Chip Davenport
Chip Davenport

Chip Shot: IHSAA hoops preferable to Final Four

IHSAA hoops preferable to

Final Four

The IHSAA boys’ basketball state finals were moved to April 3rd from their traditional last-Saturday-in-March date. This year’s prep tournament evening title games, the Class 3A and 4A clashes, furthermore, are sharing the spotlight with the NCAA Final Four men’s basketball tournament in the Circle City.

You read that correctly.

Here’s why the IHSAA state finals are more interesting to me this year than any possible Final Four matchups.

Each of the eight Indiana boys’ high school finalists have watchable qualities. High-flying offensive outputs, inside height and strength, and solid defense are some of the characteristics clearly distancing these eight squads from the rest of the field among each class.

The appealing issue in this year’s prep hoops finals for me, though, takes a trip off the rails, the equivalent of your dog, if it could talk, saying, “squirrel!”

The April 3rd, 8:00 p.m. prep hoops tip-off commanding more of my attention than the NCAA showcase on Holy Saturday presents the current and likely future complexion of Indiana big school sports: A Class 4A fray featuring two opponents from the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference (known better as “the MIC”), Carmel and Lawrence North.

Let’s talk about the MIC’s background.

The MIC was formed in 1996 when schools from several conferences in the Indianapolis metropolitan area moved from, or altogether disbanded their leagues with varied enrollments and regional rivalries because the shift to class basketball was imminent. Goliath was now going to face… other Goliaths in the postseasons thereafter. Might as well make your program tournament ready in regular season action, right?

MIC members include the state’s two largest single high schools, Ben Davis (4,400) and Carmel (5,200), while the other six schools’ enrollments range from 2,290 to 3,800 students in grades 9-12. This conference has been the dominant force in the state’s two greatest revenue generating sports: high school football and boys’ high school basketball. The MIC has national prominence as well, as its best teams are included in national rankings among numerous sports publications.

Who knew this shift would morph into the recent Goliath versus Goliath within a single conference in the state title games?

This Class 4A finals matchup between Carmel and North Lawrence guarantees a MIC team will proudly hoist the championship trophy for the fourth consecutive season. Let’s crank it up one more notch. This will be the third consecutive hoops final with two MIC teams facing off for the gold.

The current situation in the 2021 boys’ hoops title game still pales in comparison to the MIC’s dominance on the gridiron since the 32-team Class 6A was created due to disparity in enrollment in football’s previous five-class system up through 2012.

This power conference, among four of its eight members, possesses all eight Class 6A state football championship trophies. Ben Davis, Carmel, Center Grove and Warren Central each own two gridiron trophies. What’s even more remarkable is other than Penn (2015, 2017) and Westfield (2020), the other eight title games were what I like to call the MIC Bowl, a clash of two familiar conference foes. This tends to happen when Carmel is aligned into one of the North sectionals as enrollments and classifications are refreshed and realigned.

Are MIC basketball rematches in the state title game headed in the same direction because of the reduced amount of Class 4A basketball schools in Indiana’s northern half? Of course, they are. This puts Carmel in an intermittent, but still frequent path toward a northern semistate tournament run in the same manner its path is already established for football.

There are people who gripe about Carmel competing in a North football sectional, but that’s not an Indy-centric political move, folks. If you take away Fort Wayne Snider and Columbus East moving into the biggest football class based on tournament success, only ten schools among Warsaw’s and Penn’s surrounding tundra that lay between the Region and Fort Wayne are true northern schools. This next realignment released in April might uptick to twelve true northern schools as Snider and Columbus East return to Class 5A in 2021. It’s still only 40% of the total Class 6A population. You get the picture?

Populations have shifted to the central part of the state over the previous decades, reflecting pre-pandemic migration to the cities; a pattern realized nationwide. Midwest industrial towns and rural towns will likely continue their population declines unlike the anomaly experienced in our “Warsaw bubble” thanks to the orthopedic industry.

Warsaw’s athletic programs welcome the challenge of this current MIC postseason dominance. Warsaw boys’ basketball now plays six Duneland Athletic Conference teams along with Homestead and Leo in Allen County. Boys’ and girls’ hoop fans will see even more high-level competition in the form of boy-girl doubleheaders among elite opponents in the coming years. Five wrestlers had a taste of semi-state action. Coach Hueber wants future grapplers to think that was just a nice start. Warsaw football is lining up battles with elite non-conference programs because a 2019 sectional title sure was nice, but the sweet taste already wore off before those seniors donned their caps and gowns.