By Bryan Gaskins
Tribune sports editor
— Kokomo and Carmel share several of the same keys to success in boys basketball. Both squads are fundamentally sound. Both are skilled offensively. And both are tough as nails defensively.
Thus, when the squads face each other, it’s like a chess match — and the latest game comes Saturday in the Class 4A Marion Regional semifinal round.
“Hopefully we’ll have a little Bobby Fischer in us and we’ll be able to think a couple moves ahead,” Kokomo coach Brian McCauley said.
Both squads are tournament tested. Kokomo was the 4A state runner-up in 2011. The Wildkats had hopes of making another state run in ‘12, but the Greyhounds beat the Kats 52-48 in a regional semifinal. Carmel went on to win the state title.
Now, the squads are set for a regional rematch.
No. 1-ranked Carmel (21-2) won the loaded Carmel Sectional. The Greyhounds hammered North Central 58-38 in the title game after North Central had surged into the final with victories over No. 6 Hamilton Southeastern and Fishers.
“When you can dominate a team like North Central like they did, that’s definitely an eye opener,” McCauley said. “They took it to them right from the tip. North Central panicked, took very bad shots, tried to pressure Carmel and then gave up really high-percentage shots.
“With Carmel, it’s no secret if a team gets down to them and they have to really pressure Carmel, that’s to Carmel’s advantage,” he added.
No. 8 Kokomo (22-2) won the Lafayette Jeff Sectional. The Kats beat Marion and Jeff to reach the final, then ripped McCutcheon 64-43 for its third straight sectional title.
“I really liked how our guys played together,” McCauley said. “It was just a really solid week — I think probably our best week of the season.”
Carmel is led by its backcourt trio of senior James Crowley (14.6 ppg), senior Michael Volovic (14.1) and sophomore Ryan Cline (9.2) and junior forward Zach McRoberts (10.2). Volovic dishes 4.9 assists per game. McRoberts is the team’s top rebounder, pulling down 6.3 per game.
Carmel is a good shooting team — 51 percent overall from the field, 39 percent from 3-land and 77 percent from the free throw line. Cline has made a team-high 58 3-pointers and Volovic follows with 35. Volovic shoots a sizzling 46 percent from 3-land.
Volovic and Cline had big games when Carmel beat Kokomo 54-46 on Jan. 12 at Carmel. Volovic scored 22 points, Cline scored 12 points and they combined to hit 7 of 13 3-point attempts.
Carmel led 47-46 with 2:15 left and sealed the win with 7-of-8 shooting from the charity stripe. Kokomo had two good looks from 3-land that missed.
The 2012 regular-season game (which the Kats won) and the 2012 regional game also went down to the final minute.
“It’s the team that can execute the best and execute their game plan,” McCauley said of typical Kokomo-Carmel games. “It’s one shot here or there.”
The squads have similar defensive statistics. Kokomo holds opponents to 40.3 percent shooting from the field and 46.1 ppg. Carmel holds opponents to 42 percent shooting and 46 ppg.
Kokomo is led by junior guard Tayler Persons (17.5 ppg, 3.9 apg), senior swingman LaBradford Sebree (15.5 ppg), junior forward Erik Bowen (9.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and senior guard Hakim Burnett (7.9 ppg).
Kokomo shoots 51.7 percent from the field, 28.8 percent from 3-land and 64.9 percent from the free throw line.
F.W. Northrop (19-7) vs. New Haven (17-5)
The opening semifinal also has the makings of a strong matchup. Northrop, like Kokomo, is coming off its third straight sectional title. New Haven is 13-1 since opening the season 4-4.
Northrop is led by senior guards and twin brothers Bryson Scott (23.7 ppg) and Brenton Scott (19.6 ppg). New Haven is led by 6-8 senior wing V.J. Beachem (21.5 ppg) and 6-11 junior post Steve McElvene (9.9 ppg, 9.6 rpg).
Bryson Scott is a Purdue recruit, Brenton Scott is an Indiana State recruit and Beachem is Notre Dame-bound.
“There are a lot of good regionals, but I think ours is right there at the top ... as tough if not tougher than any other regional,” McCauley said. “The four teams in this thing are really good teams. Obviously, Carmel is the defending state champ. New Haven is very athletic and has a 6-11 post player and then a 6-8 player going to Notre Dame. And, Fort Wayne Northrop has played one of the toughest schedules in the state and obviously has two Divison I players and some good complementary players.
“It’s going to be a slugfest. Hats off to the team that wins two games on Saturday, that’s for sure.”
Northrop beat New Haven 71-66 on Dec. 21, handing the Bulldogs their first loss of the season.
Kokomo beat Northrop 65-61 in overtime in both teams’ regular-season finale on Feb. 22 at Memorial Gym.