TERRE HAUTE —
Few coaches knew where to point when declaring a favorite for the 2012 Pizza Hut Wabash Valley Classic, with up to half the 16-team field being pegged as championship contenders.
Because of blizzard warnings for today, the popular boys high school basketball tournament has been postponed one day, or in the case of the final day, from Saturday to Monday.
Regardless, 10 of the 16 teams will take a winning record into the tournament at Terre Haute South, with Linton (5-0) and Rockville (7-0) the only unbeatens remaining after Casey (6-1) and Robinson (9-1) were dealt setbacks in the week before Christmas.
The Maroons, ranked No. 7 in Class 2A in Illinois, are newcomers to the tourney, arriving with a legitimate shot at taking the ultimate prize four days from now.
Point guard Aaron Siler averages 18 points per game and 6-foot-4 junior Derek Nicholas has scored 30 in a game, while 6-5 junior Michael Akande also has led the Maroons in scoring.
“I like our team,” Robinson coach Mack Thompson said. “We’ve got good size, good guards, good role players off the bench. We keep playing like we have been, I think we could do a little bit of damage in the tournament. I know a little bit about the majority of the teams over there. I agree, five, six teams that have a legitimate shot of putting together four good games that could win it. I don’t see one heavy, heavy favorite.”
Rockville, led by 6-7 Lane Mahurin and his 17.5-ppg average, is another small school that could end Terre Haute North’s reign as two-time defending champion. The Patriots — 4-3 and plenty formidable again, led by veterans Calvin Blank and Austin Lewis — have won five of the 11 Classics.
Small schools Marshall and Sullivan took consecutive titles in 2008 and 2009 respectively.
“I think it’s one of the more balanced fields. I don’t think anybody comes in unbeatable. Any one of six, seven, eight teams could win it. But it always go through Terre Haute North. They’re the big school and they won it last year,” said Rockville coach Dave Mahurin, who has never led his team past the semifinals.
The Rox will have a heck of a challenge to get out of the first round Thursday against Casey, who is averaging 75.4 points through seven games behind sharp-shooting Brandon Wolfe (23 ppg).
“They’re really up-tempo. For a team, they just really look to push the ball hard they shoot the ball quick,” Mahurin said. “They want to get up and down the floor quick. We’ve not really seen anybody yet that’s tried to do that.”
Thompson agreed Casey can be dangerous.
“I think Casey’s got the offense. When they get clicking, they can put up points in a hurry,” said Thompson, whose team opens against a Terre Haute South squad that can do the same.
The Braves (3-5) — with four of their five losses coming to Class 4A teams — are scoring an average of 71.4 points.
South coach Scott Ridge has Jeffrey Turner leading all scorers in the tournament with an average of 28 per contest. Ridge is impressed by Robinson.
“They’ve got one of the best point guards around. They’ve got three guys that are 6-4, 6-5 that can play,” said Ridge, whose team struggled on the glass in a recent loss to Indianapolis Arlington. “We’re undersized. We’ve got to make up for that with our effort. It’s the most balanced [field] that I remember. I wouldn’t want to have to pick a favorite. There’s seven or eight teams. There’s not much difference between one and eight.”
The winner of Robinson and Terre Haute South will likely meet North — which plays winless Turkey Run in the first round — in a sure-to-pack-the-gym second-round matchup Thursday.
North coach Todd Woelfle is sure to emphasize a one-game-at-a-time approach.
“We’re 4-3, so we’re very humble,” Woelfle said. “Basically, we’re just looking for consistency. We’re just trying to put together 32 good minutes and what it takes to beat Turkey Run. In order to win this tournament, you have to stay focused for four days.”
Also on North and South’s half of the bracket, Owen Valley (2-5) and Shakamak (2-3) will open the tournament followed by Northview (3-2) and Monrovia. The Knights have won three straight games behind strong play from 6-5 Jim Mace, one of three players 6-5 or bigger for a balanced squad coached by Clint Weddle.
In the bottom half of the bracket, six of the eight teams have winning records, including the unbeaten Rox and Miners.
Linton, paced by 6-7 Austin Karaszia and 6-5 Dess Fougerousse, will try to defeat Sullivan (5-2) for the second time in the past two weeks in Thursday’s nightcap. The Miners won the Dec. 15 meeting at Sullivan 60-55 in overtime.
The revamped Arrows bring the same athletic, pressing style that got them to the championship of the PHWVC two of the past three years.
“Our defensive pressure is what we’re made of and known for. We’re going to get after teams a lot. We’re really excited to see what we can do at the Pizza Hut Classic,” Sullivan point guard Brooks Weszely said.
Marshall (7-3) and West Vigo (4-2) could provide plenty of entertainment in another first-round highlight. Guard Kyle Stewart is leading the Vikings with a 16-per-game average.
Coaches Joe Boehler of West Vigo and Tom Brannan of Marshall went head-to-head in a game that came down to the final shot in the Pizza Hut Classic last season, with the Lions winning 49-47. Marshall is coming off a dominant win at Paris, while West Vigo needed double overtime to beat Brown County in its last outing.
“We’re trying to get better from week to week,” Boehler said. “This tournament is a good test for us to see how we stack up against some good basketball teams. We’ll play some good teams right off the bat.”
The winner of South Vermillion (2-3) and Riverton Parke (3-3) will get Sullivan or Linton in a quarterfinal contest.
Day-to-day excitement is sure to be high with all the successful teams converging at South.
“Some very good teams, excellent individual players and a lot of good coaches,” Woelfle said.
Wabash Valley Classic
At Terre Haute South
10 a.m. — Owen Valley vs. Shakamak
11:30 — Northview vs. Monrovia
1 p.m. — Terre Haute South vs. Robinson, Ill.
2:30 — Terre Haute North vs. Turkey Run
4 — West Vigo vs. Marshall, Ill.
5:30 — Rockville vs. Casey, Ill.
7 — South Vermillion vs. Riverton Parke
8:30 — Linton vs. Sullivan
10 a.m. — Owen Valley-Shakamak loser vs. Northview-Monrovia loser
11:30 — South-Robinson loser vs. North-Turkey Run loser
1 p.m. — Owen Valley-Shakamak winner vs. Northview-Monrovia winner
2:30 — South-Robinson winner vs. North-Turkey Run winner
4 — West Vigo-Marshall loser vs. Rockville-Casey loser
5:30 — South Vermillion-Riverton Parke loser vs. Linton-Sullivan loser
7 — West Vigo-Marshall winner vs. Rockville-Casey winner
8:30 — South Vermillion-Riverton Parke winner vs. Linton-Sullivan winner
Consolation bracket games at 10 a.m., 11:30, 1 p.m. and 2:30
Winners’ bracket games at 4 p.m. and 5:30
7 p.m. — Owen Valley-Shakamak-Northview-Monrovia winner vs. South-Robinson-North-Turkey Run winner
8:30 — West Vigo-Marshall-Rockville-Casey winner vs. South Vermillion-Riverton Parke-Linton-Sullivan winner
3:30 p.m. — Consolation bracket championship game
5 — Fifth-place game
6:30 — Third-place game
8 — Championship game