One of the great unknown perks of the annual high school boys basketball draw is that the coach of the defending state champion gets to select his team's path through the tournament.
I kid, I kid.
I'm assured there is no Carmel conspiracy at work here. But the Class 4A defending champions were able to slip to the other side of the Sectional 8 bracket again -- away from Hamilton Southeastern and North Central -- when the pairings were announced late Sunday afternoon.
Meanwhile, third-ranked HSE (16-3) and eighth-ranked North Central (14-4) will battle it out in the first round again next week, a rematch of last year's 86-83 classic won by HSE on a 35-foot bank shot at the buzzer by Gary Harris.
Fourth-ranked Carmel's route -- a 9-9 Zionsville team, followed by rival Noblesville (12-7) -- isn't easy. But it beats the alternative.
"That's a tough draw for (HSE and North Central)," said Carmel coach Scott Heady, whose team is 17-2 going into the season finale Friday against Brebeuf Jesuit. "But I really believe that our sectional is as balanced as it's ever been. We're going to have to play well to win."
Home court, good draw. I'll take Carmel to win Sectional 8 again. But a word to the wise: don't miss that HSE-North Central game.
First-year Brebeuf coach Noah Haynes will extinguish all available resources to learn about his team's Sectional 26 first-round opponent, 3A top-ranked Mt. Vernon.
And all he'll have to do is walk down the hallway at home.
Haynes' sons, senior Solomon Haynes and junior Samson Haynes, play for a New Palestine team that handed Mt. Vernon its first loss of the season, 52-51 on Friday night.
Noah Haynes has coached against this core group of Mt. Vernon players for several years.
"I don't know them as well as (New Palestine coach) Adam Barton but I'm right up there," he said. "I wasn't able to see (Friday's game) in person, but you better believe I was watching it on Saturday morning."
Haynes said he expects standout junior guard P.J. Thompson back from an ankle injury for Friday's season finale against Carmel. Thompson, averaging 24.0 points a game, missed a 60-55 loss to Heritage Christian on Friday.
The winner of the Brebeuf (11-8) vs. Mt. Vernon (17-1) game will get defending 3A state champion Guerin Catholic (16-5) in a semifinal. Mt. Vernon is the host.
"We know we have a bullseye on our back but it's seemed like everyone has played us all season that way," Guerin coach Pete Smith said. "So we will be ready and expect to play great basketball beginning on that Friday night."
Another dynamite local first-round game is in Sectional 10 at Warren Central, where Cathedral (18-5) will play Lawrence North (14-5). The Irish have won 12 in a row, including a 70-59 victory over nationally-ranked La Lumiere on Saturday
On the opposite side of the bracket is seventh-ranked Tech (20-3). The Titans drew a bye and will play either Warren Central (11-8) or Lawrence Central (8-10) in a semifinal game.
I expect it will come down to this: Tech vs. Cathedral, Part IV. Two teams that don't like each other much, playing for a long-awaited sectional title. Cathedral hasn't won one since 1998, Tech since 1978.
That sounds like a fun Saturday night.
A few other thoughts:
* We could see a rematch of two-time defending 2A champion Park Tudor and Broad Ripple in the semifinals of Sectional 42. The Rockets are the host and have the full attention of Park Tudor after pulling the 45-41 upset last week.
* Pike looks like the pick in Sectional 11. It's not out of the realm of possibility that Carmel and Pike could meet again be the 4A title matchup.
* Keep on eye on Mishawaka Marian. Demetrius Jackson can bolster his Indystar Mr. Basketball candidacy with a tournament run in 3A. Marian would matchup with Plymouth on its home court in the Sectional 19 semifinals.