Admittedly, the Blazers played more of the evil stepsister role last weekend. The Blazers took out a school whose enrollment is the smallest in the state in the semi-final (62-student Baptist Academy) and made for probably the worst regional final in recent history for the championship (15-point loss Jac-Cen-Del). The two Cinderella stories of the regional round were both taken down by the Trailblazers. But this week is certainly different. The Trailblazers, who themselves have 11 losses, play a 22-3 Borden team, ranked joint-10th in Class A. In the 1A north semi-state, two perennial title contenders, #6 Lafayette Central Catholic and #10 Triton battle for the right to go to Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
But the Blazers are the odd ones out, long-shots to reach this stage from the start. Granted, University has still managed to get through this run playing two teams that had a regular-season winning record (Fall Creek Academy and Tindley), but it’s still been moderately remarkable. Only once before (1950 Lafayette Jefferson) in the 103 years of the IHSAA State Boys Basketball Tournament has an 11-loss team played for a state championship, and the Bronchos lost that decision. The Trailblazers (15-11) will try to make it two this Saturday at 4:00 against the Borden Braves. Borden’s a very good team and are definitely the best team the Blazers will have seen throughout the tournament run. They shoot the ball well as a unit and are very balanced offensively with all five starters averaging at least 8.5 points per game.
At the regional, Jalen McCoy stepped up for the Braves with 17 points in both the semi-final and championship games. There really isn’t too much of a difference amongst the guys on the Braves’ squad—they’re all athletic, strong, handle the ball, and stand between 5’11” and 6’2″. However, the last point, Borden’s height, is what could turn this semi-state game in the Blazers’ favor. The Braves do have a 6’4″ player on the roster who doesn’t start, but outside of him, on paper it seems like the Braves will have a tough time stopping 6’8″ University center Dominic Dixon. Borden’s played a variant of man defense the entire year—head coach Doc Nash’s modus operandi—which may give the Trailblazers an advantage. Borden may try a zone defense to stop Dixon, but they are more likely to stick to their man variant they’ve run this year, and the Blazers have to take advantage of their big man in the middle. Having watched some of Borden’s games, they’re a very good basketball team. They’re a team that hustles all around the floor, can get up and down, and is a pretty fundamentally sound team. They’ve won 22 games and only dropped 3—all close decisions to teams they’re quite frankly better than—and the general feeling amongst Braves fans is that the team won’t be beat provided they stick to their gameplan.
Sure, Borden’s a tough team to beat when they’re on and buying into the system (something you’d expect them to do once again Saturday), but they’re far from unbeatable. The path to victory for the Trailblazers runs through big man Dominic Dixon. While the Braves are surely basing their defensive gameplan around Dixon, an early start for him would be vital. Having success getting the ball to Dixon early forces the Braves to make defensive adjustments that allow players like Eric Wott and Anthony Maranto to succeed. We’ve seen what’s happened so far this postseason when teams focus too much energy on Dixon—Wott’s 24 points against Fall Creek Academy and Maranto’s 21 against Baptist Academy are prime examples—but both games featured an early load on Dixon’s back to solidify the paint presence. If I had to provide a path to victory for the Blazers, it’s in a game where they hardly trail. I think if University can build an early 6 or 8 point lead, the Blazers can hang on for dear life the remainder of the game and come away with a 3 point win. But then again, trailing by 5 most of the way wouldn’t be a huge issue as comebacks against Bethesda Christian and Tindley illustrated. My prediction? A 55-52 Trailblazer victory.
One thing remains constant, though: Dominic Dixon, the man that wears a size 15 shoe, has to have success for the Blazers to win this game. This success doesn’t necessarily have to come from scoring points rather it can come from opening opportunities for other players, like what happened Saturday morning against Baptist Academy. Instead of asking whether or not Cinderella’s glass slipper will fit the Blazers, should we just ask if she wears a size 15?