While the Okawville Rockets have played and beaten both Gibault and Metro-East Lutheran, that doesn’t mean Rockets coach Jon Kraus is eagerly anticipating a potential rematch with either one at the Class 1A North Greene Sectional.
Especially since Gibault handed Class 1A top-seed Okawville (25-4) one of its four losses and did it on the Rockets’ home floor. Okawville pounded out a 59-37 victory over Gibault in the second meeting and handled Metro-East Lutheran 53-40 at the Mater Dei Christmas Tournament.
All three teams have been ranked in the Class 1A state poll for most of the season. Okawville was second in the final state rankings while Metro-East Lutheran was 11th and Gibault was 12th.
“There’s not 10 better teams in the state than those two, in my opinion,” said Kraus, whose team is the top seed and heavy favorite to win the Class 1A Lebanon Regional with the boys small-school basketball playoffs beginning on Monday.
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The Rockets reached the super-sectional last season before losing to eventual state champion Brimfield. Does Kraus think his team has what it takes to make its first state tournament trip since a second-place finish in 1987?
There’s not 10 better teams in the state than those two, in my opinion.
Okawville coach Jon Kraus, talking about Metro-East Lutheran and Gibault
“When you get to the sectional, you’re going to play somebody good and our schedule prepares us for that,” said Kraus, whose team saw its 12-game winning streak snapped Friday with a 61-47 loss at Mater Dei. “I don’t think they think they’re just automatically going to get back there (to the super-sectional) just because we did last year.
“It goes back to the tournaments and the big games that we’ve played in this year. We try to put our kids in these situations as many time as we can and they’ve rose to the occasion every single time. They know in the postseason if they lose, its over.”
Many of Okawville’s players were also on the baseball team that reached the 1A state tournament last spring, providing more big-game experience.
“We’ve had a great season and we’ve really won some big games, but we’ve also played some clunkers and been lucky we played them against teams that aren’t very good,” Kraus said.
Okawville has one of the top small-school players in the state in junior guard Noah Frederking. The Division I prospect averages 20.8 points and 8.5 rebounds with 50 3-pointers. He’s already surpassed 1,800 points in his career and still has the playoffs and another full season ahead of him.
Kraus said the key is getting others involved offensively like junior Shane Ganz (11.8 ppg, 28 3-pointers), senior Brad Fuhrhop (7.1 ppg) and point guard Alec Wisneski (6.1 ppg).
“We’ve got some more kids involved a little bit more lately,” Kraus said. “We feel like Noah is going to get his, he finds way to score buckets. He’s pretty much found a way every game to get points and get buckets.
“But the nights when we’re really, really good is when Ganz gets going, that helps our other kids. They get better spacing and freer shots.”
Tweaking the playoff system
The Illinois High School Association has implemented a sub-sectional playoff system in basketball that has kept some area rivals from meeting in the regional. However, those rivals could still meet in the sectional and many other areas of the state don’t include three 1A teams as strong as Okawville, Metro-East Lutheran and Gibault.
A few seasons ago, Okawville, Gibault and Madison were all state-ranked and placed in the same regional by the IHSA.
Is this a better solution?
“I like the idea of the sub-sectional for the most part,” Kraus said. “Ours is a unique situation. It’s not every year that all three of us are going to be this good and in the same sub-sectional. I like the seeding because it rewards you in some ways.
“Look at our regional and look at their regional, so being No. 1 was a big deal for us.”
The current system also has flaws, according to Kraus.
“I don’t understand how they draw the lines everywhere and get the groupings they get,” Kraus said. “It bothers me that we could have to travel two hours to play in a sectional game (the sectional is at North Greene High in Whitehall).
“It’s mind-boggling to me that we don’t go south, I can’t fathom that or understand that at all.”
Bunker Hill Regional
Metro-East Lutheran (24-5) and Gibault (20-9) are the top two seeds at the Class 1A Bunker Hill Regional and could meet for the third time this season in the regional final on Friday.
Gibault lost 53-52 and 49-45 to Metro-East Lutheran in a span of two weeks early this season.
Metro-East Lutheran senior Teddy Fifer averages 19.4 points with 52 3-pointers. Fifer had 33 points in the second game against Gibault and 18 in the first meeting.
The Knights’ other top scorers are junior Kenrique Brown (11.5 ppg) and senior forward Jason Johnson (10.5 points, 6.1 rebounds per game). Johnson can be a force inside, freeing up Fifer and Brown to do more damage on the perimeter or driving to the rim.
Gibault is led by versatile junior Trevor Davis, who averages 15.7 points and 9.1 rebounds with 31 blocked shots. Senior Brian Deterding (15.4 points, 9.4 rebounds per game) adds more muscle inside while senior guard Jacob Rueter (11.3 ppg, 61 3-pointers, 5.9 assists per game) is a solid outside threat.
Davis had 16 points in the first meeting against the Knights and 14 in the second.
Class 1A Bunker Hill Regional
Top seeds: (2) Metro-East Lutheran (24-5), (3) Gibault (20-9), (5) Bunker Hill
Favorite: Metro-East Lutheran
Upset Alert: Gibault
Analysis: Metro-East Lutheran has beaten Gibault twice but is definitely no lock for a third straight win over the Hawks. Outside shooting will be the key for both teams since Gibault must defend against another monster game by Knights' senior guard Teddy Fifer. Metro-East Lutheran cannot afford to let Gibault junior Trevor Davis roam free around the net or give Jacob Rueter much room to launch 3-pointers.
Class 1A Lebanon Regional
Top seeds: (1) Okawville (25-4), (4) Lebanon (13-14), (7) New Athens (6-19)
Upset Alert: none
Analysis: Okawville should have no trouble winning its second straight regional title after reaching the super-sectional last season with most of the same lineup. The Rockets simply have too much firepower for any of these teams to deal with.