectional, even beating Barr-Reeve 35-29. They are a very strong defensive team, giving up 37 points per game and two of their losses were in overtime (one in the regular season to Barr-Reeve). They haven’t scored over 45 points in their last four tournament games, but they haven’t given up more than 37.
Jac-Cen-Del has turned it on since early February, winning 12 straight heading in to this game. All five losses were to 3A and 4A teams, and they are the opposite of North Davies. They average 66 points per game and have been over 60 in all five tournament games. Their 71-54 win over Indianapolis Lutheran in last week’s regional final was impressive.
T-Mill’s State Finals picks:
4A: Chesterton vs. Cathedral
3A: Mishawaka Marian vs. Sullivan
2A: Central Noble vs. Eastern Hancock
1A: Gary 21st Century vs. North Daviess