We asked staff writer Matt Daniels for his take on this week’s wide-open Class 3A Centennial boys’ basketball regional:
Centennial. Urbana. Mahomet-Seymour. Rantoul. Champaign Central.
One of those boys’ basketball teams will emerge Friday with a Class 3A regional championship plaque. Who, however, is anyone’s guess.
Centennial is the top seed and only team in the regional with a winning record. But the Chargers have lost to second-seeded Urbana and had to hang on in overtime to beat third-seeded Mahomet-Seymour. Mahomet-Seymour and Rantoul have split their two Corn Belt Conference games this season while Scott Davis still is trying to find what works with his young, inexperienced Central squad.
The same five teams met last year for a regional in Rantoul, which saw the same flip-a-coin logic used to predict a possible regional champion. The top-seeded Eagles fell to fourth-seeded Centennial, which narrowly survived against fifth-seeded Urbana in a regional quarterfinal game before falling to the Maroons in the regional championship game. Here’s what each team has to do in order to make travel plans for a sectional semifinal March 5 in Mount Zion:
The Chargers have two hulking figures (yes, we’ll consider Illinois commit Michael Finke hulking) who will play Division I sports in Finke and Luke Vaughn. Vaughn is headed to Oxford, Miss., where he’ll continue his outstanding track and field throwing career at Mississippi. What Centennial coach Tim Lavin needs is for guard Dedric Byrd to bring consistency on both ends of the floor while Lavin’s son, Jeffrey, delivers from the outside.
Guard Donald McKinley does not usually pass up a shot. The senior is a legitimate scoring threat once he crosses half court. But Urbana needs balance, which will have coach Vashoune Russell seeking help from Marcus Catchings, Conner Gremer and Greg Boyd, among others. Urbana won’t be intimidated by any team in the regional, a good trait as the Tigers are seeking their first regional championship since 1989.
Connor Diedrich and Sam Hohlfelder have provided scoring from basically any spot on the floor, with Hohlfelder, a junior, and Diedrich, a sophomore, both threats from three-point range. Senior Brad Herrmann can affect the game in multiple ways, but the X-factor for the Bulldogs is senior Matt Turner. The forward brings some size and a physical presence that could come in handy against an athletic Urbana squad.
Keep up with Jones. Johnny Jones, that is. The Eagles guard has had spectacular games this season (career-high 33 points against Prairie Central on Jan. 25), but ineligibility issues have hindered his production at times. Rantoul coach Brett Frerichs has searched all season for a reliable rotation, with guards Talon Hardin, Tanner McLain, Devine Thompson and others playing well one game and poorly the next. Which team shows up at Centennial will determine if Rantoul wins its first 3A postseason game.
The Maroons are far removed from last year’s squad, which made an appearance in the sectional championship game at Lincoln, and much farther than the 2007-08 squad that advanced to Peoria (wouldn’t it be nice if Verdell Jones III and Keith Biggers still had eligibility left?). Having a healthy Kameron Rowan could make it possible for Central to spring an upset, along with breakout games from Chris Hutchison and Isiah Smith.
Game 1: (4) Rantoul (11-16) vs. (5) Central (5-18) — 7:30 p.m.
Game 2: (1) Centennial (19-8) vs. Game 1 winner — 7:30 p.m.
Game 3: (2) Urbana (8-16) vs. (3) Mahomet-S. (11-15) — 7:30 p.m.
Game 4: Game 2 winner vs. Game 3 winner — 7:30 p.m.