A pressure packed opening night

Its official Minnesota kickoff for the 2017-18 season.  Great to be back at it for an 11th season.  Since I didn't see a Wisconsin game during my Thanksgiving visit to The Old Kingdom, its only fitting that I still get in a Wisconsin team for my official opener.  That's River Falls visiting St. Paul Johnson.  Johnson a very fitting place to start the season with the walking taco on the menu.   No salsa or sour cream makes for a dry version, but the basic lettuce and cheese with the standard Doritos makes it a solid B.  But I only wish people would realize how valuable it is to crush the bag of Doritos first.  7-Up gets the beverage counter rolling for another season.

Song of the Day: Break on Through (To The Other Side) - The Doors

Number of Teams I've Seen: 2

Beverage Ticker: 12 ounces (140 Calories)
1 day, 1 game
  • 7 Up: 12 ounces (140 calories)
Walking Taco Ticker:1

Game Time:
River Falls features Big Rivers Player of the Year and North Dakota State signee Jaxon Knotek on the wing.  He has an assist for 3 and a 3 of his own early.  Add in a pair of hoops from Ryan Spafford and River Falls jumps out to a 10-4 lead, time debatable due to it not running for a long period right after the 1st possession.  Knotek scores in the post but is countered by a pair of Terrel Turner triples for Johnson.   But its Knotek trailing the break for another great look at 3 and its good for a 22-14 Wildcats lead at the 8:52 mark.

After a 3 extends the lead to 10, Johnson rallies.  Kyle Lee with a fadeaway, Nueadean Adam for 3, Keylon Jackson with 3 the old fashioned way and Jordan Mobley scores after an offensive board of a free throw (biggest crime in the game).  Johnson within 27-26 at the 4:30 mark.  Knotek carrying the Wildcat offense with another bucket and Spafford adds 2 free throws.  Lee another bucket and Turner another bomb.  A late turnover gives the Govs a chance to regain the lead but a late jumper by Lee is no good.  32-31 River Falls up at the half.

2 wide open layups with solid passes being made give River Falls a 5 point edge to start the 2nd half.  After trading buckets, Johnson's full court pressure finally starts to take its toll.  4 River Falls turnovers lead directly to buckets.  Knotek tries to get a breather but the turnovers only allow him a 23 second bench rest.  The Johnson run is 15-4 in about 3 minutes.  That puts the Govs up 48-40 with 12:42 left.

River Falls replies with a 11-3 run of their own.  Knotek wasn't getting any touches as Johnson decided to practically face guard him.  But he took matters into his own hands but putting back his own miss for a 3 point play, 2 free throws out of a post up and another putback.  51 all with 7:20 left.  Then the pace slows but Johnson able to get to the lane and get the next 3 buckets.  After a Mobley FT they have the ball up 5 but turn it over with 2:05 left.  River Falls misses a front but Knotek with a steal for a dunk with 1:12 left and the Wildcats still have a chance down 3.  But that's the last gasp.  Mobley makes both ends of the bonus while River Falls turns it over twice and misses a FT block out to cost them 2 free throws.  Johnson misses 5 FTs in the last 35 seconds but that only keeps it close.  Johnson wins 63-59

Post Game
For River Falls, NDSU signee Jaxon Knotek finishes with 24 points and 16 rebounds on my sheet.  I had him 9-21 from the field but that was with his 1st 4 as misses.  He showed a very versatile game handling the ball, trailing the break for 3s or playing in the post.  Outside of 1 3 minute flurry in the 2nd half, the defense keying on him after the big 1st half (15 pts, 9 rbs) took him out of the game.  Forward Ryan Spafford did a bunch of dirty work inside on his way to 16 points.  Nobody else with more than 5 points for the Wildcats.

For Johnson, they end up with 3 players in double figures.  Terrel Turner and Jordan Mobley with 13 each and Kyle Lee with 11.  Johnson's pressure did exactly what its intended to do by just continuing to wear on the opponent.  The Govs guard play will be very good to them in league play.  The quartet of Kyle Lee, Shemar Tucker-Adams, Jordan Mobley and Terrel Turner had 45 of the 63 points.  Expect that trend to continue.  They aren't great shooters but they get into the lane and will share the ball.  St. Paul Johnson opens 1-0 and they visit Brooklyn Center for the Centaurs opener on Friday.

Strategy Session
Johnson has long been known for their full court scrambling pressure.  While that is a calling card for the Govs, I want to talk offense.  There were a couple of things that the Govs did that I liked and really fit their lineup well.  First was a simple 3 out 2 in dribble weave with a random big stepping up for the high ball screen in it from time to time.  That was effective in getting the guards going down hill and good discipline not to settle for bad 3s.

The other very effective set that the Govs used was a horns look with the point guard (mostly Lee) coming off both elbow screeners to his right hand and being able to turn the corner or kick to Turner for 3 on the ball side.  That was largely how Turner got his 3 point looks.  They'll also use a baseline runner look but that didn't net them anything.

2017-18 Opening Week Preview

Its opening week of the 2017-18 season and despite not officially starting until Thursday, it has plenty to offer.  Let's get to it. 

A couple of last minute tune up jamborees before the season starts.  If you like big north metro schools, then Spring Lake Park is the place to be.  8 teams from the NW Suburban plus Fridley, St. Francis, Forest Lake and Mounds View are participating there.

If smaller schools are more your thing, then Jump City is for you.  That's High School for Recording Arts in St. Paul.  They'll host Humboldt, Highland Park, Maranatha, Brooklyn Center and Prairie Seeds Academy with each team playing twice.  Both of those events start at 6 PM.

Its a quiet opening night but quality is on the schedule.  The highest profile local game is the battle for St. Paul supremacy with Central visiting Cretin-Derham Hall.  That game is online so I may have comments on it after my game with the other St. Paul team looking for a title, Johnson.  They have a sneaky good game against River Falls, WI to open the season.  Jaxon Knotek played well over the summer and made himself into a NDSU commit. 

The Minneapolis side has a couple of games of note as well.  Roosevelt visits Orono in an early season matchup of 6AAA teams.  No good matchup for Jarvis Omersa there but Roosevelt's guards vs the Orono guards is a good test.  Rochester Lourdes visits Breck in a quality AA game as well.

Rare for a weeknight but one could pull off a 2 location tripleheader with the early Humboldt at Nova game and then a late girls/boys doubleheader at Trinity.  Nothing incredibly sticks out but Johnson gets no break as they visit Brooklyn Center.  Forest Lake also has the quick turnaround for a 7AAAA road game at Coon Rapids.  Centennial at Roseville is an early season 5AAAA battle and is my prediction for the 4 vs 5 section game.  Central Minnesota Christian comes in for a weekend doubleheader with SW Christian (Fri) and Heritage Christian (Sat)

Speaking of Saturday, one could sit at the girls tipoff all day and wait for the boys games.  I on the other hand will take the chance to watch St. Cloud Apollo at St. Louis Park in an early noon start.  St. Louis Park is experienced, Apollo has talented youth and a new coach.  Should make for an interesting game.  Kasson-Mantorville visits Simley in a game that should have an impact on how these teams are seeded in 1AAA.  Then its the 4 boys games at the girls tipoff.

Iowa City West is the top ranked team in Iowa with star Patrick McCaffrey.  They'll take on De La Salle in the 3:45 game.  Gabe Kalscheur vs McCaffrey is the appealing matchup there.  But I would expect the worker bees from each team to get the defensive assignments and not much head to head.  Expect a grind it out defensive battle.

Orono takes on Robbinsdale Armstrong in the 5:30 game.  This was intended to be the Race Thompson vs Jarvis Omersa showdown but with Thompson leaving early for Indiana, that appeal is gone.

Cretin-Derham Hall shows up again on my radar for the 3rd time in a week.  This time they get host Hopkins.  That's the clear early season battle for #2 in the state AAAA poll.  Oturu vs Hedstrom and  Beauchamp vs Larson are fun matchups.  But the most interesting matchup could be Sy Chatman vs Zeke Nnaji.  Chatman stuck out with his play at the CDH jamboree on Saturday and in fall league.  His game has definitely advanced.

In the late game, its East Ridge vs Minnehaha.  These teams both return a ton.  Ben Carlson needs to be a big factor inside in this one.  If Javonni Bickham is in foul trouble for Minnehaha, that takes a major threat off the floor.  Jalen Suggs so dangerous creating off the high pick and roll either for himself or for a bevy of outside shooters.   The Raptors game plan against him will be interesting to see.

2017-18 Season in a Nutshell

The 2017-2018 Season Preview series concludes its 6 week run with my favorite preview.  Its an overview of what and who you need to see and when and where you can find it.  This is a higher level preview for the more casual fan who doesn't eat, sleep and breathe hoops like many of us do.  So with that in mind, we distill the season down to some high points.  For a list of all of the detailed previews, click here.

Local Events to Watch
  • Dec 2 - Breakdown Girls Tipoff Classic at Hopkins (4 premier boys games)
  • Dec 9 - Breakdown Boys Tipoff Classic at Hopkins
  • Dec 16 - Southside Showcase at Burnsville 
  • Jan 15 - MLK events (Totino-Grace and South Mpls)
  • January - Super 60 Events
The list of premier local events is down with past events at Johnson and the Timberwolves Shootout falling off the map.  Not to mention the Border Battle is in Wisconsin this year and the Breakdown Community clash moves to St. Michael this season.  But the Tipoff Classics still are the best events around.  3 of the 4 boys games at the girls tipoff really stick out with De La Salle taking on Iowa City West (the top team in Iowa who also hosts CDH late in the year).  Then a huge AAAA clash with Cretin-Derham Hall taking on Hopkins.  Then youth caps it off with Minnehaha vs East Ridge.  Too many high profile games in the boys tipoff to mention but the biggest crowd draw will be Orono vs Cretin-Derham Hall with future Gophers Jarvis Omersa and Daniel Oturu going head to head.

Other Non-Conference Games to Watch
  • Minnehaha at Apple Valley - Dec 7th (ESPN) 
  • Hopkins vs Minnehaha - Dec 23rd (projected tournament championship at Augsburg)
  • Apple Valley vs Park Center - Dec 29th (at St. Cloud Apollo)
  • Minnehaha vs Orono - Dec 30th (at St Cloud State)
  • Cretin-Derham Hall vs Apple Valley - Dec 30th (at St. Cloud State) 
  • Hopkins at Orono - Jan 9th
  • Minneapolis North at Minnehaha - Jan 25th
  • Austin at Minnehaha - Feb 3rd
  • De La Salle at Cretin-Derham Hall - Feb 10th
  • Hopkins at Minneapolis North - Feb 13th
  • Caledonia at Minnehaha - Feb 17th
I didn't include conference games because those are covered in the conference previews.  Not to mention I wanted the list to be somewhat manageable.  The Minnehaha vs Apple Valley game was initially the highlight game of the boys tipoff classic until ESPN stepped in to show it.  Minnehaha's schedule is absolutely criminal with all of the above games plus Eden Prairie and a Border Battle showcase game at Stevens Point, WI (#1 in WI top class).  Have to love the fact that the majority of these games are top teams playing top teams in other classes.  But we still get the great in-class matchups.  See Minnehaha hosting Minneapolis North and Caledonia in AA.  Pay attention to location of those games due to the explosion at Minnehaha's north campus this fall.  In AAAA, the rankings should make themselves clear as you have Cretin-Derham Hall vs Apple Valley and Hopkins plus Apple Valley vs Park Center on the season schedule.

Local Players to Watch

  • Joe Hedstrom - Hopkins
  • Michael Jones - Woodbury 
  • Tre Jones - Apple Valley
  • Gabe Kalscheur - De La Salle
  • Jarvis Omersa - Orono
  • Daniel Oturu - Cretin-Derham Hall
  • Zeke Nnaji = Hopkins
  • Tyrell Terry - De La Salle
  • Ben Carlson - East Ridge
  • Dain Dainja - Park Center
  • Dawson Garcia - Prior Lake
  • Jalen Suggs - Minnehaha
Local Teams Looking to Win It All
  • Apple Valley
  • Cretin-Derham Hall
  • Hopkins
  • Park Center
  • East Ridge
  • De La Salle
  • Orono
  • Minnehaha
  • Minneapolis North
Notable Conference Streaks
  • Apple Valley - 40 wins (24 in a row overall)
  • Heritage Christian Academy - 24 wins
  • Champlin Park - 19 wins
  • Minnehaha - 19 wins (19 in a row overall)
  • De La Salle - 16 wins
  • Minneapolis North - 15 wins
  • Mounds Park Academy - 29 losses IMAC, 68 conference back Tri-Metro play
  • South St. Paul - 43 losses total , 57 in a row at home
  • Concordia-Roseville - 18 losses
  • Stillwater - 14 losses
  • PACT - 12 losses
Season Thoughts
Its a great year for Gopher fans with 3 local seniors moving on Williams Arena next season (Kalscheur, Omersa, Oturu).  Its not a coincidence that their teams will be looking to compete for state titles this season.  Assuming De La Salle sees Orono in the 6AAA final, we'll get a full round robin of those 3 teams.  Apple Valley and Minnehaha enter the season with a ton returning and favorites to repeat.  De La Salle looks to plug in Jamison Battle for Goanar Mar and do the same in AAA.  Delano and Austin from outside of section 6AAA and Orono in their section are the biggest threats to end the 6 year Islanders title streak.  Class A becomes wide open with Minneapolis North moving up to AA.  The Polars should compete again for a state title there.  But they'll find AA is much deeper than single A ever was against them  Lake City and St. Cloud Cathedral return a ton from state teams last year plus Annandale is still strong.  Then you have Caledonia, Esko and Perham who are talented enough to win a title.

In AAAA, Cretin-Derham Hall and Hopkins stick out as the immediate threats to Apple Valley's throne.  Park Center and East Ridge are talented enough to jump into that group as well.  After that, its a down year in AAAA.   The Metro West and NW Suburban are down and the South Suburban isn't as strong as past years.  4 teams in AAAA with no metro ties stick out for me.  That's Rochester John Marshall, Rochester Mayo, Owatonna and St. Cloud Tech.  So those with Woodbury, North St. Paul and the rest of the Lake conference stick out as a group that will stick around the back half of the state poll.  Barring any major upsets, I think the top 4 seeds at state will be pretty clear (AV, CDH/Hopkins, Park Center).  I see the 5th seed as a battle between Eden Prairie and the winner of section 1.

On the rules side, some fun points of emphasis this year.  Intentional fouls are intended to be called much closer.  We'll see what impact that has on the end of games.  Officials can now formally warn a bench for misconduct.  How that impacts coaching behavior will be interesting to see.  On ball defense with guys bumping ball handlers is part of the emphasis too.  Head and shoulders past the defender is the key to watch there.  While Minnesota has a shot clock rule, we mostly don't use it.  Wisconsin tried to put a full time rule in for 2019 and the WIAA has been shredded for how it was handled.  Will that discussion and result drive any discussion and changes here?

Tre Jones should sweep the post season awards barring a catastrophe.  The Mr Basketball award situation will be interesting to watch to see what the reaction is.  I think their process will be fair.  However, the committee was still picked by Ken Lien.  While I personally don't find that an issue, the perception of many others is very different.  I still feel the committee has done an absolutely terrible job of publicly denouncing the actions and addressing the perceptions.   Both in terms of slow timing and soft messaging.  I'm convinced the committee feels stronger than they've let on and for their sake I wish they would say it in public as a united group.  The McDonald Award is a worthy alternative but I really wonder if it will get any traction at all.  In a just world, the Mr Basketball award would just be turned over to the coaches association like its done in many other states.  That would clean up much of the mess.

2017-18 Section 8AAAA Preview

This is the 27th preview in my 2017-2018 season preview series.  Its the final class AAAA preview, a look at section 8AAAA.  For a list of all the season previews and how they are generated, click here.

Section 8AAAA (8 teams)
Defending Champion: Maple Grove

Tournament Schedule:
Quarterfinals: Tuesday, March 6th
Semifinals: Saturday, March 10th at St. Cloud State
Finals: Thursday, March 15th at TBD (Neutral site based on teams)

Predicted Seeding
  1. St. Cloud Tech
  2. Rogers
  3. St. Michael-Albertville
  4. Elk River
  5. Maple Grove
  6. Brainerd
  7. Moorhead
  8. Buffalo
No changes to the section for this 2 year cycle. St. Cloud Tech returns most of last year's team that won 22 games.  Gopher FB recruit Brevyn Spann-Ford and Cam Jackson are a high powered inside outside duo for the Tigers.  Then a group of 4 behind them.  I see Rogers with returning forward Jordan Belka (Northern St commit) being the best of the rest.  St. Michael-Albertville loses their top scorer but still has 2 double figure scorers returning so I slot them 3rd.  Maple Grove has no experience returning but Elk River also loses a ton outside of leading scorer Jack Burger.  Those 2 will fight for the final home game.  Their head to head meeting is 1 week before the end of the season and will loom large.  Then the bottom 3.  Brainerd has to replace their top player Michael Russell.  Buffalo loses their starting lineup.  Moorhead only won 3 games last year but they only lose 1 rotation guy so I'll pick them to flip with Buffalo.

Sleeper: Maple Grove.  No experience and no expectations after losing the entire rotation.  But they do have some talent that hasn't had the chance to show on the big stage yet.  By the end, they'll work the kinks out and be much better than early in the year.

Section Winner: St. Cloud Tech. This is the year they've built to.  They are too deep and talented to not advance.  A potential Spann-Ford vs Belka matchup in the final is very attractive.

2017-18 Section 7AAAA Preview

This is the 26th preview in my 2017-2018 season preview series.  The class AAAA previews move on to the often maligned section 7AAAA.  For a list of all the season previews and how they are generated, click here.

Section 7AAAA (8 teams)
Defending Champion: Andover

Tournament Schedule:
Quarterfinals: Wednesday, March 7th
Semifinals: Saturday, March 10th at Chisago Lakes
Finals: Thursday, March 15th at Chisago Lakes

Predicted Seeding
  1. Forest Lake
  2. St. Francis
  3. Blaine
  4. Andover
  5. Cambridge-Isanti
  6. Duluth East
  7. Anoka
  8. Coon Rapids
No changes to the section for this 2 year cycle.  This section was so up in the air last year that 7 seed Andover made the run to state.  Forest Lake with the addition of Manny Jincgo along with returning John Schrader is my top seed.  Behind them its a jumbled mess with lots of head to head matchups to determine placement.  Lots of top players lost from these teams.  Despite a late coaching change, I'll take St. Francis with the strong forward combo of Blake Kulsrud and Wyatt Schroeder to be 2nd.  Blaine gets the nod at 3 as the best remaining team from the Northwest Suburban.  Andover also gets a schedule bump here.  I'm going to pick an improvement from Cambridge-Isanti to go with a drop off from Duluth East.  The Greyhounds have to replace a ton including star big Cody Carlson.  Anoka continues to rebuild and Coon Rapids drops back after a strong year last year.

Sleeper: Cambridge-Isanti.  Despite losing their top scorer, the Bluejackets have plenty of experience coming back and they play a unique system.  Add in shooter like Henry Abraham and in this section they should be able to compete with everybody.

Section Winner: Forest Lake. This is more by default than anything.  But the Rangers have enough firepower that they should withstand the competition.

2017-18 Section 6AAAA Preview

This is the 25th preview in my 2017-2018 season preview series.  The class AAAA previews roll along with a look at section 6AAAA.  For a list of all the season previews and how they are generated, click here.

Section 6AAAA (7 teams)
Defending Champion: Wayzata

Tournament Schedule:
Quarterfinals: Tuesday, March 6th
Semifinals: Friday, March 9th at Osseo
Finals: Wednesday, March 14th at Osseo

Predicted Seeding
  1. Hopkins
  2. Wayzata
  3. St. Louis Park
  4. Robbinsdale Armstrong
  5. Minneapolis Washburn
  6. Minneapolis South
  7. Minneapolis Southwest
Robbinsdale Cooper drops down to section 6AAA.  The Hawks were not replaced in the section so the section drops to 7 teams.  Hopkins with 2 top bigs and 2 returning guards is the favorite here.  Wayzata with their strong backcourt slots into the 2nd spot.  St. Louis Park also has a strong backcourt returning to give them the 3 slot.  Armstrong loses Race Thompson but they'll still do enough to be 4th here.  Then the city teams.  Washburn is the best of that group.

Sleeper: Minneapolis South.  Coach Joe Hyser always has his teams ready to go.  They have plenty of experience coming back.  Add in soph Curtis Jones as a scorer and the Tigers are the most likely to pull an upset.

Section Winner: Hopkins. The Royals were stung by the section final loss to Wayzata last year.  As is the case in my Lake Conference picks, the big front line of Joe Hedstrom and Zeke Nnaji is the difference here.

2017-18 Section 5AAAA Preview

This is the 24th preview in my 2017-2018 season preview series.  In this final week of previews, we finish our look at class AAAA and then finish up with our annual season overview on Friday.  Today its section 5AAAA.  For a list of all the season previews and how they are generated, click here.

Section 5AAAA (8 teams)
Defending Champion: Champlin Park

Tournament Schedule:
Quarterfinals: Wednesday, March 7th
Semifinals: Tuesday, March 13th at Maple Grove
Finals: Friday, March 16th at Rogers

Predicted Seeding
  1. Park Center
  2. Champlin Park
  3. Osseo
  4. Roseville
  5. Centennial
  6. Mounds View
  7. Spring Lake Park
  8. Irondale
No new teams in the section for this 2 year cycle. Park Center is the favorite with most of their 21 win team returning.  Champlin Park isn't very experienced but as the projected North division champs in the NW Suburban they have to slot here.  Osseo and Roseville are clearly the next tier of teams.  Then it drops off for the non-home teams.  Irondale draws the last straw with the remaining 3 being very close.  Spring Lake Park's youth took some lumps last year but they are always a tough out and will look to move up in that group.  They'll get their chance with an early season meeting vs Mounds View and a end of season trip to Centennial.

Sleeper: Roseville.  They finished strong last year and have some productive pieces returning.  Add in Gary Smith from St. Agnes and the Raiders could surprise here.

Section Winner: Park Center. The Pirates have all the ingredients and their depth is a major difference.  They won 10 straight before a 1 point loss to Osseo in sections.  They should battle to be in the 2nd tier of teams behind Apple Valley this season.

2017-18 Section 4AAAA Preview

This is the 23rd preview in my 2017-2018 season preview series.  Continuing our look at the class AAAA sections, we move on to section 4.  For a list of all the season previews and how they are generated, click here.

Section 4AAAA (8 teams)
Defending Champion: Cretin-Derham Hall

Tournament Schedule:
Quarterfinals: Wednesday, March 7th
Semifinals: Saturday, March 10th at Hastings
Finals: Thursday, March 15th at Hastings

Predicted Seeding
  1. Cretin-Derham Hall
  2. East Ridge
  3. North St. Paul
  4. Woodbury
  5. St. Paul Central
  6. Tartan
  7. White Bear Lake
  8. Stillwater
No new teams in the section for this 2 year cycle.  This will be a highly competitive section.  Cretin-Derham Hall and East Ridge stand out as the top 2 teams.  Whoever wins the Suburban East gets the 1 seed and I see a CDH vs E Ridge rubber match deciding who goes to state.  Woodbury and North St. Paul will have a close battle for the 3 seed.  I'll give St. Paul Central the nod for 5 over Tartan due to being St. Paul City champs though the section hasn't voted that way historically.  White Bear Lake has the pieces to remain 7th and Stillwater is looking at a long year.

Sleeper: Tartan.  This will be the 1st year in a long time with no expectations as they lose almost everybody.  But there is still talent there and a hall of fame coach in Mark Klingsporn who has taken teams to state.

Section Winner: Cretin-Derham Hall.  Not betting against the defending section champs with everybody returning.  East Ridge will be an extremely tough out this year and they are looking at a couple of great years ahead.  Look for that 3rd meeting to be one the best section finals of the season.

2017-18 Section 3AAAA Preview

This is the 22nd preview in my 2017-2018 season preview series.  Continuing our look at the class AAAA sections, we move on to section 3.  For a list of all the season previews and how they are generated, click here.

Section 3AAAA (8 teams)
Defending Champion: Apple Valley

Tournament Schedule:
Quarterfinals: Tuesday, March 6th
Semifinals: Friday, March 9th at Farmington
Finals: Thursday, March 15th at Farmington

Predicted Seeding
  1. Apple Valley
  2. Eastview
  3. Burnsville
  4. Hastings
  5. Park
  6. Henry Sibley
  7. Rosemount
  8. Eagan
No new teams in the section for this 2 year cycle.  Besides Apple Valley, I can't see more than 1 other team in the section having a winning record, just like last year.  Its likely Eastview.  So they get the 2 seed.  Everybody else in the section I have picked in the bottom half of their league.  Burnsville is clearly best of the rest and then a total mess for the last home game.  Hastings, Park and Sibley will fight for that as each have a top player returning.  Rosemount and Eagan are rebuilding.  Not a ton of separation here between 4 and 8 so expect a scrambled mess.

Sleeper: Henry Sibley.  They have talented point guard Reshaun Satar returning and a couple of experienced juniors coming back.  That gives them the best chance of the lower group to jump out.

Section Winner: Apple Valley. The defending state champs have most of the roster back and the top player in the state in Tre Jones.  Plus its a terribly weak section so no problems here.

2017-18 Section 2AAAA Preview

This is the 21st preview in my 2017-2018 season preview series.  Continuing our look at the class AAAA sections we stay in the south metro with section 2AAAA.  For a list of all the season previews and how they are generated, click here.

Section 2AAAA (8 teams)
Defending Champion: Chaska

Tournament Schedule:
Quarterfinals: Wednesday, March 7th
Semifinals: Saturday, March 10th at TBD
Finals: Friday, March 16th at TBD

Predicted Seeding
  1. Eden Prairie
  2. Prior Lake
  3. Bloomington Jefferson
  4. Edina
  5. Minnetonka
  6. Chaska
  7. Shakopee
  8. Chanhassen
No new teams in the section for this 2 year cycle. Its a deep section and expect some surprises.  Eden Prairie sticks out to me at the top.  The South Suburban gets a ton of respect here with the Metro West being down and the Lake is always tough.  So that means Jefferson gets 3 behind Prior Lake.  Edina and Minnetonka battle for the final home game.  Chaska has heavy losses.  Shakopee had a major youth movement last year and they're looking a couple years ahead.  Chanhassen gets the short straw as the final seed.

Sleeper: Minnetonka.  With a talented point guard in Jalen Dearring and talent on the wings, the Skippers will not be an easy out.  They also have experience.

Section Winner: Eden Prairie. They have a ton of guard firepower with Drake Dobbs and Kyler Kluge. Plus they have plenty of experience returning and will be battle tested by their normally difficult schedule.

2017-18 Section 1AAAA Preview

This is the 20th preview in my 2017-2018 season preview series.  Now we begin our look at all of the class AAAA sections going in numerical order.  So that means we start with section 1.  For a list of all the season previews and how they are generated, click here.

Section 1AAAA (8 teams)
Defending Champion: Lakeville North

Tournament Schedule:
Quarterfinals: Wednesday, March 7th
Semifinals: Saturday, March 10th at Rochester Civic Arena
Finals: Saturday, March 17th at Rochester Civic Arena

Predicted Seeding
  1. Lakeville North
  2. Rochester John Marshall
  3. Rochester Mayo
  4. Owatonna
  5. Lakeville South 
  6. New Prague
  7. Farmington
  8. Rochester Century
No new teams in the section for this 2 year cycle.  This section has plenty of depth at the top if not a potential elite team.  Lakeville North will be strong with Tyler Wahl.  You can never discount a team with Matt Hurt at JM.  But he has limited help and a brand new coach and system this year.  Rochester Mayo brings in a new coach with his twin sophomore sons Gabe and Mason Madsen.  They'll man the backcourt and both have UNI offers amongst others.  So they are going to be a major factor here, but how big of a factor is the unknown.  Owatonna and Lakeville South fight it out for the last home game again in arguably the strongest 4 vs 5 game.  Owatonna has most of their 18 win roster coming back including forward Dalton Kubista.  So I don't see that potential 4 vs 5 rematch as another 30 point blowout.  Blake Nicols takes over the program at New Prague in the tough Wright County East.  He has to replace 5 of his top 6 scorers.  But he has 2 talented juniors in Tyler Kemp and Nathan Brusseau to build around.  Farmington loses top scorer Sam Wilson but has experience coming back.  The youth movement continues at Rochester Century.

Sleeper: Rochester Mayo.  We know there's talent.  How everything comes together is what remains to be seen.

Section Winner: Lakeville North. The Panthers have been the nemesis of Rochester John Marshall for the last 5 years in this section.  Their experience and proven ability to reload will be big factors here.  But they aren't at the same level as past years.  The top 5 teams are all not that far apart so it should be a very entertaining section to watch.

2017-18 Section 6AAA Preview

This is the 19th preview in my 2017-2018 season preview series.  Week 5 of this 6 week series begins with a glance at the final metro area section in class AAA, loaded section 6.  For a list of all the season previews and how they are generated, click here.

Section 6AAA (8 teams)
Defending Champion: De La Salle

Tournament Schedule:
Quarterfinals: Wednesday, March 7th
Semifinals: Saturday, March 10th
Finals: Thursday, March 15th at Chanhassen

New teams in the section
  • Minneapolis Roosevelt (4AA)
  • Robbinsdale Cooper (6AAAA)
Teams that left the section
  • Blake (5AA)
  • Delano (5AAA)
Predicted Seeding
  1. DeLaSalle
  2. Orono
  3. Waconia 
  4. Minneapolis Roosevelt 
  5. Robbinsdale Cooper
  6. Minneapolis Henry
  7. Benilde-St. Margaret's
  8. Mound-Westonka
At the top, you have 2 of the state favorites in AAA.  Then a group of solid teams in Waconia, Roosevelt and Cooper.  Waconia has a solid backcourt of Charlie Gove and PJ Hayes to go with Nick Fulford up front.  Cooper and Roosevelt won't be big but their quickness will be a factor.  They'll battle for the last home game.  Henry is in the next group.  Benilde-St. Margaret's is down and Mound-Westonka continues rebuilding.  The brutally tough Wright County East schedule will be great tourney prep for Orono and Waconia.

Sleeper: Robbinsdale Cooper.  They've got a bunch of quick guards that can be very disruptive in Bo Powell system.  In recent years the Hawks have been a bracket buster.  So moving down, even into a tough section, I wouldn't be surprised to see it happen again.

Section Winner: Orono.  So far in my predictions the top pick in each section has been pretty straight forward and clearly above the rest.  Not here.  Barry Wohler has been there and done that.  He has an outstanding backcourt of Colton Codute and Max Bjorklund to go with Jarvis Thomas up front.  Plus they have quality depth behind that.  De La Salle has no good matchup for Thomas and Orono should be strong enough at the guard spots to get into sets.  I'll take this as the year that the Islanders AAA streak ends.

2017-18 Section 4AAA Preview

This is the 18th preview in my 2017-2018 season preview series.  To end week 4 of this 6 week series, I take a look at section 4AAA.  For this 2 year cycle, no changes to the section members.  For a list of all the season previews and how they are generated, click here.

Section 4AAA (8 teams)
Defending Champion: Columbia Heights

Tournament Schedule:
Quarterfinals: Wednesday, March 7th
Semifinals: Saturday, March 10th at St. Paul Washington
Finals: Thursday, March 15th at St. Paul Washington
Predicted Seeding
  1. Columbia Heights
  2. Totino-Grace
  3. St. Anthony
  4. Mahtomedi
  5. St. Paul Johnson 
  6. Fridley
  7. St. Paul Como Park
  8. Hill-Murray
Coach Willie Braziel has his best squad since the Zach Lofton state runner up team during his 1st run with the Hylanders.  So you have to like Columbia Heights at the top as this was the year they built up to.  Totino-Grace has some nice pieces back as well and will be tested in the NW Suburban.  St. Anthony's backcourt and weak schedule will put them 3rd.  Mahtomedi will be inexperienced but solid.  They should battle with Johnson for the last home game.  Fridley looks to jump into that group as well.  Como Park fills 7 and Hill-Murray without Simeon Davis is in a major rebuild in the last spot.

Sleeper: St. Paul Johnson.  The Govs have been the team to beat in this section for many years.  After seeing their 13 year streak of St. Paul City conference championships snapped, they have most of the rotation returning. 

Section Winner: Columbia Heights.  The Hylanders have most of their roster back from last year's state qualifier.  Plus the section isn't as good.  With Wendell Matthews inside, Deaundra Robersonand Christian Kelly on the the wings and point guard Quentin Hardrict running the show from that team, there are quality pieces at all positions.

2017-18 Section 3AAA Preview

This is the 17th preview in my 2017-2018 season preview series.  As week 4 of the 6 week preview series moves along, I start my look at the local AAA sections with section 3AAA.  For a list of all the season previews and how they are generated, click here.

Section 3AAA (8 teams)
Defending Champion: St. Thomas Academy

Tournament Schedule:

Quarterfinals: Tuesday, March 6th
Semifinals: Friday, March 9th at Bloomington Jefferson
Finals: Thursday, March 15th at Bloomington Jefferson

New teams in the section
  • St. Croix Lutheran (4AA)
Teams that left the section
  • Simley (1AAA)
Predicted Seeding
  1. St. Thomas Academy
  2. St. Croix Lutheran
  3. St. Paul Highland Park
  4. Bloomington Kennedy
  5. Richfield
  6. Holy Angels
  7. St. Paul Harding
  8. South St. Paul
Defending champion St. Thomas Academy returns most of their roster and is the clear favorite.  St. Croix Lutheran joins the section and they stand out as the clear contender to the throne with 2 of their top players returning in Garrett Maag and Jack Kuckhahn.  After that a major drop off.  Highland Park will be noticeably down from their 23 win season a year ago as they lose 2 of their stars.  Kennedy and Richfield are my last 2 picks in the Metro East but should fight for the final home game.  The bottom 3 were 3 of the worst in AAA last year and I don't see that changing.

Note on Simley who moves south to section 1AAA.  Austin is the clear favorite there.  With Byron and Stewartville dropping down to AA, Simley should get a first round game and I'll pick them to advance past it and then go out in the semis.

Sleeper: Richfield. The Spartans made a run to the section final in a weak section last year.  They took St. Thomas Academy right to the wire.  If any team outside the top 2 in this section is going to do that, it'll be Richfield again.  They have a scorer in Devin Wade-Henderson and a couple of other experienced returnees that give them the experience and talent to fit.

Section Winner: St. Thomas Academy.  The Cadets have the experience and 2 talented leaders in Jack Thompson and Sam Vascellaro to lead them back to the state tourney.

2017-18 Section 5AA Preview

This is the 16th preview in my 2017-2018 season preview series.  In this preview, a look at section 5AA.  For a list of all the season previews and how they are generated, click here.

Section 5AA (16 teams)
Defending Champion: Annandale

Tournament Schedule:
Round of 16: Thursday, March 8th
Quarterfinals: Saturday, March 10th at St. Michael-Albertville
Semifinals: Wednesday, March 14th at St. Michael-Albertville
Finals: Friday, March 16th 8 PM at St. Cloud State

New teams in the section
  • Blake (6AAA)
  • Maranatha Christian (4A)
  • Minneapolis North (4A)
Teams that left the section
  • Annandale (6AA)
  • Eden Valley-Watkins (6AA)
  • Maple Lake (6AA)
  • Minneapolis Edison (4AA)
  • Paynesville (3AA)
  • Spectrum (6AA)
Predicted Seeding
  1. Minneapolis North
  2. Brooklyn Center
  3. Holy Family
  4. Maranatha
  5. Breck
  6. Litchfield
  7. Southwest Christian
  8. Rockford 
  9. Providence   
  10. Watertown-Mayer
  11. Blake
  12. HLWW
  13. PACT
  14. International School
While 16 teams are listed, we'll be down to 14 thanks to co-ops in the Minneapolis City.  In 1 co-op FAIR is now with Henry.  Instead of a Wellstone/Heritage co-op, those teams have combined with Roosevelt and Edison respectively.  We'll see if any in-season adjustments are made to the section.  2 time defending class A champ Minneapolis North is the big addition to the section.  Maranatha also is a top contender moving in from section 4A.  Defending champ Annandale moves west to 6AA.

Minneapolis North goes in the top spot as they have Odell Wilson inside, Tayler Johnson outside and a truckload of athletes that these teams just can't replicate.  Brooklyn Center has plenty back and should be in or around the rankings all year.  Holy Family won only 10 games during the regular season last year.  But they upset the Centaurs in the quarters and were a miracle buzzer-beater from the section final.  Now the Fire return everybody from last year.  The record may not show it because of the gauntlet known as the Wright County East but that schedule will benefit them come section time.

Maranatha and Breck are the next tier of teams with their stars David Roddy and Beijan Newbern being a level above the remainder of the section.  Litchfield has Owen Boerema coming back and SW Christian has guard firepower in the next group.  Providence will look to jump in that group with Matt Richelsen.  1 more group of 3 before PACT and ISM fight it out for the final spot.

In 6AA, I see Spectrum going out in a 1st round road game.

Sleeper: SW Christian.  Their shooting and nasty matchup zone are both able to keep them in any game.  In a 1 and done scenario, that's always a chance.

Section Winner: Minneapolis North. Too athletic and having Odell Wilson inside means they still advance.  But they won't have a cakewalk like Minnehaha as the top of the section has plenty of quality.