A Wild(cat) Opening Night

Prologue
Opening night of Czar Season 8 takes me to Columbia Heights.  The Hylanders get a tough opener as #9AAA Waconia comes calling to start this season.  Plenty of early season scouts in the building as Prior Lake, Concordia, Hopkins and Richfield were all looking on.  Hamline also checking out the talent.  For some unknown and strange reason, I pass up on the usual pizza and just go with Snickers.  As the night went on, that was definitely NOT a good decision.  But I don't pass up on 20 ounces of Pepsi on opening night. 

Beverage Consumption Counter: 44 ounces (1 day, 1 game, 2 scrimmages added on)

Pepsi: 32 ounces
Sprite: 12 ounces

Hot Dog Counter: 1

Song of the Day: Linus and Lucy (Peanuts Theme) - Vince Guaraldi

Game Time
Waconia comes out in a trance and can't handle the Columbia Heights press.  Tak Anwey with a bomb and a bucket for a 7-0 Columbia Heights lead.  Timeout Waconia at the 14:13 mark.  The hits keep on coming for Heights.  Jerrett Baptiste with a free throw, layup off a turnover and a steal for bonus free throws.  That was after being very active on the glass early.  Kick out to soph Khadeem Thomas for 3.  Waconia starting to break the pressure but they miss a bunch of bunnies.  Montroy Scott with the pull up jumper and then a deep 3 and the Hylanders lead explodes to 34-10 with 3:30 to go in the half.  Oliver Smith converts some easy buckets for Waconia late in the half and the Wildcats close the gap to 38-19 at the half.  Waconia with 9 layups and 1 late free throw.  No outside points, 12 turnovers by 1 count and almost that many missed layups. 

Anwey makes 2 free throws to start the half and then its all Waconia.  A high ball screen leads to a Joey Kortuem 3.  Then a skip pass for another Kortuem triple and he'll complete the trifecta from straight away after a Heights timeout.  Roch Whittaker involved inside during this run.  He goes to the pretty spin and lefty finish and adds another layup.  Heights has to take another timeout as the lead is down to 43-38 with 13:20 left.  A pair of missed free throws and Waconia capitalizes with a Josh Rands 3 (foreshadowing).  An Anway putback breaks a 4 minute drought from the field and stops a 23-3 Waconia run over 4:40.  Then a big moment as Baptiste gets called for his 4th foul on a charge with 11:17 to play.  Heights promptly turns it over and Whittaker converts another layup to bring Waconia all the way back to even at 45.

Cole Peters back in the game with 4 fouls (an early 4th in the 2nd half) and his layup just inside 8 to play gives Waconia their 1st lead of the game at 49-48.  Avery Talton would pick up his 4th just before that and coach Hayes would flip flop them most of the rest of the way.  Smith layup at the 5:05 mark for a 54-52 Waconia lead as no one pulls away.  Ernest Dixon's bucket at 3:57 allows Baptiste to come back in the game.  Heights looked lost on offense without him but they appeared to weather the storm as they were only -1 during that 7:20 stretch that he sat.

Baptiste has an offensive board kicked out to him, he gets the extra hop (almost never called and always a travel) and bangs home a big 3.  Kortuem counters with bonus free throws.  Baptiste with a man sized rebound but misses 2 critical free throws with 2:24 left.  That fouls out Peters.  Heights gets the ball back with a 2 point lead and spreads but a big time blocked shots gets Waconia the ball back.  Smith knocks down a right elbow jumper on a post kickout to knot the score at 60 with 1:15 left.  Heights holds and takes timeout with 45.8 left.  They hold for 1 and a tick-tack call on Talton with 3.7 left sends Scott to the line for bonus free throws.  He misses the front end.  Waconia rebound and takes timeout with 2 ticks left.  They get a decent chance on a baseball pass but can't get a shot off.  Off to overtime tied at 60.

Scott starts the scoring with a drive for 2.  Kortuem counters with another 3 at 2:55 of the OT.  Baptiste misses a tough free throw line pull up and then a pair of missed Heights free throws.  Waconia gives it right back after missing 2 freebies of their own.  Heights misses and Waconia takes time with 1:40 left, the ball and a 1 point lead.  You expect spread but Rands buries a no no no, great shot 3 with 1:20 left.  The Wildcats never lead by more than 2 before that shot.  Heights misses and the rest is free throws.  Waconia comes back from 24 down in the 1st half (and 21 down at the start of the 2nd half) to win 72-64 in overtime.

Post Game
Columbia Heights is 0-1 with the loss.  Tak Anwey with 16 points, Montroy Scott with 15.  Jarrett Baptiste with only 11 thanks in part to foul trouble and he approached double digit boards.  But he really wasn't a factor in the halfcourt game.  He wasn't going to post up against the big Waconia front line.  To counter that we didn't see him step away and try to take those guys off the bounce all that often.  Soph Khadeem Thomas with 3 important 3s off the bench.  Heights only has 1 more home game before the new year.  They go on the road for 4 straight, come home for 1 and then play in the Tartan holiday tournament.  Once they couldn't score and get in the press, plus a little moment shift, the entire complexion of the game changed.

Waconia is 1-0 with the win.  Oliver Smith with 18 points and a handful of blocks.  Joey Kortuem with 17 points all after halftime.  He made 4 3s on the night.  Roch Whittaker with a productive 12 points off the bench.  The schedule only ramps up from here.  They go to Prior Lake and St. Michael-Albertville for their next 2.  Then a road game at Richfield before their 1st 2 home games against Shakopee and Hopkins and a trip to Chanhassen.  All of that before the tough Eden Prairie holiday tournament.  Waconia used 11 guys in the 1st half and it didn't help, that's how ugly that half was.  Despite a overwhelming size advantage, the Wildcats didn't rebound well.  They'll have to dominate the glass to be successful.  Getting after their guards can really bother them too as shown in the 1st half.  Expect a team like Orono to throw some serious heat at them.

2014 Spring Lake Park Jamboree thoughts

The 2014 Spring Lake Park Jamboree is in the books.  As always, it was a nice showcase of north metro teams.  I keep the beverage count rolling with a can of Sprite.  Understandable but disappointing that there were no hot dogs, only candy so Snickers will have to suffice for my waist line.

Beverage Count: 24 ounces

6 regular time halves of basketball on the slate, here are the results.

Session 1: North Branch def Totino-Grace 26-22
Session 2: Maple Grove def St. Francis 33-28
Session 3: Forest Lake def Spring Lake Park 41-14
Session 4: Irondale def Coon Rapids 30-21
Session 5: Osseo def Fridley 42-20
Session 6: Mounds View def Blaine 31-10

Here are some observations from the evening.
  • North Branch ran a UCLA screen to side ball screen/double away continuity to death.  But their last clinching bucket was a layup from none other than THE WORLD'S WORST OFFENSE.
  • With Brad Davison back in the lineup, no surprise that we saw lots more ball screen looks from Maple Grove.  He was the best player on the floor in his half.
  • Kayode Awosika was too much on the low block.  Also notable inside were the times when Blake Moreno and Reed Nikko went at each other.  Nikko got the better of those on the defensive end but Moreno wasn't going to be scared away.
  • For those of you in section 7AAAA who thought I didn't think enough of St. Francis, I'll admit you were right.  They won't be the dominant team in the section again but they will be better than what I initially thought and should be in the discussion for who's next behind Cambridge-Isanti.  They struggled with turnovers otherwise they might have won (for those who actually care about the final score of a scrimmage)
  • Forest Lake running lots of stuff for Connor Knutson.
  • Spring Lake Park looked depleted with the end of their football season.  No size and despite some of the WORLD'S WORST OFFENSE from them, no real offense.
  • Osseo will have to grind games out this year with a roster of new guys.  But beware of the youngsters, they have plenty in the pipeline.
  • Interesting to see Osseo use Elliot Kane some in almost a 4 man capacity.  He would set ball screens and pop.  Also a set where he'd catch on the elbow and look for a post to post ball screen.
  • Fridley has great length in Tessy Pal and John Conyers (who look almost the exact same height), but I don't see how they generate offense.  Pal can be contained by forcing him to use his right hand and Conyers offense is still developing.  They struggled mightly against Osseo's pressure man. 
  • Conyers and Pal will be significant factors in keeping the ball out of the paint and they'll come out to challenge shots too.
  • Mounds View's Ryan Kaczynski is still a beast.
  • Blaine's junior forward Ben Scherer is a mountain inside with a nice touch.  Mounds View couldn't keep him off the block and over his left shoulder was a quality look every time.
  • No Kyle Cappard on Blaine's roster takes away the 1 ball handler and perimeter scorer they were going to have.  It showed as they showed you can really pressure them and turn them over.

2014-15 Week 1 What to Watch

Here's what grabs my attention in the metro during the short opening week of the 2014-15 season.

Thursday
A quiet opening night on the schedule but a couple of games stick out.  Waconia at Columbia Heights is where I'll be.  A quality matchup of 3A teams that have high expectations and you'll likely see both in the 3A state poll for much of the year.  Waconia has a big front line, how will that impact Heights' star forward Jarrett Baptiste.

Also of note is an metro area appearance by South Dakota commit Dan Jech.  His Rochester Mayo squad opens at Farmington.

Friday
St. Paul Johnson gets a tough road opener against Lakeville South.  The point guard matchup of Jalen Mobley vs Jack Sorenson highlights that.  Then Justus Murphy and Brenon Larson-Gulsvig go at each other after I coached them together in The League this fall.  South frosh Shea Mitchell jumps onto the scene in a tough opener vs  the swarming Govs defense.

In section 7AAAA, Blaine visits Forest Lake.  This early season matchup will likely have longer term seeding implications.  Blaine has a huge lineup while Forest Lake is best at the guard spot.  Going up against a Rangers 1-3-1 and their 5 out offense early in the year, no fun.

We even get an early neighborhood rivalry game as Mahtomedi visits White Bear Lake.

Saturday
Chaska visits Apple Valley in a non-conference battle.  The Hawks look to be one of the favorites in the Metro West while Apple Valley reloads.  Tre Jones vs Jacob Hansen at the point spot will be fun to watch.  A major key in this one will be the underclassmen battle on the wing between top sophs Gary Trent and Myles Hanson.

Another quality 3A game on the schedule this week is Hill-Murray opening at Holy Family.  Big Justin Dahl in the middle for Holy Family will get plenty of chances to protect the rim against the slashing guard duo of Marshawn Wilson and Simeon Davis.  Can the Pioneers rebound well enough to not allow Holy Family easy points?  Hill-Murray will need to get out and run to beat Dahl down the floor.

2014 Cretin-Derham Hall Jamboree notes

Its the start of the scrimmage and jamboree season for 2014-15.  One of the top jamborees is the old St. Thomas Academy/Howard Pulley/now Cretin-Derham Hall jamboree.  This year is the 1st year it moves to Cretin-Derham Hall.  The format moves to a shorter time frame with 4 sessions of 2 gyms going at once.  I took in the 4 sessions in the main gym with concessions.   CDH with the usual high quality hot dogs and the unexpected addition of Pepsi.  Usually its a Coke shop.

Beverage Count: 12 ounces
Hot Dogs: 1

Here's what I noticed

Tony Rodriguez, Todd Klingsporn and The Reverend working the games with another official (1 ref resting each game).  The Rev in rare midseason form with a handful of crazy late NBA like whistles.  The classic if it goes in I won't blow the whistle otherwise it must have been a foul syndrome.  

Main thing of note from the night was the missing kids and kids in unexpected spots.

No Brad Davison or Kayode Awosika for Maple Grove.  Kevin McKiernan out for Prior Lake with an injured shoulder.  Josh Collins getting the DNP CD for De La Salle.  Tyler Johnson and Odell Wilson out for Minneapolis North.  Amir Coffey sat out a large chunk of the time for Hopkins.  No Ishmael El-Amin either for the Royals.

Session 1: Prior Lake vs Minnetonka
Justin Moes came off the bench for the Skippers.  Heck of a bench weapon to have.  Seth Coatta and Evan Altenburg doing their usual thing.  As mentioned, Kevin McKiernan out with a shoulder injury for Prior Lake.  That meant that De La Salle transfer Isaiah Sims (played JV late last year for the Lakers) had to spend time at the point.  Connor Bair was able to poach a couple of passing lanes for bunnies but he looks like he's still getting his wind for the season.  Minnetonka won both sessions by a point.

Session 2: Apple Valley vs Minneapolis North
Some fun moments in this one with Cam Kirksey guarding Jamil Jackson.  Kirksey was long and athletic enough to really bother Jackson's game.  Gary Trent Jr put up big numbers while handling the ball much more than expected.  During fall ball, you'd see the inbounds to Tre Jones and then a quick kick ahead up the sideline.  Didn't see any of that tonight which was mind-boggling.  The Eagles jumped out quickly in the 1st half before a North run brought them back.  Apple Valley pulled away late to win that half and then ran away in the 2nd half.

Session 3: Maple Grove vs Cretin-Derham Hall
Reed Nikko with an impressive night.  Have to like how Maple Grove really looks to pound the ball inside.  Beyond Brad Davison, they'll need to find a shooter to open things up to make the next highest level.  Frosh Daniel Oturo with a productive night for Cretin-Derham Hall.  Both halves close

Session 4: Hopkins vs De La Salle
The marquee match-up we all expected really didn't evolve into much.  Lots of run and gun, not pretty from either end in that scenario.  The Hopkins pressure really took De La Salle out of anything offensively.  Not really a surprise as the Islanders will be about their defense and let the offense figure itself out.  Amir Coffey sat for a big chunk of this one which only allowed a couple of possessions where he went at Sacar Anim.  John Warren was impressive on both ends.  He had the dunk of the night and knocked down shots.  But it was really nice to see guard Jarvis Johnson full court.  Very effective there with his length.  Hopkins won the first half easily while De La Salle won the 2nd half easily.

2014 Season in a Nutshell Preview

The 2014-2015 Season Preview Series concludes with an overview of what and who you need to see and when and where you can find it.

10 Events to Watch
  • Nov 28-29 - Hopkins Early Bird Tournament
  • Nov 29- Anoka-Ramsey Showcase
  • Dec 6 - Breakdown Girls Tipoff Classic at Hopkins (4 premier boys games)
  • Dec 13 - Breakdown Boys Tipoff Classic at Minnetonka 
  • Dec 26-27 - Granite City Classic at St. Cloud Apollo
  • Jan 10 - Timberwolves Shootout at Target Center
  • Jan 19 - Super 60 Showcase at Minneapolis Roosevelt and Minneapolis Washburn
  • Jan 19 - MLK Classic at Minneapolis Patrick Henry
  • Feb 7 - Border Battle at Cretin-Derham Hall
  • Feb 21 - Twin Cities Game at Minneapolis champion
10 Other Nights to Watch
  • Hopkins at Shakopee - Dec 4th
  • St. Paul Academy at St. Croix Lutheran - Dec 9th
  • Augsburg Holiday Tournament Championship - Dec 31st
  • Hopkins at Cretin-Derham Hall - Jan 6th
  • Maranatha at Minneapolis North - Jan 17th
  • Cretin-Derham Hall at St. Paul Johnson - Jan 24th 
  • Cretin-Derham Hall at De La Salle - Feb 14th
  • Section 4A and 4AA Championships - Mar 5th at Macalester
  • Section 3AAAA Championship - Mar 5th at Farmington
  • Section 5AAAA Championship - Mar 6th at Rogers
10 Players to Watch
  • Sacar Anim (Sr) - De La Salle
  • Brock Bertram (Jr) - Apple Valley
  • Amir Coffey (Jr) - Hopkins 
  • JT Gibson (Sr) - Champlin Park  (committed to Nebraska-Omaha)
  • Jarvis Johnson (Sr)- De La Salle (committed to Minnesota)
  • Goanar Mar (Soph)- De La Salle
  • Steffon Mitchell (Jr) - Shakopee
  • Reed Nikko (Jr) - Maple Grove
  • Gary Trent (Soph) - Apple Valley
  • Marshawn Wilson (Sr) - Hill-Murray 
10 Teams Looking to Win It All
  • Apple Valley
  • Breck
  • Champlin Park
  • Cretin-Derham Hall
  • De La Salle
  • Hopkins
  • Maranatha
  • Minneapolis North
  • St. Paul Academy
  • St. Paul Johnson
Season Thoughts
In Class AAAA, its a wide open field.  I think here are 4 teams that stick out as the top contenders for the Gold Ball.  Cretin-Derham Hall with all their stars coming back has to be in that list.  Hopkins with Amir Coffey the best overall prospect in the state and coach Ken Novak can't be ignored.  The development of players like Simon Wright and Ishmael El-Amin will be key.  Champlin Park has a loaded backcourt and quality youth coming back from a very good team last year.  Apple Valley is still loaded with top kids in 3 of the 4 high school years

In Class AAA, De La Salle is again a large favorite to win state and make it 4 in a row.  The rich get richer at De La Salle as they have a couple of incoming freshmen to keep the program moving in future years.  Johnson will try to give them a run behind Jalen Mobley.  But they'll have to get past some very solid teams from the Metro East in section 4AAA to get there.  St. Thomas Academy, Simley and Hill-Murray could all knock the Govs off if they don't come to play.

Let's talk a bit about the games above.  Too many great games in the 10 events to mention but you have to like the non-Minnesota teams in those events.  Henry Ellenson from Rice Lake, 3 top Iowa teams, powerhouse Omaha Central (NE) and Morgan Park out of Chicago make for great viewing.  Champlin Park will likely get to play the other 3 contenders I mentioned in AAAA.  They could get Hopkins on Thanksgiving weekend in a dynamite rematch of last year's 106-103 game.  Then they have Cretin-Derham Hall in the Tip Off Classic and Apple Valley in St. Cloud over Christmas.  Cretin-Derham Hall gets their shot too as they'll have Hopkins at home on Jan 6th and likely play Apple Valley in the 3AAAA final in March.  The Tip Off Classic also has the dynamite Apple Valley vs De La Salle rematch from last year.  Minneapolis North and Maranatha could be 1 and 2 in class A.  They meet in January and will likely meet again in the 4A title game in March.

2014-15 Section 7AAAA Preview

This is the 24th preview in my 2014-2015 season preview series.  I conclude my list of section and conference previews with a look at section 7AAAA.  The final season overview preview is all that remains.  For a list of all the season previews and how they are generated, click here.

Defending Champion: St. Francis

Predicted Seeding
  1. Cambridge-Isanti
  2. Forest Lake  
  3. Blaine
  4. Andover
  5. St. Francis
  6. Duluth East  
  7. Coon Rapids
  8. Anoka
From the strongest section in 4A to the weakest.  The thrill, the pagentry, the YUCK that is section 7.  5 teams won 10 games or less last year.  Now defending champ St. Francis loses just about everybody.  Cambridge-Isanti is my favorite after 16 wins last year and bringing their top 2 scorers.  Forest Lake should be right there with them as the Rangers have most of their roster returning and a solid perimeter group.  The Rangers can make a case for #1 with a home win over Cambridge-Isanti on Dec 2nd.  They also host Blaine on the opening Friday.  Blaine will feature a large lineup but their guard play is suspect.  Andover has Jake McNallen coming back which is a nice start in this section.  The rest of the section is down.  We already mentioned St. Francis and the other 3 teams combined for a total of 9 wins last year. 

Sleeper: Everyone else.  This section is so weak that anything could happen.

Section Winner: Cambridge-Isanti.  I'm going against my inner gut feel here and taking the favorite.  I originally had Forest Lake listed here.  However, I just can't bring myself to pick a team that I picked 7th in league and only won 7 games last year.  Too big a leap of faith.  But in a section where its very possible only 1 team ends up above .500, its very open.

2014-15 Section 6AAAA Preview

This is the 23rd preview in my 2014-2015 season preview series.  The final week of previews continues with a look at section 6AAAA.  For a list of all the season previews and how they are generated, click here.

Defending Champion: Hopkins

Predicted Seeding
  1. Hopkins
  2. Minnetonka
  3. Eden Prairie
  4. Robbinsdale Armstrong
  5. Edina
  6. Minneapolis Southwest
  7. Minneapolis South
  8. St. Louis Park
This section is absolutely loaded with 5 teams that could all win 20 games.  Hopkins with their tradition and the top player in the section, Amir Coffey, can't be discounted.  But the Royals aren't the juggernaut of years past.  Lots of youth and inexperience behind Coffey and John Warren.  Minnetonka has a very good backcourt trio coming back.  Eden Prairie will be tough as always.  Armstrong is loaded but even as a division champ, don't be shocked if the Lake voters gang up like in years past and drop them to 4 so they can avoid Hopkins.  Edina has a solid group coming back behind Walt McGrory, Ben Boone and Max Lynch but depth is a concern.  The bottom 3 are a level below.  St. Louis Park with everybody back could jump up over one of the Minneapolis teams.

Sleeper: Edina.   Point guard Walt McGrory is a high level guard.  Ben Boone provides scoring and experience.  Max Lynch can be a defensive factor.

Section Winner: Hopkins.  The Royals are one of my 4 teams that could win it all so I have to take them here.  But this won't be an easy section to get out of.  The opponents are talented and familiar with them.  That 3rd game against an opponent like that is always difficult to win.

2014-15 Section 5AAAA Preview

This is the 22nd preview in my 2014-2015 season preview series.  This final week of previews continues with a look at section 5AAAA.  For a list of all the season previews and how they are generated, click here.

Defending Champion: Osseo

Predicted Seeding
  1. Champlin Park
  2. Maple Grove
  3. Osseo
  4. Robbinsdale Cooper  
  5. Wayzata 
  6. Centennial 
  7. Park Center
  8. Irondale
Champlin Park is absolutely loaded.  They fall into my group of 4 teams that could win the Gold Ball in March.  McKinley Wright has enough experience to fill Ian Smith's shoes.  How sophomore Theo John replaces Brennan Witt will determine just how dangerous the Rebels are.  Maple Grove is a rough and tumble team that should make for a great matchup.  Soph PG Brad Davison and Junior C Reed Nikko are D1 caliber stars and there's plenty to go with them.  Osseo is rebuilding but they're so good at reloading that I won't shove them too far down.  Cooper's transfers give the Hawks some extra scoring punch.  Wayzata has 4 starters returning and the addition of Austin Slater to their junior filled lineup.  Their strength of schedule will help them but their win/loss record will suffer in the brutally tough Lake Conference.  Centennial and Park Center are trying to learn new systems with new coaches.  Irondale is in complete overhaul mode.

Sleeper: Wayzata.  Battle tested in the Lake, lots of experience and pieces at every position.

Section Winner: Champlin Park.  A 2nd game vs Maple Grove in the section final would be electric.  The Crimson have the physical play and a star in Davison to pull the upset.  But I think next year is their year.  Champlin Park is still smarting after falling to Osseo in last year's title game.  That experience puts the Rebels in the big show this year.

2014-15 Section 4AAAA Preview

This is the 21st preview in my 2014-2015 season preview series.  The previews of class AAAA continue with a look at Section 4.  For a list of all the season previews and how they are generated, click here.

Defending Champion: Tartan

Predicted Seeding
  1. Tartan
  2. Stillwater
  3. Roseville
  4. Mahtomedi
  5. Mounds View
  6. Woodbury 
  7. North
  8. White Bear Lake
I said Tartan was young last year, this year they're looking at 4 top players being sophomores.  Stillwater has 3 very good pieces coming back and a Randy Jordan team is always a tough out.  Roseville returns a very good group on the perimeter.  They'll battle an experienced Mahtomedi group for the 3 seed.  Mounds View will be dangerous again if they can have guys step up to help Ryan Kaczynski.  Woodbury is rebuilding and North is still a year or 2 away.  White Bear Lake loses one of their few returning guys, I think they have an uphill battle.  Matchups will be very interesting to watch in this section.  Tartan matches up very well with Roseville as does Mahtomedi with Stillwater (though Hjelle and McKinley didn't go at each other much during their meeting last year).  Stillwater has also given Roseville fits.

Sleeper: Mounds View.  Ryan Kaczynski is a tough forward that is a difficult matchup.  They play hard-nosed basketball and with last year's success as a foundation, they could definitely be a spoiler.

Section Winner: Tartan. Too talented, too well coached.  While they don't have a true interior presence, I don't see the teams in this section hurting them enough there to make a difference.