COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The OHSAA Tournament begins tomorrow, but the staff of 270 Hoops got together one more time to talk about the season that was.
Q1: Up to this point, what will your lasting memory from the 2018-19 season?
Jason: The night of pure chaos we had on district semifinal Wednesday, when Bradley and Coffman both went down. I was out filming the Canal-Pick North game, and I just kept hearing reports that Coffman was in trouble all throughout and to have the top-seeded team out before the Round of 32 again would be insane. Then, getting done with our game and hearing Thomas Worthington beat Hilliard Bradley reminds us why every single game matters, and how truly difficult it is to win it all.
Zach: Morgan Safford willing Hartley all the way to the regional tournament. He hit game-winning free throws to take down Jonathan Alder and then helped lead the Hawks to the district title over rival DeSales a few days later. After seeing Morgan dominate DeSales the first time around, I just had a good feeling all season long that he would be good enough in the tournament to lead Hartley to a district title. Thanks to Jake Spegal’s live streams, I was able to watch both endings in real time. It’s always fun to see players like that play at levels they’ve never performed at before, especially in the tournament because the stakes are so high.
Connor: For me it had to be the Bishop Hartley and DeSales district final at Ohio Dominican. An effort led by Morgan Safford, but capped off by Colby Rankin in order to put the Hawks into the regional tournament. As someone who enjoys analyzing and breaking down all the nuances in the game, there still is nothing that can beat the emotion and joy that it brings us all. With the media table right behind Hartley’s student section there will be few things more enjoyable than watching Jake Spegal get pulled into the middle of the mosh pit once Ranking hit the game winning shot. The emotion and joy in that moment was infectious from anyone in the gym whether you were rooting or playing for Bishop Hartley.
Jake: I am going to have to go with Connor here and say Colby Rankin’s buzzer-beater to win Bishop Hartley a district final. Though the Hawks lost a double digit lead late in the fourth, they overcame once again and won in dramatic fashion. The gym that night was absolutely electric when he hit that shot. It’s a moment I’ll remember forever.
Andy: My lasting memory would have to be the Johnstown-Granville game in mid January. Granville has had a rough going of it against Johnstown over the course of the last 4+ years and this Johnnies team came into the game ranked top 10 in the state in Division III. Granville tied the game on a 35-foot buzzer beater by junior Brody Ley at the buzzer and ended up winning in overtime, a game that propelled them to their first undefeated season in the LCL in over 20 years. The environment around the game was crazy and as a Licking County native was great to see.
Q2: What upset was more surprising, Hilliard Bradley or Dublin Coffman?
Jason: There’s an old line somewhere about how hard it is to beat a team three times, but I still think that Thomas over Bradley takes the cake. You’re talking about a matchup that the first two games was a combined 104-61 score in favor of the Jaguars, and then Jalen Sullinger and company pull the stunner in the finale? March truly is mad.
Zach: Definitely Hilliard Bradley. I thought Orange matched up well enough with Coffman to make it interesting but I did not anticipate Thomas Worthington upsetting the Jags. Bradley came in to the district finals at 71-5 over the last three seasons with nine-straight wins over Thomas Worthington dating back to 2010. I just didn’t see Thomas having enough firepower to get it done, but it was interesting because they slowed it down and played a Bradley style game to get the job done.
Andy: I would for sure say the Dublin Coffman loss. While Hilliard Bradley is a great team, their inability to score in bunches that I witnessed when they played Newark in the Play By Play Classic that nearly broke their undefeated season in January showed me that they could be vulnerable to an upset. Coffman had a loaded roster, and with Dom Penn looking for his second district title the No. 1 seed Rocks seemed destined for a run.
Connor: I’d give the slight edge to Hilliard Bradley. I had only saw Olentangy Orange in the game prior were the Pioneers nearly gave away an eighteen point lead to Delaware. With Bradley’s slow pace, if they are struggling offensively it will usually lead to some close victories. However, seeing a the Jaguars get beat by a Thomas Worthington team led by two sophomores, missing one starter, and another key rotation player due to injury was mind boggling.
Jake: I am a firm believer in the saying that it’s tough to beat a team three times as Jason already mentioned, so I’m going to have to go with Olentangy Orange’s win over Dublin Coffman. I unfortunately never got to see Orange this season, but I never even thought about that game as a possible upset. It was extremely shocking to me to see the powerful Coffman offense of Luke Bartemes, Dom Penn, Keaton Turner, Derek Van Vlerah and Will Hunter go down so early.
Q3: Thoughts on the inaugural year of the Convention Center as a district final venue?
Jason: Much better than I had originally expected. I know that there is outstanding circumstances as to why the Fairgrounds is no longer in play as a venue, and I miss that place dearly, but the Convention Center nearly made me forget about all of that. The full arrangement was excellent, and the quality of basketball on Saturday didn’t hurt either. If only they could move some silly little event called “The Arnold” to some other time, that’d be great. (/s)
Zach: I thought it was excellent. Gave me NCAA tourney vibes with the high class, professional setup. I arrived on Friday about two hours before the first game tipped and to see Grandview Heights walk out onto the court and to see how excited and in awe those kids were showed me all I needed to see about that environment. The kids truly got a big game experience there. My next wish is that we get all four divisions there and maybe start the tournament on Thursday so nobody is left out.
Jake: Though I didn’t get to see any games this year at the Convention Center, I heard only good things about it in its first year. From the pictures and videos that I saw, it looked like an awesome venue that any high school kid would love to play on a big time district final like stage at. I hope they continue to bring the district finals there and possibly even throw in some neutral site regular season games.
Andy: I personally loved taking in the games at the Convention Center on district final Saturday. While some people I know had issues with the feel of the room and think that the more closed-off feel of Ohio Dominican’s court better suits a high school basketball game, I agree with Zach that the NCAA tournament feel of the game and the quality of play was unreal.
Q4: Which former 270 Hooper will have the best NCAA Tournament and why?
Jason: When he’s fully healthy, Nick Ward is an absolute animal for a Michigan State team that got an unfair draw, stuck in the East regional with Duke. Averaging 14 and 6 while shooting 60 percent from the field on a team that swept the B1G titles? Count me in. Nick Muszynski had great numbers in the play-in win, but Michigan State’s longevity in this tournament makes me lean to the former Lion.
Zach: I have Belmont in my Sweet 16 and much of that is to do with Nick Muszynski. The St. Charles alum was named first team All-Ohio Valley Conference and was the OVC’s Freshman of the Year. The Bruins are a completely different team with him on the floor, as he has the ability to back down anyone and score in the post with either hand, while showcasing an assortment of post moves and an ability to pass out of the post that is rivaled only by Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ. Muszynski is a big-time player, so big-time that plenty of national writers have questioned why he didn’t get any high-major recruiting interest out of high school. If only they were around a few years back when people thought he was too slow, not strong and not athletic enough to play Division I basketball. Goes to show that skill always wins at the end of the day.
Connor: I’m going to piggyback on Zach’s answer and say Muszynski as well. I have Belmont in my Sweet 16 as well, but regardless of how far the St. Charles alumni makes it, he’s arguably the best Division I 270 Hooper in my opinion. He has a chance to prove it in some likely big matchups in Maryland’s Bruno Fernando and LSU’s Naz Reid. Zach talked about Muzynski’s passing ability and I profiled it in my college film room on him, but he’s the focal point in a top 20 offensive efficiency team per KenPom. It’s quite difficult to do better than that.
Jake: I am going to agree with Jason on this one and go with former Gahanna standout big man Nick Ward. The Spartans have excellent coaching and guard play with Cassius Winston at the helm, so I believe that Ward could become the X-factor that this team needs in order to make a long postseason run. He is one of the most dominant post players in the Big Ten when fully healthy.
Andy: I’m gonna go with the sleeper pick and say Javon Bess from Gahanna. I have Saint Louis as an upset pick as a 13 seed over Virginia Tech and I’m counting on the Columbus product to have a big game.
Q5: Does a Columbus team cut down another set of nets this weekend?
Jason: This might finally be the year, after being shutout the past two seasons at the Schottenstein Center. Columbus sent their best two non-Division I teams this year for a change, and I think that Harvest Prep can be the team to cut down the nets. A semifinal date with Cincinnati Purcell Marian looms large, as they are the team to take the SW crown from last year’s state champion in Deer Park. CJ Anthony is the AP Division III Player of the Year, and having the best player in the Final Four is usually a good sign for success.
Zach: I surely hope so. It’s been a long time coming since 2016. If we don’t have at least two teams win state titles this year, it will be the first time since the 1950s decade that the Central District didn’t produce at least five state champions over the course of 10 years. Our last three champions were Westerville South in 2016, Bishop Watterson in 2013 and Pickerington Central in 2012. The 2010s have been kind of bleak when it comes to championship success at the statewide level, despite producing big-time talent. I think Harvest Prep and South have the best shot out of anyone, but it will be extremely difficult as Southwest Ohio seems to have the favorites in D1 (Moeller), D2 (Trotwood Madison) and D3 (Purcell Marian).
Connor: I’m not extremely well versed in the areas extending outside of Columbus, but I do think Harvest Prep has the best chance of winning it all this season. The tournament games are usually won by guard play and the Warriors have a tremendous backcourt in CJ Anthony and Brandon Beavers. Obviously, I would love for a D1-D3 sweep, but I do not think it is very likely. South should have an easy game to play Trotwood Madison, but they rolled through the regional tournament winning both games by over 30 points each in order to get to Columbus. I will be rooting for the Bulldogs though.
Jake: I personally believe that this year Harvest Prep will cut down the nets in the Jerome Schottenstein Center. The Warriors have to be as hungry as ever after losing in the final four last year. They return four starters from last year’s team and a core majority of their bench. They have their hands full with Purcell Marian in the semifinals and a potential matchup with Lutheran East in the final, but I believe they will get it done. I also think South has a great chance and it would be an excellent, fast-paced matchup if they met up with Trotwood-Madison in the final on Saturday.
Andy: I think that, with three teams in the state semifinals, one of them is bound to push through and make it to the top, and I think it can come from the unlikeliest team: Olentangy Liberty in Division I. Ben Roderick is a special player, and at the state level you need someone that can just straight up put the ball in the hoop no matter what defense is thrown at them, and you won’t find anyone in the state better than Roderick at doing that. I think it may be tough for South to overcome the speed of Trotwood Madison if they match up, but I think Harvest Prep and CJ Anthony have a real shot to make some noise at the Schott.
Q6: Way-too-early Division I regional champion for next year is?
Jason: Pickerington North would be the favorite in my opinion, returning nearly all of their key contributors, and they have the willpower to get back to what would be a third regional final appearance in four years. For as long as Jack Sawyer continues to play and succeed on the hardwood at Pickerington North, the Panthers will definitely be in that discussion. A fully healthy Hilliard Bradley definitely has a seat at that table as well.
Zach: Pickerington North. Jack Sawyer is on a warpath to win the region next season and with big-time contributors like Chris Scott, Hunter Shedenhelm, Idris Lawrence and Casey George returning, along with the development of stud freshmen Jerry Saunders and Dior Conners, the Panthers have what it takes to win a state championship next season. I think coach Jason Bates really found his footing with this group as they set a program record for wins (23), won the OCC-Ohio for the second-straight year (no easy task) and played Olentangy Liberty very tough in the regional final despite not having nearly as much experience as the Patriots. Next season will be a different story as the Panthers will have the most experienced starting five in the area.
Also, don’t sleep on Hilliard Bradley. The Jags will return Matt Allocco, Chris Mayfield, AJ Mirgon and Keaton Norris, while getting Jack Pugh back for his junior season. A healthy Pugh turns this team into a different beast, as he and freshman Tayshaun Mayfield could have this team back at a regional title competing level.
Connor: I think Pickerington North is the obvious answer here. Jack Sawyer should be heading into the season as the best, if not one of the top three best players in the area. Add in returners like Idris Lawrence and Chris Scott and the Panthers should be heavily favored to start the season. However, I really think the continued development of Hunter Shedenhelm in his final season will be the X-factor. Ending the season strong for the Panthers, the junior wing had an impressive end to his season and there’s a chance he blossoms into a Division I talent. With two elite talents in the state, it’s hard to imagine Pickerington North not being a heavy favorite. Hilliard Bradley will also be dangerous again, with several returners and phenomenal coaching.
Jake: I have to stay with the obvious here and say Pickerington North. Jack Sawyer is just, well, too big, too strong and too skilled. They return practically all of their scoring and with the rising of juniors Hunter Shedenhelm and Chris Scott this season, the Panthers are primed to have an extremely high-octane offense next season. They will also get contributions from high-level 2022 prospects like Jerry Saunders and Dior Conners. I also love Hilliard Bradley, however. The Jags aren’t losing much to graduation this season and if they can find some solid bench contributors next season, they very well could find themselves playing in Columbus in late March.
Andy: I think the re-addition of Pugh to this Hilliard Bradley team will be just what the Jags need to get over the hump at the district and regional level.