March 4, 2013 at 1:00 am

Tom Markowski

High school boys basketball: State tournament preview

Romulus guard Christian Pino blocks a shot in a win over Country Day. Romulusí only loss came to top-ranked Pershing. (Ricardo Thomas/Detroit News)

Romulus -- Last year, Romulus followed a familiar role. Win a few big games, then lose a close game in the state semifinals or final.

Romulus defeated Detroit Pershing, 67-62, in a Class A quarterfinal, then lost to Rockford in the semifinals, 62-61.

In 2005, Romulus lost in the state final to Holt, 65-62, and hasn't been back since. It lost to Detroit Pershing in the 2008 and 2009 semifinals.

This year it appears it'll be Romulus or Pershing playing for the state title. Pershing (20-0) enters the tournament undefeated for the first time since 1996. Romulus (19-1) lost its only game at Pershing on Dec. 8, 83-76.

"It's pretty much established it's us or Pershing," Romulus coach Nate Oats said. "We have to take care of business in our district, which is pretty good. We haven't played all the best teams in Class A, but we played most of them. Pershing is going to be tough. You can't overlook anyone. I hope our players won't."

Both teams open the tournament today at home. Romulus plays Taylor Truman (16-4) at 7 p.m. and Pershing welcomes Detroit King (10-10) in a game that tips off at 5.

"Our chemistry is better this year," Oats said. "E.C. (Matthews) and Wes (Clark) were our best players last year and they're a year older."

Class A

Defending champion: Saginaw

Favorite: Romulus

Top contenders: Detroit Pershing, East Kentwood, Saginaw, Saginaw Arthur Hill, Zeeland East

Sleeper: Clarkston

Top district opener: Arthur Hill plays at Owosso and Arthur Hill will be looking to Friday's district final against Saginaw. Owosso (16-4) has won 11 straight and plays a deliberate style that could cause Arthur Hill problems.

Toughest district: At Fraser. Four of the five teams, including the home team, have a chance at the title.

Most favorable road: Detroit Southeastern. Its district at Eastpointe East Detroit will be a cakewalk. Its regional will likely feature a sub-par Warren DeLaSalle team and a relatively untested Macomb L'Anse Creuse North squad. Its quarterfinal opponent will likely be an Oakland County rep and will be played in Detroit (Calihan Hall).

Final Four: Southeastern, Romulus, East Lansing, Saginaw

Players to watch: Eric Davis, Arthur Hill; Kahlil Felder, Pershing; E.C. Matthews, Romulus, Martez Walker, Pershing; James Young, Rochester.

X-Factor: Young (left calf injury) won't play tonight when Rochester (16-4) plays Utica Ford (8-11) at Sterling Heights Stevenson at 5:30. Rochester coach John Pleasant said his Mr. Basketball candidate might be out for the entire district. Pleasant said Young will be re-evaluated today.

Class B

It's easy to dismiss Lansing Sexton. It lost four starters and lost six games this season. But all six losses were to Class A schools.

This title is up for grabs. The heavyweights, like Detroit Country Day and Stevensville-Lakeshore, are expected to advance to Breslin, but upsets will happen and we might find some unfamiliar teams in East Lansing.

Defending champion: Lansing Sexton

Favorite: Detroit Country Day

Top contenders: Wyoming Godwin Heights, Harper Woods Chandler Park Academy, Stevensville Lakeshore, Dowagiac, Sexton

Sleeper: Hastings

Top district opener: Dowagiac (18-2) vs. Lakeshore (20-0) at Berrien Springs. These teams have been ranked in the top 10 all season.

Toughest district: At Williamston. Sexton (13-6) awaits either Lansing Catholic (13-7), Haslett (8-12), which defeated Catholic (Feb. 19), or Williamston (14-6) in the final.

Most favorable road: Northern Michigan does not have a strong representative and Cadillac will take full advantage of this opportunity.

Final Four: Country Day, Godwin Heights, Sexton, Cadillac

Players to watch: Dontel Highsmith, Dowagiac; Jalen Hayes, Sexton; Darrell Davis, Detroit Douglass; Derrick Walton, Jr., Chandler Park

X-Factor: Chandler Park might receive an unexpected test in its district. Brandon Hicks scored 50 points on Thursday to lead Warren Lincoln (10-10) to an 84-67 victory over Center Line. It is possible Chandler Park (17-3) and Lincoln would meet in the final on Friday at Lincoln.

Class C

Fans on the east side of the state expect the Flint Beecher-Detroit Consortium winner to win the state title, but in March expect the unexpected.

Out of the north it looked like either Negaunee or Traverse City St. Francis would advance, but after that Maple City Glen Lake upset over St. Francis last week that assumption doesn't look that sound any more.

Grandville Calvin Christian could be the dark horse even though it's been ranked in the top 10 all season. Its two losses were to Class B schools that have a combined record of 30-10.

Defending champion: Flint Beecher

Favorite: Beecher

Top contenders: Detroit Consortium, Grandville Calvin Christian, Traverse City St. Francis, Negaunee, Mt. Clemens, Schoolcraft

Sleeper: McBain

Top district opener: At Sanford-Meridian, Saginaw Valley Lutheran (16-4) has been consistent all season (including victories over Ithaca and Nouvel) while Saginaw Nouvel (10-10) started 0-5 but has played well since.

Toughest district: At East Jackson, five of the seven teams are above .500. Hanover-Horton appears to have the edge if for no other reason it's the only team with a first-round bye.

Most favorable road: Schoolcraft won't face a top-10 team until the semifinals

Final Four: Beecher, Schoolcraft, Calvin Christian, Negaunee

Players to watch: Josh Jackson, Consortium; Monte Morris, Beecher; Brad Visser, Calvin Christian; Luke Ryskamp, Schoolcraft; Vincent Hunter, Consortium.

X-Factor: Consortium has been eliminated by the eventual champion each of the last four seasons. Barring a major upset, Consortium will play Beecher in a quarterfinal. Beecher defeated Consortium, 38-36, in overtime in a regional final last season.

Class D

The majority of the districts are fairly one-sided. It won't be until regionals where some of the top teams meet.

Some of those matchups will have a tremendous impact on which team wins the title. Southfield Christian and Allen Park Inter-City Baptist should meet in a regional final. Christian won both meetings this season, each by one point. Wyoming Tri-unity Christian was eliminated by Fulton-Middleton, 32-31, in a regional semifinal last season and these two teams should meet in the regional final.

Defending champion: Southfield Christian

Favorite: Tri-unity Christian

Top contenders: Southfield Christian, Climax-Scotts, Allen Park Inter-City Baptist, Cedarville, Beal City, Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart.

Sleeper: Waterford Lakes

Top district opener: At Athens, Climax-Scotts (19-1) lost its only game of the season to Mendon (16-3) by one point last week and the two teams go at it again. The good news for the winner is the road gets easier until the quarterfinals.

Toughest district: At North Dickinson, one bracket has Carney-Nadeau (17-3) with a bye and set to play the Rock-Mid Peninsula (13-7)/Powers North Central (17-3) winner. The other bracket has Bark River-Harris (6-13), a team that defeated Mid Peninsula a month ago.

Most favorable road: Cedarville. coach Dave Duncan's team will receive a test from Brimley in the districts, but the regional should not be difficult to get through. Its quarterfinal opponent could be one of a handful of teams, possibly Powers North Central.

Final Four: Tri-unity Christian, Cedarville, Beal City, Southfield Christian

Players to watch: Joey Blauwkamp, Tri-unity Christian, Bakari Evelyn, Southfield Christian, Malachi Satterlee, Climax-Scotts

X-Factor: A Christian school has won each of the last five titles. Tri-unity and Southfield Christian, the last two champions, won't meet until the final.

tommarkowski@detroitnews.com