March 30, 2016
ST. LOUIS – A new Midwest Professional Basketball Association champion will be crowned on Saturday, but first, four teams that have never before experienced playoff basketball must prevail in Friday’s semi-final games.
The 2016 MPBA Championship Tournament will get under way Friday as the Windy City Groove and Chicago Blues, a combined 8-32 in 2015, tangle in the first semi-final, while the Lima Express, which narrowly missed the playoffs in another league in 2015, take on the expansion Pontiac 66ers in the second semi-final. The championship game will take place Saturday, as all three games will be held at historic Pontiac High School, in Pontiac, Illinois, home to the nation’s oldest holiday basketball tournament.
The first semi-final tips off at 5:05 p.m. C.D.T. Friday, and features two teams that are very familiar with each other. The #2 seed Windy City Groove (9-5) and the #3 seed Chicago Blues (8-6) have shared a home court at the Kroc Center in Chicago the past two seasons and each boast a number of players that grew up playing against each other locally.
MVP candidate Dion Cooksey leads Windy City at 23.1 points and 4.9 assists per game. While Cooksey’s assist average is second in the league, his .908 (109 of 120) free-throw percentage not only led the MPBA, but set a new league record as well. C.J. Hampton averages 16.3 points per game off the bench, while Isiah Martin tallies 11.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. And Ray Miller, who joined the team halfway through the season, has averaged 9.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game.
Chicago, meanwhile, doesn’t have a single 20-point-per-game scorer—but what they do have is an offense that is possibly the league’s most versatile. The Blues can bang inside, shoot from outside, or drive to the bucket with equal ease. Tremell Adams, one of the most dangerous three-point shooters in the league, leads the Blues from the bench, averaging 14.7 points per game. Al Rapier pitches in 13.3 points per game and pulls down a team-leading 7.6 rebounds per game. Defensively, Jakeem Hill and Shakir Johnson are the league’s best shot-blockers, as the two combined for 42 blocks on the season.
The second semi-final Friday is scheduled for an 8:05 p.m. C.D.T. start, as the top-seeded Pontiac 66ers (12-4) host the #4 seed Lima Express (5-9).
Lima might seem to be the heavy underdog based on its record, but the Express encountered a string of bad luck in 2016 that was nothing short of astonishing. The Express, at one point, lost seven of eight games with none of the losses by more than nine points. In that stretch, which featured two one-point losses, the average margin of defeat was just 4.4 points. And on March 13, Lima led the 66ers 118-116 with 2.3 seconds left when Pontiac’s Kyle Anderson, with two defenders in his face, hit a 30-foot miracle to win the game.
Relentless forward Kyle Meyer leads the Express with 21.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. Cordaryl Ballard adds 19.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and a league-record 5.3 assists per game. Jody Hill, who re-joined the team after playing in Iraq, averaged 28.7 points per game over six games, and shot 23 of 47 (.489) from three-point range.
Despite losing four players to foreign contracts, the Pontiac 66ers still managed to finish with the league’s top record. Pontiac is led by MVP candidate and league-leading scorer Alfonzo Houston at 27.7 points per game, and top overall rebounder Marcus Hammonds. Alex Marzette and Khion Sankey, who joined the team mid-season, have also had a huge impact. Marzette averages 19.7 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, while Sankey, a stout defender, averages 13.9 points and 6.3 boards per contest. Hammonds, Trent Thomas and Kyle Anderson all average double figures in scoring.
Both semi-final games, as well as the 1:05 p.m. Championship Game on Saturday, can be seen live and free of charge on the league’s high-definition broadcast portal, MPBA.tv. Craig Fata will handle play-by-play, while Tim Scott will provide color commentary, and Ted Rutan will cover the sidelines.