In a tournament drawing with much less suspense than what went down in Division-I, the Central District's Division-II bracket is as talented as ever. With the top two seeds from a season ago, Bishop Watterson and Columbus Brookhaven, topping a 28-team drawing, let's take a look at what this year's Division-II bracket has to offer.
The Top Seeds
1. Bishop Watterson (17-2, 7-0)
First round matchup: Bye; faces winner of No. 13 Highland and No. 25 Linden-McKinley on Tues. Feb. 25
Outlook: With the majority of a Watterson team that shocked all of Ohio with a state championship win over Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary back for their senior season, the Eagles have battled injuries as of late, but have still played strong. Being held to a season-low 38 points in a loss at Upper Arlington on Monday, the Eagles bounced back the following day with a 95-53 win over River Valley. While senior small forward Matt Lehmann has battled a left wrist injury on his shooting hand for the greater part of the season, senior power forward Matt Hughes has had some issues of his own. With Hughes out in the loss vs. Upper Arlington due to turf toe, the Eagles had no paint presence and suffered greatly. Looking to regain some health before a second-round matchup in just under two weeks, the Eagles should be armed and ready for a run at a district title.
2. Brookhaven (16-4, 13-1)
Trending: On fire
First round matchup: Fri. Feb. 21 vs. No. 26 Independence
Outlook: Rolling with momentum and great confidence after wrapping up the school's first City League North division title in eight years, Brookhaven opted to play in Watterson's bracket for a second shot at the Eagles. Losing at home to Watterson on Jan. 4, 46-43, Brookhaven faltered late in a game that was controlled for the most part by the Bearcats. Finally getting over the hump and defeating Northland on Monday, the Bearcats are playing with the edge of a team that has gotten the monkey off their back. With the addition of junior combo-forward Rob Banks to the Brookhaven rotation, Banks and fellow junior J-Saun Davis have formed an athletic presence around the rim that was a major reason for the win against Northland. As senior guard Ronnie Williams continues to shine in the second half of key matchups, the Bearcats have a great shot at overcoming Watterson en route to a district championship.
Check out some highlights of Brookhaven's win vs. Northland below.
3. Granville (17-3, 15-2)
First round matchup: Bye; faces winner of No. 12 Centennial and No. 18 Big Walnut on Wed. Feb. 26
Outlook: Gridlocked at the top of the Licking County League with No. 4 Johnstown, Granville is having its best season in years, as the Blue Aces are winners of seven straight. With a lengthy and versatile starting lineup, Granville has relied on the scoring of guard Jack Parsley and forward Austin Rush to stay atop the newly founded Licking Country League. With four consecutive league games on the road to close out the season, Granville has kept pace, winning three, before a battle for the championship on Thursday at Johnstown. Playing a controlled brand of basket, the Blue Aces have won with discipline and defense, nearly pulling off the biggest win of the season at Walnut Ridge on Jan. 4, before falling 41-40. Even though seeded at No. 3, Granville is a sleeper team in Division-II, and looks to make some noise in March.
4. Johnstown (18-2, 15-2)
First round matchup: Bye; faces winner of No. 11 River Valley and No. 17 Mifflin on Tues. Feb. 25
Outlook: The second of a two horse race in the Licking County League, Johnstown looks to be one of the surprise teams in the Central District come playoff time. Behind the high scoring of senior combo-guard Will Orr, and the improving production of sophomore center Jason Carter, the Johnnies can be a dangerous team when they limit turnovers offensively. The Johnnies have been able to adapt to opposing personnel throughout the season, having success against athletic teams such as Briggs (59-40 on Nov. 30) and Licking Heights (swept season series), while also being able to slow the tempo and win with quality possessions and defensive stops. Battling for Licking County League supremacy on Thursday, a win for the Johnnies would be crucial for momentum heading into a difficult tournament run.
5. Eastmoor Academy (14-6, 11-3)
First round matchup: Sat. Feb. 22 vs. No. 27 Amanda-Clearcreek
Outlook: Despite back-to-back losses in the third week of January, Eastmoor has responded after losing a key contributor in the middle of the season. With three consecutive wins in league play over Africentric (Div. IV No. 4), South (Div. II No. 8) and Walnut Ridge (Div. I No. 8), Eastmoor has regained the confidence the Warriors began the year with. As senior forward Nate Jameson has continued his impressive production, the Warriors have also gotten more out of senior guard Jahmal Hughes, who entered a funk toward the middle of the season, but appears to be out of it. The Warriors also have depth at the guard position, as juniors Jalon Lewis, Xavier Holston-Sims and Kyle Oglesby fill a deep Eastmoor backcourt. Senior forward Shamonty Manning is tough in the post at 6'5, forming a formidable combo with Jameson down low. Barring any sort of catastrophe, Eastmoor should have no problems in their first round matchup, but the second round is where things get interesting. As No. 14 Marion-Franklin squares off against the last overall seed, No. 28 Utica, the Red Devils are likely to meet up with Eastmoor on Feb. 27. Falling to Marion-Franklin on Jan. 21, 61-60, Eastmoor has to be careful to not let history repeat itself, as coach Jim Miranda & Co. look to make a run to the Fairgrounds for a district championship.
6. Bloom-Carroll (14-5, 9-2)
First round matchup: Fri. Feb. 21 vs. No. 24 Heath
Outlook: One of the more talented teams in Div. II, Bloom-Carroll has had a successful season despite a difficult non-conference schedule. Behind the scoring of seniors Joey Schmitz, the program's all-time leading scorer, and Brandon Manley, the Bulldogs are a threat as a sixth seed, and should benefit from a tough schedule earlier in the season. With quality wins over Africentric (62-47 on Dec. 23), Bishop Hartley (66-55 on Jan. 29) and Logan Elm (55-31 on Feb. 11), the Bulldogs are battle tested, and have been able to limit teams offensively with tough interior defense. With a winnable first round matchup vs. Heath, the Bulldogs look forward to a likely matchup with No. 9 East in the second round. Catching fire in the second half of the season, Bloom-Carroll poses to be a threatening matchup in the Central District.
7. Whitehall (15-6, 12-1)
First round matchup: Sat. Feb. 22 vs. No. 20 Lakewood
Outlook: As senior point guard RJ Mims has battled a nagging ankle injury in recent weeks, Whitehall has been a bit inconsistent, losing three of its last eight games. While the Rams have rolled through league play in the Mid State League's Ohio division, Whitehall has struggled in the non-conference, going 3-6 including losses to Groveport, St. Charles and Delaware Hayes. Despite the inconsistency lately, Whitehall is one of Division-II's more complete teams, as Mims and freshman standout CJ Prater form a solid backcourt, while lengthy forwards D.A. Sanders and Terronte Hutchins provide great athleticism around the rim. Sweeping Bexley to secure a division title, Whitehall will need Mims to recover quickly in order to make a run in the district tournament, as the Rams have a difficult road being in the same bracket as Watterson and Brookhaven.
8. South (13-8, 6-8)
First round matchup: Sat. Feb. 22 vs. No. 22 St. Frances DeSales
Outlook: Despite being five games over .500, South has struggled with quality competition as of late, losing two of its last three games against the City League South's top teams, Walnut Ridge and Eastmoor. Suffering all eight losses in division play, South has excelled in the non-conference. However, out of the seven teams in South's non-conference slate, only one (Bexley), has a winning record. Senior guards Chris Byrd and Aaron Mullins have supplied the scoring for the Bulldogs this season, and when both are on, South can be very tough to deal with. Matched up with 2013 district finalist DeSales in the first round, South will have to deal with the length of freshman DeSales forward Caden Sanchez and the rest of the Stallions to escape the first round, something the Bulldogs failed to do in a heartbreaking loss to Centennial a year ago.
9. East (13-7, 10-4)
First round matchup: Sat. Feb. 22 vs. No. 23 Beechcroft
Outlook: The top team in the City League North outside of Brookhaven and Northland, East has had moderate successful behind the scoring of junior combo-guard Dalton Laster & Co. With the Tigers' best win of the season coming on the road at New Albany on Jan. 18, 44-39, East proved that they can slow the tempo down and close out teams that play a similar style of the majority of the Central District's Div. II squads. In the Tigers' final league game of the season at Northland on Tuesday, East went into halftime trailing the Vikings by just one, eventually falling 67-57, an encouraging sign for a team that looks to be moderately underrated. Senior point guard James Curry, the area's assist leader, and senior forward Jacob Craft form a solid supporting cast for the athletic Laster. If East can get past Beechcroft in the first round, a difficult matchup likely at Bloom-Carroll awaits, which will be a true test of how tough the Tigers really are.
10. Bexley (13-8, 9-4)
First round matchup: Fri. Feb. 21 vs. No. 16 Licking Valley
Outlook: A moderate surprise in the top ten, Bexley comes into the district tournament lacking a quality win over a competitive opponent. The Lions have received great production from senior forward Sam Nolan, one of the area's leading scorers, while juniors Niejel Young and Drew Esposito have provided Bexley with scoring sparks throughout the season. With a difficult first round matchup with Licking Valley, a team some feel was disrespected with such a low seed, the Lions will have their hands full early on. If the Lions manage to move on to the second round, a third matchup with Whitehall likely awaits. Losing both games to the Rams this season, Whitehall might benefit from getting a third shot against the MSL-Ohio champions.
Sleeper teams to look out for:
No. 14 Marion-Franklin (11-7, 8-6)
Arguably Division-II's most talented team outside of Watterson and Brookhaven, Marion-Franklin has been mightily inconsistent this season, one year after winning a district championship. Toward the middle of the road in the City League South, Marion-Franklin has shown signs of the potential they possess, most notably with a one-point loss to Walnut Ridge in double-overtime, a game the Red Devils threw away at the end of the first overtime period. With athletic senior point guard Meechie Walker running the show, Marion-Franklin has size on the wing with 6'6 sophomore James Manns, and beef in the middle with 6'5 senior center Shakir Sims. Drawing the last overall seed, Marion-Franklin seems to be a team fellow coaches fear in the postseason, as the Red Devils overcame finishing fifth in their division last year to win a district title. The key for Marion-Franklin is senior shooting guard John Montgomery, a player that can light it up at any minute with streaky shooting ability and a tremendous vertical. If Marion-Franklin can get balanced scoring from all of its contributors, don't be surprised if the Red Devils make another unlikely run for a district title.
No. 16 Licking Valley (14-7, 10-7)
Another team that could be a terror in the postseason is Licking Valley. With wins over No. 3 Granville and No. 4 Johnstown in the last month, the Panthers have played excellent defense, holding its last 11 opponents to under 55 points. Senior guard Brandon Pickenpaugh has led the Panthers scoring attack, and has been crucial in close games, including a Jan. 31 win over Johnstown, 41-40. Drawing No. 10 Bexley in the first round, with an upset win, the Panthers would move on to the winner of No. 7 Whitehall and No. 20 Lakewood, a team the Panthers split with this season. An appearance in the district semifinals is something Licking Valley is capable of, as the Panthers feel disrespected with the 16th seed.
No. 17 Mifflin (11-10, 6-7)
Improving in the latter half of the season as key transfers have entered the fray, Mifflin is a team that could pose to be a spoiler in a loaded Region 2 bracket. As juniors PJ Wilkes and Stanley Jackson have led the Puncher scoring attack, Mifflin has improved with the addition of point guard Zavon Rivers, who takes a load of pressure off Wilkes to handle the ball. Under coach Mike Thornton Sr., who led Africentric to a state championship in 2004-05, that was later nullified, the Punchers sign of improvement was put on display on Tuesday. After suffering an 81-49 loss to Brookhaven on Jan. 17, Mifflin nearly played spoiler as the Bearcats attempted to secure the division with a win. Battling back and forth with the Bearcats, Mifflin would be allow a 7-0 run to begin the fourth, eventually falling to Brookhaven, 63-56. With a first round matchup on the road at No. 11 River Valley, a win in a foreign environment would set up a matchup vs. Johnstown, that I feel the Punchers have a good chance with.
A look at how the bracket shapes up
Player watch list:
Andy Greiser (6'3 Senior SF / Bishop Watterson)
Cody Calhoun (5'10 Senior PG / Bishop Watterson)
Matt Hughes (6'4 Senior PF / Bishop Watterson)
Matt Lehmann (6'3 Senior SF / Bishop Watterson)
Ronnie Williams (6'2 Senior PG / Brookhaven)
Rob Banks (6'4 Junior SF / Brookhaven)
Shad Kimble (6'1 Junior SG / Brookhaven)
J-Saun Davis (6'5 Junior PF / Brookhaven)
Jack Parsley (6'2 Senior SG / Granville)
Will Orr (6'2 Senior SG / Johnstown)
Jason Carter (6'6 Sophomore C / Johnstown)
Nate Jameson (6'3 Senior SF / Eastmoor Academy)
Jahmal Hughes (5'10 Senior PG / Eastmoor Academy)
Xavier Holston-Sims (5'9 Junior PG / Eastmoor Academy)
Joey Schmitz (6' Senior SG / Bloom-Carroll)
Brandon Manley (6'4 Senior SF / Bloom-Carroll)
RJ Mims (5'8 Senior PG / Whitehall)
CJ Prater (5'10 Freshman SG / Whitehall)
D.A. Sanders (6'4 Senior PF / Whitehall)
Chris Byrd (6'1 Senior SG / South)
Aaron Mulins (5'10 Senior PG / South)
Sam Nolan (6'4 Senior SF / Bexley)
Niejel Young (6'1 Junior PG / Bexley)
Gyai Gymerah (6'1 Senior SG / Centennial)
Joseph Thomas (6'3 Junior SF / Centennial)
Octavius Luke (5'10 Senior SG / Centennial)
Jett Sweland (6'3 Junior SF / Sparta Highland)
James Manns (6'6 Sophomore SF / Marion-Franklin)
Meechie Walker (6'2 Senior SG / Marion-Franklin)
John Montgomery (6' Senior SG / Marion-Franklin)
Trey Pugh (6'4 Freshman SF / Jonathan Alder)
Brandon Pickenpaugh (6'1 Senior SG / Licking Valley)
PJ Wilkes (5'10 Junior SG / Mifflin)
Stanley Jackson (6'3 Junior SF / Mifflin)
Zac Asher (6'5 Junior PF / Big Walnut)
Reece Dupler (6'1 Junior SG / Lakewood)
Zac Carey (6'2 Senior SG / London)
Brok Bennett (6'1 Senior SG / London)
Caden Sanchez (6'7 Freshman PF / St. Frances DeSales)
Josh Chellers (6'3 Junior SF / Beechcroft)
Jake Geller (6'3 Senior SF / Heath)
Hassan Varence (6'7 Junior PF / Linden-McKinley)
Malik Breckenridge (5'10 Senior PG / Independence)
Kovien Dominaus (6'4 Junior SF / Independence)