March 25, 2009

Two unbeatens among Ind. boys basketball finalists

MORE: Team halts 19-year long losing streak | Michael Jordan's son wins state title

INDIANAPOLIS Perfection is never easy.

In the first 98 years of the Indiana high school boys basketball tournament, only 10 schools have finished unbeaten and just four among the 44 champions since the debut of the multiclass format in 1998.

Two more can join the list Saturday night.

The Perfect 10
2006 - Lawrence North (4A)
Greg Oden and Mike Conley lead Lawrence North to a 29-0 mark.
2004 - Waldron (A)
Jason Delaney coached Waldron to a 27-0 record and state title.
2003 - Cass (2A)
One of two unbeatens in 2003, as Cass went 26-0.
2003 - Pike (4A)
First undefeated team in 18 years, Pike went 29-0.
1985 - Marion
The last team to go unbeaten with a non-class tournament. 29-0 made for a special season.
1971 - East Chicago Washington
Second of a back-to-back East Chicago team goes 29-0.
1970 - East Chicago Roosevelt
Coach Bill Holzbach leads Roosevelt to a 28-0 state title.
1969 - Indianapolis Washington
After 12 seasons without a perfect team Washington goes 31-0. The first of three straight perfect teams in Indiana.
1957 - South Bend Central
Central takes states following a 30-0 season.
1956 - Indianapolis Attucks
The first undefeated team in Indianapolis goes 31-0, and was a legendary Attucks team.
"When you're supposed to win and you're No. 1, if you lose, then you're really a big failure. I think this was on our backs a lot during the course of the year," said Bloomington South coach J.R. Holmes, whose top-ranked and 25-0 Panthers play once-beaten Fort Wayne Snider for the Class 4A championship.

The other unbeaten going into the four finals at Conseco Fieldhouse is Princeton, which is also ranked No. 1 and 28-0 going into the 3A title game against Rochester.

"I don't see how any season is easy," Princeton coach Tom Weeks said. "Especially to be unbeaten, there's a lot of pressure that comes with that. But the main thing our kids have been able to do and what we've asked them to do is concentrate on one possession at a time, one game at a time."

The most recent unbeaten was 4A's Lawrence North, which went 29-0 in 2006 led by Greg Oden and Mike Conley.

With another flock of Division I recruits, the Wildcats were the preseason favorites this year, but it was Bloomington South's Panthers led by IU recruit Jordan Hulls who finished at the top of the polls and have a chance for the school's first basketball title since 1919.

"We got there (No. 1) the first week in December, I think, and it's never been mentioned by them," Holmes said. "I'm sure they talk about it, don't get me wrong, but it's never been talked in a team meeting or the locker room."

South has done its talking on the court, shooting 52 percent for the season and outscoring opponents by a state-best average of 24 points a game, even with a starting lineup that includes two sophomores and a junior.

The 6-foot Hulls, a strong candidate for Mr. Basketball, runs the show for the Panthers, averaging 15.9 points and 5.3 assists. But three other starters are also scoring in double figures, and the team's average of 74.4 is fourth-best in the state.

"Look in the mirror. You see them, you see us," Holmes said of the matchup with Snider, playing in the finals for the first time. "They have two big kids inside, we have three guards. They just have, from the standpoint of seniors, a little bit stronger physical strengths."

Snider, known more as a football power, never advanced past the regional round until this season, and the Panthers' only loss in 26 games was to Fort Wayne Luers, the defending champion and a finalist for the second straight year in Class 2A.

Snider's sixth-ranked Panthers start an all-senior lineup led by 6-3 guard Jonathan Sims, the coach's son, at 15.2 points a game and a front line of 6-5 Reggie Hearn at 14.9 and 6-6 Brad Sneary at 12.9.

"We definitely have an experienced group of players," coach Ray Sims said. "They have discipline. ... So this has been a very easy year for me coaching-wise because the kids for the most part have followed my plan and bought into what I want to do."

Given that Bloomington South is ranked No. 1 in Indiana and No. 3 in the nation by USA Today, Sims considers his Panthers the underdogs.

"I know all their strengths, I know all their weaknesses," he said of his players. "I'm not going to tell you what their weaknesses are because I do not want their weaknesses exploited, but I know coach Holmes will definitely have his kids prepared to play."

In the other championship games, defending champion Triton plays first-time finalist and top-ranked Jac-Cen-Del in Class A; and defending champion Luers and state scoring leader Deshaun Thomas play 2004 runner-up Brownstown in Class 2A.

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