We leave pretty insular lives here in Maine. Sure, we go to Boston for the occasional Celtics/Red Sox/Patriots/Bruins game, but for the most part that’s pretty much it. People in Portland famously won’t leave their city unless they have to and folks in the County need a full day’s drive just to go win a Gold Ball. The point is, outside of what we see on the internet and TV, we don’t have a strong grasp of what goes on south of the Piscataqua River Bridge. I’ve criss-crossed this great land, Jack Kerouac style, so I thought I’d take us on a tour of high school basketball around the country. The premise is simple: I’ll interview someone in every state and find out how they do things. And what better place to start than the state that epitomizes everything we idealize in high school basketball? Let’s go to Indiana.
Indiana high school basketball was made famous in Hoosiers, without a doubt the greatest sports movie ever made. (Don’t argue me on this. You will lose.) For years, they had an all-class tournament that resulted in mighty Milan (enrollment: 161) defeating Muncie Central 32-30 in the game made famous by Jimmy Chitwood’s game-winning, “I’ll make it” shot. And then Dennis Hopper was robbed of an Oscar. If you haven’t seen Hoosiers, you need to fix that immediately.
To learn more about Indiana high school basketball, I reached out to our old friend Matt Randall. Matt grew up in Indiana and then came to Maine, spending 2 years at Fox22 in Bangor and learning such essential things like how to pronounce the names of all the schools in C North and just how far you have to drive in Aroostook County before you get to your assignment. He’s now back in Indiana, covering local sports for ABC57. I spoke to him via email as he worked the ACC tournament in North Carolina. This is condensed and edited for clarity. Matt’s words are in italics.
Can you tell me what the calendar looks like?
Boys and girls have different schedules here. The boys regular season runs from late November to late February (Nov. 20 to Feb. 22 this year). The girls schedule is about the same length but shifted a few weeks earlier. Girls postseason begins in late January/early February while the boys begin the last week of February.
There doesn’t, from what I can tell, seem to be a set number of games, but most schools play a little over 20 regular season games, with 23 being the norm.
What’s the reasoning for having the girls schedule start earlier? Seems like that’d be a real headache for ADs.
I’m honestly not completely sure about the exact reason for having the girls and boys tournaments separate, other than it might just be easier to schedule the host sites at different times since there are so many schools (with everyone making the postseason). I actually do enjoy it though. It gives the girls a great stage to themselves.
Do you have a shot clock?
There is no shot clock. One of my bigger pet peeves in high school, but most teams here are fine about playing a good pace. Will often see 40-50 seconds of holding the ball at the end of quarters, though.
This is something that’s been hotly debated in Indiana. A Twitter poll by Courier & Press found that 69% of Indiana wants a shot clock, which is roughly in line with a what I found on Twitter. From the Courier & Press article: “It is going to make us as coaches grow,” said [Bosse coach Shane] Burkhart. “That shot clock allows you to be different. It doesn’t always put you in a situation that is negative. I would welcome it with open arms. It would be such a great challenge and an opportunity as a coach to really step up my game. There are so many different avenues and I think the kids’ interest would really peak.”
What does your playoff structure look like?
The postseason in Indiana is what sets it apart from most other states. Kind of a detailed explanation coming.
It’s mostly a normal bracket for the state tournament, but the first stage of the tournament is called Sectionals. Basically it’s a group of 5-7 teams from the same class in the same city/area. Winning a sectional title is often talked about as the big accomplishment of the season (remnant of the old days in a one-class system/tournament when that’s all any small town team could really hope for.)
One difference from Maine is that each different round is held at a host high school. With so many large gyms here, they don’t have to have one or two central locations until Finals day at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indy.
Bankers Life Fieldhouse is, of course, where the Pacers play their home games. The 10 largest high school gyms all hold more than 7,000 people. The Cross Insurance Arena holds 6,733.
Are these neutral hosts or is someone playing at home?
Each Sectional bracket is played at one high school, hosted by one of the teams in that Sectional. They move around who hosts each year to make sure everyone benefits financially every so often. It’s determined before the season begins, so not like the best record gets to host or anything. So it’s basically a neutral site unless the host school happens to keep advancing. The sectional is a huge boost for those schools since you’ll have five or six tournament games over a few days. Sometimes three in one night.
Every single team in the state qualifies for the state tournament, and regular season records don’t matter. The brackets and pairings for sectionals are decided by a blind draw a couple weeks before the tournament begins. So yes, we had two co-conference champions (both top-10 teams in the state) in my area meet on the first night of the sectional while a 4-17 team got a bye. Sectionals take place during the week from Tuesday until Saturday.
This blows my mind. I’m assuming one of those top 10 teams was then done for the year?
The blind draw is pretty amazing, and is guaranteed to cause some sort of uproar from media types like us every time. But when you ask, everyone including coaches and players say “that’s how it’s always been done” or they’ll say “whatever, we have to beat the best anyway.” Not going to change unless the schools push for it, and I don’t see that happening soon.
Growing up in Indy, the Sectionals were always SO difficult for our teams. You have maybe 3 or 4 of the best teams in the state all playing each other in the first week. And yes, it’s single elimination. You’ll see some of the best games of the entire year in the first couple rounds of the tournament at Sectionals.
Once you win a Sectional Championship, you advance to the Regionals the next Saturday, which is essentially the Sweet 16. Each regional is made up of four teams, and it’s a one-day tournament to determine regional champions. The winners of the two morning/early regional semifinals play later that night.
The regionals you play twice in a day? So there’s zero time to prep for that second game?
Each regional site (again, a big High School for a neutral site that’s predetermined) hosts four teams. The regional semifinals are usually played as a 10am tip and a noon tip. Then the final is usually around 7:30 or 8pm. So they do have a little bit of time to rest and prepare. It’s a long day, but really the most fun for me to watch and cover. For the teams, they don’t mind because they’ve had a week off since winning their sectional – they just want to play.
Regionals is my favorite day of the year. It’s the final 16 teams in each of the four classes. All of them coming off Sectional Championships and it’s almost like playing with house money at this point if you’re a not-very-good team that’s made a great run.
They also have a week off AFTER Regionals before they play Semi-State [My note: played at a different, bigger pre-determined site]. Then another week off before State.
There are four regional champions – two from the north side of the bracket and two from the south. They play the next Saturday to determine who goes to the State Finals in Indianapolis.
How are your classes organized? What sort of range of enrollment do they have?
There are four classes in Indiana. It used to be one class and one tournament for every team, which is how the famous Milan-inspired “Hoosiers” story happened. They changed to classes in the late 90s, so basically right when I started paying attention.
4A is the largest class. It has a huge range of enrollments, from about 1K students to the mega schools in Indy with anywhere from 3K to 5K students.
3A is somewhere around 500 to 1K enrollment. 2A is about 250 to 500. 1A is anything smaller than that.
So to put this in perspective: 3A would be everyone between Belfast and Sanford. 2A would be Old Orchard Beach to Belfast. 1A would be everyone smaller than OOB. Hermon and Portland would both be in 3A. In 2015-16, New Albany won the 4A title with a record of 27-1. They’re the 42nd biggest school in the state, enrollment: 1,843. They beat the 45th biggest school in the final. You can see the full enrollment numbers here.
**Big note here** Enrollments aren’t the only factor in a school’s classification. There’s something called a “success factor” which basically means if one school is dominating, they can move up a class. For example, we just had a 1A girls team that has two 6-foot twins going to St. Johns. They won back-to-back state titles and will be moving up to 2A next season.
Full details about the “Success factor” are here. Basically, if you win States/Regionals/Sectionals you get points. Accumulate enough points and you get moved up. When you get moved up, the smallest school in the class you’re joining moves down to take your place in order to keep the classes balanced.
Do those teams tend to struggle when they move up because the players that got them there have moved on? Or is it kind of like how Hampden just reloads every year?
Personally, I love the success factor. It keeps things interesting and creates some cool matchups. I don’t know if I’d say teams necessarily struggle, since they mostly would play the same regular season schedule due to conferences and rivalries. I just did a story with a 3A boys team that might win their second-straight state championship. [They lost] They play teams from all different classes, so if they moved up to play 4A, I’m sure they’d be just as competitive. But they’d likely find themselves in a stacked 4A sectional and have a tougher time advancing to the later rounds.
In doing research into Indiana High School basketball, I also found this page: John Harrell’s Indiana Basketball. It’s *cough* linked on the IHSAA page *cough* and is pretty similar to Frank Spanky’s page, but a little more focused on the current season.
They also have rankings from Jeff Sagarin(!), the guy who does rankings for all the major professional and college sports, including the BCS and the NCAA tournament. I could not, in several hours of googling, find anywhere that anyone (including Sagarin himself) had ever tested the accuracy of these rankings, but his college basketball rankings get 71% of games right. I reached out to Sagarin and Harrell with follow-up questions, but haven’t heard anything back. If I do hear from them, I’ll do a second post about Indiana.
Do you know someone in another state who has an intimate knowledge of high school basketball is played? I’d love to talk to them. Email me!