Ohio prep hoops: Central District Division-I tournament preview

Javon Bess looks to lead Gahanna to yet another district title.

Another frantic postseason is upon us in Central Ohio. Let's take a look at some of the top seeds, best matchups, and tournament predictions in Division-I of the Central District.

With the Central District tournament picture set in stone, let's take a look at the top seeds, and best potential matchups in the area. After Northland, Gahanna-Lincoln and Pickerington Central each rolled to district titles a year ago, let's see what 2014 has to offer.

The Top Seeds

1. Northland (16-3, 12-0)

Trending: Steady

First round matchup: Fri. Feb. 21 vs. No. 44 Whetstone

Outlook: Seeded atop the Central District once again, Northland looks to have a fairly manageable run to the district finals once again. Matched up with Whetstone in the first round, a team the Vikings have beaten by more than 60 points twice this season, Northland will likely face Hamilton Township in the second round, the only winless team in Central Ohio. Northland looks to roll through competition until a district final matchup that will likely be against either Westerville Central or Delaware Hayes. While the Vikings have arguably the most talent out of any team in the area, Northland hasn't played with the greatest chemistry as of late, nicks in the armor that they will have to patch up sooner rather than later.

LGHL Prediction: District champion in Region 2

2. Gahanna Lincoln (17-3, 10-3)

Trending: Steady

First round matchup: Fri. Feb. 21 vs. No. 42 Dublin Scioto

Outlook: Winning seven of their last eight games, Gahanna, whom many believed to be a surprise at No. 2, are one of the hottest teams in Central Ohio. Behind the high-scoring of seniors Javon Bess and Manny Powell, the Lions will come into the postseason as deadly as ever. With great size and athleticism in the front court, Gahanna features one of the area's most balanced starting lineups. Squaring off against an offensively challenged Dublin Scioto squad in the first round, the Lions look to have a smooth sailing road to the district semifinals, where a likely matchup with either Thomas Worthington or Groveport-Madison awaits. In the same bracket as No. 3 seed Upper Arlington, a district final between the Lions and Bears could be one for the ages.

LGHL Prediction: District champion in Region 4

3. Upper Arlington (18-1, 11-1)

Trending: Rising

First round matchup: Fri. Feb. 21 vs. No. 38 Pickerington North

Outlook: Arguably the hottest team in the area, Upper Arlington features the longest win streak of any team not named Zanesville at 17-consecutive games. Behind stifling defense and great execution late in games, Upper Arlington has not allowed any team to score more than 48 points this season, while holding high-efficiency offenses such as Dublin Coffman and Olentangy Liberty to an average of 36 points per game in three combined meetings. With the majority of offense coming from senior guards Kevin Vannatta and Danny Hummer, the fanastic duo hope to make a run for a state championship, something Upper Arlington hasn't done since 1936-37. With favorable matchups in the first two rounds of play, a likely district semifinal matchup vs. No. 12 seed Grove City could pose some problems for the Bears, as junior Grove City guard Nic Bapst has been one of the area's top scorers.

LGHL Prediction: District finalist in Region 4

4. Zanesville (18-0, 6-0)

Trending: Steady

First round matchup: Bye; will face winner of No. 26 Tri-Valley and No. 29 Licking Heights on Feb. 28

Outlook: The lone undefeated in Ohio's Division-I, Zanesville, whom many predicted to be the top seed in the Central District, comes in at No. 4. Rolling with 18-consecutive victories, Zanesville looks to have a difficult run to a district championship as high seeds Pickerington Central (No. 6), Westerville South (No. 11), and Olentangy Liberty (No. 13), each elected to go after the Blue Devils. With double-digit wins over Bloom-Carroll (68-41 on Dec. 10), Newark (58-43 on Dec. 21), Reynoldsburg (66-51 on Jan. 4), and Tri-Valley (51-36 on Jan. 18), the Blue Devils have as impressive of a resume as anyone.

LGHL Prediction: District finalist in Region 3

5. Newark (16-3, 10-2)

Trending: Steady

First round matchup: Fri. Feb. 21 vs. No. 43 Central Crossing

Outlook: Rolling off consecutive league wins vs. Pickerington Central and Reynoldsburg in the last week, Newark is in great position for a No. 1 finish in the OCC-Ohio. Drawing a favorable road to districts in Region 1, the Wildcats might just run into Reynoldsburg once again, as the two teams could face off in the district semifinals on March 4. If Newark is to advance to the district championship, the Wildcats would likely face the winner of Dublin Coffman/Walnut Ridge. With a favorable matchup vs. Central Crossing in the first round, with a win, the Wildcats would square off with No. 37 seed Westland in the second round, two games that shouldn't pose a problem for Newark. When Newark is hitting shots and limiting second-chance opportunities, the Wildcats are as tough as any team in the region. Look for junior guard Jordan Dartis to transfer his high-scoring antics to the postseason as Newark gears up for a run at a state championship.

LGHL Prediction: District champion in Region 1

6. Pickerington Central (15-4, 10-2)

Trending: Steady, but questionable

First round matchup: Fri. Feb. 21 vs. No. 36 West

Outlook: Entering tournament time with tons of questions, Pickerington Central draws a seed lower than what we had expected. With wins over the top two seeds, the Tigers are without Ohio State signee Jae'Sean Tate for the remainder of the season, a development that led many coaches to feel Pickerington Central was beatable during the tournament draw. Despite the loss of Tate, the Tigers took Newark to overtime last Tuesday, eventually falling to the Wildcats, 66-63. With the emergence of junior combo-guard Rodney Culver, and the high-scoring of senior guard Connor Kern, Pickerington Central is still a dangerous team that should not be taken lightly. With a first round matchup vs. Charles Holland and West, the Tigers don't look to face a challenge until a district semifinal matchup between what looks to be either Olentangy Liberty or Marysville. Electing to run through Zanesville's bracket, the Pickerington Central coaching staff has a high degree of confidence heading into a tournament run with tons of questions.

LGHL Prediction: District champion in Region 3

7. Walnut Ridge (16-2, 12-0)

Trending: Steady

First round matchup: Sat. Feb. 22 vs. No. 41 Lancaster

Outlook: One of the more underrated teams in Central Ohio, Walnut Ridge enters the second week of February winners of their last 11 games. All set for a likely matchup with Northland in the Columbus City-League Championship on Saturday, a team the Scots fell to in the same game in 2011-12, Walnut Ridge hopes to add even more momentum to a tournament run with high expectations. Behind the scoring of sophomore tandem Tarik Wright and Malik Harrison, the Scots have enough offensive firepower to make a run for a district championship. Electing to join Newark's bracket, a team the Scots defeated last season, Walnut Ridge feels confident with their chances in 2014. With a difficult road ahead of them, Walnut Ridge hopes to become the first Columbus City-League school not named Northland or Brookhaven to win a Division-I district title since Mifflin in 2004-05.

LGHL Prediction: District finalist in Region 1

8. Westerville Central (16-5, 12-1)

Trending: Rising

First round matchup: Bye; will face winner of No. 16 Worthington Kilbourne and No. 25 Westerville North on Feb. 28

Outlook: With the offensive pieces to make a deep run in the district tournament, Westerville Central is a team rolling with a great deal of momentum. Winners of six of their last seven games, the Warhawks inched ahead two games of the rest of the OCC-Cardinal with a big win vs. Westerville South last Tuesday. Electing for a bye, the Warhawks look to have an intriguing second round matchup, as both Worthington Kilbourne and Westerville North chose to go after Central pending a first round win. In their last matchup at North on Jan. 31, the Warhawks found a way to squeak by the Warriors, winning 64-63. When Central receives balanced scoring from seniors Eric James, Kwamel Wade and Jalen Malone, the Warhawk offfense is good enough to hang with anyone. With the way the season has gone for Westerville Central, don't be surprised with either a district final finish or a shocking loss in the second round, as you never know what you're going to get with the Warhawks.

LGHL Prediction: District finalist in Region 2

9. Dublin Coffman (15-4, 10-3)

Trending: Shaky

First round matchup: Wed. Feb. 28 vs. No. 33 Hilliard Bradley

Outlook: After a 9-0 start to the season, Cofman has fallen to the earth a bit, losing four of their last 10 games. Last Friday's loss to Olentangy Liberty knocked the Rocks out of the title picture in the OCC-Central, which may have allowed Coffman to refocus a bit heading into the rest of the season. Coffman followed up Friday's loss with a 65-26 beating of Thomas Worthington on Saturday, in which the Rocks received offensive contribution from several key players. With a big momentum game on the docket Friday vs. Upper Arlington, a win would allow the Rocks to head into a difficult tournament run with lots of momentum. Electing for a first round bye, a win over Hilliard Bradley would set up a likely matchup with No. 7 Walnut Ridge in the district semifinals. Playing two different styles, the Rocks have succeeded with athletic teams that fit the mold of the Scots, most notably with arguably Coffman's biggest win of the season over Cleveland Warrensville Heights in December. While the usual high-scoring Rocks have struggled to put the ball in the bucket as of late, Coffman can reverse its fortunes heading into March with big wins in the final week of the regular season.

LGHL Prediction: District semifinalist in Region 1

10. Delaware Hayes (16-3, 9-3)

Trending: Rising

First round matchup: Sat. Feb. 22 vs. No. 22 Dublin Jerome

Outlook: Winning 14 of their last 15 games, Delaware Hayes comes into tournament time as one of the most confident teams in the area. Behind major production all across the board from junior forward Khalil Iverson, the Pacers have been quietly building an impressive resume heading into tournament time. Drawing Dublin Jerome in the first round, a team the Pacers defeated 70-66 on Jan. 14, Delaware Hayes will have its hands full in the first two rounds of action if they can get the job done vs. Mason Baich and the Celtics. Awaiting Hayes in the second round is New Albany, a team that defeated Hayes 57-40 on Dec. 10, and the only team standing in the Pacers' way of an OCC-Capital division title. Squaring off with New Albany in the final game of the season on Feb. 15, for what should be the OCC-Captial championship game, a win in the first round of tournament play would set up a rematch just 13 days later on Hayes' home floor. In basketball, momentum is everything, and Hayes certainly has that on their side.

LGHL Prediction: District semifinalist in Region 2

A Look at the Bracket

Region 1

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Region 2

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Region 3

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Region 4

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Sleeper teams to keep an eye on:

No. 11 Westerville South (13-5, 9-4)

Electing a first round bye to go at Zanesville in the district semifinals, Westerville South is a young, but dangerous team that could pose to do some damage under longtime coach Ed Calo. Behind talented sophomores Andre Wesson and Jelani Rogers, the Wildcats have the scoring, athleticism and length to give teams fits in the postseason. With a winnable first round matchup vs. No. 35 Hilliard Davidson on Feb. 28, the Wildcats look to roll into a big time matchup in their own backyard on March 4 vs. Zanesville in the district semifinals, a game that will be held at nearby Westerville Central High School.

No. 15 Reynoldsburg (10-10, 7-6)

One of the harder teams to figure out this season, Reynoldsburg is a guard-heavy squad that can compete with anyone when they are hitting their shots. With the Raiders' signature win coming at home vs. No. 2 Gahanna on Jan. 28, Reynoldsburg showed that they have the ability to close in late game situations vs. top teams. Losing a heartbreaker to Newark at home this past Friday, 48-46, Reynoldsburg again showed that when their shots are falling, they are a dangerous team. Squaring off against No. 28 Chillicothe in the first round, a win would set up a second round matchup at home vs. Briggs, a team Reynoldsburg matches up well against. If the Raiders manage to win back-to-back games, a likely district semifinal matchup vs. Newark awaits on March 4. While it's difficult to beat a team twice, doing it three times is en entirely different monster, and something that might just work out in the Raiders' favor.

No. 17 Marysville (12-7, 6-7)

One of the OCC-Central's more surprising teams this season, Marysville has shown some promise with big wins over Dublin Coffman and Olentangy Liberty in the last two weeks. Electing to go right after Liberty in the second round, Marysville will have to take care of business in a first round matchup with No. 32 Watkins Memorial. While senior guard Logan Roston has been one of the area's top scorers this season, the Monarchs will need contribution from everyone to make a run to the district semifinals.

No. 19 Groveport (11-9, 4-9)

Although the Cruisers are just 4-9 in the OCC-Ohio, Groveport has an impressive resume coming into tournament time, with wins over No. 7 Walnut Ridge and No. 8 Westerville Central. When the Cruisers play efficient and are hitting from the perimeter, Groveport has enough offensive firepower to score on any team in the area. With senior guard CJ Crowder's game-winning three sinking Licking Heights this past Saturday, Groveport enters the final week of the season with great confidence and momentum. With a first round bye, the Cruisers will face the winner of Thomas Worthington and St. Charles in the second round. Groveport is scheduled to play Thomas Worthington on Tuesday, which could make for an interesting second round matchup if Thomas is to win in the first round. With a win in the second round, Groveport would likely face Gahanna in the district semifinals, a team the Cruisers are very familiar with and can certainly compete with.

Top Players to look out for

Javon Bess (6'5 Senior SG / Gahanna Lincoln)

Shemar Waugh (5'9 Senior PG / Northland)

Jordan Dartis (6'3 Junior SG / Newark)

Malik Harrison (6'5 Sophomore PF / Walnut Ridge)

Khalil Iverson (6'5 Junior SF / Delaware Hayes)

Kevin Vannatta (6'3 Senior SG / Upper Arlington)

Eric James (6'5 Senior SF / Westerville Central)

Connor Kern (6'2 Senior SG / Pickerington Central)

Luke Vargo (6'7 Sophomore SF / Dublin Coffman)

J.T. McFarland (5'11 Senior PG / Zanesville)

Mason Baich (6'2 Sophomore SG / Dublin Jerome)

Nic Bapst (6'2 Junior SG / Grove City)

Babe Murphy (6'5 Senior SG / Licking Heights)

Logan Roston (6' Senior SG / Marysville)

Akiean Frederick (6'6 Senior PF / Franklin Heights)

Lloyd Chatman (5'9 Junior SG / Reynoldsburg)

Brandon Glenn (6'2 Sophomore SG / Hilliard Bradley)

Tyler Primmer (6'4 Senior SF / Teays Valley)

Andre Wesson (6'5 Sophomore SF / Westerville South)

Isaiah Keene (6'4 Senior SF / Westerville North)

Avery Williams (6'6 Senior PF / Tri-Valley)

Charles Holland (6'4 Senior SG / Columbus West)

Tyus Ferguson (6'1 Sophomore PG / Groveport)

Mike Deleon (6'5 Senior SF / Olentangy Liberty)

John Miller (6'8 Junior C / New Albany)

Rodney Willis (6'3 Junior SG / Briggs)

Toury Freeman (6'2 Senior PF / Westland)

Michael Chambers (6'2 Senior SF / Worthington Kilbourne)

Michael Simon (6'6 Junior PF / Hilliard Davidson)

Alex Arck (6'3 Junior SF / Mount Vernon)

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