It's the obligatory, "Every senior is a candidate," but while that is officially true, objectively it's not based in reality. Each year there are a handful of candidates and barring years where no candidates really standout, which is to say a class that may lack headline talent, the class of 2014 in Indiana doesn't suffer from that fate.
The picture gives away who the top three are. Ok...it doesn't really give it away, but it does give away the direction of this posting is going to take. There are in my view six legitimate candidates for the 2014 Mr. Basketball. Below they will be discussed in alphabetically order, my preseason vote will be discussed, and finally how I think the vote will go.
Keep in mind, this isn't necessarily who the top six players in the state are. It's reflection of the Mr. Basketball process, much of which is geographically based.
First of all let's establish this: how Mr. Basketball is decided is about the most Democratic process there is in determining state wide awards. Certain members of the media (most years I get the email, a couple I haven't) and all varsity coaches get one single vote. Not everyone turns in their vote. After the deadline passes, all votes are counted, and a winner is awarded.
No one gets "screwed over". If you think the any of the six names I mention don't deserve any votes, you're not thinking straight. Others not named below will get votes. They all deserve the votes they get and get the votes they deserve. If "your" guy loses 200 votes to 199, it just means two more people thought the other guy deserved their vote than your guy. If only 198 people voted for the other guy, you wouldn't be questioning anyone's intelligence or accusing anyone of "screwing" your guy over.
It's unfortunate the winner is subjected to this, and it's really magnified with the popularity of Twitter. I'm not talking about what kids tweet. I'm talking about the adults.
...end of rant.
Moving to Marion will help. Obviously Fort Wayne Luers can produce a Mr. Basketball (DeShaun Thomas), but Thomas had a much greater resume in March and ended as the third leading scorer in all time, one point from second.
Marion has the potential to play on the biggest stage, and it's a legendary program. He will be among the state's leading scorers and has already broken Marion's single game scoring record (54 points) which was held by his father (52 points). All of these players are affected by how deeply they go into the state tournament, and Marion's reward for winning their sectional will be hosting the regional, which includes the winner of Sectional 8.
Another player who will put up amazing numbers. He opened the season with a 41 point effort. His challenge will be how heavily is Park Tudor's schedule considered. It's a challenging schedule for a team at the 2A level, and they do strive to play "up", so to speak, as much as possible. However, in a discussion where things like this get scrutinized, it will likely play a role.
Bluiett is already a two time state champ, and in that not many have won two, winning a third one puts him in very rare company. Also, he was an integral part of those two championships. A third championship will be a big feather in his cap, as he would join a very rare fraternity of players.
Ernie Duncan, 6'3" point guard; Evansville (Harrison) - committed to Vermont
With the departure of JaQuan Lyle, Duncan is the best senior in southern Indiana, certainly the best senior south of SR 50, depending on where you think southern Indiana starts. He will share the spotlight with his two younger brothers, but he makes Harrison go. He'll be able to affect the game with his passing as much as his scoring.
In a very top heavy, talented class, Lyles is the most talented. He's extremely skilled for a 6'10" forward and is a truly well rounded player. As of this writing, he is the only one on this list with a loss, 68-64 to Bowman Academy. His scoring totals won't be as consistently high as Blackmon and Bluiett's, but he will stuff the stat sheet in other ways.
Their schedule and Sectional 10 is the toughest of these six names. It's really not even close in either instance. They could be very well like Cathedral last year, entering the tournament with more than a handful of losses yet still be considering among the favorites to win it all. He will be the most talented player on the court in every game.
McIntosh will share the spotlight with fellow classmate, Sean Sellers, as well as junior Ryan Welage, and that could dent his production, although it won't affect his impact on games. There might even be some in his area who would cast their vote for Sellers. McIntosh gets the most press on the defending 3A champs, and it will be a team that will contend for its second title. Back to back titles will earn him votes, but their regular season schedule doesn't give him much of a boost.
Two things hurt Mercer. Blackmon will likely carry Fort Wayne and the surrounding area. Sweeping the far north while the central Indiana guys duke it out for votes would give him a better chance. An impressive player in a well regarded program will come with some votes. If he could get Plymouth to the semi-state, he could garner some Region support, but moving up to 4A made that tougher all the while more impressive if it happens.
...here is how I would vote:
Trey Lyles. Two years ago I said he'd have to do something strange to not win it. Well, he kind of did. While Mercer is the only name up above who didn't de-commit, Lyles de-commitment was very high profile, and it took a very unfortunate public turn. That's died down a great deal outwardly, but it's still part of discussions in this context. However, de-committing isn't an overall indictment of his character, and this vote is based on him as a player and person.
He's a good student. He doesn't get into trouble. He's a stellar talent. While the year will certainly have to play out before votes are cast, this award to me is about the best senior, and there is nothing about him otherwise that could cause me not to vote for him.
Of the six, there are three heavy favorites, Blackmon, Bluiett, and Lyles. Greensburg and Evansville Harrison will have the opportunity to play on a big stage, the Hall of Fame Classic. How Tech isn't in that is beyond me. Duncan and McIntosh are both going to be hurt by Blackmon going to Indiana. A highly touted prospect going to Indiana is going gobble up some southern Indiana votes.
Duncan will certainly carry Evansville area votes, while McIntosh, assuming he gets the stronger consideration than Sellers in SE Indiana will get much of those. What happens between SE Indiana and SW Indiana will see some votes to Blackmon (IU) and Lyles (UK).
As noted with Mercer, he will have to sweep the north, mainly the 574 and 219 area codes. That's his best chance unless something strange really happens. Even if he does that, it's likely not enough.
To me, Bluiett comes in third. He's going to battle with Lyles for central Indiana votes. He's going to have the stats and the wins, but Lyles could the higher consideration because of the 4A vs. 2A, and Tech did load up their schedule. Lyles will have to produce and should. However, the question really become, not how many votes does Lyles take away from Bluiett, but how many does Bluiett take away from Lyles?
Despite the view of my vote, Blackmon has the upper hand. Picture Mr. Basketball voting like a board game. Most board games are broken up into areas and territories (Monopoly for example). Some of it is about controlling an area, but the other part of it is having pockets of support in other areas. Blackmon will get the IU vote. There are those who will let that be a factor, not just that IU is really good, but that IU is IU and Kentucky is Kentucky.
Lyles might get some deep south votes because voters highly regard Kentucky over Indiana, but while that becomes an area of support, if voters will decide because of college affiliation, it would seem to be that Indiana would be the bigger draw among voters.
Blackmon will get the IU vote, at the risk of being redundant. Blackmon will get the 260 votes (Fort Wayne area). Blackmon might just get a lot of the 765 vote too. 765 is basically the North Central Conference, which is still a great basketball conference. The IU vote carries through the state, including Indianapolis, so it's likely he will get a decent amount of Indy area votes too. Not only will those be votes he would get, but those would be votes that would normally go to one of Indy's top candidate. It would almost be like a swing of two votes if Blackmon gets a vote from an Indy area voter. Being at Marion where he can get more Indy area attention will help.
It's possible that Lyles will sweep the Indy area. The deeper Tech goes the more it will help (no duh, right?), but Park Tudor will be making a run for three titles in four years, and Tech has yet to win a sectional with Lyles on the roster. Their sectional could be tougher than their regional. If they could get to the semi-state or state, it goes beyond just having success. At that point it's about playing in front of voters from other areas in the state.
Without a great candidate from the Region, Lyles could get some support there. The IU factor isn't as big up there. The smart thing Tech did with their schedule has to with geography. With games in Louisville, the Region and Evansville, as well games against other teams from Evansville and the Region, Lyles will be exposed to voters, like reaching the semi-state, from all over the state.
Blackmon's likely hold on the 260 voters, as well as likely support from 765 voters, as well as the IU votes, which could pull him votes from southern Indiana, it's going to be tough to beat him in a Democratic process. Each vote just counts as one. No smoke filled rooms. No politics. Just the vote. We'll find out in April.