WEST CHESTER TWP. — Darnell Hoskins was a hot topic Sunday at the Division I sectional boys basketball tournament draw, though that was clearly not his intention.
Middletown High School’s coach didn’t make an appearance at Lakota West for the 2 p.m. draw, meaning his 19th-seeded team had to take the 31st and last available spot on the board. That proved to be a matchup with unbeaten Moeller, the defending state champion.
Where was Hoskins? He said he left his Dayton home around 12:30 p.m., then got stuck in accident-related traffic on Interstate 75 near the University of Dayton Arena.
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“I literally sat where I could see UD Arena for 45 minutes and parked,” Hoskins said. “I couldn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t get off on the exit, shoulder, nothing. I was just stuck. Thank God I had gassed up or I would’ve been in really big trouble.”
He said Princeton coach Steve Wright and Lakota East coach Clint Adkins messaged him with the news that top-seeded and top-ranked Moeller (20-0) would be Middletown’s opponent in the Cincinnati 5 sectional at Fairfield on Friday, Feb. 22, at 6 p.m.
Hoskins said he knows how good the Crusaders are — he watched them beat Chaminade Julienne on Feb. 2 — but he believes his Middies (7-13) can give them a game.
“I think teams start to take on the personality of their coach, and one thing my kids know about their coach is that he isn’t going to be afraid to step in the ring with anybody,” Hoskins said. “That’s the way I approached things as a player, that’s the way I approach things as a coach. Not that I have any less respect for Moeller. We know it’s a daunting task, but at the same time, if you knock down the giant, who else is left?
“I’ve got two different perspectives on it. I’ve been the king of the hill that got knocked off and I’ve been that David trying to slay Goliath too. To me, all the pressure’s on them. They have to win. They must win. They should win. That’s a hard position to play from if it’s a close game and it’s late. I know one thing … they’re going to know we were there.”
The next four teams in the coaches’ seed voting hail from the Greater Miami Conference: No. 2 East (15-5), No. 3 Mason (15-3), No. 4 Oak Hills (14-6) and No. 5 Princeton (14-6).
Moeller, riding a 40-game winning streak, got every No. 1 vote except one. Coaches can’t vote for themselves, so the Crusaders’ Carl Kremer gave his No. 1 nod to East.
East (61-53) and CJ (62-55) are the only two opponents to finish within single digits of Moeller this year.
“That’s just the way it is, and to be honest with you, we try to spend zero time thinking about that,” Kremer said of the Crusaders’ seemingly endless status as the team to beat. “We’re not going to let those kind of thoughts dominate us. It’s 100 percent in the moment. Are we growing or not growing? That’s all we’re going to talk about, and that’s all we’re going to be.”
The thought of facing Middletown isn’t likely to strike fear into Moeller, but the Middies are an athletic bunch that’s shown the ability to be very good at times.
They’re also the highest-seeded challengers in the Cincinnati 5 sectional, which includes No. 20 Colerain, No. 21 Western Brown, No. 22 Western Hills and No. 31 Talawanda (1-19), which gets the Middletown-Moeller winner at 6 p.m. on Feb. 26 at Fairfield.
“You don’t expect that scenario where you’re the No. 1 seed that’s going to play a 19 seed,” Kremer said. “I have not seen the Middies and know very little about them, but I have a lot of respect for Darnell as a coach. With Middletown, you’re talking about one of the top two or three basketball traditions — maybe No. 1 — in the state of Ohio.
“It may be a more difficult first-round game, but in some ways that’s good for us too. That challenges us more. We’re just going to do what we do and take it a day at a time. I know that’s as trite as you can get, but it’s the truth.”
East is in the Cincinnati 3 sectional at Hamilton and will open against either No. 23 Kings (6-14) or No. 28 Little Miami (9-11) at 6 p.m. on Feb. 26. That sectional also includes Princeton, No. 13 St. Xavier (10-11) and No. 30 Anderson (2-18).
“I don’t know a ton about Little Miami, but we played Kings in the Foundation Game, and that’s a very well-coached team,” said Adkins, whose Thunderhawks beat Princeton on Jan. 25 and lost to St. X on Dec. 8. “There’s a number of teams that could win a sectional in that bracket.”
Adkins wasn’t surprised to be seeded second. East has already clinched a share of the GMC title and will try to wrap up the outright championship Tuesday night at Hamilton.
“Although we have a couple more losses than Mason, I think our strength of schedule probably gave us a 2 seed,” Adkins said.
The Thunderhawks have been short-handed all season for a variety of reasons. They’ve continued to thrive anyway, but foul trouble is always a concern for a team with a lack of depth.
Adkins went into a bye “to give us some time to rest up and heal up.” He said he expected Princeton to take a spot in East’s sectional.
“Sometimes as coaches we have a hunch about things, and I had a feeling he was going to come after us,” Adkins said. “I don’t know why I thought that, but he proved me right.”
Hamilton (12-8) is seeded eighth in the Cincinnati 4 sectional. Big Blue’s Feb. 28 opener against either No. 11 Walnut Hills (13-7) or No. 16 Sycamore (10-10) is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at West.
“I’m fine with the draw. The eighth seed is a really good seed,” Hamilton coach Kevin Higgins said. “There’s a lot of really good teams, so you just have to go one game at a time. If you’re thinking farther ahead, that’s not real smart.
“I think we have the potential to still keep getting better. I’m OK with the bye in the sense that we get some time to kind of reset and treat the postseason as a new season. I’m excited about it.”
No. 29 Edgewood (5-15) is also in Cincinnati 4 and will meet No. 10 Elder on Feb. 23 at 6:30 p.m. at West.
In Cincinnati 1, No. 25 West (5-15) will play No. 12 Winton Woods (12-6) at 6 p.m. on Feb. 23 at Hamilton, while No. 18 Fairfield (7-13) meets No. 7 West Clermont (15-5) at 8 p.m. on Feb. 23 at West.
Fairfield coach Jeff Sims said he chose to square off with West Clermont to give his team some motivational juice. The Indians lost 57-47 on the Wolves’ home floor Dec. 28.
“When you’re that far down in the seeding, that helps,” Sims said.
West Clermont and No. 9 Turpin (15-5) are the highest seeds in Cincinnati 1. To Sims, that means the sectional is wide open.
“Everybody in that bracket thinks they can win a sectional, so we’re the same way,” he said. “When you get a bracket like that, you jump on it. I think our kids will look at the bracket and be excited. Other brackets, I don’t know that I could say that.”
All brackets are available online at www.swdab.org. Here are the first-round games for the remaining teams in the Journal-News coverage area:
Franklin (14-6) — Seeded 15th in the Dayton 2 sectional. Faces No. 6 Fairmont (14-6) at Trotwood-Madison on Saturday, Feb. 23, at 6:45 p.m.
Lebanon (9-11) — Seeded 10th in the Dayton 1 sectional. Faces No. 7 Miamisburg (14-6) at Trotwood-Madison on Friday, Feb. 22, at 6 p.m.
Badin (13-6) — Seeded fourth in the Trent Arena 1 sectional. Faces No. 10 Ponitz (5-15) on Friday, Feb. 22, at 5:30 p.m.
Fenwick (12-7) — Seeded third in the Trent Arena 2 sectional. Faces No. 11 Valley View (7-12) on Saturday, Feb. 23, at 1 p.m.
Monroe (10-10) — Seeded eighth in the Trent Arena 2 sectional. Faces No. 3 Fenwick (12-7) or No. 11 Valley View (7-12) on Wednesday, Feb. 27, at 6 p.m.
Ross (14-6) — Seeded sixth in the Trent Arena 1 sectional. Faces No. 5 Clinton-Massie (16-3) on Friday, Feb. 22, at 7 p.m.
Carlisle (5-16) — Seeded 21st in the Northmont 2 sectional. Faces No. 1 Anna (18-1) on Saturday, Feb. 23, at 2:30 p.m.
Madison (17-3) — Seeded third in the Vandalia Butler 1 sectional. Faces No. 19 Dayton Christian (6-13) on Saturday, Feb. 23, at noon
Cincinnati Christian (16-4) — Seeded first in the Cincinnati 1 sectional at Taylor. Faces No. 10 School for the Creative & Performing Arts (1-12) on Saturday, Feb. 23, at 3 p.m.
Middletown Christian (4-14) — Seeded seventh in the Cincinnati 2 sectional at Taylor. Faces No. 3 Gamble Montessori (14-6) or No. 11 Cincinnati College Prep Academy (0-15) on Thursday, Feb. 28, at 7:30 p.m.
New Miami (11-8) — Seeded fourth in the Cincinnati 2 sectional at Taylor. Faces No. 2 Ripley-Union-Lewis-Huntington (16-4) on Saturday, Feb. 23, at 5 p.m.