Houston Hello

Each year I try to join a team on the road.  This year's road trip takes me deep in the heart of Texas as I joined the Magic Elite 17s in Houston for the H-Town Classic.  This marks the 3rd road trip of the season already for the Magic when many teams were getting out of state for the first time this past weekend.  Full game by game details are in my Northstar Hoops Report article.

An early afternoon departure gets us into George Bush Intercontinental Airport just in time for the middle of rush hour.  Despite being setup north of the airport, the trip still takes forever in the hellish traffic that Houston is known for.  Its claimed that everything is bigger in Texas and the roads didn't disappoint.  1 way frontage roads doubled as extra lanes and every major exit seemed to have a flyover ramp.  A quick drop and run at the hotel and we go next door for dinner.  Hoping for some BBQ later in the weekend, I go with a chicken sandwich for dinner.

Then a quick chance to setup the laptop in the hotel and its off to the Legends Sports Complex for the 8:30 game vs Mississippi D1 Ambassadors.  Its a 2x2 setup for the 4 courts with plenty of room to move around but a very strange setup for the college coaches.  You also had to worry about running into the numerous garbage cans they had around to catch water from the leaky roof.  Magic would use a big 1st half run to open the margin.  Final score shows the Magic picking up the win 65-53.  Reggie Lynch comes up 1 block short of a triple double on my sheet.  Minor scoring issue late as a Tom Aase layup gets credited to the wrong side of the scoreboard.  So the final score should have been 16.  Where the point differental max is +15 that could come into play.  The evening's campfire session is in the continental breakfast room for a review of the night's game.  Back to the room to type up the evening's notes before turning in late.

Only known game of the day isn't until 2:30 PM and nothing in the championship bracket after the 3:35 game.  But no rest as the other pool game between FOH Seattle and the Mississippi D1 Ambassadors is at 10:10 so up early for a quick banana and hard boiled egg for breakfast (Czar's not a big breakfast guy).  No OJ but the apple juice was worth it.  Coaches and I mosey over to watch that pool game and then while the coaches round up the players for lunch I stick around for the rest of play in the other pools.  FOH Seattle the most impressive team that I saw with 2 high major prospects and a kid off of the bench getting a mid-major head coach in the building to watch him.  I did the BBQ Pork Sandwich for lunch from the concession stand.  Oversized bun and overflowing to the point where half the sandwich ended up in the tub it came in.  2 words: Finger Food.  No way The Czar is letting that go to waste!  Good stuff with the big sandwich and enough kick to be an attention getter but not too much.  With FOH Seattle winning easily, that meant that only seeding was at stake in the Magic game.  Both teams were guaranteed to make the quarters of the top bracket at 8 AM on Sunday.  An off day for everyone on the Magic squad as FOH takes them out 64-47.  Magic did hang around but too much from a very good Seattle club. 

After a break in the hotel, the team runs around trying to find a Golden Corral only to find its out of business.  After about 3 different changes of mind, its Chipotle for half the group.  The coaches go with the Garfield rules of eating plan by having yogurt while waiting.  I hold out for Rudy's BBQ and I get my wish after dropping the kids off.  MN Triple Threat director Brett Rhodes (a Houston native who recommended the place) and Jerry Robertson forever make The Czar's Christmas Card list for making that happen.  Its a gas station look and when coming inside there's a great sight.  A line of about 50 people.  Add in a 30 foot ice filled bin of every bottle of soda you could imagine and a menu that begins with half pound portions  Get up to get the food and none of this sissy plate stuff.  Here's a crate lined with wax paper, we'll just throw your meat in there.  YA!  I went with a half pound of lean brisket, a small portion of potato salad and a 12 oz bottle of Pepsi.  That's living.  Back to the hotel to catch the end of day 1 of the NBA playoffs and an early turn in for a long Sunday.

Thanks to the loss on Saturday, the Magic draw Gold Coast (a pre-tourney favorite) in the bracket opener.  Magic would take a lead late in the first half only to see Gold Coast take control from there.  Magic would fight back in the 2nd half but Gold Coast would never give up the lead.  Magic's hot shooting can't get them over the top.  Gold Coast moves on with a 74-68 win.  They would end up winning the tournament.  Major shock that they didn't play FOH Seattle in the championship game.  With an evening flight, its back to the hotel for some R & R.  Off to TGI Friday's for a late lunch and then back to the airport and home in plenty of time to rest up for the week ahead.  Magic finish 1-2 with losses to arguably the 2 best teams in the tournament.  Gold Coast was on the ropes and they hung around with FOH Seattle despite dismal shooting.  Magic take the week off before making the trip to Iowa next week.

Results from The Big Weekend

So what a weekend it was.  Games and food galore.   I spend Friday night, the last session on Saturday and the semis/finals Sunday at the Pump N Run tourney.  Saturday's first half was at NY2LA and then the night session of the EYBL.  Tough call between the Fritos Walking Taco at Hopkins or the Famous Dave's BBQ Pulled Pork sandwich at the EYBL.  Add in a cinnamon roll and that's not a bad Saturday of food.  People galore at Pulley.  Full from the divider to the sideline and then on the 1 open baseline, 5 deep from the wall right to the edge of the court.  Parking was even worse as cars were being towed left and right.  Double parked, parking on the grass, you name it.  Anything to find a spot.  In fairness, all the of events did a nice job with their setups to manage the crowds and the coaches.    Amazing to see all the head coaches from Jim Boeheim to Coach K to Bill Self and the list goes on and on and on.

Pump N Run lost a heartbreaker on Friday night to the KC 76ers.  A great play call gave Cullen Russo a wide open layup that wouldn't go down and KC held on 56-54.  Liked point guard Martez Harrison and forward Joey Lillis for the 76ers.  Anybody named Cornsharks (Iowa) is worth seeing but no sight of their outstanding logo.  Illinois Warriors hung on in an entertaining game vs Team Breakdown.  Pump N Run 16s couldn't make a shot as Illinois Basketball Academy (with their Muscle Milk Jerseys) knocked them out in the semis.  Fury Dixon got a buzzer beater runner John Veil to beat IBA in that title game.  PNR 15s knocked off Wisconsin Blizzard-Pronschinske (last year's loaded Fox Valley Swing team) in a very good title game.  Cody Schwartz will be a player from that squad.  They took out a very good tNBA team in the semis.  Fun to see Schwartz go up against Henry Ellenson in the final.  Ellenson and Marshawn Wilson continue to impress.

15U Bracket Results
PNR def Heat Lesewski, NE Select Fisher def Triple Threat, WI Blizzard def KC 76ers, tNBA def Fury Shelman

PNR def Nebraska Select-Fisher
WI Blizzard def tNBA

PNR def WI Blizzard - Pronschinske 61-54

16U Bracket Results
PNR def MN Warriors, IBA def Chicago Magic, WI Blizzard def EOTO Black, Fury Dixon def WI Blaze

IBA def PNR, Fury Dixon def Blizzard

Fury Dixon def IBA 51-49  (Fury Dixon's only loss was to Heat Vang, they actually beat 2015 stud Diamond Stone and the Milwaukee Young Legends, corrected from original post)

17U Results
PNR def KC 76ers 67-50 for title

PNR def Team Breakdown, KC 76ers def Team Breakdown

KC 76ers def Team NE, Fundamental U def Grassroots, PNR def Fury Davis, Team Breakdown def AK Hawks.

KC 76ers def KC Premiere, Team NE def Fury Ouse, Fundamental U def MI Hurricanes, Grassroots def Ill Warriors, PNR def WI Blizzard, Fury Davis def Omaha Crusaders, AK Hawks def WI Jets, Team Breakdown def TX D1 Ambassadors

NY2LA Spring Extravaganza
Net Gain goes 2-2 as they lose to Texas Select in pool play and then bow out in the quarters to WI Swing on a buzzer.  Comets Hanson had a crazy overtime game to finish pool play and then lost to TP Elite in the round of 16.  43 Hoops lost their pool to ECI after beating them in St. Cloud.  43 then knocked out both Select before losing to the Green Bay Gunners in the semifinals of the gold bracket.  Comets Stock knocked out Getshook in the Silver bracket and then lost in the Silver title game by 4.

In the 16s Comets Lewis fell in the round of 16s to a very good KC Run GMC club.  MN Select lost in the round of 16s to eventual champ RAS (Ray Allen Select)  Net Gain 15s won their quarterfinal before losing to KC Run GMC in the semifinals.

The Rest
The Minnesota Cyclones lost to the St Louis Eagles at the IM Bball tourney before rolling through the Red bracket to win that title.  My old Magic crew was 1-3 in that same division.  Howard Pulley's top 17s went 3-1 and could have been 4-0 if not for a close loss to Albany City Rocks.

The Big Weekend Brackets

Here are championship brackets for Sunday of The Big Weekend 2012.

Best Buy Spring Classic
17U Semifinals - 12:30 PM Courts 1 and 2 Jefferson
KC 76ers vs Fundamental U
Minnesota Pump N Run vs Team Breakdown (FL)
Team Breakdown came from double digits down in 2nd half to beat Arkansas Hawks.

16U Semifinals - 11:25 AM Courts 1 and 2 Jefferson
Minnesota Pump N Run vs Illinois Basketball Academy
Wisconsin Blizzard vs Minnesota Fury-Dixon

15U Semifinals - 11:25 AM Courts 3 and 4 Jefferson
Minnesota Pump N Run vs Nebraska Select - Fisher
tNBA-Brown vs Wisconsin Blizzard Pronschinske

15U Championship - 1:40 PM Court 3 Jefferson
16U Championship - 1:40 PM Court 1 Jefferson
17U Championship - 2:45 PM Court 3 Jefferson

NY2LA Sports Spring Extravaganza
17U Quarterfinals - 9:10 AM Courts 1,3,4 and 5 Hopkins
Texas Select vs KC Run GMC
Kingdom Hoops Elite vs TP Elite
WI Playmakers White vs I-Can All-Stars
Net Gain Sports vs Wisconsin Swing

17U Semifinals - 11:30 AM Courts 3 and 4 Hopkins
17U Championship - 1:50 PM Court 4 Hopkins

16U Quarterfinals - 8:00 AM Courts 1,3,4 and 5 Hopkins
Wisconsin Swing-Litscher vs Milwaukee Rebels
Inland Empire vs Wisconsin Playmakers
RAS vs SYF Hoopmatics
Iowa Barnstormers vs KC Run GMC

16U Semifinals - 10:20 AM Courts 3 and 4 Hopkins
16U Championship - 12:40 PM Court 4 Hopkins

15U Semifinals - 10:20 AM Courts 1 and 5 Hopkins
Kingdom Hoops Elite vs DTA Spartans
Net Gain vs KC Run GMC

15U Championship - 12:40 PM Court 3 Hopkins

IM Bball Spring Showcase
17U Bracket Semifinal 1 10:10 AM at Metcalf
17U Bracket Semifinal 2 11:15 AM at Nicollet
17U Bracket Championship 2:30 PM Eagan Court 1

15U Red Bracket Semifinals - 9:05 and 10:10 AM Eastview Court 2
Minnesota Cyclones vs Wisconsin Playground Elite
MOKAN vs All Iowa Attack Moore

15U Red Bracket Championship - 1:25 PM Eagan Court 3

15U Black Bracket Semifinals - 10:10 AM Courts 1 and 2 Burnsville
Illinois Elite vs Pumas 15U
MN Magic Blue vs DSM Knicks 15U

15U Black Bracket Championship- 1:25 PM Eastview Court 1

Howard Pulley vs NJ Playaz - 9:30 AM Court 1 Hight Performance Academy

The Big Weekend Preview

The biggest weekend in Minnesota basketball history comes to town this weekend.  Nike brings their EYBL to town at High Performance Academy in Eagan.  It'll be very interesting to see how the setup there works with all of the fans, coaches and media.  IM BBall has the lesser 17s and the 15s/16s from that division.  That's at Bursnville and Eastview.  NY2LA looks to cash in as they add to their list of tournaments by adding an event here this weekend.  They'll take over Hopkins and Minnetonka.  Then there's the annual Best Buy Spring Classic in Bloomington.  Here's what catches my eye.

Best Buy Spring Classic
Most Interesting Pool Matchup: SW MN Stars 16s vs MN Pump N Run 16s- 1:10 PM Saturday Court 5 Jefferson.

I'm hoping Ishmael Wainright rejoins the 76ers for the tournament.  He was the leader for a club that swept the late period last July by winning the Fab 48 in Las Vegas and The Best of Summer in Los Angeles.  The Michigan Hurricanes return to the cities with star forward Byron Ziegler.  Team Nebraska Express also returns after losing last year's Best Buy Summer Classic title game in double overtime.  Traditionally strong Team Breakdown from Florida makes the trip in.  The Wisconsin Jets make the trip in as a next kid on the block but they've picked up some nice talent in kids like Tim Wagner who played here with Gale-Ettrick-Trempeleau last fall and winter.

I'm hoping for a tNBA vs Pump N Run final in the 15U bracket on Sunday at 1:40.  tNBA might have to go through the top Fury team in the quarters though to do it.    In the 16s could get a Fury Grosz vs PNR semifinal.  EOTO with a tough pool on the other side of the bracket.  In the 17s I absolutely love the bracket format with the big games on Friday night.  Pump N Run vs KC 76ers (Travis vs Wainright?, that would be cool), Fury Davis vs Team Nebraska Express, Omaha Crusaders vs Iowa PNR-Henderson, Illinois Warriors vs Team Breakdown highlight that schedule.

No less than 30 of the top players in 2013 are expected at the 1st session of the EYBL.   No surprise then that it also means you have some of the most talented teams in the country.  That list begins with the Oakland Soldiers and star Aaron Gordon.  The 2014 talent is loaded with Andrew Wiggins, Jahil Okafor, Trey Lyles and D'Angelo Russell.  Oh yeah and some kid named Tyus Jones too.

Howard Pulley has 4 games all outside their pool, highest profile should be vs Jackson Tigers on Saturday night at 6:30 on court 2.  Kyle Washington not eligible for the EYBL but he will play in the 17U division of the IM BBall event with the 2nd team.  Might be the only chance to see him with Pulley in true AAU ball.  This group is loaded at 15s/16s with the Nike teams.  Minnesota Cyclones, Mokan Elite, Playground Elite, CIA Bounce and top Pulley team (along with the remains of my old 14U team) all in the top 15U division.  Similar criminal level of talent in the 16U field.

NY2LA Spring Extravaganza
Best Pool Matchup: KC Run GMC vs Wisconsin Swing - 1:50 PM Saturday Court 3 Hopkins.
Must See Game: Wisconsin Playmakers White vs Net Gain  - Friday 7:10 Hopkins Court 4
Crazy Schedule Game: ECI vs 43 Hoops in a pool rematch of last week's quarterfinal in St. Cloud

Top Minnesota Players: 
Riley Dearring and Rashad Vaughn - Net Gain
Carson Shanks and Jon Sobaski - Minnesota Select White

2013 Top Players: 
Connor Frankamp - KC Run GMC
Luke Fischer, Nick Fuller and Bronson Koenig - Wisconsin Swing
Turner Botz, Toby Hegner and Matt Thomas - Wisconsin Playmakers White
Deonte Burton - TP Elite

2014 Top Players: 
Emanuel Mudiay - Texas Select
Kevon Looney - Milwaukee Rebels
Dominique Collier - KC Run GMC

2012 Comets Shootout Review

Results and my random thoughts from the 2012 Comets Shootout.

The food was outstanding with the pulled pork at the concession stand.  I had to hit that twice on Saturday.  I conned my way into mini-donuts on Sunday otherwise I would have done it again.  Good crew of college coaches from the NSIC, MIAC, WIAC etc on hand.  The play was generally ragged and I'm shocked that the officials basically worked the entire day.  The official formerly known as Al Sharpton worked enough games for a lifetime.  Not sure we have enough refs for a solution but getting these guys in and out quicker would make things much better all the way around.  I've seen in Denver where the refs are on for 2 and then they're gone. 

A great way to end the weekend as a Fury team was playing and upon closer look, there was the one and only HAT LADY!!!  All purple and the hat was outstanding as usual.

Pool Winners: ECI Prospects, 43 Hoops, Select White, PNR, Heat Ogorek, NGS, Playmakers, Heat Reese

My predictions had 15 of the 16 teams in the Championship Bracket (Fury-Ouse miss).  Comets/ECI and Heat Reese/Fury Davis flip spots so I get 11 of the 16 spots exactly right.  6 of the 8 quarterfinal winners right with the correct team losing in the other 2 games.  I got half of the games in the quarters right.  Then my bracket fell apart and got nothing else right.

Round of 16 results:  ECI def Glory 64-48, 43 Hoops def GetShook 63-61, Select over Comets Hanson, PNR over Playmakers Blue, Triple Threat 59-52 over Heat Ogorek, NGS 82-78 over Fury Davis, Playmakers White 70-54 over Comets Stock and Heat Reese over SD Heat.

Quarters: ECI def 43 Hoops 77-68, PNR def Select 78-51, NGS def Triple Threat 76-53, Heat Reese def Playmakers White (no Matt Thomas) 79-71.

Semis: PNR def ECI 71-60, NGS def Heat Reese 70-65.

Championship NGS def PNR 70-66.  25 and 10 from Reid Travis of PNR.  18 points from Riley Dearring to lead Net Gain.

Phil Nolan showing up with Net Gain was a major surprise.  A big center might show up, but this wasn't the name on everybody's mind, see Akolda Manyang.  NGS built with a crew of Sean Scott, Ater Manyang and Nolan with their regulars.  Heck, maybe we'll see Tommy McDermott with them again at some point this season.  With NGS, you never know.  They showed some early struggles like last year.

Heat Reese not only beat Fury Davis in pool play to win their pool but also beat the Wisconsin Playmakers top club that still had 2 D1 kids.  They held a double digit lead for a large chunk of the 2nd half so no fluke.  They were down double digits to NGS in the 2nd half before storming back and taking the lead.  They had a good look late to tie as well before NGS held on.

43 Hoops has some pieces for Chris Carr to work with.  Nick Anderson to run the show, Markus Taylor Knighten to score.  It'll be interesting to see how that team evolves.  Select White didn't play well but a 27 thrashing from Pump N Run was a surprise.  Comets Hanson was throttled by ECI Prospects in the pool deciding game late Saturday night and then immediately went out to Select White in the round of 16.  Much higher hopes here for the top Comets club.  Worth noting that 7 footer Connor Voss is probably out another month at minimum.  That certainly impacts what you want to do on the defensive end.

In the 16s results, I don't know the Pool H finishes but other than those I know I went a perfect 14 for 14 in the title bracket.  8 for 8 in the round of 16.  Both quarters in the top half right along with the semifinalist and champion from that half.

Pool Winners: Comets Lewis, Heat Vang, Select, Fury Dixon, Comets Stanfield, Fury Grosz and PNR 15s (Pool H???).

Round of 16: PNR def MN Rush, EOTO def Heat Schumann, Fury Dixon def NGS 15s, Dakota Pride win, Fury Grosz over Comets Stanfield, PNR 15s win, Select def Heat Frank, Comets Lewis def Heat Vang

Quarters: PNR def EOTO 62-59, Fury Dixon def Dakota Pride 80-65, PNR 15s def Fury Grosz 59-51, Select def Comets Elite 77-71 in 3OT.

Semis: PNR 16s def Fury Dixon 65-54, PNR 15s def Select 65-59

Championship: PNR 16s retain in house bragging rights with 69-66 win over PNR 15s.

Furious comebacks in this division.  EOTO was down 16 vs PNR and made big run late.  PNR 15s need a run vs Fury Grosz and then ended their game with Select on a 17-4 run to come from 9 down in the last 5 minutes.  The 15s also made a run from double digits down to the 16s in the title game but just didn't have enough left to pull it off.

Fury Dixon blasted a quality Heat Frank team 71-27 in their pool opener.  That Fury club has size and outstanding guard play.  Very very dangerous.  Liked how the South Dakota Heat 16s played in terms of moving the ball and not beating it to death with the dribble.  Henry Ellenson of the PNR 15s looks so much wider and stronger than a year ago.  Was more than physically capable enough in the 16U bracket let alone vs 15s.  PNR 16s struggled vs TVA in the pool opener (a team they should pound) and were down 3 with 12 to play before pulling that out.  EOTO (last year's Heat Select) still has a dangerous squad of athletes even without Andre Wallace.  Kyle Kalivoda is a nice pickup for that group.

I only saw semis and finals of the 15U bracket because almost all of pool play was up in Foley.  But no surprise that the Cyclones ran through it with no problem.  They won their semifinal over Magic 73-34 and throttled Heat Bui/Lesewski in the championship 81-49 (though that was an 11 point game late in the 1st half).  Fury Johnson gave them their best game with a loss by just over 10.

Here were the matchups in the 15u championship bracket

MN Comets Elite v TC Running Rebels
MN Heat Calistro v Triple Threat Westberg
43 Hoops I v MN Fury Shelman
WI Playmakers v MN Heat Lesewski
South Dakota Heat v MN Magic Blue
Triple Threat High v Grassroots
MN Fury Johnson v WOTN Gold
MN Select v MN Cyclones

??, Heat Calistro, Fury Shelman, Heat Bui/Lesewski, Magic Blue, TT High, Fury Johnson and Cyclones won in the round of 16.

Heat Calistro won, Heat Bui/Lesewski beat Fury Shelman by 20+, Magic Blue def Triple Threat, Cyclones def Fury Johnson

Heat Bui/Lesewski def Heat Calistro, Cyclones def Magic Blue

Cyclones win 15U title over Heat Bui/Lesewski

2012 Heat Jamboree

The Minnesota Heat held their inaugural jamboree at Fridley High School.  (Czar's Note 4/13/12, its actually the 3rd year according to Heat Director Willie Vang)  That takes us back to the days of the old Magic Jamboree where they'd get their top teams together, add a team of seniors and have the college coaches come in for the evening.  You need a bunch of teams to do it but the Heat have just that (is there any other program in the nation with that many teams?).  The difference for the Heat is that we got a start with the lower levels tonight too going all the way down the ranks.  Great experience for the kids and it gives them a chance to get in a quick run against somebody else before really ramping up their spring season.  A great concept that I'm sure the Heat will utilize in the future.

As to the teams and kids, I bounced back and forth between 3 courts to take a look at that.  Games were 20 minutes running time so get em in and get em out.  Some tidbits of what I saw.

Play of the Night: Quashingm Smith-Pugh putting a poster on somebody in the back gym.  He's a nice pick up for the Heat Reese 17s

Team that caught my eye: Heat Reese 17s.  This may be listed as the 3rd team with the Ogorek and Altena groups returning from last year.  That said its an entirely different team than those 2.  Coach Reese has athletes and the willingness to turn the game into an up and down frenzy to match that crew.  With Smith-Pugh, Deshawn Jones, lanky Christian Esko and Isaiah Hanson they have the ability to get after people.  Tommy Scarver runs the point after not seeing much time during the high school season.  Bremiah Snyder is a glue guy banger who sets mean screens.  Mike Wales provides them with some shooting.  Its a crew that has a chance to be a real pain in the neck to anybody they play.

Evening News:
I had to watch the 15s since my old team took on the Heat 14s last year . They've added some quality pieces with Edina's Ben Boone and Alec Synstelien of Minnetonka.  Kai Endahl gives toughness on the wing.

The Heat Altena squad has 5 Centennial guys and they have prom this weekend so that explains why they aren't at the Comets tourney..   That crew along with the Heat Ogorek crew will rely on their chemistry and on execution to win games.  Heat Ogorek is a bit of a cross between the Altena and Reese groups in that they try to do some of the same type trapping as the Reese squad but with personnel like the Altena squad.  At the 16s, Willie Vang's crew is missing Careino Gurley to a concussion.

Interesting to see some of the teams go with the simple 5 out look on the offensive end.  Its fine until you go 30 seconds without shooting and then one of the players feels like the world will end if they don't shoot and you get a 1 on 5 forced look.  But I loved what New Prague did with it against zone via a 4 out look, but conceptually the same.  Makes great sense for AAU with the limited practice time a team has.

Czar's Assessment:
I've made my comments on the event, now on to the teams themselves.  The 14s level is loaded and despite the usual raiding that happens you'd like to believe they can get at least 1 team out of it that brings them back into the top level 2 discussion.   As 2013 is a down year for Minnesota talent, its a down year for the Heat too at the 15-17 levels.  The teams will have chemistry and be competitive and as well run as any organization out there.  This year they just don't have the same horses that their peers have.

2012 Comets Shootout Preview

Back after a state tournament breather its time for the annual big time kickoff of the Minnesota season.  That means its time for 2012 Comets Shootout.  Here's what I'm watching.

In 15U there are 30 pools divided into 10 pools of  3.  28 of the 30 pool games are in Foley with the round of 16 and quarterfinals at Sauk Rapids High School before moving to the home base at Whitney.  But this division is more about who's not playing than who is.  tNBA is at the Howard Pulley Jamboree.  Net Gain, Pump N Run and MN Phenom are all playing up in the 16U division.  That leaves the MN Cyclones as the overwhelming favorite to win their division again (14U champs last year).  I'll be shocked if Alex Illikainen and company don't steamroll through to another title.  Best competition comes from the top Comets squad out of pool A and the top Fury team out of pool D.

15U Picks: Comets Stumpf, Fury Johnson, Grassroots, Fury Shelman, Cyclones, 43 Hoops Vaughn, Heat Lesewski/Bui, MN Select SD Heat, WI Playmakers are my picks to win the pools.  Cyclones have their half of the bracket to themselves while Comets Stumpf and Fury Shelman are on the other side.  Since Fury has one of my former players, we'll take them to make the final before losing to the Cyclones.

This bracket provides the most exciting pool game of the entire tournament.  That's Comets Elite vs Pump N Run at 11:30 AM Saturday on the main court at Whitney.  Big props to the coaches for putting that one together.   The 15U teams playing up will have good chance to move on.  Net Gain gets a favorable draw in pool C.  MN Phenom has 2 tough ones against Fury Dixon and Heat Gardner but I wouldn't be shocked to see them move on.  12:40 PM on Whitney court 1 with Phenom vs Gardner will likely decide the other gold bracket qualifier.  Pump N Run 15s got a very good draw in pool G.

The young talent is noteworthy with Evan Shephard (Phenom), Sacar Anim (NGS) and whatever PNR has.  8th grader Dalante Peyton playing up on the MN Premiere 16s.  EOTO is likely the squad that was Heat Select last year (though missing Andre Wallace) hence they get my nod.  Heat Frank with Geno Crandall and Lance Gardner has some talent to play with.  Fury Dixon may be the 2nd team but in name only.  They have size with Ngor Barnaba of Rochester John Marshall and a talented guard group of John Veil, Zach Wessels, swiss army knife Noble Fahnbulleh and TC Robinson.  Fury Grosz with a balanced group and talent to boot with guys like Clay Elrod, Andrew Grosz and Charlie Koontz.  Add in guys like Wheeler Baker, Derek Magnuson, Kolby Seiffert and Eric West and you have depth too.  Hoping to see Jim Warmack with the Dakota Pride again.  The East Grand Forks post played at both 16s and 15s last year for the Pride.

16U Pool Picks: PNR and Comets, Heat Vang and MN Rush, Select and Net Gain 15s, Fury Dixon and Heat Frank.  EOTO and Comets Stanfield, Fury Grosz and Heat Schumann, PNR 15s and Dakota Pride, Playmakers and Triple Threat.

16U Bracket Picks:
Top half: PNR 16s over MN Rush, EOTO over Heat Schumann, Fury Dixon over NGS 15s, Pride over Playmakers

Bottom half: Fury Grosz over Comets Stanfield, PNR 15s over Triple Threat, Select over Heat Frank, Comets Elite over Heat Vang.

Quarters: PNR 16s over EOTO, Fury Dixon over Dakota Pride, Fury Grosz over PNR 15s (great game at 10:20 ct 3 Whitney on Sunday),  Comets Elite over Select

PNR def Fury Dixon and Fury Grosz over Comets Elite in the semis.  PNR 16s def Fury Grosz for 16U title.

Now to Minnesota's Toughest Basketball.  As always the championship game will be 7th game for the teams in just over 24 hours.  All after taking the ACT and making the trip north.  Like the 16U division the games are mostly split between the Whitney and Sauk Rapids Middle School. 

Pool A goes to the host Comets Hanson.  A very good group with Nate Huot running the show and 7 feet of Connor Voss inside.  The other player to keep an eye in this pool is AJ Jacobsen of ECI.

Pool B has the mystery known as Chris Carr's 43 Hoops group.  Markus Taylor-Knighten is expected to be with that group, what else he has remains to be seen.  The surprise in this group should be the MN Wolves.  Its a new crew that has added seniors Latrell Love and Darian Pittman.  Fury Ouse (2nd team) has Sam Burt in the middle along with shooters Adam Huessner and Collin Host.  Peter Kruize and Nick Goldberg are 2 more front court pieces with Nick O'Hara to run the show and Kharie Kirkland to lock people down.

Select's top team and 7-footer Carson Shanks headline pool C.  Devon Pekas and Dan Wills highlight the Glory squad and where else would you find a star out of the Christian Athletic League (Peter Maring of Cambridge Christian).  PEM's state tourney star Beau Nelson also on the Glory roster.  Comets Seevers will have St. Cloud Cathedral's Joe Burt joining the party.

Pump N Run's top club picks up a good draw in pool D.  With the quick turnaround and high number of games we'll see if not having a full slate of 10 guys hurts them later on Sunday.  Looking forward to seeing Cullen Russo again after a year of prep school.  I'll also bet on Darius Hill here rather than MN Chosen.

Pool E is full of teams that don't have the superstar type player but try to embody the concept of team.  Heat Ogorek has a kid I'm a fan of in Brad Freeborn (face up 4).  They have workable guards in Jack Martinek, Beau Smit and Robert Claypool, a defender in Drake Mjaanes and a role player in Brad Carlson.  Comets Stock has some kids who had really nice seasons in Cody Sprenger, Mike Millard and Dylan Erickson.  Magic Maroon is largely north metro kids.  Porter Morrell was a solid guard for Elk River during the season.

Pool F has Net Gain which means you never who or what will show up.  Last year they looked positively awful on Saturday night and barely made the championship bracket.  Then on Sunday they ran through 4 games to win the title.  Bryce Wojta runs the point.  Riley Dearring and Rashad Vaughn are back on the wings.  Andre Wallace was added as well.  The South Dakota Heat feature guard Wyatt Krogman.  He was the top player on a state title team and is the younger brother of Louie Krogman, the all time scoring leader in South Dakota.

Pool G features the top Playmakers squad that won the 16s last year.  The group has the core back with skilled 4 men Toby Hegner and Turner Botz.  Both are D1 talents.  That also includes Gopher target and the best closer I saw all year in Matt Thomas.  He didn't play in the event last year and the Playmakers still won it.  Triple Threat with additions from the old Ultimate Hoops squad (merged with Fury) looks to be a sleeper.  Matt Rachey, Jack Kozlowski and Wiley Ferron will all be big contributors.  Ethan Freer, Alex Chandler and Brett Ahsenmacher will also contribute.  Select Blue will feature Jack Harrison of Prior Lake.  Austin Huss and Tyler Bates are 2 others to watch there.

Last but not least is the top Fury squad of Ben Davis.  This is the rest of the old Ultimate Hoops group with some new names thrown in.  Grant Shaeffer runs the point, Dustin Fronk shoots it.  Bridge Tusler and Zach Lindquist are tough wing matchups.  Ben Oberfield, Jordan Burich and Carter Evans give them size  Danny Sullivan is a skilled 4 and DJ Pollard gives them another athlete.  Plenty of pieces for a quality 17U team.  Heat Reese featuring Isaiah Hanson and the Mike duo of Wales and Hudspeth from Tartan.  They also have the athletic animal Deshawn Jones up front.  Post Jeff Probert and guard Kyle Filzen highlight the WOTN squad in this pool.

The Picks:
Comets Elite and ECI, 43 Hoops and Fury Ouse, Select and Glory,  PNR and GetShook (very wide open for 2nd spot), Heat Ogorek and Comets Stock, NGS and SD Heat, Playmakers and Triple Threat, Fury Davis and Heat Reese

Top Half: Comets Elite over Glory, 43 Hoops over Get Shook, Select over ECI, PNR over Fury Ouse
Bottom Half: Triple Threat over Heat Ogorek, Net Gain over Heat Reese, Playmakers over Comets Stock, Fury Davis over SD Heat.

Comets Elite over 43 Hoops, PNR over Select, Net Gain over Triple Threat, Playmakers over Fury Davis (best quarterfinal by a mile, 12:40 PM Whitney Court 3)

Comets Elite over PNR thanks to depth, Playmakers over Net Gain, Playmakers def Comets to win the title.