State tournament preview: Unbeaten U-D Jesuit poised for title

David Goricki
The Detroit News

It’s now or never for Cassius Winston and U-D Jesuit to win a state championship.

Winston led U-D to the Breslin Center the last two years, only to come away disappointed following semifinal losses.

Now, Winston and company are ready to finish the deal. He has had an outstanding senior season and U-D (20-0) has passed every test, starting an unbeaten season with a 64-61 win over Chicago Morgan Park — Illinois’ No. 1 ranked team in the Chicago Sun Times’ preseason rankings — and ending it with a 92-76 victory over Detroit Public School League champion East English Village in the Operation Friendship title game.

Winston, who will play next year at Michigan State, has been brilliant running the show, averaging 23 points, six assists and five rebounds.

And, he has a lot of options to work with, including 6-foot-9 juniors Greg Eboigbodin and Ikechukwu Eke, along with guards in junior Scott Nelson, freshman Julian Dozier and Cassius’ younger brother, Zach, who is a sophomore.

“This year we have a much better all-around team with more depth,” Winston said. “It’s not just me doing everything since we have guys who can score inside and knock down threes to make the floor more open.

“I have a good feeling about going in 20-0 and knowing we have a great shot of winning it all this time.”

Nelson, who has offers from Michigan and Michigan State as a three-star football player, knocked down a pair of 3-pointers during a 17-0 run to turn a 45-42 deficit into a commanding 59-45 lead over East English.

Eboigbodin is averaging a double-double (10.5 points, 10 rebounds) while Eke is closing in on it at 10 points and 9.6 rebounds.

“This is only their second year of playing competitive basketball and they’ve improved a lot, gotten stronger and have a better understanding of the game,” U-D coach Pat Donnelly said of his twin towers. “Their rebounding and defense has improved and that’s been a big factor for us.

“Like I told the guys it’s win or go home and you have to play with a sense of urgency because everybody’s playing for the same prize. I just feel like we have all the pieces to make a run with guys who can consistently knock down the perimeter shot to stretch the floor. I mean Zach (Winston) was shooting seventy percent on threes and then made all four in the Catholic League final and 1-of-3 against East English. Scott’s (Nelson) shooting the ball well.”

Sure, there are other talented teams capable of winning the title, including Macomb Dakota, led by junior point guard Jermaine Jackson, 6-8 sophomore Thomas Kithier and senior guard Steven Marshall.

And, you can’t ever count out Clarkston with 6-0 sophomore point guard Foster Loyer.

Grand Rapids Christian is a threat with 6-8 junior forward Xavier Tillman on the court and unbeaten East Lansing has one of the premier sophomores in the state in 6-8 Brandon Johns.

Saginaw’s chances improved when 6-7 Algevon Eichelberger (DePaul) decided to return to the school after spending his junior year playing with Josh Jackson at Prolific Prep Academy in California. Eichelberger joins Henry Speight, an all-state transfer from Carrollton, to make Saginaw a threat to knock Dakota out of the tourney in the quarterfinals, if they both advance.

Ypsilanti Community was ousted by Detroit Western in last year’s state quarterfinals and should be playing again during the final week with senior guard Corey Allen, a Mr. Basketball finalist, leading the way.

Kamari Newman, another Mr. Basketball finalist, will be trying to lead East English to a long run, but could face defending state champ Western in a district semifinal Wednesday at Grosse Pointe South.

Unbeaten Canton, led by 6-8 Logan Ryan, also could have a tough challenge early with a potential district semifinal game against Northville (19-1) at Salem.

Playoff breakdown

Class A

Defending champion: Detroit Western

Favorite: U-D Jesuit

Contender: Macomb Dakota

Dark horse: East Lansing

Toughest district: Grosse Pointe South, with defending state champion Detroit Western and PSL champ East English in the field

Final Four: U-D over Dakota and Grand Rapids Christian over North Farmington

Championship game: U-D over Grand Rapids Christian

Player to watch: Cassius Winston, who plans to lead U-D to the title on his future home floor at the Breslin Center.

Class B

Wyoming Godwin Heights enters the tournament as the defending champion with a legitimate shot at repeating with 6-3 senior forward Leon Redd leading the way.

Still, Godwin Heights (18-2) will have a lot of competition, including unbeaten Onsted, with Michigan-bound center Austin Davis, a potential state quarterfinal opponent. Davis, a Mr. Basketball finalist, is dominating in the paint and running the floor well since dropping 30-plus pounds from a year ago.

Then there’s Lansing Catholic Central, with 6-6 center Tony Poljan and a solid supporting cast.

New Haven could be a team that joins the party at the Breslin Center. It includes Romeo Weems, a 6-6, 200-pound freshman phenomwho is capable of putting up triple-double numbers while working with inside threats in 6-11 Innocent Nwoko and 6-9 Jerry Ben and guards who can make the perimeter shots.

River Rouge could play spoiler for Onsted with a possible matchup in the regionals. River Rouge has talented players in junior point guard Darian Owen-White and 6-5 junior Delantae Peterson, who had 19 points and 14 rebounds, including a tip-in at the buzzer, in a 57-55 win over Class A Saginaw Arthur Hill.

Detroit Northwestern is also capable of making a deep run with an outstanding backcourt in Terrance Sewell and Kylan Shipp.

Northwestern upset defending Class A state champ Detroit Western, 64-63, in a PSL quarterfinal before pushing Detroit East English to the limit in a 71-70 semifinal loss. Northwestern has a possible quarterfinal matchup with New Haven.

Defending champion: Wyoming Godwin Heights

Favorite: Onsted

Contender: New Haven

Dark horse: River Rouge

Toughest district: Grand Rapids South Christian, with Wyoming Godwin Heights and Wayland in the field

Final Four: New Haven over Onsted, Frankenmuth over Benton Harbor

Championship game: New Haven over Frankenmuth

Player to watch: Onsted’s Austin Davis will show why he is headed to Michigan in leading his team to the Breslin Center.

Class C

Like Donnelly at U-D, Detroit Allen Academy coach Craig Covington Jr. feels his team has all the pieces to reach the Breslin Center and lift the ultimate trophy come March 26.

Allen Academy (16-2) has an outstanding backcourt in the trio of 6-0 senior Jason Williams, 6-0 freshman Mark Watts and 6-4 junior Drequan Bell, along with 6-8 forward Danny Pippen (Kent State), who is healthy this season after an injury-plagued junior year when the team slumped to 12-9 and a first-round district loss.

“I feel we have the best 1-2-3 combo in the backcourt in the state, regardless of class,” said Covington. “Jason Williams is the heart and soul of the team. He averaged 25 points last season because he had to and now he’s become more of a facilitator. People have come up to me, saying Mark Watts reminds them of a young Cassius Winston, and Bell is one of my better defenders.

“After we lost two in a row to Jesuit and Chicago Orr we’ve won 16 straight. The guys bought in to playing strong defense and everybody’s contributing.”

Williams is averaging 18 points, 6.5 assists, 5.5 rebounds and three steals and Watts and Bell, 14.5 points each. Pippen is averaging 13 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.5 blocks.

Covington put together a challenging schedule to get his team ready for the postseason, earning wins over Class A Ann Arbor Huron and Saginaw Arthur Hill, Class B power River Rouge and Class C state runner-up Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian (88-59) when Watts scored 35, making eight 3-pointers.

Still, Covington knows Allen Academy — which lost to U-D, 66-56 — has to first get out of its district to make the long run.

“We’re in the toughest district in the state, having Detroit Edison and Detroit Loyola in it,” he said.

Edison is led by 6-0 sophomore guard David Dejulius and 6-8 Will Weems, and Loyola by DeQuan Powell.

Don’t expect Flint Beecher to give up its crown lightly. Beecher is the defending state champion and owns three state titles in the last four years.

Beecher has a lot of experience back, led by guards Aquavius Burks and Malik Ellison.

Negaunee was unbeaten until the final week of the regular season, when it suffered a double-overtime loss to Iron Mountain. The teams could meet again in the regional title game.

Defending champion: Flint Beecher

Favorite: Flint Beecher

Contender: Detroit Allen Academy

Dark horse: Detroit Edison

Toughest district: Detroit Loyola with Detroit Allen Academy, Detroit Edison and the host school in the field

Final Four: Negaunee over Kalamazoo Hackett, Detroit Allen Academy over Flint Beecher

Championship game: Allen Academy over Negaunee

Player to watch: Jason Williams of Allen Academy has the ability to take over a game and is ready to take his team on a long postseason run.

Class D

Powers North Central won the state title in impressive fashion last year, dominating Morenci by 20 points in the title game.

And, it should be the overwhelming favorite again with a team that returns talent and size in high-scoring 6-5 guard Jason Whitens and 6-6 Troy Ekberg. Junior Dawson Bilski is playing well at point guard and 6-2 Morgan Cox joins Ekberg inside for a strong 1-2 punch.

North Central enters postseason play with a 47-game winning streak.

Waterford Lakes also could be making a return trip to the Breslin after last year’s one-point loss to Morenci in the semifinal.

Lakes has a perimeter threat in Noah Robak and returns the majority of its semifinal team, including 6-4 Andrew Kline, 6-3 Clay Senerius and 6-3 Devin Senerius.

Unbeaten Hillman could be making a run to East Lansing, too, but faces a potential quarterfinal matchup with North Central.

Crystal Falls Forest Park and Frankfort also have the talent to make long postseason runs with Forest Park pushing North Central to the limit before falling 61-57 earlier this month. Forest Park and North Central could face each other in a regional final.

Defending champion: Powers North Central

Favorite: Powers North Central

Contender: Hillman

Dark horse: Waterford Lakes

Toughest district: Bellaire, with Boyne Falls and the host team

Final Four: Waterford Lakes over Wyoming Tri-Unity Christian, Powers North Central over Frankfort

Championship game: North Central over Waterford Lakes

Player to watch: Jason Whitens of North Central, who is averaging 24 points, seven rebounds and six assists, already topping 1,200 career points in his junior year. He was the state’s football Player of the Year in 8-player competition, throwing 45 TDs without an interception.