by Troy Sparks
March Madness is here for high school basketball in Wisconsin. And the playoff field is jam-packed and more competitive than ever. In the past, eight sectional winners made the state tournament field in Division 1. The WIAA did away with that format since they added five divisions to the state tournament. That means only four teams in each division will play at the Kohl Center in Madison.
First up on the road to Madison are the boys, who began the playoff round on Feb. 28. The real action heats up on Mar.2 and 3. The strongest field in each of the four sectionals is the Racine Horlick sectional. That final will be played on Saturday, March 10, at Horlick.
The teams in that sectional include Milwaukee King, Riverside, Brookfield Central, Vincent and Milwaukee Hamilton. An early test for Riverside could be a second round game against Brookfield Central. The Lancers have two players who averaged over 15 points a game this season.
I watched a Brook Central game about a month ago. They are disciplined and are good with the full-court pressure defense. If Riverside isn’t careful with the ball, they will lose the possession game. But if the Tigers get past the Lancers, then they will have King to deal with.
King won the City Conference title this season and Riverside won it last year. They’re familiar with each other by now. The Generals won’t forget that the Tigers put them out of the playoffs at West Allis Central in 2011. Both teams lost key players recently from academics. Now those players from both teams are back. My guess is that this game will be moved to a neutral site because you can’t play in a small gym like King that seat 900, if that many.
Vincent will host the winner of Milwaukee Marquette and Ronald Reagan, Mar. 2. I don’t think the Vikings will be ready to play the Hilltoppers. Marquette will beat Vincent at the perimeter game. I saw a couple of Vincent games and they played out of control, which explained their key losses to King and Hamilton. Outside of Deonte Burton, the Vikings don’t have much of a supporting cast. My money, if you’re a betting person, is on a King vs. Hamilton sectional final.
Madison Memorial is the Duke of high school basketball. Most people can’t stand the Spartans because they usually have an easy road to Madison and they are at state almost every year. They should win the Kettle Moraine sectional with ease. Mukwonago might give them a challenge if they meet in the sectional championship. An early report from another reporter I talked to on Memorial is that they can’t shoot from the side of the barn. So if the inside game don’t work and the outside game isn’t working, then they will be in trouble.
Germantown should win the Manitowoc sectional. They are the No. 1 team in the state. This team is well-balanced. They have size on the inside, a scorer in Zak Showalter and guards that can drain the three consistently. They are hungry, and they remembered falling short of making state last year. Coach Steve Showalter will have the Warhawks ready to play. He has subs in his other son, Jake Showalter, and Jon Averkamp, who are key contributors off the bench.
Oshkosh North should have no problem winning the Stevens Point sectional. They have been to state before and won championships, so that team knows what it takes to make it to Madison.
In Division 2, four City teams, Madison, Northwest, Washington and Marshall, could go deep into the playoffs, but I don’t see any of them going to Madison because they will run up on better and more disciplined teams. The boys state tournament is from Mar. 15-17.
On the girls side, the best teams are in the Whitefish Bay sectional, which is a great place to watch basketball. Pius, DSHA, Racine Case, King and Vincent makes up a very strong field. If you let freshman sensation Arike Ogunbowale have her points, then the rest of the DHSA team won’t hurt you. Shakeela Fowler is a little freshman sparkplug for King. She and Ogunbowale played on the AAU national championship team last summer. Fowler is fast and a little thorn on the side on defense against an opposing team.
If King and Vincent run the tables in the regionals, they could face each other, Mar. 10. Even though King won the City Conference title, they are a lower seed (3) than Vincent (2). That should give them some extra motivation to beat the Vikings again. If they limit Sydney Howard and Nafeshia Holifield, then they will prevail.
Don’t leave out Pius and Case. Both teams are strong again. Vincent caught Case sleeping in their early season win at the Fresh Coast Classic in November, but don’t expect that to happen again if they meet up. I think it will be a Pius vs. Case sectional final, Mar. 17, on St. Patrick’s Day. The green clover will fall on somebody’s side that day.
My pick to win the Sun Prairie sectional is Franklin. Chippewa Falls at the Wisconsin Rapids sectional and De Pere at the Sheboygan sectional will represent at state, but I have been wrong before.
The girls state tournament is March 22-24 in Madison. Make that short drive to Mad-Town this year because next year the girls and boys tournament will be in Green Bay, which will be a longer drive. The girls and boys playoffs will be fun to watch. You will get caught up in the emotion either way, whether it’s jubilation or sadness. Or it will be tears of joy or tears of sorrow. That’s when you know that March Madness is here.