2014-15 Northwest Suburban Conference Preview

This is the 6th preview in my 2014-2015 season preview series.  Week 2 begins with a look at the expanded Northwest Suburban Conference.  The league adds 3 teams courtesy of assignment from the MSHSL.  Irondale, Spring Lake Park and Totino-Grace were all looking for a home after the North Suburban disintegrated.  That means the league will split into 2 divisions, brilliantly named North and West.  For a list of all the season previews and how they are done, click here.

Andover Huskies (2013-14 season 14-14, 9-10 Conference, 5th)
3 of the top 4 scorers including Connor Wilkie and his 17 a night depart.  A pair of starters and reserves are back for the Huskies.  Guard Jake McNallan put up almost 15 per night and is the top returning threat.  Zach Swanson returns to fill a front court banger role.

Anoka Tornadoes (2013-14 season 4-23, 3-16 Conference, 10th)
Anoka loses 5 of their top 6 scorers from last season.  Dillon Hansen is the lone returner of those 6.  He scored 6.6 PPG last year.  Anoka did play people much tougher down the stretch last year.  However, with all of the losses to the roster, they may not make it out of the cellar.

Blaine Bengals (2013-14 season 10-18, 6-14 Conference, 9th)
The Bengals finished the regular season with a 3-12 stretch including the last 8.  3 of the top 4 scorers depart including 21 a night from wing Jason Travis.  Junior Kyle Cappard will have to handle the ball and be the top scoring threat (11.8 PPG last year).  Senior Andy Leo along with juniors Ben Scherer and Nik Keller will be a big front line.  Point guard play and shooting will be major concerns for the Bengals.

Centennial Cougars (2013-14 season 12-14, 9-10 Conference, Tie 6th)
Former De La Salle star Travis Bledsoe takes over the head job.  Kevin Grow's 19 points a night and rebounding will need to be replaced.  Junior guard Tyler Peterson is the top returnee at 15.6 PPG.  No other returning player averaged over 6 PPG.

Champlin Park Rebels (2013-14 season 25-3, 18-1 Conference, Tied 3rd)
Once again Champlin Park should be one of the top teams in the state.  They do lose point guard Ian Smith and underrated forward Brennan Witt who were double figure guys.  The elite perimeter trio of JT Gibson, Marty Hill and Jeremy Johnson is back and was worth 35 points a night.  Sophomore McKinley Wright should step right in to the point guard role.  Sophomore Theo John is a top 2017 prospect in the state and should see a bigger role in the front court.

Coon Rapids Cardinals (2013-14 season 1-26, 0-20 Conference, 11th)
The Cardinals currently hold a 40 game losing streak in the NW Suburban.  The top 2 scorers return.  That includes the top returning scorer in the league in Chris Buckley.  He put up over 22 PPG per night.  Tim Nguyen was also a double figure player at almost 11 per game.  After that, youth takes over and the rebuilding process continues.

Elk River Elks (2013-14 season 16-11, 9-10 Conference, Tied 6th)
Clay Elrod was the team leader in points and rebounding last year at 18.6 and 6.1 per night.  That's a big loss from the rotation but the 8 other members of the rotation all return.  Guards Mitchell Weege and Matt Keller will provide the offense.  Trent Pink will be an interior guy.

Irondale Knights (2013-14 season 1-25, 1-13 North Suburban Conference, 8th)
The Knights went to a youth movement last year and it was ugly.  The only win was over equally bad St. Louis Park.  But like the Orioles most everyone returns.  Junior Uwana Etuk-Akpan just reached double figures last season at 10 per night.  The next 3 scorers also return.  Keavan Fikes leaves the center spot.

Maple Grove Crimson (2013-14 season 19-9, 13-7 Conference, 4th)
The underclassmen stepped up and were 3 of the top 4 scorers last year.  That includes star point guard Brad Davison, center Reed Nikko and guard Tywhon Pickford.  Kayode Awosika also had a productive year as a front court reserve and will see that expand this year with the loss of forwards Matt Lindgren (11.3 PPG) and Jake Sterling.

Osseo Orioles (2013-14 season 22-8, 15-5 Conference, 3rd)
Last year the Orioles suffered their most losses in league play in the Tim Theisen era.  Osseo usually reloads but this could Theisen's worst year.  Gone is the standout trio of PF Ian Theisen (South Dakota St) W Wheeler Baker (Albany) and PG Jordan Dembley (Liberty).  That trio combined for 50 points and over 17 boards per night.  Only 2 members of the rotation return.  That includes Upper Iowa commit Elliot Kane at the shooting guard spot and his 7.4 PPG.  Guard Allen Anderson can handle time at the point.  Beyond that there's no meaningful varsity experience.

Park Center Pirates (2013-14 season 10-18, 6-14 Conference, 8th)
Its a new era at Park Center.  Former Minnetonka head coach John Hedstrom is the new AD.  Former North St. Paul boys and Stillwater girls coach Gerard Coury takes over the reins.  4 of the top 5 scorers are gone.  Isaiah McKay's shooting and almost 19 points a night are gone.  Guard Arione Farrar transferred back to Minneapolis Roosevelt to cost the Pirates another 12.5 PPG.  Inside presence Isaac Matthews was the other double figure scorer to depart.  Junior guard Amani Hooker returns but there's not much after him.  He'll need to drastically increase his 13.3 PPG to keep the Pirates afloat.

Robbinsdale Armstrong Falcons (2013-14 season 21-6, 16-3 Conference, 2nd)
Coach Greg Miller returns a very talented lineup.  The top 3 scorers, wing Evan Nolan, guard Jerome Dixon and forward Sean Burns combined for 42 a night.  Junior wing Jubie Alade had a breakout year off the bench.  Point guard Tre Tate also returns to the lineup.  Valuable wing Melvin Newburn has transferred to rival Robbinsdale Cooper and forward Ryan Casperson's toughness will be missed.

Spring Lake Park Panthers (2013-14 season 14-14, 9-5 North Suburban Conference, 4th)
Coach Grant Guzy has to replace all 5 starters from last season.  That includes 21.3 PPG from guard TC Robinson, shooter Collin Price and athletic forward Devonte Skrebes.  Junior Jake LeVahn will man the middle.  Junior guard Aaron Flink and sophomore forward Zach Ojile will also join the starting lineup.

Totino-Grace Eagles (2013-14 season 23-6, 11-3 North Suburban Conference, 1st)
The Eagles also have to replace all 5 starters.  That includes 25 and 10 from North Suburban MVP Reggie Meyer.  Maxwell Walker and Cole Wagner should man the backcourt.  TJ McDonald and the big body of junior James Streeter should make up the front line.

Predicted Order of Finish

North Division
  1. Champlin Park 
  2. Elk River 
  3. Blaine   
  4. Andover  
  5. Centennial   
  6. Coon Rapids  
  7. Anoka  
West Division
  1. Robbinsdale Armstrong 
  2. Maple Grove  
  3. Osseo
  4. Spring Lake Park
  5. Totino-Grace
  6. Park Center 
  7. Irondale
Conference Overview:
The West should see a great duel between Armstrong and Maple Grove for the top spot.  The rest of the west is rebuilding.  So I'll default to Osseo for 3rd as you can't discount their ability to reload.  Put Spring Lake Park, Totino-Grace and Park Center in a hat and mix.  Irondale in a major rebuilding mode so I don't see them bouncing off the bottom.

In the north, expect Champlin Park to run away with that.  Since they gave Armstrong fits last year and don't play at Maple Grove (only meeting is in Champlin), I'm predicting the Rebels sweep the slate.  Elk River is clearly #2 in the north with their 8 returnees.  But like the west, there's a major drop off at 3.  Centennial, Andover and Blaine all split with each other last year.  Blaine has so much size and a decent wing/out of position PG in Kyle Cappard coming back that I have to pick them third.  But the guard play and their lack of defense last year (surprising for Mark Arzdorf team and a team with weak guards) make me not like that pick.  Andover could take that from them.  Centennial goes to 5th as they adjust to a new system.  Coon Rapids and Anoka will battle for the final spot.  Once again I'll go out on the limb and pick Coon Rapids to get it done.

Conference MVP: Brad Davison - Maple Grove

Underclassmen to watch: 
  • Braeden Mischke - Anoka 
  • Tim Leo - Blaine
  • Theo John, McKinley Wright - Champlin Park
  • Sam Carver - Coon Rapids
  • Jack Burger - Elk River
  • Brendan White - Irondale
  • Brad Davison, Jack Hutchinson, Tywhon Pickford- Maple Grove
  • Mar Mar Hughes, Zach Theisen, Tyler Kittelson - Osseo
  • Oliver Sudue - Park Center
  • Race Thompson - Robbinsdale Armstrong
  • Zach Ojile - Spring Lake Park
  • Rocky Kreuser - Totino-Grace
Conference Games to Watch
  • Armstrong at Maple Grove - Dec 19th
  • Champlin Park at Armstrong - Jan 13th
  • Maple Grove at Champlin Park - Jan 20th 
  • Maple Grove at Armstrong - Feb 17th
Non-Conference Games to Watch
  • Champlin Park vs Hopkins - Nov 29th (projected Hopkins tournament final)
  • Maple Grove vs Hopkins- Dec 13th (Tipoff Classic at Minnetonka) 
  • Armstrong vs Roseville - Dec 13th (Tipoff Classic at Minnetonka) 
  • Champlin Park vs Cretin-Derham Hall - Dec 13th (Tipoff Classic at Minnetonka)  
  • Armstrong at De La Salle - Jan 31st
  • Armstrong at Minnetonka - Feb 3rd
  • Minneapolis North at Armstrong - Feb 9th
  • Eden Prairie at Maple Grove - Feb 9th

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