8th Region Tournament Preview - Final Four
The Boys 8th Region tournament is down to four teams....to nobody's surprise, the three-top-ranked teams in the 8th Region - Oldham County, Collins, and South Oldham - are still alive and kicking. Right in there with them in the semi-finals are the Grant County Braves, who finished the year ranked number 7 in the region and who, like the other three, arrives at this point on a terrific run.
South Oldham (23-9), 29th District runner-ups vs Collins (25-7), 30th district champs - These two teams finished the year tied in the region rankings as 2A and 2B, and if their regular season matchup - won by Collins, 67-66, on January 14th in Crestwood - is any indication, this one will be a doozy. In January, South led until 14 seconds remained in the contest, at which time the Dragons, leading by two, fouled Marcellus Vail of Collins on a three point attempt. Vail sank all three FTs to give Collins a one point lead, and South's Luke Morrison - who was practically unstoppable on the night, scoring 32 points on 10 of 16 shooting - missed a short jumper at the buzzer that would have won it.
The Titans hit 56.9% from the floor in that game, but nearly squandered their chances with just 9 of 17 shooting at the line. In fact, subtract Vail and Collins was just 4 of 12 at the charity stripe. Dayvion McKnight struggled through one of his worst scoring games of the season, scoring just 8 points, but he still had 10 rebounds as Collins outrebounded South, 24-19.
The Dragons hit two less field goals overall, hitting 46.9% from the floor, but South was 10 of 19 beyond the arc (52.6%) and a red-hot 10 of 11 at the line for 90.9%. Luke Morrison did the bulk of the damage at the line; Collins couldn't keep him from the charity stripe, where he hit 9 of 10 shots.
Questions for the rematch: Can Collins shut down South Oldham senior guard Seth Johnson again? Johnson - who averages 19.9 ppg and hits 53% from the floor - was largely shut down by the Collins defense, including a tremendous effort by McKnight, and was held to one of his lowest scoring games of the year, going 1 for 12 for three points. Can Collins shut down the potent Dragon three point attack? South seems to like the Henry County gym - the Dragons have now played six games at the Roy L. Winchester Gymnasium, going 2-1 in the Henry County Invitational, defeating Woodford Co at the Henry County Classic, defeating Henry County in a regular season game, and then beating Simon Kenton to start this tournament. The Dragons seem to like the rims at HCHS; they've hit over 50% of their shots in 5 of those 6 games, and have hit 77 threes (an average of 12.8 per game) at a 45.6% clip.
Finally, what will Collins do differently in regards to defensing Morrison this time around?
Luke Morrison and Seth Johnson have both already kicked off the tourney with huge games; Johnson had 30 against Simon Kenton and Morrison 28. South shot 65.9% from the floor against the Pioneers, while hitting 10 of 19 threes and 19 of 23 free throws (82.6%)
For South, can the Dragons frustrate McKnight a second straight game on the offensive end? South will have to play extraordinary defense, particularly on the baseline, to prevent the Collins star from doing what he does best, which is to get to the rim. And if they do, can they negate him as a rebounding threat? Collins only outrebounded South by five in January, but that margin looms potentially large if the game is razor-close again. The Dragons could really use a big game from 6'6" starting sophomore center Ben Michel, but the Dragons' big man has managed just 4 total points in 4 total rebounds in three post-season games. Michel is a mobile big man that could create problems for Collins, if he can have a breakout game on Monday.
The Collins bench had a really strong game in round 1 against Henry County, scoring 19 points. But in the previous game versus South, the Titans' reserves managed just 2 points. Will the Collins bench be able to make a difference this time around? And what about Tyson Turner? Collins' talented guard makes a big difference when he's healthy; a tremendous complement to McKnight and Vail. Coming off an undisclosed hand/wrist injury, Turner did not start against Henry County and definitely did not look 100% when he was on the floor. How much closer will he be to 100% Monday night?
The Titans, who really were not challenged too much while on offense in round 1, hit over 49% from the floor, including 10 of 25 threes (40%) and 11 of 13 free throws (84.6%)
Both teams are excellent shooting teams; Collins primarily getting it done inside the arc; South is superior from beyond the arc. Both shoot over 70% at the stripe. Neither has a dominant inside presence, but the Titans have the premier individual rebounder in McKnight. If one element decides the game, it may well be depth. South would appear to have an advantage here; the Titans' chances take a big hit if either McKnight or Vail go out with fouls, which has cost them in some of their losses this season.
The final margin may or may not be quite as slim as the January matchup, but I just don't expect this game to be settled till late. Wouldn't be surprised at all to see our first overtime contest in the tourney.
FAVORITE: Even. If the game is called tight, I like South. If they let them play, Collins has to be favored.
Oldham County (29-3), champions of the 29th district vs. Grant County (22-10) Oldham County was expected by all to be good this year - but most thought the junior-dominated Colonels, who returned just one starter from last year's region runner-up team, would be a strong squad this year, but the dominant favorite next year.
Under the leadership of 8th Region Coach of the Year Coy Zerhusen, though, the Colonels turned out to be early bloomers. The Colonels opened the season by winning their first seven - including double-digit victories over 22-win Danville, Spencer County, and Grant County - split four games over the holidays, and then went on a 15 game winning streak that included victories over some strong opponents, including top 15 Collins, South Oldham, North Oldham, Tates Creek, top 20 LaRue County, Pleasure Ridge Park, Beechwood, Simon Kenton, and eventual 11th region champ Scott County. Throughout it all, the Colonels remained statistically strong, ranking among the region 8 leaders in scoring, scoring defense, and shooting.
Oldham County has won 20 of their last 21 games heading into semi-final night.
Perhaps the ace in the hole for Oldham, though, continues to be the pressure defense Oldham employs, and the depth that allows Zerhusen to flex it for pretty much the entire game. The Colonels have consistently worn down teams this season, often pulling away late when the opponent simply lacked the fresh legs to keep up. Oldham County will usually go at least nine deep on the bench, and sometimes 10 or 11.
Oldham doesn't have a 20+ point scorer on the roster, but instead, the Colonels present a defensive challenge to most teams with four players who average in double digits. Deaton Oak leads the team in scoring at 15.4 ppg, and has made 84 threes on the season. The junior guard scored 37 points in the district 29 final win over South Oldham. Woodford County, in the first round of the region tournament, successfully held Oak to just 7 points - but three other players hit for double figures that night in Oldham's 59-53 win, with a reserve - junior backup point guard Grant Gibson - actually leading the team in scoring with 12.
The December matchup with Grant was long ago, but the game was closer than the final 74-60 score suggests. Neither team shot free throws well that night, but Grant (13 of 22) was able to hold a 7 point advantage in that department, as Oldham only took 10 free throws, hitting 6. Oldham shot the ball better, hitting 51% of their shots, and had a 15 point advantage beyond the arc (8 vs. 3 made threes) Sam Campbell (16 points) led Oldham; Grant was led by senior center Luke Dawalt with 20 points and 12 rebounds.
The two teams battled to a near-stalemate on the glass, with Grant holding a 29-28 edge.
Grant County was a team with a ton of potential to begin the season, with four veteran players - and a blank sheet of paper. Coach Joe Utter developed two freshmen into solid contributors this season in Mason Guffey and Dylan Hammonds. The Braves were sitting at 9-7 on January 19th, after a 16 point loss to Conner the night before, when things finally started to click in Dry Ridge. The Braves have won 13 of their 16 games since then, and only once has this high-powered offense been held below 66 points (a 55-51 loss to Simon Kenton in the 32nd district finals).
On the season, Grant - like the other three semi-finalists - has been a great shooting team, hitting about 49% of their shots overall, 37% beyond the arc, and 71% at the line. Vickers and Epperson - who have shot 47% of the team's free throw attempts - are hitting 78% and 82% at the line, respectively.
The Braves' Achilles' Heel is their lack of depth - this is basically a six-man rotation - but the six players who play the overwhelming bulk of the minutes are all capable of 20 point nights. Senior all region center Luke Dawalt is leading the way both in points (15.2 ppg) and rebounds (8.3), but he's getting plenty of help from Jack Epperson (13.5 ppg), Ben Vickers (13.6 ppg), Blake Robinson (10.9 ppg), and Dylan Hammonds (9.6 ppg).
With the 6'5" Dawalt on the inside - along with Epperson, who's listed at 6'2", but averages 6.4 rebounds per game and plays "bigger" - the Braves might be the 8th Region team best-equipped to battle Oldham County's 6'7" Wagner-Rose and 6'4" Tyler Slone on the inside. The battle of the glass will be one of the keys to this ballgame.
Grant has ended a couple of dry spells this season. The Braves last won over 20 games in the 2012-13 season, and this is their first trip to New Castle since the 2015 tournament. Grant County last won the 8th Region tournament in 1979, when they defeated Scott County for the title.
Grant County had a 15 point second-half lead over Gallatin County in the first round of the region, but 11 second half turnovers nearly cost the Braves. Gallatin pulled to within 1 at 64-63 before Grant pulled away at the charity stripe to preserve the win.
The key to the game will be how Grant fares against the Oldham pressure for 32 minutes. If the Braves struggle with taking care of the ball as they did against Gallatin, Oldham looks to be the solid favorite. A fast-paced contest favors Oldham. For Grant to get the upset, they'll need to control the tempo, take care of the basketball, and win the 50-50 balls.
Favorite: Grant County is greatly improved over the season, but this is also a better Oldham team than the Braves saw in December. Anything can happen in one game - that's what makes the basketball post-season so much fun - but Oldham has to be the favorites in this one.
Last edited by ColonelMike; Mar 8, 20 at 08:45 PM.