Vegas 2018 Reflections

Its another grassroots season concluded in Las Vegas, here are some of this year's sights and sounds

The Battle For #1 and Shoe Supremacy
Wednesday night is a traditional Fab 48 showcase night for me.  But this year was special with the late night battle of titans between Team Takeover and Compton Magic.  The Fab 48 always has games that cross shoe company lines but when you get the best of Nike vs the best of Adidas for a mythical grassroots national championship at the end of the season, now you have something special.  This one had a full house on the main court at Bishop Gorman and it managed to far exceed the hype.  Compton Magic wins the battle in overtime.  Great atmosphere, ridiculous talent on hand (2020 star Evan Mobley was amazing in the game) and a close game the entire way.  Now if only the shoe companies could get out of the way and let their teams play more of these.

Earlier in the night Grassroots took on Quad City Elite.  This was intended to be a Point Guard showdown between Jalen Suggs and Ohio St commit DJ Carton.  In an attempt to make sure the late game started by 10 PM (NCAA rule), this game was 12 minute running time halves.  Add in a Suggs injury and that took out the entertainment.  They didn't go at each other much anyway.  Suggs was carried off with an injury after landing on a foot but sounds like he'll be OK. 

Dude, When's My Flight?
Saturday was full of adventure and overtime for the Minnesota teams.  Fury Wilde opened the day with a thrilling 3 overtime win over EYBL rep Houston Hoops.  Fury had 4 starters fouled out by the time it was over.  Jack Middleton with a clutch 3 to force overtime and then Sam Nissen with the game winner with 10 seconds left.  Houston Hoops played without Kentucky commit Tyrese Maxey and Oklahoma commit De'Vion Harmon still had a shot to win it at the buzzer.  Houston Hoops missed a ton of free throws late and Fury missed chances too.  Fury always seems to have games like this in Vegas (see Meanstreets many years ago at Rancho and a tight loss to Georgia Stars recently).  How fun.

Comets Lewis had the following game and liked the Fury game so much they wanted overtime too.  They hung on to advance in their game behind a great outing from Springfield's Isaac Fink.  Side Note: As a metro guy, I have to resist the urge to write the name Sam Neumann whenever I see Fink play.  But both Fury and Comets would have letdowns in their next game and bow out in the round of 16.  Fury's loss was a tough 40-39 OT loss to Oklahoma Power.  Heat MacDonald gave away a big lead and lost in 3 OT as well on Saturday.

I expected to catch only half of the Select Leafblad game after Fury's 2nd game.  But their court was so far behind that I barely missed half of the Comets DLR game before hand.  So an hour behind and a major scoreboard foul up at the end of the Select Leafblad game sees them bow out in the round of 16 as well.  Its a shame to come that far to have something that ridiculous happen.  With 39 teams in Vegas and many setup to possibly cross paths in bracket play, we only ended up with 1 MN vs MN game.  That was Mentality taking out Crossfire I in a 1st round game.  Comets Lewis vs Fury Wilde would have happened on Sunday morning had both won Saturday night.  The winner of that would have gotten a shot at Howard Pulley in the top bracket semis.  Beyond that, the WOTN Davis vs SD Attack rematch was also notable.  Matthew Mors of SD Attack was a monster in his games there.

In between the non-shoe teams it was a venture back to Under Armour headquarters to see D1 take on UA rep Team Thad.  KyKy Tandy had a big day for Team Thad but another impressive performance from Zeke Nnaji as D1 would gain another win.  They would finish out the weekend in style with a Matt Hurt buzzer beater 3 for a win.

Total Results for Minnesota
17U (21 teams): 76-38 record.  4 teams made a semifinal game.  1 team won a title (Heat Walljasper won their bronze bracket)

16U (12 teams): 35-22 record.  2 teams made quarters.  In top bracket quarterfinal, WOTN Davis lost a GPA semifinals rematch with SD Attack.

15U (6 teams):: 23-8 record.  Crossfire Bertsch made quarters of 2nd bracket.  Minnesota Magic 15s won the Gold Elite bracket.

Total Minnesota record 134-68 (66.3%)

For me, I got to see 7 of our Minnesota teams play.  Add in a day at Under Armour games and a day of Nike games and that added up to seeing about half of the top 100 kids in the country play.   Watching online and then seeing in person is fun, but with Under Armour not being online until Vegas, it was nice to spend a day to see their top 16 teams play to round out my shoe circuit viewing for the season.

Lost in an urban pigpen
Now for the lighter side of the trip.   Nothing like getting lost in the vast empire that is Caesar's Palace.  Trying to find my way back to the strip outside almost ended up in a lecture from a security guard.  Thankfully I was in the middle of the lost pack and was able to back track my way out of the mess.  Didn't end up gambling there as the price was too rich for opening night.  Plus I made a point of checking for 6 to 5 blackjack which is what The Linq had so no thanks, I'll play 3 to 2 back at the hotel.

Got a bucket item off the list by eating at The Blind Pig on Tuesday night.  Knowing time for food is limited once the games start, I usually try to get in a good meal ahead of time.  For a basketball guy, who cares what the menu is with a name like this.  Now in a just world I would have had a pork chop, but I'm not perfect.  Place somehow wasn't serving alcohol at 8 PM at night, how does that happen? 

Then the flight home, some gal in my row was sick before the flight took off and was trying to blame it on food.  Her boyfriend tried to explain it was Jack in the Box.  Sure dude, how about the Jack in the Bottle.

Anybody have extra lines of credit to spare?
Now the gambling.  For those of you who following the hit twitter series #GrindersWinGamblersLose, you'll know all this.  This was a total disaster.  I made 1 basic strategy mistake the entire trip.  I doubled a 10 vs a 10 and I actually ended up winning that.  So the book says it should be a 50/50 game at that point.  No way.  1st session, I lose something like 14 of the 1st 15 hands.  Another session, 1st 7 hands lose.  Another session, new dealer sits down turns up 21 5 of the 1st 6 hands.  I had a little luck with double deck early on but zero luck with the bigger deck continuous shuffle.  So the final night I thought would be OK with double deck.  So much for that idea, more of the same as I lose 60% of the night's budget in just the 1st 2 rounds of the double deck.  Losses upon losses upon losses.  I come home way down.  Only 2 winning sessions out of 7.  And there was no inbetween.  Either win big or lose big.  That's strange, more often its a grind it out affair and try to hand around even or just below.

A hand that sums up my trip.  Down to last chip on a double deck table.  Get a pair of 7s vs an 8.  I split those (means I dig out more $$).  1st one, draw a 3.  Double!  2nd one draw a 4, DOUBLE!  Lost both.

I did experience Craps for the 1st time.  I didn't wait out my initial run for a loss.  Then I hung around in my 2nd adventure.  Despite some idiots at the other end of table who were making my end of the table angry but making late bets and generally being a nuisance, I made up some early bad luck and came out ahead in that advenure.  If I would have stayed around, I would have ended up making up even more.  So I end up slightly behind there which wasn't bad.  Maybe a sign to switch games next time.

Next time?
So with new NCAA rules on the immediate horizon, its unclear what the future holds for this incarnation of Vegas recruiting trips.  It will be very interesting to see what comes out of the changes.  Anything that can lead to more high profile shoe vs shoe games would be a good thing.

April 2018 Eye Catchers and Stockraisers

The 2 open periods have concluded and there have been many ups and downs.  Here are some notable team performances.
  • D1 Minnesota is 13-1 and they'll be in the Adidas Finals in New York to start July.  While the bench can be thin at times, the starting 5 is absolutely ridiculous.  Except for 1 stumble vs Exum Elite (formerly known as the Utah Prospects), they have been dominating opponents.
  • Grassroots showed a big improvement from last year's UA performance.  After going 1-15 last year in UA games, they are 4-4 this year.  Its a more balanced lineup than last year.
  • Howard Pulley had a very good win over Spiece Indy Heat in week 1.  But they've lost 5 out of their last 6 and sit dead last in Division C at 2-6 in EYBL play.  Unless they go on a huge run in the 2 May EYBL events, it looks like the Panthers will miss the Peach Jam for only the 2nd time ever.  The speed and athleticism of the EYBL game has been a major adjustment for the starting 2020 guards.
  • Fury Wilde has played in 2 championship games, losing both, and a quality quarterfinal finish in the highly regarded Pitt Jam Fest in the 1st open period.  They sit at 13-3.
  • Comets Lewis made the Comets semis losing to D1 and went on a nice 6-2 run in 2 weeks of NY2LA play.  They sit at 9-3 overall.  Along with Fury and Omaha Sports Academy, they should be one of the top teams in this month's Sanford league.
  • D1 16s lost in the quarterfinals of the Rock Spring Classic in Madison playing up in the 17U division.  They followed that up with an impressive 7-1 run in Adidas Gold play.
  • Fury Zurn is 15-1 with 2 championships (Comets and Proving Ground locally).  Their only loss was a 3 point loss to EYBL rep All Ohio Red.
  • WOTN Davis 16 are 12-1 with their only loss to Fury Zurn at the Comets tourney.  They ran the table 8-0 in 2 weeks of NY2LA play.  I loved Eastview's Steven Crowl last year and he's continued to play very well.
  • Gain Elite 16s are 11-4.  That splits into 7-2 in Adidas Silver play and 4-2 (Gold runner-up) in the Swish N Dish tourney to open the season.
Here are some players, not all inclusive of course, who in my humble opinion helped themselves the most during the April period.
  • Zeke Nnaji - D1 Minnesota.  Scouts were raving over his performance during both open weeks.  That earned him a Minnesota offer amongst others.  No Minnesota player saw his stock jump more this month.
  • Tyler Wahl - D1 Minnesota.  Picked up a Wisconsin offer during the open period.  His versatility to run the point when Tyrell Terry rests (or was out at the Comets tourney) really sticks out.  Perfect complimentary player.
  • Dawson Garcia -D1 Minnesota 16s.  Picked up offers from Texas and Minnesota just to name a couple.  Long, athletic and skilled.  Plenty to be excited about. 
  • Dain Dainja - Grassroots Sizzle UAA.  Showed off his handles in addition to his usual big bodied work and quality feet inside.  His name definitely moved up lots of lists.
  • David Roddy - Howard Pulley.  Far and away Pulley's best player during their difficult 2 week stretch.  As he did during the high school season for Breck, did a bit of everything from ballhandling to rebounding to scoring inside and out for the Panthers.  Picked up a St. Louis offer during the open period.
  • Ben Carlson - D1 Minnesota 16s.  Picked up a Minnesota offer right after the open period.  Long on the radar of teams like Wisconsin, his play has also been a notable part of the hot start for the D1 16s.
  • Jared Rainey - Heat Nelson.  Played very well at both the Comets tourney and at Proving Ground.  D2s have another couple of chances this month to see him locally with the Heat tourney and Battle At The Lakes coming up the next 2 weeks.
  • Brady Williams  - Fury Zurn 16s.  Every time you looked up this month it seems like he was dunking on somebody.  Classic example of a smaller town kid playing on the circuit and getting noticed.  Keep his name in the back of your mind.

2018 Open Period 1 17U Results

So Minnesota teams hit the road for the 1st open period.  Here's how the 17U teams did.

Howard Pulley 2-2
David Roddy and Blaise Beauchamp solid weekends for the Panthers.

Grassroots Sizzle 2-2
That's more games won they all of last year in the UA Association.
Jalen Suggs 12/10/12 in win vs C2K Elite out of Ohio.  Breakout weekend for Dain Dainja

NY2LA Association
Comets Lewis 4-0
Comets DLR 2-2
WOTN Swedberg 1-3
Select Leafblad 1-3

Adidas Silver
Mentality Minnesota 3-1
44 Elite 1-2

D1 Minnesota 4-0, no game closer than 15 points.
They beat the Omaha Crusaders who beat Howard Pulley earlier this month.
Matt Hurt did what he normally does.  Zeke Nnaji with a nice breakout weekend.

D1 Prospects 2-2 in Adidas Silver division

Fury Wilde 4-1 in Pittsburgh, made final 8

St. Louis
Grassroots II 0-4

Crossfire II 2-2

43 Hoops 1-3
Fury Kaupa 2-2
Heat MacDonald 4-1 (lost championship game)
Heat Nelson 2-2
Heat Henderson 3-1 (won their 2nd round losers bracket)
Twin Cities Pirates 3-1 (lost 1st game and then swept their bracket)
MN Magic Team Nike 3-2 (lost 2nd division championship)

Sioux Falls
Crossfire Bellefeuille 4-0 champions
SW MN Stars  3-1
Comets Kirchner 2-2
D1 Rise 2-2
MN Bulldogs 3-1

The 2018 AAU Road Adventure Begins

This weekend marks the 1st of the 5 D1 open periods for the 2018 AAU season.  This weekend and next are the 1st 2 periods with the rest being in July.  No certified events locally so our teams will scatter across the country this week.  I count no fewer than 6 different out of state locations to find our teams this weekend.  Can you say tons of online viewing?  Let's go through all of it.

Dallas is the center of activity this week with no fewer than 5 circuits and 10 different events going on.  Minnesota teams are well represented in the following events.

Howard Pulley
The 16s play an absolutely loaded Phenom U team out of Wisconsin on Friday night.  I saw them in Milwaukee at the start of the month and they are scary good.  The 17s end their 4 game weekend vs one of the top 2 players in the country, Vernon Carey, and Nike Team Florida.

Under Armour Association
Grassroots Sizzle top 17s.  They open vs top 20 player Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and KC Run GMC

Adidas Silver
44 Elite (old Net Gain squad)
Mentality MN
These 2 teams have multiple possibilities of meeting in their final game on Sunday.

NY2LA Association17s
Midwest Unsigned
Comets Lewis
Comets DLR
WOTN Swedberg
Select Leafblad

NY2LA Association 16s
Comets Stumpf
Team GetShook
WOTN Davis
Select Cave

NY2LA Association 15s
Select Ohnstad
Comets Servaty
Team GetShook

Powerade Platform
MN Phenom.  Their 16s and 17s are on the road again this week after playing in Chicago last weekend.  In a bit of interesting scheduling, Pure Prep and elite big guy Xavier Foster from Iowa is in their pool but the teams don't play each other.

St. Louis
Grassroots Sizzle has another team representing Minnesota in the Recruit Look Hoops league.

Adidas is going to 4 regions for the 1st week of play.  Their midwest region visits Indianapolis with everybody else coming to town next week.  All of Adidas visits Atlanta next week.

Adidas Gold
D1 MN 15s, 16s and 17s.  The D1 17s end vs the Omaha Crusaders on Sunday.  Omaha beat Howard Pulley for an Iowa title on the same weekend as the Comets Shootout.  D1 17s also play EG10 (Eric Gordon's team) which tweaks my interest since the Rockets are playing the TWolves right now.

Adidas Silver
D1 Propsects 17s
Gain Elite 16s (old Net Gain)
Gain Elite 15s (old Net Gain)

The Pitt Jam Fest is a very well regarded event for east coast teams.  Its also rare in that the schedule is setup for 2 games on Friday night.  Also rare in that it takes a heck of a run just to have a Sunday game.  Its easy to be out early Saturday afternoon.

Fury Wilde 17s
Fury Zurn 16s
Heat Tauer 15s

Omaha (Midwest Live)
Now 1 of the 2 notable regional events that our teams are attending.
43 Hoops
Fury Kaupa
Heat Macdonald
Heat Nelson
Heat Henderson
TC Pirates (another part of the Net Gain split)
MN Magic (2nd division)

Grassroots Sizzle
Fury Kline
Heat Moberg
Heat Presbi
MN Matrix
MN Suns
Mpls FAB
Heat Lang (2nd division)

D1 Prospects
Heat Bohrer
Heat Johnson
MN Suns
Team Tyus 14s

Sioux Falls (Spring Jam)
Sioux Falls has the shortest trip for our teams going out of town with their annual 1st open period event.

MN Bulldogs
Crossfire I
SW MN Stars
D1 MN Rise
Comets Kirchner

SW MN Stars
WC United

WC United
Crossfire Bertsch
Fury Poppen
SW MN Stars

Minneapolis (Minnesota Select tourney)
This is the 1 local event going on.  You of course have the non-NY2LA Select teams.  But the notables here are in 15U.  Both Howard Pulley 15s are attending along with Fury Syverson.

2018 Comets Shootout Preview

Its the annual kickoff to the AAU season with the 2018 Comets Shootout in St. Cloud.  While its not on ACT weekend, the concepts and scheduling remain the same.  Here's what to look for.

In 17U, there are 40 teams.  That means 16 of them kickoff at 3:00 or 4:10 with pigtail games into the 32 team championship bracket.  The regular bracket games start at 4:10 and end with Round of 16 games at 10:00 Saturday night.  That leads into the quarterfinals starting later Sunday morning.  We'll break this down into the 4 bracket sections of 10 teams that provide 2 teams each to the quarterfinals. 

Section 1:
This section holds the top seeded Comets.  Other teams of note are Crossfire's top team (very underestimated, had a great year last year), Heat Henderson and the top Select squad.  The hosts have to be the favorite to make the semis from this bracket.  I'll take the Comets over Select Leafblad in the quarters.

Players to Watch:
Jack Thompson, Issac Fink, Noah Christensen (NDSU commit) - Comets Lewis 
Jason Kaul - Crossfire Bellefeuille
Jeremy Beckler - Heat Henderson
Malik Willingham - Select Leafblad

Section 2:
In this section you have Fury's 2nd team, the NY2LA team from the WI Playmakers, Heat Nelson and another Select squad.  But the big elephant in the room is D1 Minnesota.  Their loaded 17s are scheduled to attend.  If their 16s show up to play up instead there will be a riot.  That includes Tyrell Terry, Tyler Wahl, Zeke Nnaji, Matt Hurt and big addition Patrick McCaffrey from Iowa who's a top 30 kid nationally.  D1 MN a heavy favorite to advance to play the Comets in the semis.  I'll take them over Fury Kaupa in the quarters.

Players to Watch:
Matt Hurt, Patrick McCaffrey, Tyrell Terry, Zeke Nnaji, Tyler Wahl, Robert Jones - D1 MN
Luke Paulson, Carson Schoeller - Fury Kaupa
Jared Rainey - Heat Nelson

Section 3:
Here you have a solid group of teams as well.  Fury Wilde headlines this quarter.  D1 MN Prospects, Comets DLR and the top ECI crew also lurk here.    Fury is the pick to take out Comets DLR to advance to the semis.

Players to Watch:
Matt Schlottman - D1 MN Prospects
Jacob Beeninga, Cole Nicholson, Dane Zimmer - Fury Wilde
Jenson Beachy, Josh Jeziorski - Comets  DLR
Joe Jahner, Isaac Undlin - ECI Prospects

Section 4:
This is the quarter of death.  There's always 1 round of 16 game that jumps out and its here.  44 Elite, Heat and WOTN top teams and the sleeper Comets 3rd team are here.  44 Elite is the reformation of last year's Net Gain crew with modfications.  They are dangerous and like they've done in past years I'd expect a ringer or 2.  But they have the toughest road as they'll have to take out Heat MacDonald in the round of 16 before a quarterfinal matchup likely with the top WOTN squad.  I'll take them to pull it off.

Players to Watch:
Jalen Dearring - 44 Elite
Cade Goggleye - Comets Kirchner
Sam Schwartz, Malik Spearman - Heat MacDonald
Tyler Robarge - WI City Select
Tyler Kemp - WOTN

As is usual the 16U kids take the stage for the morning and early afternoon sessions.  Always a great opportunity to see some young kids.  There's always somebody who jumps onto the scene.  These games are 2 pool games on Saturday into a 16 team 4 game bracket on Sunday.  D1 MN 15s are playing up.  Team GetShook made a run here in 15U last year and they're back so don't be shocked to see them do that again.  Expect a wide open bracket here with depth being valuable for the championship game (4th game in 9 hours)

Players to Watch:
Jacob Hutson - Fury Kline
Charlie Katona, Cameron Steele - Fury Zurn
Tait Nelson, Cole Chapman, Daydor Phillips - Heat Moberg
Nick Hendler, Walker Johnson - Select Cave
Nate Heise, Tate Machacek, Steven Crowl, Ryan Samuelson - WOTN Davis

2018 State Tourney Preview

Its state tournament time and thankfully no blizzard in the forecast.  Here is what catches my eye.

Class A
Bracket (1st round at Williams Arena on Thursday)
Mahnomen/Waubun vs 1 Mayer Lutheran
5 Hinckley-Finlayson vs 4 Russell-Tyler-Ruthton
Heritage Christian vs 2 North Woods
Rushford-Peterson vs 3 Cass Lake-Bena

Beware of underdog team: Rushford-Peterson
I love the draw for Rushford-Peterson here.  They are 23-7 with 3 1 point losses against bigger school schedule.  North Woods and Cass Lake-Bena have beaten up on many weak teams up north.  In my bold predictions in the Breakdown book at the start of the year I said an unseeded team would make the final in class A.  Rushford-Peterson is that team.

Mayer Lutheran has all the pieces of size and shooting.  They've won 20 in a row and their losses are all to big schools.  That includes AA state opponents Minnehaha and Jordan. Hinckley-Finlayson is experienced.  They lost to AA Virginia by 3 at Virginia while North Woods at home beat Virginia by 3.  RTR is from the always tough section 3 with a record of 30-1 so expect that to be a terrific 4 vs 5 game and the winner can give Mayer Lutheran a run.  In the end, I take Mayer Lutheran over Rushford-Peterson for the title.

Class AA
Bracket (top half qtrs at Target Center, bottom half at Williams Arena on Wednesday night)
Jordan vs 1 Minnehaha
5 St. Cloud Cathedral vs 4 Esko
Breckenridge vs 2 Brooklyn Center
Minnewaska vs 3 Caledonia

Minnehaha's road opened up when Minneapolis North collapsed in the section 5AA final.  I saw Jordan lose to Minneapolis South on MLK day, quickness was a problem then and will be a problem here.  The state tourney lights will be on so I expect Jalen Suggs to raise his game to a championship level.  Esko is always dangerous with 7'3" Adam Trapp in the middle.  But Cathedral is making a return trip with a pair of stars in Michael Schaefer and Mitch Plombom.  If they get a lead, Esko can't leave Trapp in the middle of a zone.

Noah Christensen has been fantastic for Breckenridge.  They took out undefeated Perham in the section final so don't sleep on the Cowboys.  Brooklyn Center doesn't like to defend but they'll find a way to survive round 1.  That won't be the case in the semis.  The King clan has been fantastic, including Mr Basketball finalist, Owen King.  The Warriors will be motivated for another shot at Minnehaha and I think they get it.  Caledonia let Minnehaha get a 16 point lead last month before losing by 4.  Owen King was huge in that game despite some foul trouble.  I think they keep it interesting.  Minnehaha wins their 2nd straight AA title.  The wildcard for the Redhawks is Terry Lockett.  He's been out with an injury.  If he doesn't play, that means the already thin bench gets thinner and Jalen Suggs handles the ball much much more.

Class AAA
Bracket (1st round at Williams Arena on Wednesday)
Hermantown vs 1 De La Salle
5 St. Thomas Academy vs 4 Columbia Heights
Sauk Rapids-Rice vs 2 Austin
Delano vs 3 Mankato East

Beware of underdog team: Delano
Mr Basketball finalist Calvin Wishart leads a very talented roster that has also has a shooter/handler in Derek Techam and a very solid man in the middle in Keegan O'Neill.  They can spread the floor and can score a bunch of points.  Their lack of depth and Mankato East's athletic size present a big challenge in round 1.  Austin and De La Salle no problems in round 1.  Columbia Heights will probably use the 4 seed as motivation.  I like the draw against a St. Thomas Academy team that will have a tough time matching up athletically.  But Columbia Heights isn't deep and St. Thomas Academy can hit enough shots to win.  De La Salle and Austin move on to the final and the curse and streak continue.  De La Salle wins #7 in a row.

Class AAAA
Bracket (1st round at Target Center on Wednesday)
Wayzata vs 1 Cretin-Derham Hall
5 Osseo vs 4 Eden Prairie
Forest Lake vs 2 Apple Valley
Maple Grove vs 3 Lakeville North

Beware of underdog team: Wayzata
Wayzata got a great draw.  They just knocked off a team with bigs in Hopkins in the 6AAAA final.  With their ball and player movement, this is the draw that CDH didn't want.  Not to mention, CDH would be looking at EP (who beat them) and Apple Valley after that.  That's as tough a road as you could have created for the 1 seed.  Jacob Beeninga is tough as nails physically and competitively to will his team to wins.  They went small in the section final taking Tanner Jonas off the floor which would force Daniel Oturu to defend away from the rim.  Does CDH dare play 1-3-1 against the shooting potential.  Shooting teams are great but the big building is a great equalizer.  If Wayzata advances, they split with Eden Prairie in the regular season and Osseo is banged up right now.

But don't discount how Osseo is defending right now.  Plus Emmette Page has been fantastic all year getting buckets.  They'll need every bucket with forward Anthony Williams out and guard Zach Theisen hobbled.  Eden Prairie too sound and too balanced.  Expect a fairly low scoring game with Eden Prairie moving on.  Apple Valley will find a way to contain Manny Jingco and move on.  Lakeville North too deep and too good defensively, they'll move on over Maple Grove.

That sets up the top 4 seeds by my picks for a couple of terrific semifinals.  Eden Prairie beat CDH at the buzzer at the end of the year.  I think they do it again by getting Oturu and Sy Chatman away from the basket with pick and roll.  That's been the magic potion against the Raiders all year.  CDH has gotten away with Sy Chatman away from the rim defensively (he's a center by trade and still learning perimeter defense where he often gets lost), it bit them in the last meeting and will do so again here.  Apple Valley won the rematch with Apple Valley with Luke Martens back in the lineup.  I won't bet against Tre Jones after what he did last year.  He leads them to the title with 2 big games in the semis and championship.

Heritage wears the Cinderella slipper

To Anoka-Ramsey Community College for the section 4A final between 5 seed Heritage Christian (12-17) and 6 seed Mounds Park Academy (9-19).  Once upon a time I used to do the combined 4A/4AA finals at Holy Angels.  Once that went away, I stayed away.  But the story of one of these Cinderella teams making it was too good to pass up.  Hollywood on the call with black sleeves tonight.  The good folks at ARCC taking care of me for a rare evening of the low angle view at the scorer's table.

Game Time
Heritage comes out 2-3 zone and that's just part of a slow early pace.  MPA patient in their zone offense.  Heritage patient in their Swing Offense.  Yahya Mader 2 early 3s for Mounds Park.  Ben Allen a deep Heritage 3.  Seth Halvorsen adds a putback and 2 FTs at the 9:15 mark for Heritage.  13-12 Mounds Park Academy on top.  The free throws come on Madar's 2nd foul.  He stays in but MPA goes 3-2 to try to save him. 

Later, the teams trade triples and Halverson hits from deep as he starts to turn it on.  Heritage takes the lead 22-19.  MPA then starts to turn it over.  Halvorsen adds a free throw and a bucket on 2 of those.  That's inbetween 2 putbacks by MPA soph Alex Nicoski.  27-25 Heritage before an end to end trip by Nick Guiang ties it.  .  MPA 1 last possession to tie it, they go a few seconds too quick and Halvorsen runs out for a hammer 1 handed slam just before the buzzer. 31-27 Heritage at the break.  Halvorsen 15 points with the momentum dunk.  Madar 9 before sitting late in the half with the fouls.

The stars keep it going to start the 2nd half.  Madar 2 blocks on 1 possession and he'll take it the other way for the hoop and harm.  Halverson converts a turnover on a pretty Eurostep move.  Soph TJ Guggenberger comes up big for Heritage off their bench with 8 in a row via 2 triples and a drive for a nice scoop finish.  43-33 Heritage stretching the lead with 11:35 left.  Halvorsen adds a 3 for a Mokiller timeout and a free throw.  9:32 left as Heritage leads 49-35 after a 14-4 run in under 4 minutes.  Sam Frederickson adds 2 layups to stretch the lead to 16 with 8:20 left.

Mounds Park Academy won't go away.  Ben Nippolt with his 3rd and 4th triples of the night before fouling out with 4:23 left.  Those cut the lead to 10.  Madar with a pair of 3s to cut the lead to 6 with 1:30 left.  They'll press and force a turnover as Heritage ducks the shoulder trying to gain space with 1:05 left.  But turnovers will seal it.  Ben Allen converts 1 into 2 free throws.  Then a Halvorsen steal and an absolutely nasty monster 2 handed dunk on Madar with the foul.  Easily the best dunk I've seen all year (Here's the video).  Heritage Christian Academy advances to the state tournament with the 64-56.

Post Game
Junior Yahya Madar leads Mounds Park Academy with 4 triples and 19 points.  Junior guard Ben Nippolt adds 4 triples of his own off the bench for 12 points.  Nick Guiang chips in with 10 points.  The Panthers finish their season 9-20.  That's more wins than they had in the last 2 years.  That included breaking a 10 year 100+ game losing streak in conference games and a win over Larpenteur Ave neighbor Hill-Murray.  Lots for head coach Jake Schwartz to be proud of in his 1st year.

Seth Halvorsen was terrific for Heritage.  He leads the Eagles with 26 points.  Him and Ben Allen really controlled the pace of the game.  Sam Frederickson and soph TJ Guggenberger each add 10 critical points.  The Eagles defense generated enough turnovers to be the difference.  Heritage is pretty thin depth wise but they're well coached and who ever they draw at state will have to work to knock them out.