The boys high school basketball state finals take place this Saturday at Conseco Fieldhouse. It's the 95th finals overall and eighth since the tournament adopted the controversial class format. While it can safely be assumed that any team still alive at this point is riding significant momentum, this year's field still includes an eye-popping number of true juggernauts: Lawrence North has won its last 12 games by an average of 19 points, Forest Park its last eight by 20, Harding has swept through the tourney by an average of 22 points, Washington crushed its last 10 opponents by an average of 23, Muncie Central won its last seven by 26 and Lapel its last 12 by 27. Something obviously is about to give.
The day's marquee game is the 4A match-up between Lawrence North (23-2) and Muncie Central (27-1) - to all appearances the two best teams in the state. Lawrence North is a good nine players deep and are led by a pair of juniors, lightning-quick guard Mike Conley and 7-foot phenom Greg Oden, who's averaging 20.5 points and 9.9 rebounds. Oden is assumed by many to be a shoo-in for the NBA next year. The Wildcats' only two losses, to city powers Arlington and North Central, were both revenged later in the season by double-digit margins.
Muncie Central, led by a strong senior class, have four starters averaging between 13 and 11 points. Jordan Armstrong, 6-foot-5-inches, will play next season for the University of Southern Illinois, but it's really their guard play that distinguishes Central. The Bearcats are deadly from the outside, while showing exceptional patience on offense. Their only loss this season was in overtime to Pike (with Armstrong sitting out the game with pneumonia). Dictating the tempo will be crucial for either team to prevail in this contest.
The 3A game matches Plymouth (22-3) against Washington (26-2), both schools with big-time stars. Plymouth guard Kyle Benge is averaging 27.5 points, second-best in the state. Washington's center, Luke Zeller, who will be at Notre Dame next year, notches 19.4 points and 8.9 rebounds per outing. Both schools won state championships in pre-class days: Plymouth in 1982 and Washington in 1930, '41 and '42.
The 2A contest will feature more size than is usually associated with small-school ball. Harding (16-9) starts a 6-foot-8-inch sophomore, Jermaine Muff, and a 6-foot-5-inch senior, Selvyn Lymon, the team's high scorer at 17.8 ppg. Forest Park (22-4) is led by a pair of 6-foot-7-seven cousins, Clint and Brandon Hopf. In last week's semistate win over Knightstown, the two combined for 48 of their team's 76 points. Harding won the 2A title in 2001 and was 3A runner-up the following year. Forest Park finished second in 2A in 2003.
The 1A championship will be another study in contrasting styles. Lapel (24-3) scored 71.4 points per contest this season, while Loogootee (21-4), playing its trademark slowdown game, only allowed opponents an average of 41. Lapel guard Jason Holsinger might be the best outside shot in the state. He made 110 three-pointers this season, shooting 49 percent. Though they'll be the two smallest schools at Conseco this week, both made it to the Final Four in pre-class days. Lapel got there in 1940. Coaching legend Jack Butcher took Loogootee there in 1970 and again in 1975, when the Lions, starting two 6-foot forwards, made it all the way to the final game before falling to Marion.
The games begin Saturday morning with the 1A contest at 10:30 a.m. Go to www.ihsa.org for more information.