If not for a season-opening setback at Fort Madison, the Centerville Big Reds would be eyeing perfection this boys basketball season.
If not for a double-overtime win against Des Moines East, the Ottumwa boys basketball team would be staring a winless regular season in the face.
But on Feb. 18, both teams enter the postseason on equal footing. Both the Bulldogs, Big Reds, Oskaloosa, Chariton and Fairfield will all find themselves three wins away from state.
The road to get there, however, is a little big different for all five area 3A and 4A teams. The Bulldogs, the lone area 4A squad, will have to win three times away from home.
Ottumwa will make the trek to Cedar Rapids to take on Cedar Rapids Jefferson on Monday, Feb. 18, in the first round of the Class 4A, Substate 6 Basketball Tournament.
The J-Hawks are 9-9 this season. The only opponent both team’s have faced this season is Cedar Rapids Xavier. The Bulldogs (1-16, 1-9) suffered a 63-33 loss to the Saints, while Jefferson downed Xavier 64-55.
Jacob Olson is at the epicenter of the J-Hawk offensive attack, as he leads Jefferson with just under 15 points a game. Olson also has dished out a team-high 57 assists and came up with a team-best 37 steals this season. Ky Kramer is another major contributor to the J-Hawks offense; he averages 13.3 points and grabs a team-high 5.1 rebounds per game.
If Ottumwa beats Jefferson, it will face Burlington (7-11) at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22 in the substate semifinals. If the Bulldogs knock off the Grayhounds they will compete for a spot in the state tournament Tuesday, Feb. 26. The location of the event will depend on the Bulldogs opponent. If top-ranked Iowa City West (18-0) makes the finals the game will occur in Iowa City, but if Cedar Rapids Prairie (5-12) or Iowa City High (7-11) make the finals, the game will be at Prairie High School in Cedar Rapids.
While Ottumwa attempts to make a Cinderella run to state on the road, third-ranked Centerville will get to open at home on Feb. 18. The Big Reds, who are currently riding a 17-game winning streak, open on their home floor of the Lakeview Gymnasium as the top seed in the Class 3A, District 12 semifinals against Knoxville, which are currently winless through 18 games this season.
Matt Kruzich, who has led Centerville to a pair of state tournament berths, has seen a well-balanced offensive attack led the Big Reds to a 17-1 record and lead outright South Central Conference title. Kolton Gonnerman (15.8), Michael Starcevich (14.0) and Logan Dabney (13.8) all average double figures for a Centerville team that averages 71.2 points per game.
Centerville already owns one victory over the Panthers, having won 90-59 at Knoxville back on Feb. 10. Dabney, who averages a double-double with 10.8 rebounds a game, joined Gonnerman in scoring a team-best 17 points while pulling in 18 boards. Senior Payton Busch also had a double-double with 16 points and 11 assists.
Ironically, a Centerville win sends them to a game at Knoxville on Thursday, Feb. 21 in the District 12 finals. The Big Reds would face either SCC rival Chariton or Oskaloosa. The Indians (3-16) and Chargers (14-6) will both close the regular meet on Feb. 12 and open the postseason against each other in Chariton on Feb. 18.
The District 12 champion heads to Oskaloosa to play for the Substate 6 finals and a spot in the 3A state tournament on Monday, Feb. 25. The District 11 champion will be the opponent and will be either ninth-ranked Grinnell (16-3), South Tama (6-13), Pella (12-7) or Bondurant-Farrar (9-10).
Fairfield (4-15) will be opening on the road at a familiar location in the Class 3A, District 10 semifinals. The Trojans head to Keokuk to face a Southeast Conference rival in the Purple Chiefs on Feb. 18.
Fairfield has lost twice to Keokuk (14-5) this season, but had a much closer result on the Purple Chiefs floor. After a 53-24 loss on Jan. 28 at home, Fairfield lost 67-53 at Keokuk four nights later.
The Trojans would include a matchup with Solon (15-3) at Washington or against the Demons (5-13) at a site to be determined on Feb. 21 in the District 11 finals. Should Tyler Miklo’s squad win District 11, the Trojans would head to the Substate 5 finals at Iowa City West to play either defending state champion Mount Pleasant (14-5), Clear Creek-Amana (3-15), Williamsburg (11-6) or Fort Madison (11-7) on Feb. 25.
Courier sports writer Andy Heintz contributed to this story.