2017 Renegade 'Magnificent 7'
Girls Basketball Week-11 Poll

A USA-365.com Special Report by Mark Smith


Are the Kougars ready for championship play? Kankakee Valley was 19-1 starting the final week of the season. (Photo by Mark Smith)

EAST CHICAGO (01-05-2017) The draw gave everybody a chance in 4A Sectionals 1 and 2 because it matched up favorites early. Why do we have a blind draw?

It's complicated.

My understanding is that it's basically tradition. To me, the definition of 'tradition' is something that you do year after year after year for no other reason than well, "we've always done it this way."

When the state tournament began in the early part of the 20th century, I'm guessing there was no other way to set up first round playoff games. Indiana basketball is older than dirt and when the IHSAA started a tournament, there were no computers or calculators to seed teams.

In the early days of the state tournament, there were far more schools than there are now and the draw didn't mater as much. You had to win 8 or 9 playoff games to win the state title, so it was much less likely that powerful teams would meet in sectional play.

Valparaiso has won 51 boys sectionals. Why? Because in the one-class tournament, they played the Porter County Conference (PCC), teams like Morgan Township and Kouts. It didn't matter who they drew in the first round.

Now, East Chicago can draw Lake Central (3,300 students) in the first round or they can draw Highland (1,000 students). Plus, you only need six or seven wins to win the state title. So, to face the 3,000-kid school first or third makes a difference. Especially to the coach. Coaches probably don't want to seed the state tournament because they might need that 'lucky' draw. Losing in the opener two years in a row might get you fired, while getting to the sectional championship game two years in a row can be spun as a valid achievement.
Only fans and media want the tourney seeded. I think coaches, principals and athletic directors (read: folks with any say so in this matter) are okay with the way it is. We'll go to a three or two class state tournament before we give up the traditional "blind draw."

We have had our 'blind' state tournament pairings and the tournament begins in two weeks. Let's see how the top teams were 'blinded' by the draw.

1. (4A) East Chicago (16-5)
2016 (19-6), 2015 (15-10), 2014 (4-16), 2013 (12-11)

EAST CHICAGO (1-13-2017) Wins over Gary West Side and Valparaiso keep EC on top. The only losses are to Marquette (14-5), Crown Point (13-8), Heritage Christian (16-3), Homewood Flossmoor (17-5) and Chicago power Marist (21-3) and, I believe, all of those except the H-F game were before sophomore sister forwards TiYanna and Tiara Jackson were eligible to play. Nobody has the size EC has and the quickness they have in the backcourt. But this team is still a mix of up tempo players and half court power players. The Cards travel to LaPorte (13-9) on Jan. 27, but those games don't matter.


EC could have used a bye in the 7-team Lowell sectional and they didn't get it. The Cards get a slow 30 mile drive from East Chicago to Lowell. That's not good when you have to play a strong team like DAC champ Lake Central. This could be a quick exit for the Cardinals.

2. (4A) Lake Central (17-5)
2016 (23-2), 2015 (22-4), 2014 (19-3), 2013 (16-8)

ST. JOHN: Lake Central completed an undefeated DAC season with a 52-40 win over Portage and a 52-37 win over Valparaiso in the final weeks. The only losses since Thanksgiving are to East Chicago (16-5) and Northridge (22-1). 5-11 Kylie Fehrman (12.7 ppg.) and 5-7 junior Lauren Ladowski (10.4 ppg.) lead the way for a team that allows less than 44 points a game. The Jan. 27 home game with Class 3A No. 2 (South Bend) St. Joseph's (13-1) is a highlight, but St. Joe is 3A so it really is just practice for the upcoming Lowell sectional. Since the first of the year, no one has scored more than 40 points against Lake Central.


I think they needed to draw East Chicago right away and they did. As playoff week goes on, teams slow down. When EC slows down, the Jackson sisters are still 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-3. Playing on a school night. It's a short drive from LC to Lowell. That's what the Indians should want.

3. (1A) (MC) Marquette (14-5)
2016 (24-3), 2015 (9-15), 2014 (4-14), 2013 (2-18)

MICHIGAN CITY: Marquette has lost three of their last four games, but that is highly misleading. The losses were to St Joseph's (17-2), Hersey, Illinois (19-2) and Montini, Illinois (22-0) following the earlier defeats 45-31 at 1A No. 4 Argos (17-2) and 45-38 to Penn (17-4). The numbers come from 6-foot-1 sophomore twins Emma Nolan (15.0 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.9 blocks) and Sophia Nolan (16.1 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.4 blocks) and soph guard Megan Crook (9.9 points, 3.0 assists).  Here's the deal. The last three losses are by big numbers including a 53-36 loss to Hersey and a 69-35 loss to Montini, a state title contender in Illinois. Does playing top teams make you better if the good teams beat you by 34 points? Does experience give you confidence or take it away?


Marquette needed Morgan Township (13-3) and Westville (12-5) to draw each other and that didn't happen. Marquette could beat both, but will they on back-to-back nights? Marquette did get a 1st round bye in a 6-team sectional, but they will see two big winning teams.

4. (4A) Merrillville (16-5)
2016 (20-7), 2015 (21-8), 2014 (16-7), 2013 (23-2), 2012 (21-1)

MERRILLVILLE: The Pirates won six in a row after a holiday loss to Jeffersonville and a third consecutive 20-win season was still in reach. Seniors Kiarra Thompson (15.9 ppg.) and Jasmine Wright (19.3 ppg.) make it hard to hold down the Pirates. Wright hit six three-pointers in the Merrillville holiday tournament win over Highland. After 15 games, Wright was 46 of 119 (39%) on 3-point shots. Thompson, who averaged 10 points and five rebounds as a junior, is averaging 15 points and seven rebounds as a senior. Losses are to Mooresville (14-7), Jeffersonville (14-7), Northridge (22-1), St. Joseph's (17-2) and Lake Central (17-5).


Merrillville gets a bye and Northwest Crossroads Conference champ Kankakee Valley (18-1) right away and that's probably good for them. Once again, speed teams slow down as sectional week goes on. A bye and the best team immediately is all the Pirates can ask for.

5. (4A) Kankakee Valley (19-1)
2016 (19-4), 2015 (17-8), 2014 (16-7), 2013 (16-5)

WHEATFIELD: Have we under-estimated Kankakee Valley? Five point wins over Crown Point (13-8) and Andrean make KV's first-ever 20-win season a virtual certainty. Senior Raegan Walther (19.8 ppg.) became her school's all-time leading scorer this month as the Kougars ran their winning streak to 19. KV's only loss was the season opener to Benton Central (18-4) and they've won 16 games by 10 points or more. Lindsey Stokes (12.9 ppg., 34 3-point field goals) scored 10 in the 90-47 win over Hebron. Why are they not No. 1? It gets back to the schedule. They have not played East Chicago or Merrillville or Lake Central or Class 1A Marquette. I don't know if they could beat them. They didn't play them.


Chesterton (12-7) in the opener and then Merrillville (15-5) in the 4A Sectional 2 semifinals. Talk is that this is a year when KV, which is a borderline 3A school in enrollment (I don't know how a school with 1,097 - according to the IHSAA directory - is Class 4A school?), could play and win a Class 4A sectional. We are about to find out.

6. (4A) Crown Point (13-8)
2016 (20-6), 2015 (12-11), 2014 (13-8), 2013 (5-16)

CROWN POINT: CP lost two big ones to Merrillville (16-5) and Kankakee Valley (19-1), but those are probably missed opportunities, not a sign of decline. Mya Scheidt (13.5 points, 3.6 assists per game) has 54 3-point baskets in her first 21 games and 5-foot-10 forward Sydney Taylor (16.2 points, 7.9 rebounds) continues to lead the team in scoring. Soph guard Caitlin Phillips had 30 three-point baskets in 21 games. There's not a bad loss here. None to anyone under .500. But there aren't any big wins over powerful teams here, either. And the 47-points-per-game scoring average, even against a tough schedule, is a concern. The Bulldogs have to be more effective offensively to win the sectional.


That 'winning the sectional' thing is not far-fetched. CP opens with Hobart (9-13) and they would then probably play rival Valparaiso (12-11) in the semifinals. Could CP beat Merrillville or KV and win the sectional? I'll have to get back to you on that one.

7. (4A) LaPorte (12-8)
2016 (19-7), 2015 (18-6), 2014 (20-3), 2013 (13-9)

LaPORTE: Riley Ott (16.5 ppg.) and Olivia West (10.4 ppg.) lead the scoring for a team that just broke a 3-game losing streak with a win over Michigan City. The Slicers are 84 of 299 on 3-point shots and sub-30% isn't what you want, but they have a premier rebounder in 5-foot-11 junior Janelle O'Neal (5.1 ppg.). Ott has scored in double figures in all 20 LaPorte games. The Slicers warm up for the post-season against East Chicago on Jan. 27. They're similar to CP in that they just don't score that much, so they have to play very well defensively to win.


Cass 4A Sectional 3 is very winnable. In fact, the winner of the Plymouth-LaPorte quarterfinal game might be the champ. Nobody here has won more than 12 games. Plymouth topped LaPorte 45-39 two weeks ago, but that can be reversed on LaPorte's home floor. LaPorte should have high hopes.

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Revised: January 23, 2017 .