2017 Renegade Boys Basketball 'Magnificent 7' Week-9 Poll

A USA-365.com Special Report by Mark Smith


Westville (12-1) was the 'basketball capitol' of Northwest Indiana last week after they won the school's first Porter County Conference (PCC) tournament with a one-point victory over Hebron in the championship game. (Photo by Mark Smith)

CROWN POINT (01-25-2017) As the top teams in Northwest Indiana head towards the state tournament, we get word that one team won't: Bowman Academy.

The basketball program at Bowman was suspended from state tournament play for two years after multiple violations of Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) eligibility rules. All Bowman sports were suspended due to the extreme nature of the violations, which includes one player who did not attend the school and another whose transfer papers were faked and forged.

Two members of the Gary City Council want the city to protest the suspension on the logic that what the basketball program did should not inflict suspensions on other sports.

I thought Bowman got off very easily. If I'm the IHSAA, Bowman gets dropped from the IHSAA for an indefinite period of time. Everyone in the basketball program knew what was going on and the athletic administration either did not know about the violations or did not want to know. Bowman played a basketball game without signing a contract for it, against IHSAA rules. Those are the official charges.

But everyone in NW Indiana basketball knows that Bowman has shape-shifted the rules to create top basketball teams since the relatively new charter school began playing basketball in 2006. Violations and rumors of violations go back to the start of the program, which has won two boys basketball state titles since 2009.

The school wasn't penalize severely. Bowman teams will be able to play all regular season games, meaning the boys basketball players (the only team that is state caliber) will be able to compete and show off their ability for college scouts. They just won't be in the post-season for two years. To me, that's not much of a penalty.

In athletics you get caught up in trying to win. That's what seems to have happened at Bowman. Charter schools don't totally operate for the good of the kids. They have to prosper as a franchise as well. They have to recruit. Let's be honest. Charter schools exist to take students and state funding from true public schools. So the ends justify the means.

But let's repeat that the people at Bowman knew they were cheating. All of them. The coaches knew. They were reportedly forging documents. The players knew. You cannot possibly not know that your teammate never shows up in any of your classes. Their parents knew. Parents know what their kids know. And they were okay with it. (The team was winning at one time). The players were getting 'looks' from colleges. It's okay to lie, cheat and steal if it benefits you in the long run.

And it's okay for a charter school to lie, cheat and steal if it helps them get an edge on true public schools. Because that's what it's all about. The ends justify the means.

We're heading into the hard part of the basketball season. The state tournament is still a month away. Most teams are no longer in the race for their conference championship. Northwest Indiana leagues still don't play the conference championship tournaments that virtually every other league or county in the state plays. So it's just a long string of games in the worst weather month of the year.

Congratulations to LaPorte County's Class 1A outsider Westville (12-1), which won the Porter County Conference (PCC) championship tournament for the first time with a 47-46 win over Hebron on Jan. 21. Nate Albers' loose ball layup with two seconds left won it for Westville, which is only in the PCC because Hanover Central left for the Greater South Shore Conference (probably a choice they'd like to have back) three years ago.

The PCC tournament is the premier Northwest Indiana regular season basketball event every year. I wish everyone who cares about basketball could attend the final day of semifinals and finals. You can't pay people who follow larger schools to go see Hebron play Westville (most people in Lake County aren't sure where Westville is), but it might have been the game of the year. The final day of that tournament should be on radio and TV every year.

Westville, which has 300 students on a good day, is never going to win any state basketball titles against 1A private and charter schools and they are less than a 50-50 bet to even get to the finals (Westville has never won a sectional basketball championship) of the Class 1A Kouts sectional. But whether they do or not, 2017 will be the year they won the PCC tournament.

1. (4A) Crown Point (13-2)
2016 (19-9) 2015 (19-9), 2014 (12-9), 2013 (5-16)

CROWN POINT: Crown Point turned back Chesterton (9-7) and Warsaw (12-5) last weekend, running their latest win streak to four games. The Bulldog front line of 6-foot-7 Andrew Kenneally (13.4 ppg.), 6-foot-5 forwards Kenny Decker (15.4 ppg.) and Sasha Stefanovic (20.3 ppg.) has carried the scoring load. CP is still looking for the bench help they may need in the upcoming post-season. But when they can keep their starting five on the floor, the Bulldogs have been able to play with anyone. The only losses are to Pike (13-4) and Michigan City (13-5) and CP defeated Pike in a second matchup with the 10th-ranked Red Devils. CP appears to be headed towards the school's first 20-win season since 1969, but hold on now. Let's see how they do at 4A No. 6 Warren Central (13-1) Saturday night. The Bulldogs also play at Andrean (11-1) on Feb. 7, host Valparaiso (14-2) on Feb. 10 and host Lowell (12-4) on Feb. 24.

2. (4A) Valpo (14-2)
2016 (18-6), 2015 (20-4), 2014 (12-10), 2013 (10-11)

VALPARAISO: Other teams are more spectacular, but nobody's winning more than Valparaiso, which leads the Duneland Athletic Conference (DAC) and has won four in a row. The Vikings, who are looking at back-to-back 20-win seasons, held Lake Central to a season low 28 points last Friday in Valpo. VHS has allowed just 46 points per game all year. Trace Ramsey scored 13 in a 58-44 win at Washington in South Bend last Saturday night. The Vikings have lost only to Merrillville (12-4) and Penn (7-6). The 2017 Vikings are 6-0 at home. They were 9-0 at home last season. In the 2015 season, Valpo was 9-0 at home until they lost 37-35 in overtime to Crown Point. The earlier Valpo loss to Merrillville was a a holiday tournament victory so the DAC meeting between the two schools is this Friday night. As much as you can build it up to being a 'big game', Valparaiso needs to win the meeting with Merrillville in March, not the one this week. I always wonder how much the conference championship means to schools that also meet in sectional play. Valpo's game at Bishop Noll on Feb. 4 is an afternoon game.

3. (4A) Merrillville (12-4)
2016 (22-2), 2015 (18-9), 2014 (4-16), 2013 (22-4)

MERRILLVILLE: I admit it's not totally logical to have Valparaiso ahead of Merrillville when the Pirates beat Valpo 64-62 on Dec. 30 in holiday tournament play. The wins over Valpo (14-2) and Andrean (11-2) are nice, but the Pirates are probably still wondering how they lost 69-62 at home to Crown Point (14-2) last month. Other losses are to McCutcheon (13-2), Hamilton Southeastern (13-3) and East Chicago (9-6). I think I said earlier that the Pirates are not overly big. That's arguably true, but not really accurate. Merrillville is not overly physical. The Pirates most definitely do have length in 6-foot-3, 6-foot-4, 6-foot-5 seniors like Johnny Bernard, Cameron Wilbon, Kam and Jonah Jackson. I don't think this team is playing its best yet and that's good because Valparaiso (14-2), Lowell (12-5), Michigan City (13-5) and Warsaw (12-5) are all still left on the schedule.

4. (4A) Michigan City (13-5)
2016 (12-11), 2015 (14-9), 2014 (14-9)

MICHIGAN CITY: Did you know Michigan City was 13-5? The Wolves have lost to Valparaiso, LaPorte and Lumiere (19-1), the nationally-ranked LaPorte prep school, but they have wins over Crown Point (13-2), East Chicago (9-6) and Penn. MC also has a topped Chicago's Uplift high (18-4). The Wolves have a Saturday, Feb. 4 afternoon game in South Bend against Adams (12-3). There's something oddly heartwarming about Jeronde Boyd (11 points per game) excelling, leading the Wolves in his senior year playing for his father, veteran coach John Boyd. Don't get me wrong. I worked for my father when I was a teenager and I would have quit any team he signed on to coach 10 times before I'd let him coach me. I have no illusions about how difficult a father coaching his son is. It does not always work. But these two seem to be making it work in the end. Michigan City always has the advantage of hosting the sectional and regional. They have one disadvantage. The top four teams in this poll (MC, Valpo, CP and Merrillville) are all in the same sectional: Class 4A Sectional 2 in Michigan City.

5. (3A) Griffith (14-2)
2016 (25-4), 2015 (19-4), 2014 (16-7), 2013 (11-11)

GRIFFITH: Griffith loses two out of three last week, but the Panthers probably looked better in losses to Crown Point (13-2) and East Chicago (9-6) than they did in their first 13 wins. Griffith led Crown Point 34-26 at the half, but the Panthers' 3-point shooting cooled off and Crown Point rallied to win 68-56. Troy Dillon sank four of Griffith's 11 three-pointers. Griffith also led EC in the second half of a 55-48 loss. Al Ervin scored 16 of his 18 in the second half last Thursday in a 55-53 win at Andrean, a 14th victory of the season that should earn the Panthers the Northwest Crossroads Conference (NCC) title after the win at Lowell (12-4). I expected Griffith to barely break the .500 mark this season. They have been much better than expected, without the 'out of control' vibe of the past 3 seasons. The Panthers have the big advantage of playing in 3A Sectional 17 with four top-heavy losing teams and Hammond high (9-7). Hammond travels to Griffith on Feb. 7, but it certainly looks like Griffith will win the sectional easily for the third year in a row. One thing is certain: No one else in northwest Indiana will win their sectional as easily as Griffith will.

6. (3A) Andrean (11-2)
2016 (9-15), 2015 (14-11), 2014 (13-10), 2013 (22-4)

MERRILLVILLE: Andrean fell short of topping Griffith, a 55-53 loss last Thursday. The 59ers led 21-10, but ended up with a season-high 20 turnovers. The 59ers had the Jan. 14 game with Lafayette Catholic (10-3) postponed and they'll be looking to reschedule that in the final month. Andrean also faces Lowell (12-4) on Feb. 2 and Crown Point (13-2) on Feb. 7. The Niners have wins over sectional rival Wheeler (12-3), Marquette (10-6) and Chesterton (9-7) and the only other loss was to Merrillville (12-4). They 59ers could win their sectional and get a regional rematch with Griffith, but that's a long way off. Here's another team that has overachieved this year. The 59ers don't have the talent of East Chicago or the 'lack of institutional control' of Bowman to get a deeper bench. But Andrean still seems headed for a 20-win season. And you're telling me that Andrean (11-2) and Twin Lakes (13-2) are in the same Class 3A Sectional 18? And the sectional is played in Rensselaer? Really?

7. (4A) LOWELL (12-4)
2016 (20-7), 2015 (11-14), 2014 (16-5), 2013 (9-13)

LOWELL: Is Lowell better than LaPorte (12-3) or East Chicago (9-6)? The Devils topped LaPorte 63-61, along with wins over PCC power Hebron (10-4) and a rare win over neighbor Lake Central (9-7). Lowell is 30-10 in their last 40 games, the best stretch since the early 1990s. Nick Mantis (23.4 ppg.) and guard John Cory (16.4) are among the top scorers on a team that has excelled at shooting. Lowell is 92 of 259 on three-point shots (36%) and 162 of 247 (66%) from the foul line. The Devils shoot 50% from the floor as a team (430 of 859), an impressive percentage on a team that has taken 259 3-point shots. In their last 40 games Lowell is averaging 69 points a game. The Devils host Merrillville (12-4) on Jan. 28. Andrean (11-2) on Feb. 2. Are they better than EC? We get some knowledge of that Thursday, Feb. 9 when the Devils play at East Chicago. Better than Crown Point? That game ends the regular season on Friday night, Feb. 24.

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Revised: January 27, 2017 .