Boys basketball: Road to state tourney begins next week

The path to the state tournament at UD Arena begins for boys basketball next week. Lots of teams dream of it, others plan on it.

Two coaches who know the path well are Centerville’s Brook Cupps and Chaminade Julienne’s Charlie Szabo. Their teams began the season as the ones local fans and high school basketball followers anointed as the most likely to be one of four teams to make it to UD Arena in their respective divisions. Then both teams backed it up with No. 1 seeds.

Centerville, ranked No. 1 in this week’s state Associated Press Division I poll, is 17-2 against one of the state’s most difficult schedules. The Elks are led by 2022 Mr. Basketball and Indiana signee Gabe Cupps and seeking a third straight trip to state. The Elks won it all in 2021 and lost in the final last year.

CJ, ranked No. 2 in the Division II poll, is 19-2. The Eagles are led by Michigan signee George Washington III and are seeking a second trip in three years. The Eagles lost in the semifinals in 2021.

If you enjoy district tournament week, set your GPS for UD Arena from Wednesday, March 1, through Saturday, March 4.

Division IV starts the week with two games on Wednesday. Division III plays two games the next day, and Friday will host one Division IV and one Division III game. Each doubleheader tips off at 5:30 p.m. The week concludes on Saturday with four Division I games starting a 1:30 p.m. And if you have any gas left in the tank, head to Xavier’s Cintas Center on Sunday the 5th for three Division II games that could be the most competitive of the week.

A look at how the brackets shape up across the four divisions:

Division I: Led by Centerville, the traditionally strong Greater Western Ohio Conference was awarded the top four seeds and seven of the top nine. And they all stayed away from the Elks’ sectional site at Butler. The highest seeded team the Elks have to beat to reach a district final would be No. 12 Butler (9-11).

Wayne (16-3) is the No. 2 seed and could meet No. 5 Troy (16-4), co-leaders with Tippecanoe in the Miami Valley League’s Miami Division, in a sectional final. In the other sectional bracket to be played at Centerville, No. 3 Fairmont (10-10) could meet No. 4 Beavercreek (9-11), which took a bye, in the second round. The Beavers won the first meeting 65-64. They meet Friday in the regular-eason finale at Fairmont.

The toughest district assignment awaits Wayne if the Warriors advance. To win a second straight district title, Wayne would likely have to beat 10th-ranked Fairfield, which is seeded No. 1 in the Cincinnati sectionals for the first time. Fairfield lost in the regional final last year to Centerville.

Division II: Loaded. The top seeds, CJ in the north and Cincinnati Taft (16-2) in the south, are supposed to be on a course to meet in the regional final on March 11 at Vandalia Butler. Taft is the defending Division III state champion.

But there are at least four other teams, maybe eight, who might be good enough to beat a No. 1 seed and go on a memorable tournament run. The biggest challengers are No. 2 Dunbar (15-6), No. 3 Alter (13-7), No. 5 Meadowdale (13-6) and No. 2 Cincinnati Woodward (16-3).

Dunbar owns a victory over Alter and split with Meadowdale. Alter lacks a Division II signature win, but defeated Division I Fairmont and Beavercreek by double digits and lost to CJ by seven twice. Meadowdale owns a seven-point win at Woodward to go with the Dunbar win and has won 11 of its last 13. Woodward’s only league losses were to Taft by six and four points.

The other four contenders are No. 3 Cincinnati Wyoming (19-2), No. 4 Tippecanoe (18-2), No. 6 Carroll (15-5) and No. 7 Ponitz. Carroll pulled off the upset of the season at CJ. Ponitz has overtime losses to Dunbar and Meadowdale and a two-point loss at Dunbar last Friday.

Division III: Miami East, Preble Shawnee, Greeneview and Tri-Village want to be a possible third team to represent the Dayton area at the state tournament.

Top-seeded Miami East (19-2) spent much of the season ranked No. 1 in the state until a recent loss to Troy Christian. If the Vikings make it through and second-seeded Preble Shawnee (17-3) does the same, it will be quite a matchup of guards in a regional final. East’s Wes Enis (21.6) and Jacob Roeth (18.1) are the top scorers in the Three Rivers Conference, and Shawnee’s Mason Shrout (23.1) leads the Western Ohio Athletic Conference.

Greeneview (17-3) and Tri-Village (15-5) could meet in a regional semifinal. The Patriots lost in the Division IV state final last year and also lost its best player off that team, Layne Sarver.

Division IV: Troy Christian (18-3) has won 13 straight and racked up three key victories since Jan. 21 to secure the No. 1 seed. The Eagles beat Tri-Village by four, went to Miami East and won by five to all but clinch a share of the TRC title, then outscored Catholic Central 25-3 in the third quarter Saturday to win 56-37.

Central (14-6) is seeded third and headed for a possible third meeting with No. 2 Cedarville (17-4) in the sectional final for the second straight year. Cedarville beat the Irish by six on Dec. 2, but the Irish won the second meeting at home by 17 on Jan. 24. Central beat Cedarville 43-41 in the tournament last year and went on to win a district title.

The Central-Cedarville survivor will likely face Russia (18-2), the No. 2 seed in the Piqua sectional, in a district final. Jackson Center (19-1) is the No. 1 seed at Piqua. If Troy Christian makes it past Riverview East (18-1), the No. 1 seed out of Cincinnati, and Jackson Center makes it past No. 2 Cincinnati Christian, the regional tournament sets up as an all-Dayton area threesome along with a Central District team.

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