The Division I Cincinnati sectional tournament has a lot of teams that believe they can make a bit of a run in the prep boys basketball postseason.
Top-seeded Moeller (18-3) and No. 2 Princeton (17-3) are the clear front-runners. After that, well, who knows?
“There’s so much parity this year compared to years past,” said Hamilton coach Sean Van Winkle, whose 12-8 squad earned the No. 11 seed in Sunday’s draw at Lakota West. “A lot of teams are sitting there thinking, ‘We’ve got a chance,’ and we’re one of them.”
Big Blue are in the Cincinnati 3 sectional and will open at Fairfield on Tuesday, Feb. 27, at 7:30 p.m. against either No. 9 La Salle (12-9) or No. 27 Lakota West (3-17). The Lancers and Firebirds will meet Feb. 22 at 7:30 p.m. at HHS.
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The highest-seeded team in that sectional is No. 6 Lakota East (13-7). The Thunderhawks will play on Feb. 27 at 6 p.m. at Hamilton, facing either No. 17 Milford (9-10) or No. 20 Western Brown (13-7).
Van Winkle knows his crew doesn’t have an easy road to the district tournament, but he also feels it’s a winnable sectional. Big Blue split with East during the Greater Miami Conference campaign.
“It’s one of the best seeds we’ve had since I’ve been at Hamilton, so that’s something to be proud of as a program,” Van Winkle said. “We like the bracket we’re in. That’s kind of where we wanted to go, to be perfectly honest. Especially because we’re a youthful team, you want to be in a bracket where you have some hope as long as you’re playing well.”
East coach Clint Adkins likes the direction his team is heading. The Thunderhawks are 9-2 in 2018 with a pair of two-point losses, though one of those came at Hamilton on Feb. 2.
“We could very easily be 11-0 in the new year,” Adkins said. “So do I like where we’re at? Yes. Do I think we’re as good as we can be? I do not. I think we can get better in the next couple weeks.”
He’s not thinking about a possible sectional final at this point. Adkins doesn’t know a lot about Milford or Western Brown. He also noted that West has been competitive against East twice this year and La Salle has an offensive standout in senior guard Riley Haubner (who’s averaging 21.7 points per game).
“Anybody in our sectional is obviously capable of beating us,” Adkins said.
Middletown (5-14) got the No. 21 seed and will play either No. 14 Withrow (12-8) or No. 19 Anderson (9-11) at 6 p.m. on Feb. 28 at Hamilton.
In the bottom half of the Cincinnati 4 sectional is Moeller. The Crusaders will open against No. 31 seed Harrison (4-15), and if they win, they’ll play No. 32 Talawanda (5-16) on Feb. 28 at 7:30 p.m. at Hamilton.
Middies coach Darnell Hoskins said his team, which has won three of its last five games, is playing its best basketball right now.
“We’re par for the course. We’re right where I expected us to be,” Hoskins said. “My system is designed to have us playing our best basketball when it counts.
“The kids have just now really bought into what I’m saying. They’re having an aha moment and saying, ‘Oh, all year long this is what you’ve been talking about.’ Being extremely attentive to details in practice and scouting reports is not an issue anymore. They see light at the end of the tunnel.”
He doesn’t expect Withrow or Anderson to be an easy out. But if Middletown does reach the sectional final and Moeller is waiting, Hoskins said his players will be ready.
“With this team, I think a sectional-final appearance is a success for the year,” he said. “If we’re blessed and fortunate enough to have a dance with Moeller, then so be it. I want to see what the best is like. There’s no fear in us.”
Edgewood (10-9) is seeded 22nd in the Cincinnati 2 sectional and will play either No. 13 West Clermont (12-6) or No. 15 Sycamore (10-10) on Feb. 27 at 8 p.m. at West.
No. 18 Fairfield (7-13) is part of the Cincinnati 1 sectional, where No. 3 Oak Hills (14-6) is the highest seed.
FHS coach Jeff Sims chose a first-round rematch against No. 16 Northwest (12-8) on Feb. 24 at 5 p.m. at West, and the winner will get Oak Hills. Northwest beat Sims’ Indians 58-44 on Dec. 5, and Fairfield defeated Oak Hills 56-43 on Jan. 30.
“When you’re down picking at 18, you’re hoping that the board can open up a little bit and you can get a chance,” Sims said. “With the way the draw is this year, especially after Moeller and Princeton, everybody else is wide open.
“There’s going to be a team at Dayton in districts that’s going to look at their season and think, ‘We just had an average at best or horrible season,’ and they’re going to be playing for a district title. We’ve had a below-average season for what we’d expect, and if we’d get to districts, we’d be really, really excited. We feel like this gave us the best draw to do that.”
Rounding out the top 10 seeds are No. 4 Mason (14-4), No. 5 Walnut Hills (15-5), No. 7 St. Xavier (14-6), No. 8 Winton Woods (13-5) and No. 10 Wilmington (14-5).
Here is a list of first-round games for remaining teams in the Journal-News coverage area:
Badin (11-9) — Seeded fourth in the Division II Trent Arena 2 sectional. Faces No. 12 Valley View (9-10) at Fairmont on Saturday, Feb. 24, at noon
Carlisle (9-11) — Seeded 12th in the Division III Vandalia Butler 1 sectional. Faces No. 10 National Trail (12-8) at Butler on Saturday, Feb. 24, at 4 p.m.
Cincinnati Christian (14-6) — Seeded seventh in the Division III Western Brown 2 sectional. Faces No. 9 Clark Montessori (11-10) at Western Brown on Saturday, Feb. 24, at 3 p.m.
Fenwick (14-5) — Seeded second in the Division II Trent Arena 1 sectional. Faces either No. 5 Ross (13-7) or No. 8 Clinton-Massie (12-7) at Fairmont on Monday, Feb. 26, at 6 p.m.
Franklin (16-5) — Seeded 11th in the Division I Dayton 2 sectional. Faces No. 12 Beavercreek (8-11) at Trotwood-Madison on Friday, Feb. 23, at 8:30 p.m.
Lebanon (14-6) — Seeded seventh in the Division I Dayton I sectional. Faces No. 9 Belmont (12-6) at Trotwood-Madison on Saturday, Feb. 24, at 6 p.m.
Madison (18-3) — Seeded fourth in the Division III Vandalia Butler 2 sectional. Faces No. 12 Stivers (9-11) at Butler on Saturday, Feb. 24, at 7 p.m.
Middletown Christian (4-16) — Seeded seventh in the Division IV Cincinnati 2 sectional. Faces No. 5 Oyler (7-11) or No. 8 Felicity-Franklin (2-18) at Taylor on Tuesday, Feb. 27, at 6 p.m.
Monroe (5-14) — Seeded 13th in the Division II Trent Arena 2 sectional. Faces No. 6 Chaminade Julienne (7-12) at Fairmont on Saturday, Feb. 24, at 4 p.m.
New Miami (7-14) — Seeded third in the Division IV Cincinnati 2 sectional. Faces No. 6 Cincinnati College Prep Academy (8-13) or No. 9 Miami Valley Christian Academy (2-16) at Taylor on Tuesday, Feb. 27, at 7:30 p.m.
Ross (13-7) — Seeded fifth in the Division II Trent Arena 1 sectional. Faces No. 8 Clinton-Massie (12-7) at Fairmont on Friday, Feb. 23, at 5:30 p.m.