High school boys basketball: Area teams employ new strategies for postseason draw

Battle lines have been drawn and courses have been plotted for this year’s boys basketball postseason as teams look to chart through the choppy waters.

The selection meeting for this year’s tournament was Feb. 11. Teams had more leeway than ever to choose their adventure. For the past three years, teams in Northeast Ohio were split into two district pools, and they picked from a handful of district brackets.

This year, however, all the Northeast Ohio teams were put into one district pool per division. Teams then picked from any of the brackets rather than just half of the ones in the district.

For example, over the last three years, Division I teams were split into two groups: Teams on the East Side of Cleveland in one pool, and teams on the West Side in another. Teams selected from three brackets on their side of town for the postseason.

This season, all teams were put into the same pool, and they could select any of the six brackets. The OHSAA also took the seeding out of the coaches’ hands and used the MaxPreps RPI system to determine seeding.

This resulted in some East Side teams opting to go west and vice versa. Mentor coach Bob Krizancic also noticed teams being more strategic with their selections.

The Cardinals, who are the 14 seed in D-I, elected the familiar Euclid District that they have won two of the past three seasons.

“You definitely saw more strategy than in years past,” Krizancic said. “With six districts and the possibility of going into Toledo or Kent regional and 77 teams, teams were being more selective with where they started. I do like the change, but I also miss the local district with all the games t one place. This seemed much more like an NCAA selection than in years past.”

The Cardinals are on the same side of the bracket as sixth-seeded Green, the highest seed in the bracket, with seventh seed Dover and 13th seed Jackson in the bottom half.

A similar strategy was implemented in D-II as teams opted to stay away from top-seeded Lutheran West, which has been the top team in the AP state poll all season. The Longhorns selected the North Ridgeville District bracket, which feeds into the Bowling Green Regional.

That allowed for 10th-seeded Madison to be the second-highest-seeded team in the bracket in the bottom half. Coach Nick Gustin said that with the deeper pools, coaches were going to have plans for finding the deepest runs.

“If there was a  strategy to find the best spot to have the opportunity to play as many games as we could, we were going to take it,” Gustin said. “With 64 teams in D-II in Northeast Ohio, there were going to be teams trying to be more strategic through the five brackets. It seemed like teams had an idea of where they wanted to go as the brackets unfolded.”

Madison will host either Howland or CVC Lake Division rival Harvey on March 1 in the second round. Brookside, the 15th seed, also selected the bottom half of the bracket for a potential district semifinal if the seeds play out.

With coaches plotting for where to have their best postseason, that also opened the door for some teams in the middle of the group. VASJ, the 17th seed, picked a first-round bye and is the second-highest seed in the bottom half of the Akron North District.

Gilmour also had a beneficial draw as the 23th seed. It will host St. Martin de Porres before a potential date with 14th-seeded Edgewood. The Lancers are aiming for their fourth straight trip to the regional round.

Both Vikings coach Ashen Ward and Lancers coach Dan DeCrane were happy with how the brackets shook out and said they adjusted their strategies as needed.

“I like the process,” Ward said. “While I’m not a huge fan of the top teams being able to pass selecting right away, it is a very easy and fair process to all of the teams in the process.”

DeCrane added: “With five districts, we felt like there were a variety of options, including distances. We valued having a home game, matchups and potential district locations. We also had to view who may come behind us. So in some ways we tried to fill a part of the bracket where talented teams that were underseeded didn’t want to come and play in our quadrant. There were scenarios that played out live we needed to be ready for.”

Other teams threw a curveball, and opponents had to pivot away from their original strategy. In D-IV, top seed Warren JFK and second seed Bristol both selected the Grand Valley District.

Fifth seed Badger also followed them to the district. That allowed fourth-seeded Richmond Heights to have the top half of the Firestone District and sixth seed David Anderson and 11th seed Fairport on the bottom half of the bracket as the next highest seeds.

Coach Dustin Ettinger liked how the new seeding allowed for teams to create a path of their own and have to alter strategies on the fly.

“I think that the new system benefited us and other small school teams,” Ettinger said. “It definitely there a wrench within the top 10 as every team passed for Richmond Heights to make the first pick. After that, other teams felt comfortable choosing their brackets. The new format definitely allowed for teams to sneak in different places and allowed for competitive balance within the bracket. I would say that they’ve benefited schools from sixth to 25 the most, allowing lower seeded teams to be able to host.”

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