Its time to kick off another AAU season. That means the annual trip to St. Cloud for the Comets Shootout. As usual the 17s will start late with 3 games at 3:00, 4 more at 4:10 and the final 9 openers starting at 5:20. In a change from recent history, the tournament goes back to pool format. In recent years its been a 32 team bracket with 2 games Saturday night and the quarterfinals to finish on Sunday. This year its still 2 Saturday games for everybody. But we're back to 16 pool winners making the championship bracket. That begins bright and early at 8 AM on Sunday and goes thru the traditional 5:20 final. That takes a toll on even the deepest of teams. 16 2nd place teams will play in the Gold bracket. Then 12 3rd place teams will play in the Silver bracket. Its a unique format with the last 4 pools being only 2 team pools. Those pools will start play with a cross-over game but only the head to head game at 7:40 PM will have any meaning for pool standings. The 4 cross-over pools will play their games at St. Cloud State. Everybody is at the home base of Whitney Rec Center or Sauk Rapids Middle School. While the format has changed, the concept of having a balanced championship bracket has not. That still means very little in the way of surprises in Saturday pool play and plenty of blowouts. So let's get to the important stuff.
Comets Lewis and D1 Minnesota are the clear top 2 teams in the tourney. D1 Minnesota has already started their season with a 3-1 record at the Real Deal In The Rock tourney in Arkansas last weekend. They lost to eventual champion and fellow Adidas squad Marcus Smart YGC36 in the semifinals. The Comets return a talented squad and have some nice additions. Monticello PG Matt Todd joins group as does Hopkins C Joe Hedstrom. They also added a talented top 30 ranked forward from Wisconsin. They go 2 deep at every position and have pieces to do a bit of everything. I expect a dynamite final between these 2.
Other Teams of Note
Half of the Sanford League is represented with Select, Heat, Fury, WOTN and ECI also attending. Select's top team keeping the guys who played up last year plus adding many guys from last year's very nice 16U crew. Not much size there but they have a couple of solid PGs in Charlie Gove/Cire Mayfield and a scorer in Beijan Newbern to go with a solid group of wings. For WOTN, PG Bryce Phillips and W Jon Martens are nice pickups for them. Dalton Kubista from Owatonna gives them a forward scorer who can play in and out. Fury will feature high scoring wing Michael Jones along with Charlie Jacob. Heat's group from last year fell apart. Former St. Anthony star Josh Pratt has the Sanford group this year. Kameron Davis from Spring Lake Park had a nice season. St. Anthony's Aaron Smith could break out for this group. More on ECI later.
Other Minnesota notables. We have to start with MN Powerhouse bringing 2 teams. What looks like their top team gets D1 MN Prospects in their pool. That's one of few compelling pool games. MN Eagles come back together for the spring. That's Apple Valley guys coming off a state title. Crossfire brings 2 squads. That includes 2nd division Sanford League team Crossfire-Schmidt who should give Heat Pratt all they want in the crossover game. The Comets have all their other teams playing as expected. Fury's 2nd team, Mpls FAB, MN Magic, MN Phenom also on the list. FAB is the young Brooklyn Center kids playing with some Tri-Metro seniors. They got off to a nice start in Arkansas last week as well. FAB part of the 1 pool that could be called the Pool of Doom with the WI Playmakers top team and Minneapolis Henry. MN Phenom went 3-1 and finished 2nd in Iowa last weekend. Center Michael Johnson is a sleeper name to be aware of for that crew.
Its not just Minnesota that's well represented. Three Wisconsin Playmakers teams on the list but not the Playmakers-King team (that's Owen King) that will play in the Sanford events. But Playmakers-Knutson is their NY2LA team. I like the size of that team and they have 4 top 50 Wisconsin kids. I'm looking forward to seeing forwards Josh Dahlke and Jaxon Knotek from that crew. North Dakota Phenom brings their top 2 teams. That means between the ECI and ND Phenom top 2 teams we should see 3 of the top 5 kids in North Dakota in the event. Center Josh Kihle with ND Phenom. Guard Josh Sipes and Forward Kade Amundson expected for ECI.
Now for the always infamous predictions. Here's how I see the championship bracket ending up.
Round of 16 Games (better games here than you might expect)
Comets Lewis vs Crossfire Schmidt
WOTN Ewing vs ND Phenom
Select Ohnstad vs D1 MN Rise
Powerhouse Black vs Fury Antl
D1 MN vs Select Ellis
MN Eagles vs Comets Servaty
Fury Wilde vs MN Phenom
ECI Prospects vs WI Playmakers Knutson
Comets Lewis over WOTN Ewing
Powerhouse Black over Select Ohnstad
D1 MN over MN Eagles
Fury Wilde over WI Playmakers Knutson
Comets Lewis over Powerhouse Black in a grudge match
D1 MN over Fury Wilde
D1 MN wins a nailbiter championship over Comets Lewis