COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Columbus will be heaven for hoop heads starting on Thursday with both the NCAA tournament and Ohio high school state tournament running concurrently. While we will save NCAA coverage for later in the weekend, let's take a look at our second of three state tournament previews for the Central Ohio programs competing for titles - continuing with South.
Welcome back, South. It's been 33 years since Ann Street was last represented at the state tournament. The time has now come as the Bulldogs rolled through the Division II Bowling Green regional and move on to play Sheridan in the state semifinals.
This stage in the game is pretty new for both programs, as Sheridan is making its first ever trip to the state tournament while South is here for the first time since the Ronald Reagan administration.
In a Division II tournament that is nearly the complete opposite of the Division I tournament with all four programs being public schools, South likes its chances to advance to the state final.
The Bulldogs will tip off against the Generals on Thursday at 6 p.m. at Value City Arena on the campus of The Ohio State University.
Thursday, March 21 - 6 p.m. (OSU)
Outlook: Both teams enter Thursday's semifinal in unusual territory, as neither program has been this far in the tournament either ever or in the last 30+ years. South comes in as the prohibitive favorite at 27-1 and should match up well with a Sheridan team with plenty of size.
South lives and dies by the production of its star studded backcourt, as senior Tre Watkins and the junior trio of Ta'Quan Simington, Marcus Johnson and Trevell Adams are the lifeblood of this unit. We look for South to get out and pressure Sheridan star senior Ethan Heller, who enters as the game's leading scorer at 22 points per contest.
South has done a terrific job of slowing down talented guards this season, as this is the Bulldogs' toughest matchup since Bishop Watterson, when senior guard Zach Sawyer nearly willed the Eagles to an upset win in the district finals. South cannot come out slow against Sheridan and fall behind, as the Generals will look to value each possession and play at a tempo they're more comfortable with.
The Bulldogs pressure the crap out of the ball, as three players average more than two steals per game, which the Bulldogs use to their advantage in the open floor. Watkins is a deadly three-point shooter that has really evolved as a floor general and point guard. The 6-foot senior loves to get his guys involved which has led to an uptick in production from Adams and Simington particularly.
Adams is coming off a stellar regional tournament performance where his 22 points were crucial in the final win over Shawnee. The 5-foot-11 guard provides instant energy off the bench and has really come along as of late. Simington has been the key for the majority of the season, as the 6-foot-2 guard is a quality point of attack defender whose high level athleticism allows him to impact the game in nearly every way imaginable.
The do-it-all player for South is Johnson, who comes in with an insane stat line of 10.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 2.4 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. The 6-foot-4 wing has big-time potential and could be the x-factor against Sheridan, as the Generals may not have a matchup for him on the wing.
For Sheridan, the Generals has size and guard play. Heller, a Concord commit, is a talented scoring guard who can fill it up in bunches. Heller is joined by fellow senior Grant Heileman, a 270 Hoops Fall League champion, who averages 13 points per game and is a quality big with soft hands and good touch around the basket. This duo will look to provide for the bulk of production against a South team that does not have a legitimate big man on the roster.
The key for this game will be pace. We have no doubt that South will look to turn its backcourt loose and attempt to speed up Sheridan and force the ball out of Heller's hands. If Heller and the rest of the Sheridan backcourt can limit turnovers and get into their sets, they will have a shot.
Watterson was able to do the same thing in the district finals as the Eagles took a lead into the fourth quarter before unraveling. In that game, South turned up its pressure and got into transition, which was the deciding factor in the Bulldogs' 50-44 victory.
Sheridan has plenty of size, five players at 6-foot-5 or taller, none better than the senior Heileman. Junior forward Luken Hill is the third leading scorer on the team at 7.5 points per game while sophomore guard Landen Russell and senior Costa Coconis round out the rotation around six points per game.
If South is forced to play at Sheridan's tempo, the Generals will have a chance to advance if it can control the glass and keep the Bulldogs out of the open floor. South is more than capable of playing in a slow down game, however, the Bulldogs are at their best when the ball is moving and its talented guards are able to impact the game athletically on both ends.
The senior guard matchup of Heller and Watkins will be something to watch, as these are two highly impactful scorers who can knock it in from all over. If South gets an aggressive and engaged Johnson, the Bulldogs should have what it takes to advance to its first state title game since 1986.
Saturday, March 23 at 2 p.m. (OSU)