Underdogs and Favorites Continue Push to the Breslin Center: Boys Regional Championship Preview


By: Nate Dreyer

Photo courtesy of Rick Laven


At most, there are only four games remaining for each team still alive in the 2024 MHSAA boys basketball tournament, and Thursday we hand out the second set of hardware to winners. It’s Regional Final Thursday in the state of Michigan, and MSR will be live with a couple big-time games that feature continuing ‘Cinderella’ runs and favorites looking to mark their claim to another trophy.


We’ll begin by taking a look at the featured LIVE games that can be found on to listen to on MichiganSportsRadio.com, and then some of the other games also going on that will lead into a huge night of quarterfinal action.


Division One at East Kentwood | Zeeland West vs. Forest Hills Central


This region, and all of the districts that fed into it, has been upset-central so far. Two of the more unexpected teams to still be dancing will square off on Thursday after each pulling a big upset win on Tuesday night.


Forest Hills Central, led by a 26-year-old head coach  Jordan George, in his first season, have gone on quite the run to the regional championship. After an 8-6 finish to their O-K White schedule, they were able to hit a buzzer-beater to hold off district host Caledonia in that final, before beating another host, East Kentwood, on Tuesday. The Rangers led mostly throughout en-route to a 54-42 win over the loaded Falcons.


FHC put four players in double-digits scoring in a balanced effort to down EK on Tuesday. Jonas VanderWoude, their senior sharpshooter, led the way with 16 points. 


Zeeland West is led by as experienced of a core as any in the state, they feature an all-senior starting lineup, with most of that lineup being three or four-year starters. Merritt Alderink leads the way of that group, the Mr. Basketball finalist is a four-year starter that had 16 points Tuesday as the Dux upset Northview.


It was a back-and-forth contest, as Northview tried to find a rhythm, playing without their injured star wing Brady Swartz. But, West was able to keep an edge throughout much of the contest, in the closing moments Alderink jammed home an exclamation point on the game to take a 3-point lead that the Dux would hold on to, winning 44-41.


This game will likely be played at a bit slower pace on the whole as each team is comfortable letting their skill speak on offense out of sets and have heavy trust in their defense to help lead the way. But, look out for what different defensive looks the guard-oriented Rangers may throw at ZW, to counter the West  size advantage at many spots.


Both teams also have a strong trust in their ability to shoot the basketball if either coach Klyn or George decide to throw some zone looks and force the deep-ball. VanderWoude is arguably the most skilled shooter in the area, with teammates like Brady Miller that can light it up alongside him. The shooting of Luke Bakker, Myles Steffen and others has been huge for West to counter moments when Alderink and Yant are being focused on and they look to make the opponent pay from deep.


The GAME NIGHT on MSR crew is live with ‘Radio+’ coverage starting at 6:30 pm Thursday, with tip-off scheduled for 7:00pm.


Division Two at Allendale HS | GR Catholic Central vs. Spring Lake


This regional final features one team looking to continue a Cinderella run with another unlikely upset and a state title favorite with a Mr. Basketball finalist looking to secure his grasp on that award and a second career state title.


Spring Lake stunned everyone for head coach Bill Core last week Wednesday as they handed Whitehall their  first loss of the season. After a win over Fruitport and a district title on Friday, the Lakers took down 11-15 Fremont on Tuesday to advance on to Thursday for another chance at an upset and some more hardware.


The Lakers are led, first-and-foremost, by their defense- which is a tricky half-court match-up zone that gives all opponents issues they face difficulties finding a rhythm vs. the active hands and closing driving lanes they face on the other end. 


The Lakers, now 14-12 on the season, have been able to get a lot healthier in recent weeks after dealing with injuries for a lot of the early and mid part of the year. Another big part of what has allowed them to go on this run in the playoffs, as they look to set-up another big win.


Grand Rapids Catholic Central went nearly perfect in the O-K Gold (with a lone loss to Ottawa Hills) and led by Mr. Basketball finalist, Durral ‘Phat Phat’ Brooks, are in primed position to take another state championship this year. Brooks scored 23 points as the Cougars dominated Ionia on Tuesday night, 70-38.


Injuries have also been a big part of CC’s season – as they missed Brooks along with stand-out sophomore Zay Larthridge for large chunks of the season. Both of those skilled scorers are back in the lineup for the playoff run, as Larthridge also chipped in 10 points in the win Tuesday.


If the Lakers are able to slow the Cougars running offensive attack and keep the ball out of Brooks hands, similarly to what they did to Cam Fall-Thompson and Whitehall – the upset could be in the cards here. But, Catholic Central is rolling and their health is returning with scoring up and down the lineup on fire, CC is a tough out for any team in the entire state, as they are near a return trip to East Lansing and the Breslin Center.


LIVE radio coverage begins on MI Sports Radio at 6:40 pm!


Other Regional Finals in West Michigan


Division 2 at Wayland HS | GR Christian vs. Benton Harbor


This could be the most fun regional game anywhere, any division, in Michigan on Thursday. Both of these teams are more than comfortable getting out and running with their highly-skilled athletes and force the opponent to often work at that pace with them. 


Benton Harbor, in particular, may be the fastest team in the state of Michigan year-over-year, and this likely regional match-up between two of the top ranked teams in the state with Breslin Center dreams has been circled all year. 


GR Christian was able to survive a gauntlet district, getting by South Christian in the final before dispatching Holland Christian 76-49 on Tuesday. Benton Harbor sits at 24-1, with their lone loss coming to 22-3 Niles Brandywine, they have dominated their way through the playoffs as well, including an 82-48 win over Paw Paw on Tuesday. 


Each team is led up-front, but in different capacities. Center Jaylan Ouwinga for the Eagles is 6 ‘8 and able to protect the paint on defense and score at multiple levels out of the half-court along with running in the full court. Benton Harbor’s PF Josiah King is 6’4 and a hyper athlete that can defend any position and push the break while being a deadly knock-down shooter from deep.While not a direct match-up, these two will provide a fun head-to-head to watch, as the better performance here may control the pace – and the game.


Both teams are also loaded with talent, scoring, athleticism, and defense at both guard spots and on the wing. It just is likely going to be a true out-of-control track meet, with the winner waiting for the GRCC/Spring Lake winner in the next round.


Division 1 at Gaylord | Muskegon vs. Cadillac 


Muskegon has a new path this year on their road back to the Breslin Center, where they are looking to avenge last year’s loss in the state final. After taking down Saginaw Heritage 63-37 all the way over to the east in Ithaca on Tuesday, they cross the state north to Gaylord on Thursday, where Cadillac awaits the Big Reds.


The big and athletic Big Reds are a different team in 2024 than the guard-oriented team in 2023, but the emergence of 6’3 sophomore guard James Martin has been key, as both a slashing athlete and defender, Martin has added an extra bounce of pace and athleticism to a lineup that was already oozing with each. 


Cadillac is a strong 23-2 on the season and just took down Traverse City West by 7 on Tuesday night, the Vikings made it all the way to the state quarters last year and are looking for another regional championship for coach Ryan Benzenberg vs, the vaunted Big Reds and coach Keith Guy.


Division 3 at Pewamo-Westphalia | Covenant Christian vs. Pewamo-Westphalia  


The Pirates of P.W. stunned previously unbeaten North Muskegon in overtime 43-40 on Tuesday night, and now set their sights for another top contender in west Michigan. Covenant Christian has played a tough schedule throughout the season and so far have been able to make mostly easy work of their playoff run. 


The Chargers were able to handle Dalton-Kellog in huge fashion Tuesday, 89-28. They now will look to avoid being another upset target from the regional-hosting Pirates, who would argue that their 23-2 record shouldn’t be considered underdogs at all in this one.


The winner of this game will head to Loy Norrix where they will have a tough match-up vs. the winner of Schoolcraft vs. Niles Brandywine.


Division 4 at Fowler | Tri-Unity Christian vs. Kalamazoo Phoenix


Tri-Unity Christian gave themselves maybe the toughest schedule in the state in D4 in 2024, of the four teams that have beaten them, three are still playing in the D3 and D1 regional finals, and Wyoming Lee fell in the district final to Catholic Central. 


The Defenders used that experience from tough games to fend off a strong effort from the upset-seeking Eagles of host Fowler Tuesday. Before that Kalamazoo Phoenix was able to run past Climax-Scotts to open the night and set up this game.


Tempo will be king here, the Defenders are fine running, but play their best when the game is mostly in control as they search for the best shot and lock down the opponent in the half-court from getting their best shot. 


Phoenix doesn’t subscribe to that notion, you won’t find a much faster team in the state of Michigan when they are in control, they full court press and trap on defense and run on offense at almost all times, with great athletes and deadeye shooters spotting their spaced-out attack. 


The winner of this tactical battle will travel to Portage Northern’s ‘Igloo’ on Tuesday for a state quarters match-up with the winner of Hillsdale Academy and St. Joseph Our Lady. 



Be sure to tune in for our games with live coverage on Thursday, and come right back on Friday as we’ll have a ton more action as the girls tournament ramps up into District championship action that we’ll have covered up-and-down divisions!