The boys basketball season is underway and this will be a historic season on a couple of fronts.
One, this is the first time the boys season has started before the girls, which means it will hold its state finals a week before the girls. That is because of the availability for the Breslin Center to host the boys semifinals and finals March 14-16.
It will also be historic in another sense because this will be the first time the Michigan High School Athletic Association will not use Class A, B, C and D to group teams for tournament play. Like virtually every other sport, schools will be divided into four equal divisions. River Rouge, for instance, is now a Class A school, but it will compete in Division 2.
Here are the Free Press’ top 20 boys basketball teams. All players are seniors unless noted and last season’s record and current divisional classification are in parenthesis.
1. U-D Jesuit (22-4, Division 1)A second state title in three years is not out of the question here. Daniel Friday (Brown), 6-4, is the type of leader who can carry a team to a championship. Jalen Thomas (Massachusetts), 6-10, has always been a terrific shot blocker and now he has developed a bit of a perimeter game, making him dangerous in pick-and-pop situations. Julian Dozier returns to the Cubs after spending last season at a prep school in Arizona and he will run the point. Joran Montgomery plays dynamite defense. Junior J.T. Morgan, 6-7, will pick up as lot of garbage points around the basket and he can defend multiple positions. Caleb Hunter, a transfer from Southfield Christian, can play either guard spot.
Tournament road: The toughest part of the tournament for the Cubs could be in the district when it faces Renaissance. From there U-DJ goes to a very winnable region at Southfield and will face a Macomb County team like Dakota in the quarterfinal. It is an easy route to East Lansing, if the Cubs can get out of the district.
2. Muskegon (20-4, Division 1)
There is not a lot of size here, but the depth, quickness and pure athleticism is amazing. Eonte Tornes (16 points) is an electric scorer. De'Airrus Ware (Northwood), 6-4, can score in the post and on the perimeter and is a good shot blocker as well. DeAndre Carter is a fourth-year varsity player and he can play either guard spot. Junior Vernon Nash is another good scorer. Junior Jarvis Walker average 22 points last season at Mona Shores and is perimeter threat. Junior Billy Roberts, 6-5, adds toughness and inside scoring. Junior Cameron Martinez is a tremendous all-around athlete a defensive whiz.
Tournament road: Quite honestly, it is difficult not to picture the Big Reds advancing to the Division 1 semifinals. Grand Haven or Grand Rapids Union could be threats in the district. The regional doesn’t seem overwhelming unless a sleeper team emerges from the Kalamazoo or Lansing area.
3. Grand Blanc (19-4, Division 1)
Mike Thomas, who won consecutive Class A titles with Kalamazoo Central in 2010 and ‘11, did an exceptional job in Year 1 at Grand Blanc and look for another jump this season behind phenomenal freshman Ty Rogers, 6-5. He can and will play anywhere on the floor and has a natural feel for the game. Junior Kevin Rice, 6-4, is a wing scorer. Cedric Givens, 6-4, is an outstanding shooter who is under the radar. Latrell Fordham is a talented combo guard and 6-4 junior Mark Miller is an undersized post player who is a matchup problem for opposing teams.
Tournament road: Flint Carman-Ainsworth, the team that eliminated Grand Blanc last season, could be a roadblock again this year in the district. The toughest foe in the regional may be Saginaw, which will be improved. A trip to the quarterfinals might mean a game against two-time defending champ Clarkston. Cass Tech could be waiting in the semifinal.
4. River Rouge (23-2, Division 2)
A Class B semifinalist last season, the Panthers are one of the favorites in an immensely talented Division 2 now that former coach LaMontae Stone is back in charge. Michah Parrish, 6-5, will score a lot of points and is valuable because he does everything well, including defense. Donovan Freeman, 6-5, is versatile for his size and will have the ball in his hands a lot. Bralin Toney is a set up point guard who gets his teammates in the right spots. Nigel Colvin is a combo guard who can knock down 3-point shots. Dan Few, 6-6, is an old-fashioned post player who will control the paint. Sophomore Legend Geeter, 6-7, handles the ball and scores from the perimeter. Freshman Maquise Davenport, 7-0, could be a factor from the get-go.
Tournament road: The district and regional should be no problem for The Rouge. A quarterfinal matchup with Williamston could be interesting. Then it is on to the Breslin where 2016 champ New Haven should be waiting in the semifinals
5. Detroit Cass Tech (17-5, Division 1)
The Technicians will be one of the favorites in the always-tough PSL. Junior Tyson Acuff, 6-3, will be starting at the point for the third season and with his size he has excellent passing lanes. Kahlil Whitehead (Chicago State), 6-6, is a Division I athlete capable of playing either forward spot. Daniel Autry is a flat-out dead-on shooter. Michael Washington-Hill will add toughness and good defense. Junior Isaiah Sanders, 6-5, brings a strong inside presence. Junior Chris Jones is a solid ball handler and Anthony Kyles adds a shooter from the bench.
Tournament road: The biggest challenge of the state tournament for Cass will be surviving the district at Detroit Western. Detroit King and Western are both quality teams and will be difficult to deal with. But after that it is off the Lincoln Park regional and it just might be clear sailing to the quarterfinals and semifinals.
6. Flint Beecher (16-9, Division 3)
Beecher had won five of the previous seven Class C state titles before being knocked off in the quarterfinals last season. So you can count on seeing the Bucs in East Lansing this March. Junior Jalen Terry (18 points) is a terrific point guard, capable of carrying a team. Junior Ernest Sanders (19 points), 6-3, can score in the paint and on the perimeter and he will rebound and protect the basket. Sophomore Keyon Minnifield has a good feel for the game and is an excellent defender. Avonte Burks, 6-3, can be a powerful force inside. Freshman Carmelo Harris is a dead-eye shooter who can handle the ball.
Tournament road: Flint Hamady could be the best team in the district other than Beecher. Regional possible opponent Unionville-Sebewaing knocked off Beecher in the quarters last season. Detroit Pershing could be waiting in the quarterfinals this season and the Doughboys are always tough come tournament time.
7. New Haven (26-1, Division 2)
Over the last four years the Rockets have been 100-6 and it helps that 6-7 Romeo Weems (De Paul), has been a part of the last three of those teams. The Rockets won the Class B titles two seasons ago and advanced to the semifinals last season. And keep this in mind, New Haven has opted up to play in Class B, now Division 2, for the last five years. In additions to Weems (23.5 points, 10.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 4.8 assists), the Rockets feature Ronald Jeffrey (12.4 points), who can score driving to the hoop and plays solid defense. Jamir Farrior started at point guard the last 12 games of last season. Malen Lewis, 6-5, will score a lot of points because he is active around the basket. Sophomore Brent Wiles, 6-5, is a player worth keeping an eye on and junior guard Eddie Dandridge has explosive quickness.
Tournament road: There won’t be much competition in the district and Birmingham Detroit Country Day will be a challenger in the regional. The quarterfinal will provide a quality opponent like Detroit Henry Ford or Detroit Douglass before the Rockets head to East Lansing.
8. Ann Arbor Pioneer (11-10)
This team has a pair of aces in Drew Lowder (Holy Cross) and 6-7 Kasean Pryor. Lowder (15 points, six assists) is an excellent perimeter shooter, but no one scores at the rim in as many different ways as he does. Pryor (13 points, 10 rebounds) is coming off an impressive summer. He has a good shooting touch, which makes him difficult in pick-and-pop situations. He can shoot it, pass it or put the ball on the floor. Junior Man VanRenterghem is a combo guard and plays either spot equally well. Aidan Wright is a grinder who has improved his ball skills. Alex Cunningham is another fine shooter. There may not be a lot of size in the starting lineup, but there is good size coming off the bench.
Tournament road: Surviving the likes of Belleville, Saline, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Lincoln won’t be easy for the Pioneers and that is just to get out of the district. A roadblock in the regional could be Ann Arbor Skyline and someone like Cass Tech could be waiting in the quarterfinals.
9. Benton Harbor (27-1, Division 2)
Junior Carlos Johnson, 6-6, who hit the 3-point shot to give Benton Harbor the Class B title last winter, is the only returning starter, but he is better than ever. He has become a more consistent perimeter threat and an improved ball handler. Justin Brown, 6-6, is the best jumper on the team and can hit the 3-point shot as well as rebound and play defense. Junior Quindarius Davis is a floor general capable of putting up big numbers. Chris Conway, 6-6, scores on slashing moves to the basket and junior Jamon Walker is a perimeter threat who plays solid defense.
Tournament road: The district got a bit easier this season for the Tigers. The regional could include tough opponents like Holland Christian and Unity Christian. Grand Rapids Catholic Central, the team the Tigers beat in the championship game, could be a quarterfinal opponent. Someone like Flint Powers is a team that could advance to the semifinals against the Tigers.
10. Williamston (22-3, Division 2)
There is good size with a trio of 6-7 inside/out guys — Sean Cobb, Joe Hannenberg and Case Conley. Cobb (Grand Valley) is a four-year starter who is tough in the post. Hannenberg is a shooting threat from the wing. Conley is also playing on the wing as well as in the paint. Junior Mitchell Cook is in his third year on the varsity and plays good defense and is another ball handler. Freshman Mason Docks will run the point and freshman Jay Wallace will swing between guard and forward.
Tournament road: Beating district host Haslett will not be easy, but it is the key to advancing to the regional. Marshall could be the top opponent in the regional before running into River Rouge in the quarterfinals. A win over Rouge could make Williamston one of the favorites in East Lansing.
11. Ann Arbor Skyline (23-1, Division 1)
The overall improvement in Ryan Wade and DeSean Munson could make Skyline state contenders. Wade (Holy Cross) can score in a lot of ways and he works hard to get shots. On top of that, he has always been a too-notch defender. Munson, 6-7, plays above the rim. He can be physical in the post and he runs the floor, block shots and rebounds. Junior Kabir Bergin, 6-5, is a good perimeter shooter, but he provides a lot of scoring options with his play in high-low sets. Sophomore Chris Cayton is a terrific on-the-ball defender and is making better decisions with the ball and should do fine running the point.
Tournament road: There doesn’t appear to be an imminent threat in the district, but things will be interesting in the regional. Ypsilanti Lincoln, Saline or Ann Arbor Pioneer are all capable of beating the Eagles and so is Wayne and possibly Canton.
12. Saginaw (10-11, Division 1)
The Trojans are coming off a rare down season. They had a bevy of young players who led in a lot of games last season, but just didn’t know how to close them out. Junior Sir’Real Smith averaged 21.5 points a game last season and hit 74 3-point shots. Junior point guard Freddie McIntosh is strong with the ball and has improved his shooting. Junior James Baber, 6-7, will start on the wing, but will spend time at all five positions. Look for sophomore Lavell Brodnex, who averaged 35 points on the freshman team a year ago, to find a way to be a factor.
Tournament road: The district is certainly winnable, although crosstown rival Arthur Hill is capable of pulling the upset. The first game of the regional will determine Saginaw ultimate success. That is when the Trojans likely play highly-regarded Grand Blanc. A win there and anything is possible.
13. Ypsilanti Lincoln (11-10, Division 1)
Let the hoopla begin. Emoni Bates, 6-8, is only a freshman, but already has caused quite a stir in the basketball world in this state. He could be one of the state’s best players ever, if he remains in the state for four years (see Josh Jackson). Lincoln coach Jesse Davis insists that despite his size, Bates is primarily a shooting guard and says he has the shot to prove it. Tahj Chatman is in his fourth year as the point guard. Amari Frye will be an inside scorer and rebounder. Jalen Fisher will play defense for 84 feet and speed up the game. Cameron Johnson is the team’s glue guy while 6-4 Jordan Roberson will be the man in the middle.
Tournament road: Even advancing out of the district will be as chore for Lincoln. With the likes of Ann Arbor Pioneer, Saline, Belleville and Ypsilanti, this is one of the most difficult districts in the state. Should Lincoln advance, it would likely have to meet a talented Skyline team in the regional.
14. Okemos (20-5, Division 1)
The surprise winner of the CAAC Blue last season will be good again this winter. Evan Thomas, 6-4, is a do-it-all player. He will guard the opponent’s best player, no matter the size. He has expanded his game to becoming a better shooter, but he still scores getting to the basket. The Chieftains have a pair of 5-9 quick guards — junior Noah Pruitt and Fabian Leone — who will make life miserable for opposing back courts. This is Pruitt’s third year starting at the point and no one takes the ball away from him. Mason Kaczmarek, 6-4, will help with the rebounding and he is an effective passer from the post area.
Tournament road: The district, including archrival East Lansing, will not be easy because Holt and Jackson should also be competitive. Grand Ledge and Kalamazoo Central stand out as possible regional foes.
15. Wayne (18-7, Division 1)
Armed with a returning star and a couple of transfers, things look good for the Zebras. Isiah Lewis begins his fourth year as the starting point guard and he averaged 18 points and hit better than 50-percent of 3-point attempts. Sophomore Dontre Foreman, 6-5, transfers back from Romulus Summit Academy and he goes to the basket with authority. Cartier Muse-Suber, 6-5, will be a strong inside player. Dreyon O’Neal, 6-7, is an Old Redford transfer and he will help in a variety of ways. Junior Ricky Crowin, 6-8, is physical and will block a lot of shots. Orisis Asstou, 6-6, is a good shooter while Chris Dubessou adds athleticism to the lineup.
Tournament road: Canton is likely to be the biggest challenge in the district, which Wayne hosts. The regional will be more challenging with teams like Ann Arbor Skyline and Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Lincoln as possible foes. A quarterfinal game against Cass Tech could be waiting if the Zebras can survive the regional.
16. Detroit King (18-7, Division 1)
A pair of veteran senior guards will lead King. Jordan Whitford is in his third year of starting at the point. He does an excellent job directing traffic and his mid-range shot is automatic. Keith Tate Jr. is a defensive demon and he nails 3-point shots. Sophomore Omar Zeigler Jr. is versatile. He rebounds well and can even take over at the point. John Massey, 6-5, will anchor the defense in the paint and provide rebounding help. Freshman Chansey Willis Jr. will have the opportunity to play the point.
Tournament road: The biggest challenge will be surviving the district that contains, Cass Tech, Detroit Western and Dearborn Fordson. But after that the path to East Lansing isn’t that difficult. The regional at Lincoln Park doesn’t present many problems. A quarterfinal game against a team like Ann Arbor Pioneer, Ypsilanti Lincoln or Ann Arbor Skyline will be difficult, but not overwhelming.
17. Clarkston (26-1, Division 1)
Former Clarkston player, girls basketball coach and boys assistant for the last three season, Tim Wasilk, takes over for retired Dan Fife. The two-time defending Class A state champs lost 11 seniors, including Mr. Basketball Foster Loyer, and then suffered another blow when 6-8 sophomore Garrett Dellinger had shoulder surgery, ending his season. The Wolves do have 7-foot sophomore Matt Nicholson, who didn’t play much last season but is as good passer out of the post as you can want and he is a shot blocking presence. Two freshmen — Keegan Wasilk and Fletcher Loyer — will be the starting backcourt. Junior Cole Donchez is a solid perimeter defender. Desmond Mills-Bradley and Jake Jensen will be a steadying influence.
Tournament road: The district at Lake Orion with be better than usual. The host as well as Rochester Adams will both be competitive. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s could provide quite a challenge in the regional. Clarkston has always faced difficult quarterfinal games and that is exactly what the Wolves will find in the Grand Blanc quarterfinal, which could feature an outstanding team in Grand Blanc or Saginaw.
18. Flint Powers (14-11, Division 2)
The Chargers will join a crowded list at the top of Division 2. Owen Lobsinger, 6-6, is one of the top sophomores in the state. He can score on the block, but is a bigger threat on the perimeter. Junior Noah Baylis, who averaged 19 points at Holly last season, is a standout shooter and has the quickness to get into the lane and score. Junior Luke Philpotts, 6-3, is a strong enforcer-type, who can guard anyone. Cole Malenich will help spread the court with his perimeter shooting. Malik Seay, Tommy Haggerman and Lucas Feick will provide stability off the bench.
Tournament road: Powers should sail through the district before it runs into a good Bridgeport team in the regional. That could be the Charges toughest tournament game before it gets to Breslin.
19. Detroit Renaissance (15-7, Division 1)
The question with the Phoenix is how much does the chaos surrounding the coaching situation wear on the players? Losing Carrington McCaskill (Florida Atlantic), one of the top athletes in the state to a prep school won’t help, but the Phoenix played well Tuesday in a 77-74 loss to Flint Beecher. Chandler Turner, 6-7, is another four-year player and he is able to play inside and on the perimeter. Kylin Grant, 6-5, is another inside threat. Sophomore Keon Henderson has a year of starting at the point under his belt and will be more reliable. The Phoenix also have a wealth of depth and should contend for the PSL title, but the aura around this team has not been good thus far.
Tournament road: The Mumford district is beyond tough. It could be more difficult than anything the winner runs into before the semifinals. That is where No. 1 U-D Jesuit begins its tournament route and Oak Park and Southfield A&T are also quality teams. The regional is manageable although by the end of the season Warren De La Salle should be good.
20. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (15-8, Division 1)
This should be the second best team in the Catholic League behind U-D Jesuit. There is a leap of faith here because the Eaglets, with three freshmen, two sophomores and four juniors, are so young. The scoring load will be carried by junior Lorne Bowman (Wisconsin), who averaged 23 points. He can nail the 3-pointer as well as score off the dribble and around the basket. How much success the Eaglets have may be in the hands of 5-6 freshman Kareem Rozier. Despite his age and size, this guy can really play. He is strong with the ball and is a gifted passer. And if teams play too far off him he can score from the perimeter. The only senior starter is 6-8 Matt Nowicki, who is a solid rebounder and defender. He will take care of a lot of the dirty work that needs to be done.
Tournament road: This won’t be easy. West Bloomfield is good and will be a tough district foe and Waterford Mott should be good, too. A district title likely means a regional matchup against Clarkston. Should the Eaglets advance to the quarterfinal it could run into Grand Blanc.
Mick McCabe is a former longtime columnist for the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1