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Food and basketball is a pretty good way to spend a Sunday afternoon, many would agree.

And several Region boys basketball teams gathered to watch the IHSAA boys basketball state tournament draw, where Nikes and napkins came together for a celebration of Hoosier Hysteria.

Larry Moore Jr. and his Hammond Wildcats were together at the Buffalo Wild Wings in Hammond to take in the announcement. Hammond has won 32 sectionals in school history but hasn't cut down any nets since 2005.

"It was good to spend some time together off the the basketball floor," Moore Jr. said. "We watched it on four TVs. The kids are excited about the draw."

The Class 3A Sectional 17 tournament will be held at the Hammond Civic Center. The Wildcats drew the bye and will play the winner of Clark and Gavit, two teams Hammond beat twice rather handily. On the other side Lighthouse, Griffith and West Side will have to battle it out to see who can get to Saturday night.

"Anytime you get a bye you're one step closer," Moore Jr. said. "But when you have to play a team for the third time, when you're so familiar with each other, it's tougher.

"It's the sectional and we've got to be ready to play. It's all about the matchups. Our team is locked in and focused, we're just trying to get over the hump."

There will be 403 teams competing in the 108th IHSAA state tournament in four classes. Sectional games begin on Feb. 27, with sectional champions crowned on March 3. The four-team regionals will be held on March 10, with the semistates on March 17.

Bankers Life Fieldhouse hosts the state championship games on March 24.

"I don't even watch the draw because every year our draw is terrible," joked Crown Point coach Clint Swan.

C.P. drew Lake Central in the bottom half of the bracket and that winner will play the Munster vs. Lowell winner.

This is the first year the Bulldogs have played in Class 4A Sectional 1, after decades competing in Sectional 2. That isn't the only change as Lake Central will host the tournament, instead of E.C. Central.

"Sectional 1 is a bear," Swan said. "It's as evenly matched as it could be. Even with a 'good' draw you're going to have to beat three tough teams to win it."

Crown Point won Sectional 2 in 2015 and '16 and made it to the championship game last year. With a lot of graduation losses Swan is rebuilding, but his team lost to Munster in overtime and beat Lake Central by five on Friday night.

"This is a year where you could put all seven teams in a hat and pull out one and they could win it," said Munster coach Mike Hackett, whose Mustangs just wrapped up winning the Northwest Crossroads Conference championship on Friday. They hadn't done that in two years, just like they haven't won a sectional in two years.

"We wanted this group to finally win something," Hackett said. "They've won their conference so winning a sectional would be the next step."

Munster went 4-1 against the other teams in the field.

Pizza and chicken was on the menu at T.J. Lux's house as the Merrillville Pirates gathered to dine and see their fate. Merrillville drew the bye at the Class 4A Chesterton Sectional, awaiting the winner of the hosts against Kankakee Valley. The Trojans are the favorite on paper, but the Pirates gave Chesterton their last loss by 20 points.

"There are pros and cons with getting the bye," Lux said. "There is something to be said about getting out there and getting the nerves out early. But the bye moves you along, too. It worked out for us last year."

Chesterton met at coach Marc Urban's house on Sunday and dined on gyros.

Chesterton hasn't won a sectional since 1987, but the stars may be aligned with the Trojans (19-2), winners of 10 in a row, hosting the tournament. They have not lost on their floor since Jan. 20, 2017.

"That's one of those things for you guys to talk about," Urban said. "We just have to control what we can control. We're in a good spot right now. It's fun coaching a team when they're this connected, when they play together and compete to win."

Urban wasn't looking ahead to a possible semifinal with Merrillville, which handed Chesterton its last loss, 76-56, on Jan. 6. He had the team over to his house and said they were simply excited to see the draw as opposed to any specific matchups.

"That's what makes Indiana high school basketball fun," he said."It's the same every year. You just start piecing together a plan. It's always a tough sectional. We're going to have to play three tough games to win it. It is nice playing at home."

Washington Township's postseason drought is even longer than Chesterton's, as in it's never hoisted a sectional trophy. The 14-4 Senators' task is heightened by facing back-to-back Class A Sectional 49 champ 21st Century, which has already beaten three Porter County Conference teams — Morgan Township, Westville and Kouts — in decisive manner.

"(The Cougars are) obviously a very good, well-coached, disciplined team," Washington coach Scott Bowersock said. "They're quick, athletic, long, they shoot the basketball well. They don't have many weaknesses. It's an opportunity for our team to rise to the challenge and make some noise early in the tournament."

Bowersock believes the Senators' win over Marquette Catholic will help their confidence.

"We've proven we can beat teams like that," he said. "We're not going to back down from anyone. It's not a one-way street. They have to worry about us, too."

— Times reporter Jim Peters contributed to this report.


Sports Reporter

Steve has won awards during two different stints at The Times. In addition to being the Prep Beat columnist, he covers football, boys basketball and boys track. He is a long-suffering Cubs fan.