Southsider Voice correspondent
Area basketball fans are in for a treat when boys sectional action opens Tuesday, and that’s because the Southside features seven of the state’s best players.
A trio – senior Malik Bennett, 6-10 junior Joey Brunk and sophomore Paul Scruggs – provides most of the offense for No. 3 Southport (20-2).They account for 51.4 points per game for the Cardinals, who average 70.9 points.
Southport is favored to win the 4A Perry Meridian Sectional, which also features Perry’s Dylan Windler, a 6-7 Belmont University recruit who is the state’s No. 8 scorer.
The 4A Whiteland Sectional will showcase Franklin Central junior Marcus Burk, one of the state’s top 40 scorers, and Center Grove 6-4 standout Michael Benkert Jr., whose scoring will be vital if the Trojans hope to cut down the nets again.
Roncalli’s Jimmy King, the state’s No. 7 scorer, will be on display at the Lawrence Central Sectional. King scored 24 points last week against Decatur Central and set the school’s single-season scoring record with 471 points through 20 games. The mark was held by Paul Corsaro (2006-07) with 453 points in 22 games.
The Cards face a real battle in sectional play with No. 15 Ben Davis and No. 19 and perennial nemesis Pike standing in their way.
Southport, the Conference Indiana champions, have rolled to eight straight wins since back-to-back midseason losses. Coach Kyle Simpson and crew host No. 1 Evansville Reitz at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in a snow-postponed showdown.
Center Grove is favored at Whiteland because the Trojans (11-9) are 7-0 against the teams in their sectional.
“Every team we’ve played has been good, and most have been ranked,” first-year Center Grove coach Zach Hahn said. “Whiteland has the best team I’ve seen them have in years; Franklin Central has a bunch of powerhouse players. They haven’t put things together yet and that’s sort of where we have been. You have to focus on the team you’re playing; you cannot look ahead.”
Elsewhere, it will be a tough path for Southside teams to emerge with a sectional trophy. And some teams don’t have much momentum – five teams have a collective streak of 20 losses going into the final games of the regular season.
Roncalli, Franklin Central, Center Grove, Manual and Lutheran are in action on opening night Tuesday.
“The guys on this year’s team have accepted their roles as well as any team that I have coached in my 13 years here at Roncalli,” coach Michael Wantz said. “We look forward to the challenge. We defended them (Lawrence Central) pretty well but went through two really big scoring droughts that hurt us.”
Greenwood Christian Academy plays Wednesday, March 4, in the tourney’s only eight-team sectional in Edinburgh. Southport, Perry Meridian, Greenwood and Beech Grove drew byes and do not play until Friday, March 6.
BEECH GROVE (7-12) – 4-4 since loss in Marion County tourney … 1-3 vs. 4A teams … led by sophomore Chase Andries, 10.4 points, and burly senior Marcus Rush, 10.2 points, 5.0 rebounds …lack 3-point shooting, only hitting 27 percent … averages 7.4 steals … Whiteland visits to wrap up season Friday … last sectional title came in 2008 … faces Tri-West on March 6 in Danville Sectional, lost to Bears 80-69 in late December.
CENTER GROVE (11-9) – Trojans have momentum … defeated Mooresville by hitting 11-of-15 3-pointers and No. 3 North Central, coming from 16 points down for overtime win last week … went to Brownsburg on Tuesday and close out regular season Friday at home against Terre Haute North … 9-4 at one point but then faced tougher slate … defeated first-round Whiteland Sectional foe New Palestine 68-54 in early December … Benkert is Johnson County’s top player … coached by former Butler standout Zach Hahn.
FRANKLIN CENTRAL (4-14) – Two-time reigning sectional champions … opened 3-5 and then hit five-game skid … Burk averages 20.1 points, hitting 38 percent of 3s … FC averages 15.8 assists … defense gives up 66.8 points per game … tough end to season against Ben Davis on Tuesday and Roncalli on Friday at home … Flashes never have failed to make sectional title game under fourth-year coach John Rockey … open sectional defense against tourney host Whiteland at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
GREENWOOD (3-18) – Reeling from 10-game losing streak … three wins are against 1A teams … senior Spencer Isenthal leads in points, 12.8, and rebounds, 8.5 … offense produces only 47.1 points … poor shooting, 37 percent from field, 28 percent of 3s … held to less than 40 points in eight games … have lost 11 straight sectional games ... are 44-125 since last winning season in 2005-06 ... coach Bruce Hensley in his 26th year … met Indian Creek on Tuesday and close out regular season Friday at New Palestine … Woodmen have bye in Whiteland Sectional and play March 6.
GREENWOOD CHRISTIAN (7-15) – Rebuilding year for coach Jamie Satre … reached regional championship last year … 5-5 in last 10 games this season … played two 4A teams for first time … face 11-day layoff after last game and first sectional game … lost to Morristown and Brown County to end season … meets Baptist at 6 p.m. March 4 in 1A Edinburgh Sectional … defeated Baptist 62-21 last month.
LUTHERAN (5-14) – Ended 11-game losing skein by defeating Metropolitan and Monrovia last week … average just 50 points per game … travels to Bethesda Christian to end season Friday … 4-of-5 wins came against 1A teams … meets Arlington in Edinburgh Sectional on Tuesday at 6 p.m..
MANUAL (7-13) – had won 4-of-5 games before facing Covenant Christian on Saturday and Liberty Christian on Tuesday … reached sectional title game last year … 1-3 against 4A teams … lost to Perry Meridian 43-41 after trailing 19-5 … offense has scored more than 60 points only six times … Redskins meet Ritter in Washington Sectional opener at 6 p.m. Tuesday … could make it to championship game.
PERRY MERIDIAN (11-9) – Opened 6-2 but schedule toughened up … Windler averages 23.7 points and 8.9 rebounds, hitting 49 percent … coach Brent Keck’s team always has stout defense … almost clipped Columbus North last month … closed season at home Tuesday against Franklin … hosts Decatur Central-Pike winner in 4A sectional March 6 … faced only one sectional team (No. 3 Southport) during season.
RONCALLI (14-6) – Winning tradition continues with 10th straight non-losing season under Wantz … Rebels are 1-3 since six-game win streak was snapped … 16-point loss at Decatur Central was bothersome … King leads with 23.5 points per outing … winds up season Friday at Franklin Central … quality wins against Scecina, Center Grove and Lafayette Central Catholic … meets sectional host Lawrence Central at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday ... winner faces No. 9 Lawrence North … fell to LC 64-52 in Marion County tourney.
SOUTHPORT (20-2) – Favored to win the Perry Meridian Sectional … primed for deep tourney run … riding eight-game winning streak … close season in fieldhouse against tough foes, state-ranked Mooresville Friday at 7:30 p.m. and unbeaten No. 1 Evansville Reitz on at 4:30 p.m. Saturday … standouts in Bennett, 16.9 points; Brunk, 17.2 points and 64 percent shooting; and Scruggs, 17.3 points, 7.7 rebounds, 5.8 assists … coach Kyle Simpson is 35-10 after a 1-19 debut in 2012-13 … plays Ben Davis-Northwest winner at 6 p.m. Friday … Pike is in opposite bracket … Red Devils handed Cards first loss in quadruple overtime in county tourney semifinals and defeated Cards in last year’s sectional title game.