2015-2016 MCAA Preview

This is the fifth preview in my 2015-16 season preview series.  Week 1 of the 6 week series concludes with a look at the Minnesota Christian Athletic Association (MCAA).  For a list of all the season previews and how they are done, click here.

Bethany Academy Eagles (2014-15 season 4-24, 0-13 Conference, 5th South)
Four starters and 7 members of the rotation return for the Eagles.  The junior tandem of Sam Peterson and Sam LeVoir should lead the way.  Seniors AJ Lechtenberg and Ben Wedel also return to the starting lineup.  As of this writing, Bethany is still looking for a new head coach.

Heritage Christian Academy Eagles (2014-15 season 16-12, 7-6 Conference, 3rd North)
Coach Tim Herman returns 3 of his top 4 starters.  That includes 17 PPG and 8 RPG from junior wing CJ Woda.  He figures to be one of the top players in the league.  Junior Jack VanderTop was good for 8.9 PPG and 6.8 RPG from the middle last year.  Senior Tanner Scott returns at a guard spot.  Soph Ben Allen provides shooting from a guard spot.

Legacy Christian Academy Lions (2014-15 season 18-11, 9-4 Conference, 2nd North)
Legacy has to replace 18.4 and 8.4 from shooting guard Nate Bertsch and 11.5 PPG from guard Caleb Johnson.  The next 6 members of their rotation are back.  Juniors Lucas Nelson and Cole Bertsch return to the starting lineup on the perimeter with Michael Stelly in the middle.  Jack Yaeger, Josh Niessen and Jack Bertsch provide depth.

Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity Bulldogs (2014-15 season 8-20, 4-9 Conference, 4th South)
Former player Ben Machemehl takes over the program.  He has lots to replace.  The shooting of Josh Volness, inside play of Jordan Radtke and perimeter guys Jazz Baird all need to be replaced.  It was a senior laden roster so experience will be an issue.

Maranatha Christian Academy Mustangs (2014-15 season 29-3, 13-0 Conference, 1st North)
The end of the Hanson era is here as its the 1st time in 9 seasons of previews (and many years before that), that it won't be a Hanson leading the way.  I see it as the end of their MCAA domination (for now) as well.  With Damario Armstrong's transfer to Osseo, the entire rotation is gone.  Sophomore Wendell Smith takes over inside .  Elisha Coleman will play a wing.  Frosh Julian Cavin looks to see plenty of minutes.  Dyante Jordan, DeAngelo Purnell, Holden Baker and Tristan Rohwer are others who should see time for an inexperienced and small lineup.

New Life Academy Eagles (2014-15 season 16-12, 9-4 Conference, 2nd South)
Star forward Conrad Engstrom and 20 PPG have graduated.  7.4 PPG and 8 RPG from Luke Berger and Jake Wynia also depart the front line. Guard Sam Horner also needs to be replaced.  Energy guy Ebenezer Ketema returns to a wing spot.  He's the top returning scorer at 7.6 PPG.  Simon Killeen returns after putting up 5.5 PPG.  Brad Goulet also returns to the rotation.

PACT Charter Panthers (2014-15 season 15-11, 4-9 Conference, 4th North)
Leading scorer Drew Johnson returns.  The other double figure scorer Derek Stone graduated.  Senior Zach Hagen and Soph Cade Johnson return to the rotation.  Depth is a concern.

Southwest Christian Stars (2014-15 season 18-7, 10-3 Conference, 1st South)
The high powered backcourt of Jack Jenson (20 PPG, top returning scorer in the MCAA) and junior Trey Sandness (12.2 PPG) returns for coach Kit Avery.  Guards Kyle Meinke and Colin Provart also return to the starting lineup.  Drew Schwarz will need to be replaced in the middle.  Juniors Brady Bengston and Spencer Weiss also return to the rotation.  The Stars will play small so rebounding is a concern but they will be able to put up points.

Trinity Tri-Hawks (2014-15 season 11-16, 7-6 Conference, 3rd South)
Forward Jon Lotti departs after averaging 18.5 PPG.  Eddie Maruggi returns at a wing after putting up 15.8 PPG.  He averaged 18 PPG the year before that and I expect him to go for 20 something a night this season.  Everybody else returns.  Guard Josiah Summer is also a double figure returning scorer (10 PPG).  Eamon Naughton and Luke Lodeon are just 2 other members coming back.

West Lutheran Warriors (2014-15 season 9-17, 2-11 Conference, 5th North)
The top 2 scorers Zach Dwyer  (18 PPG) and Tyler Kimmons (7.8 PPG) have graduated.  Junior Ben Biese looks to take over as the top scoring option.  Garrett Anderson, James Ripley, Isaac Groom and Andrew Tolkinen are seniors who return to the rotation and provide experience.  Junior Griffin Ewing will join them.

Predicted Order of Finish

North Division
  1. Heritage
  2. Legacy  
  3. Maranatha
  4. West Lutheran   
  5. PACT  
South Division
  1. SW Christian   
  2. Trinity    
  3. New Life  
  4. Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity   
  5. Bethany
Conference Overview
Heritage, SW Christian and Trinity are all poised for very nice seasons with the best players in the league returning.  Heritage has to go to both SW Christian and Trinity for the single cross-division game in the regular season.  Maranatha has some nice young pieces with but no experience.  Combine that with what Heritage and Legacy have coming back and I don't see them any higher than 3rd.  They'll be mid-level with Legacy (most likely to move up), New Life and West Lutheran.  PACT, LP/HT and Bethany I think will struggle.

Conference MVP: CJ Woda - Heritage

Underclassmen to watch:  
  • Ben Allen - Heritage
  • Wendell Smith, Julian Cavin - Maranatha
  • Cade Johnson - PACT
  • Charlie Druffner - Trinity
Conference Games to Watch
  • SW Christian at Trinity - Dec 8th 
  • Heritage at Legacy - Dec 18th
  • Legacy at Trinity - Jan 5th
  • Heritage at SW Christian - Jan 14th
  • SW Christian at Legacy - Jan 19th
  • Heritage at Trinity - Jan 19th
  • Trinity at SW Christian - Jan 28th
  • Legacy at Heritage - Feb 2nd
  • MCAA Tournament - Feb 11 and 13th
Non-Conference Games to Watch
  • SW Christian at MN Transitions - Dec 15th
  • Trinity at MN Transitions - Feb 4th
  • Minneapolis Roosevelt at Heritage - Feb 16th

2015-16 Metro West Conference Preview

This is the fourth preview in my 2015-2016 season preview series.  In this preview, a look at the Metro West Conference.  For a list of all the season previews and how they are done, click here.

Benilde St. Margaret's Red Knights (2014-15 season 10-18, 6-8 Conference, Tie 4th)
Senior guard Jalen Floyd and his 11.8 PPG will be missed.  The rest of the main pieces are coming back.  Winona St recruit Sam Baker mans 1 wing after averaging over 15 PPG last year.  Junior sniper Derek Drees mans the other wing.  Guards Mat Lilienthal and Will Whitmore return as does center Eli Cave in the middle.  Cave had a very nice summer of improvement.  Soph forward Joe Dunn figures to see minutes as well.

Bloomington Jefferson Jaguars (2014-15 season 17-7, 11-3 Conference, 3rd)
All 5 starters graduate including Winona St recruit Tommy Gathje and his 17 and 7 per night.  There's a quality group of juniors waiting in the wings to replace them.  Jack Tillotson and Joe Hird came off the bench last year.  Tyler Riemersma and Peter Gathje appear poised to man the front line.  Senior guards Jake Murray and Cal Elander return as well.

Bloomington Kennedy Eagles (2014-15 season 9-16, 4-10 Conference, Tie 6th)
Lefty shooter Tyson Chase was the top scorer last year at almost 15 a night.  He graduates but the next 2 scorers return.  Soph PG Markel Aune returns to run the show after averaging 13 PPG.  Forward Josh Bryant averaged 11.8 PPG.  Double figures from Darius Bell also need to be replaced.  Junior Andre Alexander will see time as a forward.

Chanhassen Storm (2014-15 season 17-11, 12-2 Conference, 2nd)
Its a rebuilding year after losing a strong senior class.  That class was highlighted by Mankato recruit Joey Witthus and his 22.9 PPG.  Point guard Ben Khwice and Chad Mapes are 2 other contributors that will be missed.  Sophomore Chris Wandling should take over the point guard duties.  Henry Weisman and Trey Prince are 2 juniors who should have major roles.

Chaska Hawks (2014-15 season 22-7, 13-1 Conference, 1st)
Point guard Jacob Hansen and 17.3 PPG will be sorely missed.  Junior Myles Hanson becomes the team's top option after putting up 15.7 PPG last year.  Alex Strazzanti provides quality defense.  Andrew Kallman can run the show and knock down shots.  Luke Hennen, Luke Roskam and Brandon Kraus provide depth.

Richfield Spartans (2014-15 season 2-25, 0-14 Conference, 8th)
Leading scorer Raphael Bilal graduated.  Front court athlete Markest Brown transferred to Minneapolis Henry.  3 players who started as sophomores last year plus senior Tommy Fallon return to the lineup.  Guard Junior Stone is the top returning scorer at 11.6 PPG.  They'll have limited size up front and a small but quick backcourt. 

Robbinsdale Cooper Hawks (2014-15 season 7-19, 6-8 Conference, Tie 4th)
Leading scorer Taron Pickford and almost 19 points a game are gone due to transfer to Maple Grove.  Guard Jayson Edwards graduated after averaging 11.2 PPG.  Wing Melvin Newburn Jr  is the top returning player at 15.2 PPG.  The rest of the lineup featured lots of youth.  Sophs Beijan Newburn and Adam Cook will see plenty of time.  Junior guard Damien Gordon will also have a big role.
St. Louis Park Orioles (2014-15 season 9-18, 4-10 Conference, Tie 6th)
The Orioles improved from 1 win to 9 wins last season.  Senior Nick Kjos and 13 PPG is the most important departing starter.  Leading scorer Ray Whitlock and 16.5 PPG returns along with junior forward Mykal Howard.  Junior Ryan Domres and senior Aron Zheng make up the center tandem.  Juniors Josiah Morrow and Jack Lynch also were rotation members last year.

Predicted Order of Finish
  1. Benilde-St. Margaret's 
  2. Chaska
  3. Bloomington Jefferson 
  4. St. Louis Park
  5. Chanhassen
  6. Robbinsdale Cooper  
  7. Bloomington Kennedy
  8. Richfield
Conference Overview
Benilde-St. Margaret's has too much coming back to not be the favorite.  Chaska may lose Jacob Hansen but I like what they have waiting in the wings so I'll keep them second.  Jefferson loses too much to be picked higher than 3rd but I think they'll be better than many expect.  St. Louis Park and Chanhassen battle for the last spot in the top half.  I expect that middle section 2-5 to be very competitive.  Cooper and Kennedy are very similar teams.  I think Cooper is a smidge more talented so they get that pick.  Richfield continues to rebuild.

Conference MVP: Sam Baker - Benilde-St. Margaret's

Underclassmen to watch:  
  • Joe Dunn - Benilde-St. Margaret's
  • Gavin Lyons - Bloomington Jefferson
  • Markel Aune - Bloomington Kennedy
  • Chris Wandling - Chanhassen
  • Beijan Newburn, Adam Cook - Robbinsdale Cooper
  • Cire Mayfield, Aidan Doherty - St. Louis Park
Conference Games to Watch
  • Chaska at Benilde-St. Margaret's- Jan 5th
  • Benilde-St.Margaret's at Bloomington Jefferson - Jan 8th
  • Benilde-St.Margaret's at Chaska - Jan 26th
  • Bloomington Jefferson at Benilde-St. Margaret's- Feb 4th
Non-Conference Games to Watch
  • Apple Valley at Chaska - Dec 1st
  • Chaska at Lakeville North - Dec 3rd
  • Benilde St. Margaret's and Chaska vs TBD at Minnetonka- Dec 12th (Breakdown Tipoff Classic) 
  • Benilde-St. Margaret's at De La Salle - Dec 23rd

2015-16 Metro East Conference Preview

This is the third preview in my 2015-2016 season preview series.  In this preview, I move to the east metro for a look at the Metro East Conference.  For a list of all the season previews and an explanation of how the previews are generated, click here.

Hastings Raiders (2014-15 season 21-6, 13-3 Conference, 1st)
After a banner season where the Raiders won the conference title, 4 starters need to be replaced.  Forwards Sam Skoyen and versatile Craig Nielsen combined for 33 a night.  Guards Christian Bronner and Joe Dittrich combined for almost 21.  A pair of reserve bigs also graduated.  Forward Brady Gullicks is the top returning player.  Guards Austin Bayne and Colin Kummer will take over in the backcourt.  After that, there's no experience.

Henry Sibley Warriors (2014-15 season 2-24, 1-15 Conference, Tie 8th)
From 18 wins 2 years ago, to 13 wins last year and down to rock bottom with only 2 wins last year.  That was in part due to a youth movement where the Warriors only had 1 senior.  Senior Zach Edwards averaged 9.4 PPG to lead the team.  He's 1 of 5 senior starters returning.  Soph PG Rieshaun Satar also returns.  He averaged 8.4 PPG.

Hill-Murray Pioneers (2014-15 season 21-8, 11-5 Conference, Tie 2nd)
The Pioneers have to replace all everything guard Marshawn Wilson (now at Northern Illinois).  He averaged 26 pts and a ridiculous 10.9 rebounds per game last year.  Double figure shooters Jack Fahey and Sam Westby also graduated.  Starting point guard Simeon Davis was the 2nd scorer last year at 11.2 PPG and 7.6 RPG.  Center Chris Moore also returns with 10 points and 6 boards per game.  Sam Carlson and Nathan Donatell also figure to see time for a guard dominated lineup.

Mahtomedi Zephyrs (2014-15 season 19-10, 10-6 Conference, Tie 5th)
The top 4 scorers including center Sean Hjelle's 15 and 10 are gone.  Hjelle is the hardest to replace of the group.  But more than the other depleted rosters in the league, the Zephyrs are equipped to reload.  That includes junior forwards Andy Voyen and Parker Fox up front.  Seniors Gus Farrell and Jacob Martin also provide frontcourt depth.  Senior lefty Joe Rock and junior Will Tuttle will step in to help replace the departed trio of Sam Muster, Jackson Bell and Sam Newman.  Leading returning scorer Lucas Buller averaged 7.4 PPG and will be a primary option on the wing.

North Polars (2014-15 season 6-21, 4-12 Conference, 7th)
The Polars took their lumps against a veteran league last year.  Now they return 6 of their top 7 scorers and appear poised to make a big jump.  Soph forward Goodnews Kpegeol is the only double figure scorer at 11.7 PPG.  Josh Steckler, Jake Weber, Thomas Acoqui, Adreon Wadlington and Termaine Daniels all return to the rotation.  Wadlington is a JT Gibson lookalike who has the ability to be a defensive stopper.  Steckler provides perimeter punch.  Playing many of the top teams in the league tough last year will prove valuable this season.
St. Thomas Academy Cadets (2014-15 season 19-9, 11-5 Conference, Tie 2nd)
New coach Tyler Biwan has to replace 4 starters.  He has forward Nate Chaffee and his 12.7 PPG to man the front line.  No one else averaged more than 5 PPG.  Joe Harvey, TJ Wright and John Myran figure to fill perimeter slots.  Nolan Sullivan should see time in the middle.

Simley Spartans (2014-15 season 19-9, 10-6 Conference, Tie 5th)
Guard Jack Stensgard and his team leading 16.6 PPG returns.  He can play both guard spots.  But the rest of the rotation will need to be replaced.  Andrew Leeder and Blake Scheffkneckt should man forward spots.  Soph Jake Binley should see plenty of time on the wing.  (Czar's Note: I've since been informed Scheffkneckt was a senior, oops)

South St. Paul Packers (2014-15 season 5-22, 1-15 Conference, Tie 8th)
South St. Paul broke a 72 game conference losing streak by winning at Sibley to start the new year.  That win gave them a split for last place.  Now they just have to break that 41 game conference losing streak at home.  4 starters and all but 2 members of the rotation are gone.  Senior forward Zach Taylor returns with 10.8 PPG.  But he may be best known as the uncle of Boo, The Mini Ref.  Guard Nate Totino is the 1 other member of the rotation returning.

Tartan Titans (2014-15 season 21-7, 11-5 Conference, Tie 2nd)
While everyone is trying to figure out how to fill out a lineup, Tartan is loaded.  They return 4 junior starters including their catalyst PG Jordan Horn (17.7 PPG).  Forward Joevon Walker also averaged double figures.  Kingston Myles returns in a defensive wing role along with forward Emanuel Humphrey.  Then as an added bonus star soph Jarvis Thomas will join the lineup.  Add in shooter Noah Wahlen from Ellsworth, WI and depth with DeNario Jackson, Jordan Thompson and Elijah Johnson.

Predicted Order of Finish
  1. Tartan
  2. Mahtomedi
  3. North
  4. Hill-Murray
  5. St. Thomas Academy    
  6. Simley 
  7. Hastings 
  8. Henry Sibley
  9. South St. Paul
Conference Overview
Both leagues in the east metro suburbs were ravaged by graduation.  Tartan is loaded but beyond that huge losses across the rest of last year's contending teams.  Mahtomedi has pieces they can plug in.  I'm going to pick North to make a big jump with their experience. Hill-Murray, St. Thomas Academy and Simley all have a couple of pieces to play with.  Sibley has everybody back so they have to go above South St. Paul for the last spot.  I could see Sibley's experience allowing them to battle Hastings for the spot above.

Conference MVP: Jordan Horn - Tartan

Underclassmen to watch:  
  • Sawyer Levos - Hastings 
  • Rieshaun Satar - Henry Sibley
  • Goodnews Kpegeol, Bryce Phillips - North St. Paul  
  • Jake Binley - Simley
  • Jarvis Thomas - Tartan
Conference Games to Watch
  • Mahtomedi at Tartan - Dec 18th
  • Tartan at Mahtomedi - Jan 29th
Non-Conference Games to Watch
  • Mahtomedi at Chisago Lakes - Nov 24th
  • Tartan vs TBD - Dec 12th (Breakdown Tipoff Classic at Minnetonka)
  • Centennial at Tartan - Dec 30th (Projected Tartan tourney final)
  • Edina at Tartan - Feb 19th

2015-16 Lake Conference Preview

This is the second preview in my 2015-2016 season preview series.  In this preview, a look at the Lake Conference.  For a list of all the season previews and how they are done, click here.

Eden Prairie Eagles (2014-15 season 24-5, 6-2 Lake Conference, Tie 1st)
Despite losing their top 3 scorers, Eden Prairie will rebound from a crushing loss to Hopkins in the section final.  The backcourt is loaded with seniors Brady Rudrud, Ryan Jacobus and Nick Geolat plus junior Owen Chose.  All 4 can knock down 3s and are very interchangeable.  They combined for almost 30 PPG last year and I expect them to do the bulk of the Eagles scoring this year.  The leadership and intangibles of Blake Cashman will be seriously missed.  Jake Ruppert and soph Kyler Kluge provide depth.  Look for Jack Vermedahl to provide size upfront.

Edina Hornets (2014-15 season 18-9, 2-6 Lake Conference, 5th)
Interior presence Max Lynch, wings Ben Boone and John Swanke all need to be replaced.  The high scoring perimeter duo of junior point guard Walt McGrory (17 PPG) and senior sharpshooter Will Moreton (14.2 PPG) returns.  Junior Jimmy Connell returns and soph Anders Nelson will join the rotation.  Size and depth are issues to address.

Hopkins Royals (2014-15 season 23-7, 6-2 Lake Conference, Tie 1st)
Hopkins struggled to find their way after Amir Coffey's injury last year, but once they figured out it, they were very dangerous.  Now Coffey returns to the lineup with a scholarship to Minnesota in hand and fits right into the spot John Warren vacated.  Everyone else returns so expect an even better season this year.  The perimeter play is the deepest in the state with Xavier Johnson, Ishmael El-Amin, Vinnie Shahid and Anthony Davis joining Simon Wright and Coffey.  Erik Davis will see time as a forward.  Its an explosive lineup with many matching parts.  Expect them to be a serious contender for another Gold Ball.

Minnetonka Skippers (2014-15 season 19-8, 3-5 Lake Conference, Tie 3rd)
Chris Carr takes over at the helm of the Skippers program after Tom Dasovich left to become the Watertown-Mayer athletic director.  He has a group that is very well suited to his dribble drive style. PG Amar Miller put up 21 a night and this style should be perfect for him.  It should also help wings Seth Coatta (NDSU recruit) and Cedric Boone who combined for 30 a night last year.  Both will have plenty of chances to knock down 3s or attack the rim.  The Skippers put up 85 a night last year so scoring won't be a problem.  The biggest question is defense.  They gave up 105 to Minneapolis South in an opening round section upset last year.  Size is also a question behind Max Cooper.

Wayzata Trojans (2014-15 season 21-8, 3-5 Lake Conference, Tie 3rd)
Here's one I got completely wrong last year.  The Trojans improved from 8 wins to 21 wins and did it without a single senior.  That means they return no fewer than 10 guys who saw meaningful minutes.  That includes leader Johnny Beeninga (17 PPG, MN-Moorhead recruit), sharpshooters Jack Sowada (14.2 PPG) and junior Ryan Lindberg along with Sioux Falls recruit Austin Slater (11.4 PPG) inside.  They're deep, experienced, and they have players for every position and role.

Predicted Order of Finish
  1. Hopkins
  2. Wayzata
  3. Eden Prairie
  4. Minnetonka
  5. Edina
Conference Overview
There's not a bad team in the league. Edina is no worse than a 500 team.  Minnetonka can outscore anybody on any given night.  The other 3 teams are all top 5 caliber teams.  I take Hopkins as the favorite with Wayzata and Eden Prairie not far behind.  Minnetonka has more coming back than Edina so I'll take the Skippers to stay out of the cellar.  Should be a really fun year to watch as all teams have at least 2 kids that are minimum D2 caliber.  High level play all around.

Conference MVP: Amir Coffey -  Hopkins

Underclassmen to watch:  
  • Max Steensland, Kyler Kluge - Eden Prairie
  • Anders Nelson- Edina
  • Anthony Davis, Joe Hedstrom, Andrew Dahnke - Hopkins 
Conference Games to Watch
  • Hopkins at Wayzata - Dec 11th
  • Wayzata at Eden Prairie - Jan 8th
  • Hopkins at Eden Prairie - Jan 15th
  • Wayzata at Hopkins - Jan 29th
  • Eden Prairie at Wayzata - Feb 12th
  • Eden Prairie at Hopkins - Feb 19th
 Non-Conference Games to Watch
  • Robbinsdale Armstrong at Wayzata - Nov 24th
  • Wayzata at Lakeville North - Nov 28th
  • TBD at Hopkins - Dec 5th (Girls Tipoff Classic)
  • All league members vs TBD at Minnetonka - Dec 12th (Boys Tipoff Classic)
  • Lakeville North vs Eden Prairie - Dec 22nd
  • Hopkins at Champlin Park - Dec 22nd
  • Wayzata vs Apple Valley (at St. Cloud Apollo)- Dec 29th (Granite City)
  • Wayzata vs Champlin Park (at SCSU) - Dec 30th (Granite City)
  • Eden Prairie at Shakopee - Jan 2nd
  • De La Salle at Eden Prairie - Jan 5th
  • Hopkins at Minneapolis North - Jan 19th
  • Eden Prairie vs Cretin-Derham Hall (at UST) - Jan 19th
  • Wayzata at Minneapolis North - Jan 25th 
  • Minnetonka vs Stevens Point (WI) at Onalaska (WI) - Jan 30th (Border Battle)
  • Eden Prairie at Robbinsdale Armstrong - Feb 3rd
  • Cretin-Derham Hall at Hopkins - Feb 3rd
  • Eden Prairie at Champlin Park - Feb 10th

2015-16 Independent Metro Athletic Conference Preview

This is the first preview in my 2015-2016 season preview series.  We start the 6 week preview series with a look at the Independent Metro Athletic Conference (IMAC).  For a list of all the season previews and how they are done, click here.

Blake Bears (2014-15 season 2-25, 2-8 Conference, 5th)
The Bears fell off hard from 22 wins to 2-25 last season.  Both wins were league wins over Mounds Park Academy.   Sophomore sniper point guard Jack Moe returns after leading the team with 14.8 PPG.  Most of the rest of the rotation graduated.  Charlie Levitt graduates after being one of the other offensive threats.  Expect another long season on top of the hill. 

Breck Mustangs (2014-15 season 20-9, 8-2 Conference, Tie 1st)
Former star PG Marcus Hill takes over the reins of his alma mater after 1 year as an assistant.  He has a ton to replace.  Guards Will Culliton and Mo Lawal with forward Henry Cousineau combined for over 51 PPG.  Those 3 plus athletic wing Kwaku Bodom all graduated.  6'8" Senior Justin Bergerson returns in the middle.  Senior Miles Olowu provides front court depth.  Junior Garrett Opperman should have a much expanded role.

Minnehaha Academy Redhawks (2014-15 season 19-9, 8-2 Conference, Tie 1st)
Coach Lance Johnson returns his top 3 scorers.  Sophomore forward JaVonni Bickham averaged almost a double-double with 17.5 PPG and 9.7 RPG per game last year.  8th grader Jalen Suggs saw limited time due to injury but was still the 2nd scorer at 11 per night.  Plenty of guard depth returns with 10.9 PPG from Jake Richardson.  Toughness and defense from Benny Larry along with 7.1 PPG also return.  Reserve bigs behind Bickham are a question mark.

Mounds Park Academy Panthers (2014-15 season 6-19, 0-10 Conference, 6th)
Dan Haase returns to the boys head coach seat after spending 3 years leading the Panthers girls program and a year off.  He previously led the program from 1999-2011.  The Panthers have currently lost 79 straight conference games since Feb 1, 2008.  Everybody returns so that means another year of junior Brendan Connolly (11.8 PPG) and senior Cole Montour (7.4 PPG) leading the way.

Providence Academy Lions (2014-15 season 16-12, 4-6 Conference, 4th)
The top 2 scorers, wing Matt Richelsen and PG Dominic Miller return for the Lions.   Bruising football prospect Gavin Blomberg will anchor the front line.  He'll replace Sebastian Brown up front.  Drew Lahr provides experience up front.  The bench will need to be more productive.

St. Paul Academy Spartans (2014-15 season 19-10, 8-2 Conference, Tie 1st)
The Spartans won the obscure points allowed tiebreaker to win the conference title.  Seniors Dalante Peyton and Kent Hanson return as a potent 1-2 punch averaging almost 34 points a game.  Role playing guards Ryan Peacock, Emerson Egly  and Angel Smaller also return.  They will need to find replacements for the size of Abdul Osman (9 and 6 last year) and Sam Suzuki.  The defensive stopper role of Dean Isaacson took some burden off of Peyton last year, but won't be there this year.  Head coach Kevin McKenzie left to take the Roseville head job.  Macalester assistant Isaiah Walfred takes over the program.  He was previously a head coach at North St. Paul.

Predicted Order of Finish
  1. Minnehaha
  2. St. Paul Academy
  3. Providence
  4. Breck
  5. Blake
  6. Mounds Park Academy
Conference Overview
The league splits into 3 clear tiers.  Minnehaha and SPA should battle for the conference title.  Providence looks to have the inside track for 3rd with Breck maybe jumping in there.  Blake and Mounds Park Academy are a notch below the 2nd tier and will battle each other to stay out of the cellar.

Conference MVP: Dalante Peyton - St. Paul Academy

Underclassmen to watch:  
  • Jack Moe - Blake
  • Riley Burger- Breck
  • JoVanni Bickham, Jalen Suggs - Minnehaha
  • Nick Flottmeier, Braeden Mischke - Providence 
Conference Games to Watch
  • St. Paul Academy at Minnehaha - Jan 19th
  • Minnehaha at St. Paul Academy - Feb 5th
 Non-Conference Games to Watch
  • Minnehaha at St. Croix Lutheran - Dec 1st
  • St. Paul Academy at Cristo Rey - Dec 5th
  • St. Croix Lutheran at St. Paul Academy - Dec 10th
  • Minnehaha in Breakdown Tipoff Classic at Minnetonka - Dec 12th
  • St. Paul Academy vs Minneapolis Henry (at Hamline) - Dec 22nd
  • Minnehaha at Minneapolis North - Jan 16th

Welcome to Czar Season 9

Its Labor Day weekend and that means its time to turn the page to the 2015-2016 season.  All of the 2014-15 pages can be found on the Previous Seasons archive page.  That has all the player signings, previews and pools from the previous seasons I've covered.

As to 2015-16, this is season number 9 online and I've passed the 1000 total games watched mark.  All of the pages you're used to seeing are back.  The notable leagues and camps of the 2015 fall season are on the Fall Ball page.  I'll be doing my usual 6 week long season preview series where I look at all of the metro area conferences and sections.  Team previews will be done in the 13 working days leading up to MEA.  After the MEA break, we'll take you right up until the start of practice with section previews and a wrap of games and events to see.  The full schedule for when those previews will be posted is on the Season Previews page.  With a handful of players from the class of 2016 already making their college choices, the Signings page has been flipped over to 2016 as well.  I also have a start on the local holiday tournament schedule on the Holiday Tourneys page.  I'll update that page as we approach the holidays with the actual schedules.

This year also marks a new set of section assignments and classifications.  As part of a 6 year cycle, not only were teams moved around based on class, the MSHSL did a full review of every team's section location across all sports.  That meant some rather major changes.  You can find all of those on the updated Section Maps and Section Assignment links.

The Rankings page has been updated with all of the latest national rankings from the end of the 2015 AAU season.  Players from the top 150 from the 4 major ranking services (Rivals, Scout, ESPN and 247Sports) are included.  For those of you who are Northstar Hoops Report subscribers, it also includes links for the Minnesota rankings in 2016-2018 as well as the 2019 watch list for incoming freshmen.  For you recruiting diehards, the fall recruiting period opens this week.  Links to the D1 and D2 recruiting calendars have been updated in the Recruiting Links menu.

While we're in the spirit of changes, here's a link to the NFHS rules changes for this season.  Biggest one is hand-checking which is going to be very interesting how consistently this is called over the course of the season.

Vegas Review 2015

The Czar's annual trip to Las Vegas for the July recruiting period has completed.  5 years of Vegas now in the books.  Here are some of the sights and sounds of my trip.

The Games
Probably the biggest theme for me for the trip was all of the point guard play.  Here's a list of no fewer than 10 high profile PGs I saw and its not necessarily all inclusive.  Lonzo Ball, Dennis Smith, Frank Jackson, Jaylen Fisher, Eric Hester, Kobi Simmons, Payton Pritchard, Jaquori McLaughlin, Trevon Duval (2017), Alex Barcello (2017), Jordan McCabe (2018).  McLaughin and Pritchard had Wisconsin following them and as a Badger fan I'd be very happy if Bucky got either one.  My 1st game featured Ball vs Smith.  Ball is a bigger Tyus Jones type (terrific passer).  His mom and pop team (literally his parents coaching his team with him and his 2 brothers playing with many of his high school teammates) played an old Loyola Marymount style with his youngest brother playing the Jeff Fryer role.  The entire team had the "if it feels like leather" green light.  Entertaining but not the greatest basketball and Ball's team ended up getting blown out.  Friday featured a bunch of fun close games in the Fab 48 in their top division.  Main player highlight there was Thon Maker in the 1st game of the day but also saw the Colorado Chaos cause major chaos with 2 late 3s before giving up a buzzer beater to Team Thad. 

As to Minnesota teams, a great showing.  12 teams in the Las Vegas Classic were a combined 39-23, 11 teams in the Fab 48 were 41-20.  D1s 3 teams in the Adidas Summer Championships were 14-4.  That's 94-47 (or 2 out of every 3) overall.  The D1 15s won their 15U bracket.  WOTN Nicols made the championship of the Gold Bracket at the Fab 48 but needed to make their flight.  That meant Select Altenhofen would finish 8-0 and win that title.  Fury Johnson 15s lost in the 2nd bracket championship in Bigfoot.  MN Warriors went 5-1 and lost by 1 in the quarters to the eventual champ of their bracket.  D1 16s lost in the quarters to the eventual runner up.   Big story line locally was Minnesota Fury Wilde taking out EYBL rep Meanstreets easily in the 1st round of championship bracket.  They saw a double digit lead cut to 3 before pulling away.   Heat Northwest, Heat Vang, Select Ohnstad, Select Altenhofen, Fury Johnson, Fury Wilde, D1 16s, D1 15s, MN Warrors, MN Lockdown 15s all won their pools.  Fury Zurn had a great late night matchup against Mac Irvin Fire that they couldn't finish late otherwise that would have been a signature win and pool title as well.  In the D1 16s bracket loss to Utah Prospects, Goanar Mar put on one of the best games I've seen him play as he tried to bring D1 back from double digits down but they ended up getting no closer than 2.  Other local players that played well when I saw them include (in no particular order) David Lindstrand, Austin Slater, Race Thompson, Zach Theisen, Charlie Irmiger, Matthew Hurt, Steffon Mitchell.  Over half of the NSIC was out in Vegas following the local kids too which is as many of those schools as I can recall seeing out there in my time.

The Grub and the Goons
Quality food at all the sites provided to the college coaches.  That's also good for the pocket book.  Quality chicken at Adidas.  Amazing cinnamon roll flavored mini cupcakes at the Fab 48.  The neighboring Irish Pub is always good for lunch on Wednesday before heading out to a week full of games.  As always, plenty of Pepsi consumed too.  The more I see of Vegas, the more shady it is.  Plenty of scary creatures on the streets (insert your own joke about me here) which make even me pay attention.  Did get a chance to saunter through The Fremont Street Experience on the way back to the airport on Saturday.   Think massive full time block party.  I do need to find time to do the zip line over the street sometime.

The Gambling
Always have to make time to hit the tables in Vegas.  After last year's huge losses, a basketball saying came to mind.  There comes a time when summer asks what you did all winter.  Czar put in his fair share of off-season work to make sure that disaster didn't happen again.  Night 1 wasn't anything special but I did walk away with fair gains.  Night 2 it all came thru as I made a big run.  Night 3 was the casino's night as they got all their losses back.  I tried to weather the storm figuring the bad stretch would pass but just never got thru it.  I entered Night 4 dead even and stepped up to higher stakes tables but with less decks so that changes the odds I had prepped with.  After a very rough start, I made the critical decision to switch tables (something I didn't do on night 3) and got back above water for a very tidy profit.  So Czar leaves victorious for the 2nd time in 3 years, always a good feeling.  But especially nice knowing the preparation paid off, literally and figuratively.  2 major differences in my play this year that helped.  Playing possible busts vs dealer non bust cards (e.g hit 16 vs a dealer 17) and soft hands (like double soft 15 vs a 6).  For those wondering, it was not my hot play that caused the Cosmopolitan to burst into flames on Saturday.  Just remember folks as we always say in honor of De La Salle coach Dave Thorson, #GrindersWinGamblersLose