2011 State Tourney, Day 1

To Williams Arena for the opening day of the 2011 state tournament.  I wrote articles on the first 3 games of the day for Minnesota Preps and then sat back and took a different look at the last 3 games.  My random thoughts from the day.
  • The Johnson game looked like New Prague would make a run and then Johnson would just be Johnson and at some point take off and put the game away.  With 5 minutes, Johnson did go up 7 thanks to Estan Tyler but to the amazement of many, New Prague came back and took the lead.  The lead was 10 earlier in the half.  Down 4 it almost looked like Johnson went into panic mode.  Very surprising from an experienced team.   No surprise that New Prague shot it that well from 3 to pull the upset.  That shooting combined with stingy defense make their semifinal matchup with Columbia Heights very interesting.
  • Lots of chatter on boards and specifically on my pages about Zach Lofton and Columbia Heights.  They get it done behind a quality performance from Lofton but they also had great productivity from the rest of the squad.  They handle Marshall and playing like they did today would make them very tough to beat.
  • In a day where big leads vanished, Waconia jumped out to a 19 point lead at half time and then saw that lead get all the way down to 8 at one point.  Shelby Moats and his hot start got Waconia going.  Grand Rapids 8th grade PF Alex Illikainen with a double double.  Long and lean with good touch and nice hands, he's definitely a quality power forward right now and has nice upside.
  • For Waconia, you have to be impressed with them.  One day its Alex Schmitt, the next its Ben Kortuem, today its Wylie Ferron.  Hard to argue with the fact that they just win.
  • As to the last quarterfinal in 3A, Apollo thought they overcame demons when beating Little Falls during section play but after leading by 18 in the second half over Orono (who beat them at Christmas), this is a demon that won't go away anytime soon.  Orono used a 26-6 run over 7 minutes to regain the lead.  Great to see Ibrahim Abukar nail 2 clutch free throws to force overtime.  
  • Story of the day was the appearance of Zach Gabbard with his Perham teammates.  Great ovation from the crowd.  Great class from the Virginia players to include him in pregame and postgame handshakes.
  • As to the game, what a tough spot for Virginia because Perham is not the team you want to end up with in the draw.  This one was practically over when Perham boarded the bus to make the trip to the cities due to the emotion involved (nothing to due with Virginia's skill just to be clear).  Perham was an absolute buzzsaw.  They shot 52.3% for the game, 8-14 from 3 and executed their offense as well as any team I saw today. 
  • As to other offense, very difficult to watch.  Virginia shot 32.6% and turned it over 19 times.  Zimmerman shot 35.5% in the second half to lose a 10 point halftime lead and they lost 61-58 to Waterville-Elysian-Morristown.  Those teams combined for 40 turnovers.  WEM did shoot 61.9% in the 2nd half and held off 2 late 3 point attempts and blocked a 3rd to hang on. 
  • Zimmerman's star Brandon Giese shoots 5-19, 1-9 from 3, WEM has the hot second half and Zimmerman still should have won the game.  Their Mississippi 8 schedule was definitely useful in prepping them for the talent level they saw in this one.  Give WEM credit for their execution of the dribble drive in the 2nd half to get that high shooting percentage.
  • Maybe Zimmerman runs normally, but playing 10 guys in 2 to 3 minute shifts in what amounted to a halfcourt game mostly and with no press put on by the Thunder seemed very strange.  Not to mention WEM is one of the more high-powered teams in the state, they'll be happy to run with you.  You play those shifts and number of guys to take advantage of depth.  Playing slow and in limited possessions takes away those advantages because it doesn't force the opponent into their depth where you're better.
  • So after day 1 we have no Johnson, no Alex Richter or Johnny Woodard.  Will there be anything left on championship Saturday that fans want to watch?  Last year attendance was down almost 10,000 fans with no star power to watch.  Attendance has dropped the last 4 years from 78,660 in 2007 to 55,731 last year and I wouldn't be shocked if we don't reach 50K this year.  Is it time for Minnesota to ditch bringing 8 teams in every class to state and go a route like Wisconsin where we focus on bringing fewer teams for better games and scheduling those games around television (read 4A always plays in primetime like the Yankees) instead for the travel interest of the small schools?

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