2014-15 Metro East Conference Preview

Its time once again for my annual Season Previews.  Its the 8th season of this tradition.  For the next 5 weeks, I'll preview 11 metro area conferences with apologies to the EMAC, some local independents and 12 metro area sections.  Since I usually start in alphabetical order and the old Classic Suburban is really only different in name, I'll start with the new Metro East.

The league swaps Richfield, who left for the Metro West, for Hastings, who leaves the Suburban East.  As mentioned in the preview of previews, this was done in an attempt to remove St. Thomas Academy but the MSHSL placed the Cadets right back with their old comrades.  For a list of all the season previews and an explanation of how the previews are generated, click here.

Hastings Raiders (2013-14 season 7-20, 4-14 Suburban East Conference, 8th)
The Raiders return their top 3 scorers from last season, all of whom averaged in double figures.  Sam Skoyen averaged over 17 points a game last season to lead the way.  Craig Nielsen averaged over 12 a night and will also be a 3 year starter for the Raiders.  Joe Dittrich has developed into another double figure guy.   The move to a weaker league will help the Raiders but depth and experience behind those 3 could be an issue.

Henry Sibley Warriors (2013-14 season 13-14, 10-6 Conference, Tie 4th)
Coach Lernell James worked wonders with many losses last year.  He'll have to do the same again this season as 4 double scorers and 7 seniors from the rotation graduate.  That includes inside presence Mark Pumper who averaged almost 15 points a game last season.  Austin Solberg will take his spot inside.  Louie Garabay will fill a guard slot.

Hill-Murray Pioneers (2013-14 season 16-11, 11-5 Conference, 3rd)
Brady Hannigan takes over the reins from retired Dick Ghizoni.  He'll be able to work around the top backcourt in the league, Marshawn Wilson and Simeon Davis.  Davis is a sophomore transfer who ran the show for Minnehaha Academy and averaged 8.5 PPG last year.  Wilson is arguably the most explosive scorer in the state regardless of class.  He averaged 23.5 PPG last year.  Junior Chris Moore should man the middle after seeing some time there last year.   Replacing the front court presence of Alex Ogren is something to watch.

Mahtomedi Zephyrs (2013-14 season 12-15, 6-10 Conference, Tie 6th)
The Zephyrs return 4 starters from last season.  They were the top 4 scorers as well.  6'10" Center Sean Hjelle was the only double figure scorer at 13+ a night along with 11+ rebounds.  He's a finesse player who can hurt you outside as well as inside.  He has committed to Kentucky as a baseball pitcher.  The perimeter trio of Sam Muster, Sam Newman and junior Lucas Buller rounds out the quartet.  They were 2-7 in games decided by 5 points or less.  4 of those losses were to league champ St. Thomas Academy and 3rd place Hill-Murray so they proved they could compete with anybody in the league.

North Polars (2013-14 season 10-17, 6-10 Conference, Tie 6th)
Coach Joe Janquart is starting to get it going up in North St.Paul as they jumped from 3 wins to 10 last season.  They also had lots of success at the Sophomore and JV levels.  Leading scorer Jake Steckler returns at a guard spot.  The remaining starters need to be replaced including center Joe Messerole who was their other double figure scorer and only real inside presence.  Thomas Acquoi should step up into another guard slot.  Avery Ostertag should see front court time. I like the youth, but I think its a year away.
 
St. Thomas Academy Cadets (2013-14 season 21-7, 14-2 Conference, 1st)
The Cadets rolled into the post season winning 13 of their last 14 (only loss was a 6 point home loss to Hopkins) but then were upset by St. Paul Central in the section semifinals.  Ryan Jacobsen returns as the top scorer for the Cadets.  Kai Endahl gives them toughness.  Junior Nate Chaffee should have a bigger role this season.  Jake Wright also provides a shooter with experience.  Andrew Mayleben provides size.

Simley Spartans (2013-14 season 17-11, 10-6 Conference, Tie 4th)
Simley is another team that returns a tough backcourt with the trio of Sam Stensgard, Jack Stensgard and Ben Scheffley.  That group combined for 40 points a game last season.  Scheffley runs the show while both Stensgards are knock down shooters.  Alex Anderson returns inside and should replace the scoring of Mark Della Vedova.  Matt Amspoker and Blake Scheffknecht return to the rotation as well.  Guard KJ Holliday was a pleasant surprise last year and will be hard to replace.

South St. Paul Packers (2013-14 season 3-22, 0-16 Conference, 9th)
The Packers will be glad the Classic Suburban is gone.  They lost their last 68 conference games and were 3-157 in the last 10 years of the league.  Further breakdown shows 41 straight on the road and 33 straight at home.  Hard to see a group of seniors go 4 years without a conference win.  They return 2 starters with Jaden Bjorklund being the top returner.  4 other bench guys return but no size.  Expect another long season.

Tartan Titans (2013-14 season 23-7, 12-4 Conference, 2nd)
The Titans broke an 8 year drought by making the big dance last year.  Tartan will have a dynamic group of 4 sophomores to lead the way.  Jordan Horn runs the show, Kingston Myles will man a wing spot.  Emanuel Humphrey will take over the inside presence lost by Brody Jackson's graduation.  Joevon Walker will provide a physical front court presence after playing last year at Minnehaha.  Jake Lyle returns to man a wing spot.  Deonte Fourte is an experienced guard off the bench.

Predicted Order of Finish
  1. St. Thomas Academy   
  2. Tartan
  3. Simley
  4. Hill-Murray  
  5. Mahtomedi
  6. Hastings 
  7. North 
  8. Henry Sibley
  9. South St. Paul
Conference Overview
Last year 5 teams won 10 games in the league.  I could see that happening again there's plenty of strength at the top.  Tartan and St. Thomas Academy bring enough back and have enough tradition that I have to pick them 1 and 2.  Simley and Hill-Murray played 3 classics last year including a double OT classic in the 1st round of the playoffs.  Those were decided by a total of 11 points with Simley winning all 3.  I'll take Simley again this year.  Mahtomedi and Hastings also have plenty returning but I don't see them at the same level as the others but you better show up when you play them.  North, Sibley and South St. Paul slot logically into the last 3 spots.

Conference MVP: Marshawn Wilson - Hill-Murray

Underclassmen to watch:  
  • Goodnews Kpegeol- North St. Paul 
  • Jordan Horn, Emmanuel Humphrey, Kingston Myles, Joevon Walker- Tartan
Conference Games to Watch
  • Simley at Tartan - Dec 16th
  • Hill-Murray vs St. Thomas Academy - Dec 27th (Catholic Spirit tourney)
  • Tartan at Hill-Murray - Jan 6th
  • St. Thomas Academy at Tartan - Jan 13th
  • Simley at St. Thomas Academy - Jan 16th
  • Hill-Murray at St. Thomas Academy - Jan 23rd
  • Hill-Murray at Tartan - Jan 30th
  • Tartan at St. Thomas Academy - Feb 10th
  • St. Thomas Academy at Simley - Feb 17th
  • Tartan at Simley - Feb 17th
Non-Conference Games to Watch
  • Minneapolis Washburn at St. Thomas Academy - Dec 2nd
  • Tartan, Simley, Hill-Murray- Dec 13th (Breakdown Tipoff Classic at Minnetonka)
  • St. Thomas Academy at Cretin-Derham Hall - Dec 23rd
  • Tartan at Prior Lake - Jan 20th
  • St. Thomas Academy at St. Paul Academy - Feb 16th

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