2018-19 Metro East Conference Preview

This is the 8th preview in my 2018-2019 season preview series.  Due to the annual MEA break, I'll also take the 2 day hiatus and end week 2 with a look at the Metro East Conference.  For a list of all the season previews and an explanation of how the previews are generated, click here.

Hastings Raiders (2017-18 season 13-14, 9-7 Conference, 5th)
The Raiders have to replace their top 2 scorers in forward Sawyer Levos and Grant Hollar.  They combined for almost 24 PPG last year.  But 3 starters and 2 reserves do return. Junior guard Devon Haraldson provides shooting.  Forwards Matt Schlottman and Isaac Rabaey return to a big front line.  Both scored 9 PPG last year.  Junior guards Dylan Wagner (9.6 PPG) and Colby Zak (5.1 PPG) return to guard spots.  Expect a very balanced lineup once again.

Henry Sibley Warriors (2017-18 season 9-18, 5-11 Conference, 6th)
Coach John Carrier has to replace his point guard and leading scorer Rieshaun Satar (19.6 PPG).  The next 4 leading scorers return to the lineup.  Versatile forward Malik Tschida-Spearman (16.1 PPG) will be the top option.  But he's coming off a football injury which will slow the start of his season.  Ty Zubulake (11 PPG) and Eli Lone Tree should be other primary offensive options. 

Hill-Murray Pioneers (2017-18 season 3-24, 2-14 Conference, Tie 8th)
Jacob Robasse takes over the program with a ground level rebuild ahead of him.  No one averaged double figures last year and 4 of the top 5 scorers are gone.  Guard Kenny Larmie leads the returnees with 7.5 PPG.  Octavius Wilson is the lone returning starter (6 PPG).  Mitch Gutknecht (6.5 PPG) also returns to the rotation.

Mahtomedi Zephyrs (2017-18 season 21-8, 11-5 Conference, 4th)
Mahtomedi loses 2 double figure scorers in forwards Jack Shay (13.5 PPG) and Karmoga Lero (10.2 PPG).  But 3 starters and 3 double figure scorers return to the lineup along with 2 reserves.  Leading scorer J'Vonne Hadley averaged 15.7 PPG.  Zac Centers averaged 12.2 PPG.  Junior Cole Chapman averaged 5.1 PPG.  Devin Melzer and his 7.2 PPG also returns to the lineup.

North Polars (2017-18 season 23-5, 15-1 Conference, 1st)
The defending conference champs have to replace most of their rotation.  That includes long time starters Goodnews Kpegeol (18.2 PPG) and PG Bryce Phillips (11.1 PPG).  Junior forward Brenden Lankford-Johnson (6.2 PPG) will be one of the ones expected to pick up the slack.  Guard Dajuan Carter will have a perpetual green light so expect volume numbers from him.  He averaged 11.8 PPG in bench minutes last year.

St. Thomas Academy Cadets (2017-18 season 22-10, 13-3 Conference, 2nd)
The Cadets have to replace their top 2 scorers in forwards Sam Vascellaro and George Stewart.  They combined for almost 30 PPG.  PG Jack Thompson is the leading option with 12.3 PPG last year.  Noah Chamberlain (6.7 PPG) should fit nicely into Vascellaro's role from last year.  The rest of the rotation will be mix and match with players like Tony Wright and Jack Stolpman.

Simley Spartans (2017-18 season 11-17, 3-13 Conference, 7th)
Star forward Jake Binley and 19.8 PPG needs to be replaced.  Isaiah Robinson and his 19.2 PPG do return.  Expect him to have another big season.  Milton Carnes and Cole Tschida also return to the rotation.  Guard Evan Johnson will also see time.

South St. Paul Packers (2017-18 season 7-20, 2-14 Conference, Tie 8th)
A notable improvement for the Packers last year despite playing 6 underclassmen.  That experience will serve them well this year.  Soph Marquise Gleb returns at a guard spot.  Juniors Trystan Patnode and Josh Osborne also return.  Junior Dohntae Vance provides a returning inside presence.

Tartan Titans (2017-18 season 22-5, 12-4 Conference, 3rd)
Coach Mark Klingsporn returns PG Antwan Kimmons who raised his averaged from 6 PPG to 20 PPG last year.  The next 2 scoring options graduated in guard Andre Jenkins-Whitmore and forward Brady Hartman.  That's a problem for a team that had trouble generating offense last year so expect Kimmons to see lots of box and 1 type concepts this year.  But with returnees like Joe Kearney, Dante Aganmwonyi, M'akil Weems and Dorian Singer they have plenty of experience.  Lots of interchangeable pieces on the defensive end for one of the best defensive teams in the metro.

Predicted Order of Finish
  1. Mahtomedi
  2. Tartan
  3. St. Thomas Academy     
  4. Hastings
  5. North
  6. Henry Sibley 
  7. Simley
  8. South St. Paul
  9. Hill-Murray 
Conference Overview
Mahtomedi and Tartan should battle for the conference title with both returning most of their lineups.  The middle group of St. Thomas Academy, Hastings and North should be very interesting to watch.  They each provide something very different in terms of experience and style of play.  Neighbors Sibley and Simley should battle for the next 2 spots with South St. Paul possibly jumping up into that group.  Hill-Murray starts over at the bottom.

Conference MVP: Antawn Kimmons - Tartan

Underclassmen to watch: 
  • Andrew Chambers - Hill-Murray
  • Laron Thomas, Murl Smith - North
  • Yenika Fondungallah - St. Thomas Academy
  • Marquise Gleb, Ishman Ricmond, Kaiden Rucker - South St. Paul
  • Dorian Singer - Tartan
Conference Games to Watch
  • Tartan at Mahtomedi - Jan 3rd
  • Mahtomedi at Tartan - Jan 31st
Non-Conference Games to Watch
  • Tartan vs Edina - Dec 8 (Tipoff Classic at Hopkins)

2018-19 Minneapolis City Preview

This is the 7th preview in my 2018-2019 season preview series.  The look at the city leagues continues with the Minneapolis City Conference.  For a list of all the season previews, click here.

Edison Tommies (2017-18 season 6-21, 1-11 Conference, Tie 6th)
Coach Ahmil Jihad played a ton of guys last year.  He has forward Jackson Rusnacko and junior Jermain Cornell to build around for this season.  A down year in the league gives them a chance for wins.

North Polars (2017-18 season 23-6, 12-0 Conference, 1st)
Center Odell Wilson (NSDU) and guard Tayler Johnson combined for 40 PPG and graduated.  But don't despair as the Polars are still talented.  Star freshman Trejuan Holloman is now at Cretin-Derham Hall.  Eli Campbell returns at a guard spot (12.1 PPG).  Soph Davon Townley will man the middle.  Omar Brown and Ar'mon Dalton provide experience in the rotation.  Willie Wilson and Clifford Brown are the next wave of youth.  Their conference winning streak stands at 27 games.

Patrick Henry Patriots (2017-18 season 13-13, 7-5 Conference, Tie 3rd)
Guard Rashaud Rollins (13.4 PPG) and forward Anton Barr are the top returnees.  The Patriots JV squad won the JV Twin Cities Game last season.  That group of now juniors will be their depth.  Glentrell Carter, Mark Campbell and Yusuf Abdullah are the key members of that crew.

Roosevelt Teddies (2017-18 season 17-10, 7-5 Conference, Tie 3rd)
Head Coach Rob Mestas took over at Burnsville.  Mike Walker takes the reins and has a couple of talented pieces to work with.  High flying guard Deszi Sims averaged 26.4 PPG.  Forward Luke Barnes will be the 2nd option with 8.2 PPG last year.  Feysal Yusuf and frosh Muja Burton also return to the rotation.  They'll miss the shooting of Leo Buchwald (14.6 PPG).

South Tigers (2017-18 season 12-15, 8-4 Conference, 2nd)
The Tigers have to replace their top 3 scorers. That includes PG Curtis Jones (17 PPG) who is now at Cretin-Derham Hall and graduated post Cossy Kowouto.  Jaylen Blakley and Suldan Omar are backcourt options.  Josiah Lossow, Marcus Acha and Phillip Williams also saw time last season.

Southwest Lakers (2017-18 season 6-21, 1-11 Conference, Tie 6th)
Coach Greg Boone has to replace all 5 starters and his top 6 scorers from last year.  That includes the forward duo of Niko Polydorou (19.2 PPG) and Treavon Nystrom (13.5 PPG) who were the double figure scorers.  Nobody else averaged more than 2.6 PPG.  Owen Dean, Casey Peterson, John Clark, Marshall Hawkins and Christo Polydorou look to be the major players in this year's rotation.

Washburn Millers (2017-18 season 10-15, 6-6 Conference, 5th)
The Millers are decimated by transfers with 3 likely starters leaving.  That includes guards Charles and Emmett Johnson leaving for Holy Angels.  Soph Cade Haskins left mid-season last year for De La Salle.  Despite losing Emmett Johnson, they still have a talented sophomore crew that won the league's freshman title last year.  That crew may take over this year as there's no meaningful varsity experience coming back.

Predicted Order of Finish
  1. North
  2. Roosevelt
  3. Henry
  4. South
  5. Southwest 
  6. Washburn
  7. Edison
Conference Overview
North is still the favorite.  Roosevelt with league MVP Deszi Sims gets my nod for 2nd.  Henry will give them a run for that spot.  Then South gets the middle spot by default as they at least have players coming back.  Southwest and Washburn have completely new rotations and Edison is still rebuilding.  Southwest gets the nod over Washburn as some of their guys at least saw varsity time

Conference MVP: Deszi Sims - Roosevelt


Underclassmen to watch:  
  • Willie Wilson, Clifford Brown, Davon Townley - North
  • Muja Burton - Roosevelt 
  • Damarion Bradley - South
  • Ben Schliemann, Sir'vell Miller - Washburn
Conference Games to Watch
  • North at Henry - Dec 14th
  • Henry at North - Feb 1st
  • Twin Cities Game - Mar 2nd (at Minneapolis champion)
Non-Conference Games to Watch
  • North at De La Salle - Jan 8th
  • Caledonia at North - Jan 12th
  • North at Hopkins - Jan 25th
  • Henry at Hopkins - Feb 5th
  • Minnehaha at North - Feb 19th
  • North at Eden Prairie - Feb 26th

2018-19 St. Paul City Preview

This is the 6th preview in my 2018-2019 season preview series.  Week 2 begins with a look at the city schools.  That means a look at the St. Paul City Conference here with the Minneapolis City Conference tomorrow.  For a list of all the season previews and how they are generated, click here.

Central Minutemen (2017-18 season 16-10, 10-2 Conference, 2nd)
The Minutemen return everybody and look for a big season after a disappointing 2nd place finish last year.  I expect that memory to run deep.  Forwards Daveonte Davis and Dion Ford combined for almost 43 PPG last year.  The big and athletic duo is a handful to matchup with.  The backcourt is also rock solid with defensive pest Ronelle Porter (12 PPG) at the point and shooter Luke McElroy.  Soph Jaelen Thomas gives them another option in the post.

Como Park Cougars (2017-18 season 6-21, 3-9 Conference, Tie 5th)
Leading scorer Donn Ward (16.5 PPG) returns to lead the Cougars.  But most of the remaining rotation has graduated.  Only other notable returner is Donzello Barros.  The rest of the rotation will be last year's JV squad with players like Nikita Benson and Isaiah Long stepping into bigger roles.

Harding Knights (2017-18 season 13-12, 7-5 Conference, 3rd)
Senior PG Jovan Christian (18.6 PPG) once again leads the way. Junior Simeon Sharp also averaged double figures at 12.6 PPG.  2 other starters also return to the lineup for the Knights.  Devonte Bolton and 12.8 PPG will be missed.  No other depth returns to the lineup.

Highland Park Scots (2017-18 season 10-17, 5-7 Conference, 4th)
Leading scorer Evan Brodtman returns as a shooter with 17 PPG.  Abdalla Mohammed and Mustafa Aden also return to add length to the front line.  Benny Hughes also returns to a guard spot.  Expect depth to come from a talented sophomore class that won the Twin Cites Freshman game last season.

Humboldt Hawks (2017-18 season 9-17, 3-9 Conference, Tie 5th)
The Hawks lose 3 of their 4 double figure scorers.  That takes 41 PPG out of the lineup.  But are still pieces to work with thanks to 2 starters and 4 reserves coming back.  Darnell King leads the way with 14 PPG.  Soph Brian Williams averaged 8.8 PPG last season.  Freshman Alonzo Dodd returns to run the point.

Johnson Governors (2017-18 season 21-6, 12-0 Conference, 1st)
The Govs reclaimed the league throne after a 13 year streak of titles was broken.  Now coach Vern Simmons has to replace 2 top guards and his top post player.  They combined for over 41 PPG last season.  Jordan Mobley returns at a guard spot with 10.4 PPG.  Terrel Turner, Lamont White, Sean Hubbard and 8th grader DeWayne Givens also return to the rotation.  They won't have any notable size but expect the usual pressing and trapping style to again be successful.

Washington Eagles (2017-18 season 6-22, 2-10 Conference, 7th)
Assistant Mark Bauch takes over the program after a disaster season and a recruiting fiasco.  That means some of the players may also be gone with North St. Paul being the rumored location.  Last year's lineup was young with 3 of the top 4 scorers being sophomores.  That included G Zaveon Smith (18.4 PPG) and Drewjuan White (14 PPG).  Da'Quan Grimes is a big body in the middle.  Freshman Emmanual Ajayi saw plenty of varsity minutes last season.

Predicted Order of Finish
  1. Central 
  2. Johnson
  3. Harding
  4. Highland Park
  5. Humboldt 
  6. Washington
  7. Como Park
Conference Overview:
Central is the runaway favorite with the entire rotation coming back.  Johnson is the best of the rest.  Harding gets the nod for 3rd with that same finish last year and plenty coming back.  Highland Park can make a run there too.  Humboldt is a sleeper here to jump up.  Washington is a wild card not knowing exactly what they'll have.  Como Park will struggle again.

Conference MVP: Daveonte Davis - Central

Underclassmen to watch: 
  • Jaelen Thomas - Central
  • Isaiah Long - Como Park
  • Carter Owens - Highland Park
  • DeWayne Givens - Johnson
  • Emmanuel Ajayi - Washington
Conference Games to Watch
  • Central at Johnson - Feb 1st
  • Johnson at Central - Feb 26th
  • Twin Cities Game - Mar 2nd (at Minneapolis champion)
Non-Conference Games to Watch
  • Central vs Hopkins - Jan 12th (Super Showcase at Columbia Heights)
  • Minnehaha at Central - Jan 31st

2018-19 Tri-Metro Preview

This is the 5th preview in my 2018-2019 season preview series.  Week 1 of the 6 week long series concludes with a look at the Tri-Metro Conference.  For a list of all the season previews and how they are generated, click here.

Academy of Holy Angels Stars (2017-18 season 9-19, 3-9 Conference, 5th West)
Leading scorer Ryan Mazurek and his team leading 12.7 PPG have graduated from a guard spot.  Max Gerstner (10.5 PPG), junior Matt Banovetz and Tommy Shelstad also return to the rotation.  They also get 2 important guard transfers from Washburn in Charles Johnson and freshman Emmitt Johnson.  Emmitt saw extensive varsity time for Washburn last year.
 
Brooklyn Center Centaurs (2017-18 season 22-10, 7-5 Conference, 3rd West)
Thanks to the new local prep school, the Centaurs go from being a favorite to return to state to starting completely over with a youth movement a couple of years early.  Lu'Cye Patterson, Amahn Decker, Adreone Sprinkles and Rudy Tahir are all gone because of that.  That means the youth movement of 8th graders Maxsamus Wilson and Quyavant Douglas gets an early chance to contribute.  The schedule was brutal to begin with but now with a young roster, expect many youthful lumps.

Columbia Heights Hylanders (2017-18 season 22-7, 9-3 Conference, 2nd West)
What a season for the state AAA runner up knocking off 6 time champ De La Salle in the state semis after an ugly loss in the regular season finale.  They too have to rebuild losing all 5 starters.  Jarvis Wright is the one notable returnee with 10.4 PPG and he can heat up in a hurry.  Amir Davis and Jordan Jones look to take over the guard spots
 
Concordia Academy Beacons (2017-18 season 16-12, 5-6 Conference, 2nd East)
The Beacons return 2 of their 3 double figure scorers from last season.  That includes 16.3 PPG from senior forward Barnabas Preble and 11.4 PPG from junior guard Aaron TerHaar.  Guard Essay Hagos and forward Luke Raymond also return to the rotation.

De La Salle Islanders (2017-18 season 26-5, 12-0 Conference, 1st West)
The Islanders fell off the AAA throne after winning 6 straight state titles.  They look to make a run back to the top with their dynamic perimeter duo of PG Tyrell Terry (Stanford commit) and W Jamison Battle (George Washington commit).  The rest of the rotation including Minnesota commit Gabe Kalscheur (22.7 PPG, leading scorer) needs to be replaced though.  Jalen Travis looks to get major inside minutes especially with Malik Lamin gone.  But don't be shocked if the Islanders go small.  Washburn transfer Cade Haskins is one to keep an eye on in the 2nd half of the season.

Fridley Tigers (2017-18 season 16-10, 5-7 Conference, 4th West)
Coach Jim MacDonald has to replace his top 3 double figure scorers.  They combined for 48 PPG last year. Junior guard Isaac Burns averaged 10.9 PPG and looks to help make up the difference.  Frosh wing Hassan Kamara averaged 6 PPG and should average double figures this season.  Evan Shaw and Casey Fisher (PG) should see increased rotation time.

St. Agnes Aggies (2017-18 season 6-21, 0-11 Conference, 4th East)
The Aggies lose top scorer Marcus Johnson and 23 PPG.  Nobody else averaged double figures.  But the next 4 scorers from last season do return as part of 6 rotation players coming back.  Norman Strickland, Terrell Jones and Jacob Brezny will need to carry an offense that should be much more balanced than last year.  They also add Sam Masek from Trinity.  Size will again be an issue but junior Luke Plamann could help there.

St. Anthony Huskies (2017-18 season 13-14, 5-6 Conference, Tie 2nd East)
Junior point guard Tair Nelson will once again lead the way (17.8 PPG).  Joe Flett also returns along with a couple of bench guys.  They'll miss the firepower of shooting guard Aaron Smith and driver Mickey Jah.  Those 2 combined for 30 PPG last season.  Abe Jaeger Mountain and Jeremiah Lucas are big options for the center position.

St. Croix Lutheran Crusaders (2017-18 season 19-10, 6-5 Conference, 1st East)
The Crusaders lose 5 of their top 6 scorers.  That includes 3 double figure scorers led by North Dakota football recruit Garrett Maag (17.9 PPG).  Senior Ezra Blumer is the main returnee with 8.8 PPG and his shooting.  The cupboard is young but not bare.  Sophmores Zach Longueville (PG) and Xavier Garcia (W) will step into the open roles quite nicely

Predicted Order of Finish

East
  1. Concordia
  2. St. Croix Lutheran 
  3. St. Anthony 
  4. St. Agnes 
 West
  1. De La Salle
  2. Fridley
  3. Columbia Heights
  4. Holy Angels     
  5. Brooklyn Center   
Conference MVP: Tyrell Terry - De La Salle

Conference Overview:
After a banner year for the west division with the 3 top teams making it to state, its time to rebuild.  Heavy losses for last year's top 4 teams.  De La Salle at least has a couple of stars left over.  Not the case for Brooklyn Center, Columbia Heights and Fridley (Metro Alliance theme??) who all lost a truck load.  Holy Angels loses their top scorer but will get a huge boost from the Washburn guards transferring in.  De La Salle wins it by default.  Fridley goes 2nd with a couple of pieces coming back.  Columbia Heights takes 3rd because of Jarvis Wright.  Holy Angels could make a run here as they have pieces.  Brooklyn Center has pieces for the future but they will be ridiculously young.  Expect them to takes some youthful lumps.

In the east, I'm looking for Concordia to go from 0-11 in league 2 years ago to winning the division with plenty coming back.  St. Croix Lutheran is in an inbetween year but don't expect major dropoff there due to a talented sophomore group.  St. Anthony gets the nod for 3rd thanks to Tait Nelson.  St. Agnes still brings up the last spot with a lack of size and known go-to scorer.  Expect realignment for next year.  St. Agnes and Concordia depart for the new Skyline Conference.  Richfield enters from the Metro West.

Underclassmen to watch: 
  • Maxsamus Wilson, Quyavant Douglas, Akeem Nelson - Brooklyn Center 
  • Spencer Alvarez - Columbia Heights
  • Cade Haskins - De La Salle 
  • Hassan Kamara - Fridley
  • Emmitt Johnson - Holy Angels
  • Zach Longueville, Xavier Garcia - St. Croix Lutheran
  • Max Kachman - St. Anthony
Conference Games to Watch
  • St. Croix Lutheran at Concordia - Jan 15th
  • Concordia at St. Croix Lutheran - Feb 12th
    Non-Conference Games to Watch
    • De La Salle vs Eden Prairie- Dec 1st (Big 12 at Cretin-Derham Hall)
    • De La Salle vs Wayzata- Dec 8th (Tipoff Classic at Hopkins)
    • Minneapolis North at De La Salle - Jan 8th
    • Hopkins at De La Salle - Jan 29th 
    • Cretin-Derham Hall at De La Salle - Feb 16th
    • Minnehaha at De La Salle - Feb 23rd

    2018-19 IMAC Preview

    This is the 4th preview in my 2018-2019 season preview series.  Week 1 of the 6 week series fully transitions to local class AA and higher schools with a look at the Independent Metro Athletic Conference (IMAC).  For a list of all the season previews and how they are done, click here.

    Blake Bears (2017-18 season 11-15, 2-7 Conference, Tie 4th)
    Blake returns their trio of tiny sophomore guards Gabe Ganz, Jasper Liu and Robert Grace.  They combined for 40 PPG last year.  Add in 10.8 PPG from forward Eli Kilpatrick and coach Tyler Biwan has a nice group to build around.  Little firepower beyond that and they weren't deep.  Last year's experience will help them but can they move into the upper half still being so young?

    Breck Mustangs (2017-18 season 17-10, 8-2 Conference, 2nd)
    Forward David Roddy returns with video game numbers (about 25 and 13 last year).  Expect another ridiculous season of stats from him.  30 and 15 is not out of the question.  2nd leading scorer Joey Ganley also returns with 11.9 PPG.  Beyond that only soph guard Jaren Morton returns.  They'll need to find some shooting with Jefferson Slocum being one of the main losses.

    Minnehaha Academy Redhawks (2017-18 season 28-4, 7-0 Conference, 1st)
    The 2 time defending conference and class AA champs are once again the favorites to repeat.  That's despite losing 3 big contributors from last season.  Post JaVonni Bickham, G Lorenzo Smith and PG Terry Lockett (now at a prep school in Ohio) all depart after combining for over 30 PPG.  But they still have star PG Jalen Suggs to run the show and expect a much better season for him with the ball in his hands full time.   Skilled forwards Chet Holmgren and Prince Aligbe are amongst the best underclassmen in the state.  Not to mention Kaden Johnson as another forward to give them a gigantic lineup.  Depth will be interesting to watch. They've won 26 league games in a row over the last 4 seasons.

    Mounds Park Academy Panthers (2017-18 season 9-20, 2-7 Conference, Tie 4th)
    Coach Jacob Schwartz turned in a miracle 1st season with a crazy run to the 4A section final and breaking a decade long losing streak in conference games.  3 starters including double figure scorer Nick Guiang have to be replaced.  But there are pieces to work with.  Jumping jack Yahya Madar returns after averaging 16 PPG last year.  Soph Jack Paulson and senior Ben Nippolt should join the starting lineup after being major factors last season.

    Providence Academy Lions (2017-18 season 11-15, 6-3 Conference, 3rd)
    Despite playing a lineup of all juniors, Providence stayed in the middle of the league. That experience will benefit them greatly this year.  Double figure scorers Mark Richelsen and Logan Blomberg both return at the forward spots.  Guards Joey Fafinski and Dylan Servais man the backcourt.

    St. Paul Academy Spartans (2017-18 season 16-13, 2-8 Conference, 6th)
    Leading scorer Gus Grunau and 18 PPG depart from a guard spot.  PF Ryan Moore is the top returnee at 13.3 PPG.  Not much firepower beyond him.  Soph guard Adam Holod and Will Christakos return to the lineup.  Another soft non-conference schedule will help the overall record.

    Predicted Order of Finish
    1. Minnehaha
    2. Breck
    3. Providence 
    4. Blake 
    5. Mounds Park Academy
    6. St. Paul Academy
    Conference Overview
    I don't expect much to change in this year's standings.  Minnehaha is still the clear favorite with their treasure chest of talent.  Breck with David Roddy still has be a pick for 2nd with the rest of the teams having no answer for him.  But with everybody back for Providence and Blake, those 2 could challenge.  Providence with 2 wins over Blake last year and the better finish by a mile gets the nod there.  The gap has definitely narrowed for the 2 thru 4 spots.  Mounds Park Academy and St. Paul Academy take up the last 2 spots.  With Yahya Madar and 4 others returning, I'll give Mounds Park the edge.

    Conference MVP: Jalen Suggs - Minnehaha

    Underclassmen to watch:  
    • Robert Grace, Gabe Ganz, Jasper Liu - Blake
    • Jaren Morton - Breck
    • Chet Holmgren, Prince Aligbe, Donovan Smith - Minnehaha
    • Jack Paulson - Mounds Park Academy 
    • Adam Holod - St. Paul Academy
    Conference Games to Watch
    • Minnehaha at Breck - Jan 29th
    • Breck at Minnehaha - Feb 12th
     Non-Conference Games to Watch
    • Minnehaha vs Perham - Dec 1st (Big 12 at Cretin-Derham Hall)
    • Breck at Cristo Rey - Dec 4th
    • Minnehaha vs Champlin Park - Dec 8th (Tip Off Classic at Hopkins)
    • Breck vs Lake City- Dec 8th (Tip Off Classic at Hopkins)
    • Hopkins at Minnehaha - Dec 11th
    • Minnehaha at Eden Prairie - Jan 8th
    • Minnehaha vs Onalaska (WI) - Jan 26th (Border Battle at East Ridge)
    • Minnehaha at Minneapolis North - Feb 19th
    • Minnehaha at De La Salle - Feb 23rd
    • Maranatha at Minnehaha - Feb 28th

    2018-19 MCAA Preview

    This is the third preview in my 2018-19 season preview series.  Week 1 of the 6 week series moves on with a look at the Minnesota Christian Athletic Association (MCAA).  For a list of all the season previews and how they are done, click here.

    Heritage Christian Academy Eagles (2017-18 season 13-19, 2-8 Conference, 9th)
    Heritage made an improbable run to state in a year where they had lost one of their best senior classes ever.  Now coach Tim Herman has to replace 11 more seniors.  Guards Seth Halvorsen and Ben Allen are significant losses.  Senior Taylor Brodersen is the lone starter coming back.  Junior TJ Guggenberger will be the main offensive option.

    Legacy Christian Academy Lions (2017-18 season 5-25, 0-10 Conference, 11th)
    Crossfire AAU director Nate Bellefeuille takes over as the new AD and 4th head coach in 4 years at Legacy.  The Lions return most of their rotation from a roster than was very young and inexperienced last season.  Senior guards Josh Hinrichs and Justin Demars return after being the top 2 scorers.  Plenty of youth will see time.  But they lose a key piece of youth as freshman Payton Thomsen has transferred to Andover.  They'll continue to build towards the next 2 years.

    Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity Bulldogs (2017-18 season 12-16, 4-6 Conference, 7th)
    The Bulldogs also have a new coach from the AAU ranks in Andrew Dahl.  He too has most of last year's roster to work with.  That includes senior do everything guard Michael Ziermann and his 16.1 PPG.  He's one of the top players in the league.  Evan Lee and Dylan Ruzicka provide shooting on the wings.  Parker Bayerl returns to man the front line.

    Maranatha Christian Academy Mustangs (2017-18 season 20-8, 10-0 Conference, 1st)
    The league's most dominant player Beijan Newbern and his 20 PPG departs.  But the cupboard is never bare for the Mustangs.  Maciah Harut returns at the point.  The worker duo of Clarence and Hakim Daniels returns up front and they pound the boards.  Justin Mason and Julian Cavan are experienced guards.  Travaris Ricks-Wessah is another effective front line piece.  Shooting is an achilles heel for this crew, especially without a dynamic 1 on 1 option like Newbern.  They will use their athletes to pressure to make up for that.

    New Life Academy Eagles (2017-18 season 20-9, 7-3 Conference, Tie 2nd)
    New Life looks at another year where they hope to just reload.  All 5 starters have to be replaced.  That includes their big front line and 2 double-figure scorers of Drew Wynia and Zach Thor.  That's around 26 points and 13 points a game.  Versatile Eli Gorter on the wing is also a big loss.  Junior forward Michael Reader is the top returnee.  Konner Ware returns in the backcourt.  Ben Kaus and Caleb Wall are also expected to be major parts of the rotation.

    PACT Charter Panthers (2017-18 season 8-19, 3-7 Conference, 8th)
    PACT has to replace 4 starters and 5 of their top 7.  That includes the top scorer in the league Cade Johnson and 23.5 PPG.  They do have a nice piece to build around in sophomore forward Jordan Stone.  Parker Maahs is the lone returning starter.

    St. Croix Prep Lions (2017-18 season 18-10, 7-3 Conference, Tie 2nd)
    Coach Keven Seim has a loaded backcourt.  Junior sniper Daniel McCarrell averaged almost 18.8 PPG last year and had 10 3s in a game at Johnson last year.  Then you have sophomores Addison Metcalf and Andrew Howard who also can both handle and shoot it.  That doesn't even add in Jayton Metcalf who may return from major injury.  They'll miss the scoring punch (14.8) from Adam Wiering.  Not much size but the shooting makes up for it.

    Spectrum Sting (2017-18 season 13-13, 7-3 Conference, Tie 2nd)
    Spectrum is poised to sting once again this season.  Cole Elrod and Matthew Kruse averaged around 16 PPG last season and have a ton of experience.  Most of this roster returns as well. 

    Trinity Tri-Hawks (2017-18 season 18-10, 7-3 Conference, 2nd)
    4 starters have to be replaced from a balanced lineup.  Senior Ben Maslow is the lone starter back with 9.2 PPG.  Michael Ennis returns to the rotation as well with 4.9 PPG.  Junior Sam Masek is another option at a guard spot.

    West Lutheran Warriors (2017-18 season 13-15, 1-9 Conference, 10th)
    Senior Brett Volrath leads the way with 13.4 PPG.  Junior Troy Kokkinen should reach double figures in scoring this year as well.  Junior Keshawn Johnson also returns to the rotation.

    Predicted Order of Finish

    Skyline Division
    1. Maranatha  
    2. St. Croix Prep
    3. Trinity
    4. New Life
    5. Legacy
    New Wave Division
    1. Spectrum
    2. Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity
    3. West Lutheran
    4. Heritage
    5. PACT
    Conference Overview
    Sadly its the end of the MCAA as we know it.  Southwest Christian has left for the Minnesota River Conference.  Maranatha, New Life, St. Croix Prep and Trinity leave next year for the new Skyline Conference.  The schedule breaks the teams into a 13 game schedule via 2 divisions which I randomly named above.  Notable that all the teams leaving are placed together.  But since that doesn't really reflect the strength, I'll evaluate everybody together here.  Its only fitting that the league's traditional heavyweight Maranatha is once again the runaway favorite.  Then there's a clear group of 3 behind them. I love St. Croix Prep's guard play.  But don't discount that spot from Spectrum or LP/HT either.  Elrod and Ziermann respectively will be big factors in the league.  Then a big dropoff to the rest of the league due to heavy losses.  Trinity and New Life are traditionally solid enough to keep them in the middle.  Legacy does have plenty coming back so with the rest dropping back, I can see them being a surprise.  The bottom 3 are a toss up.  Heritage has to take a hit with 2 major years of losses. 

    Conference MVP: Michael Ziermann - LP/HT


    Underclassmen to watch: 
    • Harley Kendall, Trenton Harrison- Legacy Christian
    • Zach Jackson, Tanner Scheevel - LP/HT 
    • Chase Carter - Maranatha
    • Jordan Stone - PACT
    • Addison Metcalf, Andrew Howard - St. Croix Prep 
    • Sam Bjorlin - West Lutheran
    Conference Games to Watch
    • Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity at Spectrum - Jan 3rd
    • Spectrum at Maranatha - Jan 11th
    • St. Croix Prep at Maranatha - Jan 15th
    • St. Croix Prep at Spectrum - Jan 22nd
    • Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity at St. Croix Prep - Jan 25th
    • Maranatha at Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity - Jan 29th
    • Maranatha at St. Croix Prep - Jan 31st
    • Spectrum at Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity - Feb 12th
    • MCAA Tournament Championship - Feb 23rd
    Non-Conference Games to Watch
    • St. Paul Johnson at St. Croix Prep - Dec 8th
    • Maranatha at Cristo Rey - Dec 18th
    • Hudson at St. Croix Prep - Feb 19th
    • Maranatha at Minnetonka - Feb 2nd
    • Maranatha at Edina - Feb 22nd
    • Maranatha at Minnehaha - Feb 28th

    2018-19 TCAC Division 2 Preview

    This is the second preview in the 2018-2019 season preview series.  The 6 week preview series moves along with a preview of Division 2 of the Twin Cities Athletic Conference.  Lots of turnover between the divisions this season so it isn't abundantly clear which is which so I will just label them A and B.  For a list of all the season previews and how they are done, click here.

    These teams will all play each other but it breaks down into 2 subdivisions.  Each team plays their fellow subdivision teams twice with a single crossover game against the other subdivision.  That means a total league schedule of 16 games for these teams.  Not sure how those crossover games will count for purposes of league standings.  For the TCAC tourney, all of these teams (possibly without Shattuck-St. Mary's) will play together.  Its scheduled as a 2 day tourney for both division 1 and 2 so I expect the usual groupings of 4 with the highest seed hosting opening night.  Then all the finals on the 4 courts at Cristo Rey on championship Saturday if its done as in recent seasons.  Metro Schools College Prep is no longer in the league.  Learning For Leadership was closed during the offseason when it was not reauthorized due to poor academic performance.  Hiawatha Collegiate was in the league last year but after I wrote the previews.  Lakes International Language Academy adds varsity basketball this year and joins the league as well.

    Division 2A

    Avail Academy Valor (2017-18 season 15-10, 11-1 TCAC D3, 1st)
    This is the school formerly known as Calvin Christian in Fridley.  Leading scorer Jaedan Schaap is a big loss but they have the next 6 players in their rotation coming back.  That includes a big front line with leading returning scorer Hans Dykstra and junior Kaleb Swensen.  Frosh Josiah Schaap looks to pick up some of the scoring lost.

    Groves Academy Griffins (2017-18 season 10-16, 3-9 TCAC D2, 6th)
    High scoring guard Malik Bodden and 23.2 PPG graduated.  He's the biggest loss from the roation.  Forward Max Bilcik averaged 17.6 PPG and almost 10 rebounds to lead the returnees.  Senior Larry Mohamed will look to fill Bodden's spot in the backcourt.  Nick Maiers gives them more size with Bilcik up front.

    North Lakes Academy Huskies (2017-18 season 13-14, 8-4 TCAC D3, 3rd)
    The Huskies lose 5 seniors to graduation.  Guard Cole Donelan and Ethan Crandell are 2 of the notable returnees.  They lost their size guys on the front line.  The schedule is favorable as 5 of the 6 cross-division games are at home.

    Lakes International Language Academy Dragons (N/A, no varsity program)
    LILA is a charter school in Forest Lake.  This will be their 3rd school year with grades 9-12.  I believe their program was JV only last year.  With it being only year 3 of the high school side of things, expect lots of youth and possibly no seniors.  The girls program will combine with natural rival North Lakes.  The teams could have their 1st official varsity meeting in the North Lakes holiday tourney.

    Liberty Classical Academy Lions (2017-18 season 13-13, 6-6 TCAC D2, 4th)
    Juniors Ben Horn (about 20 PPG) and Graham Pelton form a nice duo for the Lions.  Peter Klarr is an important loss up front.  Guard Noah Nelson along with Klarr averaged double digits and is lost to graduation.

    Shattuck St. Mary's Sabers (2017-18 season 5-6, 5-5 TCAC D3, 4th)
    SSM returns 4 of their top 5 scorers.  That includes double figure scorers Jared Hodge and Matt Cooper.  Peter Xiong and Jadon Antwi also return to the rotation.  Their home game with Calvin Christian on the final night of league play could be for the top seed in the TCAC D2 tournament.

    Division 2B

    Academy for Sciences and Agriculture Eagles (2017-18 season 8-18, 4-8 TCAC D3, 5th)
    AFSA played 5 underclassmen in a 9 man rotation last year.  That gives new coach Steve Lange some experience to work with.  Junior DeAndre Mason and soph Adam Labrie are 2 of those names that will lead the way this season.  Both are ball handlers and scorers for the Eagles.  Other scoring punch will need to be found.  Only 2 seniors depart from the rotation.

    Chesterton Academy Knights  (2017-18 season 6-14, 3-7 TCAC D3, 6th)
    No information available

    Hiawatha Colliegiate Wolves (2017-18 season 0-18, 0-12 TCAC D3, 7th)
    The south Minneapolis charter school moves to a brand new building this year.  Not sure it will help the record though.

    Hmong Academy Warriors (2017-18 season 11-8, 9-3 TCAC D3, 2nd)
    The Warriors spent last season on the road while their new facility was being built.  They return home this year.

    Math and Science Academy Dragons (2017-18 season 1-22, 0-12 TCAC D2, 7th)
    The Dragons have their 3rd head coach in 3 years as Jamey Strand comes over from AFSA.  No double figures scorers in a long season.  They have some experience coming back but it could be a rough year.

    Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf Trojans (2017-18 season 9-10, 5-7 TCAC D2, 5th)
    MSAD loses 4 top scorers.  That includes 20+ PPG from Juan Salgado.  Forward Ryan Stumbo leads the returnees.

    Predicted Order of Finish - Division 2A
    1. Avail
    2. Shattuck-St. Mary's
    3. Liberty Classical
    4. Groves
    5. North Lakes
    6. Lakes International Language Academy
    Division 2A Overview
    I think Shattuck-St. Mary's is dangerous here but even without Jaeden Schaap I think Avail has enough to outlast them.  Liberty and Groves have dangerous duos that will need to produce.  North Lakes can't say any of that so they get the 5 slot.  LILA with no team last year by default starts at the bottom.

    Predicted Order of Finish - Division 2B
    1. AFSA
    2. Hmong Academy
    3. Chesterton
    4. MSAD
    5. Math and Science
    6. Hiawatha Collegiate
    Division 2B Overview
    Another year where I didn't see any of these teams.  The bottom of this is going to be ugly.  The bottom 2 combined for 1 win last year and MSAD loses their top 4.  Chesterton went 3-1 against AFSA last year with the loss by 3 at AFSA.  Hmong Academy has had a nice couple of years so I'll take them 2nd.  AFSA with plenty returning so I take them at the top. 

    Conference MVP: Hans Dykstra - Avail

    Underclassmen to watch: 
    • Adam Labrie, Mycah Hernandez - AFSA
    • Josiah Schapp, Josh Kroeze, Evan Olstad - Avail
    • Donovan Bradshaw - Groves
    • Kyu Yang - Hmong
    • Will Krisko, Dylan Goff, Anthony Kamel, Eli Harrison  - Math and Science
    • Matthew Ogunsemi - Shattuck-St. Mary's
    Conference Games to Watch
    • Shattuck-St. Mary's at Avail - Jan 8th
    • Hmong Academy at AFSA - Feb 1st
    • Avail at AFSA - Feb 8th 
    • AFSA at Hmong Academy - Feb 12th
    • Avail at Shattuck-St. Mary's - Feb 26th
    • TCAC Tournament Championships - Mar 2nd
    Non-Conference Games to Watch
    • Avail at Christian Life - Jan 8th (likely to change)

    2018-19 TCAC Division 1 and Independents Preview

    This is the first preview in the 2018-2019 season preview series.  This year is the 12th annual edition of this preview series.  Over the next 6 weeks, I'll post 28 previews covering the metro area conferences and sections leading up to the start of practice on November 21st .  The previews will be done starting with small schools and working up to the big schools.  That means the Twin Cities Athletic Conference (TCAC) goes first.

    This year the TCAC breaks into an 8 team top division and then everybody else.  With that in mind, I'll start with a look at the top division of the TCAC plus the local teams that play an independent schedule.  Then in tomorrow's preview, the rest of the TCAC will be covered.  For a list of all the season previews and how they are done, click here.

    Independents

    Bethany Academy Eagles (N/A, JV schedule only)
    Bethany lost a bunch of kids to New Life Academy last season.  That turned into an overall lack of numbers and youth so they played only a JV schedule.  In a bit of irony, new head coach and AD Nate Schroeder was an assistant at New Life last year.  He was previously a head coach at Math and Science Academy.  This year the Eagles will play an independent schedule (largely TCAC D2 schools) rather than an MCAA schedule.

    CHOF Lions (2017-18 season 18-8)
    CHOF loses leading scorer Jackson Rohlf but returns most of the rest of the lineup.  McCaleb Alleman is the top returning scorer at 16.2 PPG.  That included a 40 point blowup in a 20 point 2nd half comeback vs Maranatha last December. The rest of the lineup is very balanced with 3 others averaging between 7 and 8 PPG.  Size is a concern.

    Kaleidoscope Comets (N/A, new school)
    Kaleidoscope is a new charter school located outside of St. Michael.  The Comets will play their 1st year as an independent.  With the flux going on in the TCAC, I wouldn't be shocked to see them join that league or the very logical geographical fit in the MCAA in the near future.  Chris Buerman leads the program after spending recent years as the head girls coach at Maranatha.

    Lincoln International Eagles (2017-18 season 3-13)
    This south Minneapolis charter school is another candidate to potentially move to the TCAC or MCAA next year. They played in the round-robin section of the MCAA tourney last year due to Bethany's absence.  No roster or stats available for last year's team.

    Minnesota Transitions Wolves (2017-18 season 10-6)
    The Wolves played a young and inexperienced roster last year.  This year they return everybody.  G Kyriaun Christian and F Michael Emery-Minor are the notable seniors.  Junior Lashone Patterson should also be a factor.  Always nice to see their battle with CHOF back on the schedule. 

    St. Paul Prep/High School for Recording Arts Falcons (2017-18 season 10-12, 4-4 TCAC D1, 4th)
    HSRA drops out of the TCAC and into the independent ranks.  Expecting a rebuilding kind of year.  They'll play a frenetic style with their athletes.

    Venture Academy
    No information available

    TCAC Division 1

    Christian Life Academy Hawks (2017-18 season 17-10, 10-2 Conference, 2nd TCAC D2)
    The Hawks move up to the top division at a great time.  They return 4 starters and 5 top reserves with 7 of those players being seniors.  Their leading scorer and rebounder Kyle Ringley will need to be replaced.  But a very balanced lineup should be more than able to fill in.  Junior shooter Jacob Kyllo leads the returners with 12.1 PPG. Look for Kyle Hovey to take over Ringley's double-double numbers on the front line.

    Community of Peace Academy Tigers (2017-18 season 5-22, 2-10 Conference, Tie 6th)
    Leading scorer Stefan Milton and 11.8 PPG needs to be replaced.  Soph PG Tyrell Green joined the rotation later in the year and was very effective.  The lefty is quick and has range to boot.  I expect a very productive year from him.  The leading returning scorer is GeanCarlos Pujols at 11.6 PPG.  Juan'Yea Young and Matthew Smith also return to the starting lineup.
     

    Cristo Rey Jesuit Pumas (2017-18 season 19-7, 8-2 Conference, 3rd)
    The Pumas lose only 1 player and will once again feature a top backcourt in the league.  Junior PG James Sommer and soph W Erick Burgess both return to the starting lineup.  They should expand on their combined 31 PPG this season.  Big man John Williams returns in the middle with Victory George also returning on the wing.  The 17 PPG from wing Franklin Doyle will be missed.

    Hope Academy Lions (2017-18 season 8-19, 2-8 Conference, 5th)
    Hope returns 4 starters from last year's team.  Junior shooting guard Caleb Hoilien leads the way.  He averaged 21 PPG including a 39 point outburst in the TCAC tourney opener.  Only 1 senior graduates.  That's 58 3s and just over 10 PPG from guard Roger Martinez.  They'll once again be very small with Hoilien, a natural SG, having to play center on defense.  They will run and shoot a ton of 3s and be fun to watch.

    International School of Minnesota Huskies (2017-18 season 4-16, 2-10 Conference, Tie 6th)
    Leading scorer Preston Dahlen returns to the Huskies lineup.  Hunter Rouse also returns to the starting lineup.  Wills Larson gives them length up front.  Depth and scoring punch will be a concern.

    Nova Classical Academy Knights (2017-18 season 18-9, 12-0 Conference, 1st TCAC D2)
    Nova needs to replace their 2 top scorers and rebounders in forward Noah Olson and do everything guard Isaiah Boudreaux.  That's a loss of 33 points and 16 rebounds a night.  A couple of solid starters do return to the lineup.  Shae Nelson leads the returning scorers with 12.4 PPG.  PG Mathieu LaFrombois also returns and will take on a bigger scoring role.  Behind the 2 returning starters, nobody else averaged more than 2.8 PPG.  Adam Solon will move into the starting lineup and Finnegan Miller should man the front line.

    Prairie Seeds Academy Lycans (2017-18 season 19-8, 10-2 Conference, Tie 1st)
    The Lycans lose 3 starters including big time scorers Jamar Robinson and Emmanuel Jones.  The cupboard is never bare though.  AiMonti Booth and Peter Anderson return in the backcourt.  Booth is jet quick and does a great job of pushing the pace.  Isaiah Jones returns as athletic forward.  Coach Quincy Caldwell plays a 40 minutes of hell style that really suits his players and is very effective in this league.

    Twin Cities Academy/Great River Tigers (2017-18 season 19-8, 10-2 Conference, Tie 1st)
    This is the program formerly known as the Charter Stars.  Its the same schools just rebranding the co-op.  Easily my worst prediction of last season, coach Darrell Moffitt turned the program around in a big way with an experienced group of 7 seniors.  Now he'll have to replace guard Brett McNeal and arguably the best big man in the league, Taye Carter.  They were both able to get 20 points a night.  Junior F Akpevwe Avwunuma takes over primary duties inside after starting last year.  Expect freshmen Carmello and Carrington McNeal to man the backcourt.  Junior F D'Allo Smith also returns to the lineup.

    Predicted Order of Finish
    1. Cristo Rey
    2. Prairie Seeds Academy
    3. Christian Life
    4. Hope Academy
    5. Nova Classical
    6. Twin Cities Academy/Great River
    7. Community of Peace
    8. International School  
    Conference Overview
    Nova Classical and Christian Life move up from the 2nd division.  HSRA/St. Paul Prep drops out of the league and appear to be independent now.  More change is coming to this division next year when Nova and Cristo Rey depart for the new Skyline Conference.  I expect Cristo Rey and Prairie Seeds to battle it out for the top spot.  Cristo Rey with less turnover than Prairie Seeds gets the nod.  Christian Life with all they have coming back has to go 3rd.  The middle should be a real mix up between Hope, Nova and TCA/GR.  Hope gets the nod with their experience and the firepower of Caleb Hoilien.  Community of Peace and ISM will battle to stay out of the cellar with Community of Peace having the edge.

    Conference MVP: James Sommer - Cristo Rey


    Underclassmen to watch: 
    • Tyrell Green - Community of Peace 
    • Eric Burgess, Derek Burgess - Cristo Rey Jesuit 
    • Sam Erickson, Elijah Wade, Caleb Irving - Hope Academy
    • Carmello McNeal, Carrington McNeal - Charter Stars 
    Conference Games to Watch
    • Cristo Rey at Prairie Seeds - Jan 25th
    • Prairie Seeds at Cristo Rey - Feb 19th
    • TCAC Tournament Championships - Mar 2nd
    Non-Conference Games to Watch
    • Breck at Cristo Rey - Dec 4th
    • Maranatha at Cristo Rey - Dec 18th

    Welcome to Czar Season 12

    Its Labor Day weekend and its the annual labor of love to turn the page to another season.  This begins season 12 in cyberspace.  Not to be confused with the old Muppets skit Pigs In Space. The usual list of all fall events is now posted on the Fall Hoops page.  That also includes notable local camps/expos/showcases for kids to attend.

    The schedule for my annual longest running season preview series in the metro is posted on my Season Previews page. Those previews will begin on October 8th and once again span the 6 weeks leading right up into the 1st week of practice in November.

    I've also roughed out a list of the annual holiday tournaments.  As always I'll fill that out as the holidays approach.

    There are a couple of new pages to enjoy this season.  With the introduction of the Bob McDonald Award last spring, there's now a page to track all the winners of that award.  With the explosion of games being available online, there's now a page for those online sites to more easily find those games.

    I've also done all the usual clean up of links.  That includes updating the current recruiting rankings from all the major services.  See that on my Players page

    We already have 16 players committed from the 2019 class.  I've moved that list from the bottom of the 2018 page to this season's class of 2019 page.  Check that out here.  If any 2020 kids commit during the next year, you'll see them below that list.

    Vegas 2018 Reflections

    Its another grassroots season concluded in Las Vegas, here are some of this year's sights and sounds

    The Battle For #1 and Shoe Supremacy
    Wednesday night is a traditional Fab 48 showcase night for me.  But this year was special with the late night battle of titans between Team Takeover and Compton Magic.  The Fab 48 always has games that cross shoe company lines but when you get the best of Nike vs the best of Adidas for a mythical grassroots national championship at the end of the season, now you have something special.  This one had a full house on the main court at Bishop Gorman and it managed to far exceed the hype.  Compton Magic wins the battle in overtime.  Great atmosphere, ridiculous talent on hand (2020 star Evan Mobley was amazing in the game) and a close game the entire way.  Now if only the shoe companies could get out of the way and let their teams play more of these.

    Earlier in the night Grassroots took on Quad City Elite.  This was intended to be a Point Guard showdown between Jalen Suggs and Ohio St commit DJ Carton.  In an attempt to make sure the late game started by 10 PM (NCAA rule), this game was 12 minute running time halves.  Add in a Suggs injury and that took out the entertainment.  They didn't go at each other much anyway.  Suggs was carried off with an injury after landing on a foot but sounds like he'll be OK. 

    Dude, When's My Flight?
    Saturday was full of adventure and overtime for the Minnesota teams.  Fury Wilde opened the day with a thrilling 3 overtime win over EYBL rep Houston Hoops.  Fury had 4 starters fouled out by the time it was over.  Jack Middleton with a clutch 3 to force overtime and then Sam Nissen with the game winner with 10 seconds left.  Houston Hoops played without Kentucky commit Tyrese Maxey and Oklahoma commit De'Vion Harmon still had a shot to win it at the buzzer.  Houston Hoops missed a ton of free throws late and Fury missed chances too.  Fury always seems to have games like this in Vegas (see Meanstreets many years ago at Rancho and a tight loss to Georgia Stars recently).  How fun.

    Comets Lewis had the following game and liked the Fury game so much they wanted overtime too.  They hung on to advance in their game behind a great outing from Springfield's Isaac Fink.  Side Note: As a metro guy, I have to resist the urge to write the name Sam Neumann whenever I see Fink play.  But both Fury and Comets would have letdowns in their next game and bow out in the round of 16.  Fury's loss was a tough 40-39 OT loss to Oklahoma Power.  Heat MacDonald gave away a big lead and lost in 3 OT as well on Saturday.

    I expected to catch only half of the Select Leafblad game after Fury's 2nd game.  But their court was so far behind that I barely missed half of the Comets DLR game before hand.  So an hour behind and a major scoreboard foul up at the end of the Select Leafblad game sees them bow out in the round of 16 as well.  Its a shame to come that far to have something that ridiculous happen.  With 39 teams in Vegas and many setup to possibly cross paths in bracket play, we only ended up with 1 MN vs MN game.  That was Mentality taking out Crossfire I in a 1st round game.  Comets Lewis vs Fury Wilde would have happened on Sunday morning had both won Saturday night.  The winner of that would have gotten a shot at Howard Pulley in the top bracket semis.  Beyond that, the WOTN Davis vs SD Attack rematch was also notable.  Matthew Mors of SD Attack was a monster in his games there.

    In between the non-shoe teams it was a venture back to Under Armour headquarters to see D1 take on UA rep Team Thad.  KyKy Tandy had a big day for Team Thad but another impressive performance from Zeke Nnaji as D1 would gain another win.  They would finish out the weekend in style with a Matt Hurt buzzer beater 3 for a win.

    Total Results for Minnesota
    17U (21 teams): 76-38 record.  4 teams made a semifinal game.  1 team won a title (Heat Walljasper won their bronze bracket)

    16U (12 teams): 35-22 record.  2 teams made quarters.  In top bracket quarterfinal, WOTN Davis lost a GPA semifinals rematch with SD Attack.

    15U (6 teams):: 23-8 record.  Crossfire Bertsch made quarters of 2nd bracket.  Minnesota Magic 15s won the Gold Elite bracket.

    Total Minnesota record 134-68 (66.3%)

    For me, I got to see 7 of our Minnesota teams play.  Add in a day at Under Armour games and a day of Nike games and that added up to seeing about half of the top 100 kids in the country play.   Watching online and then seeing in person is fun, but with Under Armour not being online until Vegas, it was nice to spend a day to see their top 16 teams play to round out my shoe circuit viewing for the season.

    Lost in an urban pigpen
    Now for the lighter side of the trip.   Nothing like getting lost in the vast empire that is Caesar's Palace.  Trying to find my way back to the strip outside almost ended up in a lecture from a security guard.  Thankfully I was in the middle of the lost pack and was able to back track my way out of the mess.  Didn't end up gambling there as the price was too rich for opening night.  Plus I made a point of checking for 6 to 5 blackjack which is what The Linq had so no thanks, I'll play 3 to 2 back at the hotel.

    Got a bucket item off the list by eating at The Blind Pig on Tuesday night.  Knowing time for food is limited once the games start, I usually try to get in a good meal ahead of time.  For a basketball guy, who cares what the menu is with a name like this.  Now in a just world I would have had a pork chop, but I'm not perfect.  Place somehow wasn't serving alcohol at 8 PM at night, how does that happen? 

    Then the flight home, some gal in my row was sick before the flight took off and was trying to blame it on food.  Her boyfriend tried to explain it was Jack in the Box.  Sure dude, how about the Jack in the Bottle.

    Anybody have extra lines of credit to spare?
    Now the gambling.  For those of you who following the hit twitter series #GrindersWinGamblersLose, you'll know all this.  This was a total disaster.  I made 1 basic strategy mistake the entire trip.  I doubled a 10 vs a 10 and I actually ended up winning that.  So the book says it should be a 50/50 game at that point.  No way.  1st session, I lose something like 14 of the 1st 15 hands.  Another session, 1st 7 hands lose.  Another session, new dealer sits down turns up 21 5 of the 1st 6 hands.  I had a little luck with double deck early on but zero luck with the bigger deck continuous shuffle.  So the final night I thought would be OK with double deck.  So much for that idea, more of the same as I lose 60% of the night's budget in just the 1st 2 rounds of the double deck.  Losses upon losses upon losses.  I come home way down.  Only 2 winning sessions out of 7.  And there was no inbetween.  Either win big or lose big.  That's strange, more often its a grind it out affair and try to hand around even or just below.

    A hand that sums up my trip.  Down to last chip on a double deck table.  Get a pair of 7s vs an 8.  I split those (means I dig out more $$).  1st one, draw a 3.  Double!  2nd one draw a 4, DOUBLE!  Lost both.

    I did experience Craps for the 1st time.  I didn't wait out my initial run for a loss.  Then I hung around in my 2nd adventure.  Despite some idiots at the other end of table who were making my end of the table angry but making late bets and generally being a nuisance, I made up some early bad luck and came out ahead in that advenure.  If I would have stayed around, I would have ended up making up even more.  So I end up slightly behind there which wasn't bad.  Maybe a sign to switch games next time.

    Next time?
    So with new NCAA rules on the immediate horizon, its unclear what the future holds for this incarnation of Vegas recruiting trips.  It will be very interesting to see what comes out of the changes.  Anything that can lead to more high profile shoe vs shoe games would be a good thing.

    April 2018 Eye Catchers and Stockraisers

    The 2 open periods have concluded and there have been many ups and downs.  Here are some notable team performances.
    • D1 Minnesota is 13-1 and they'll be in the Adidas Finals in New York to start July.  While the bench can be thin at times, the starting 5 is absolutely ridiculous.  Except for 1 stumble vs Exum Elite (formerly known as the Utah Prospects), they have been dominating opponents.
    • Grassroots showed a big improvement from last year's UA performance.  After going 1-15 last year in UA games, they are 4-4 this year.  Its a more balanced lineup than last year.
    • Howard Pulley had a very good win over Spiece Indy Heat in week 1.  But they've lost 5 out of their last 6 and sit dead last in Division C at 2-6 in EYBL play.  Unless they go on a huge run in the 2 May EYBL events, it looks like the Panthers will miss the Peach Jam for only the 2nd time ever.  The speed and athleticism of the EYBL game has been a major adjustment for the starting 2020 guards.
    • Fury Wilde has played in 2 championship games, losing both, and a quality quarterfinal finish in the highly regarded Pitt Jam Fest in the 1st open period.  They sit at 13-3.
    • Comets Lewis made the Comets semis losing to D1 and went on a nice 6-2 run in 2 weeks of NY2LA play.  They sit at 9-3 overall.  Along with Fury and Omaha Sports Academy, they should be one of the top teams in this month's Sanford league.
    • D1 16s lost in the quarterfinals of the Rock Spring Classic in Madison playing up in the 17U division.  They followed that up with an impressive 7-1 run in Adidas Gold play.
    • Fury Zurn is 15-1 with 2 championships (Comets and Proving Ground locally).  Their only loss was a 3 point loss to EYBL rep All Ohio Red.
    • WOTN Davis 16 are 12-1 with their only loss to Fury Zurn at the Comets tourney.  They ran the table 8-0 in 2 weeks of NY2LA play.  I loved Eastview's Steven Crowl last year and he's continued to play very well.
    • Gain Elite 16s are 11-4.  That splits into 7-2 in Adidas Silver play and 4-2 (Gold runner-up) in the Swish N Dish tourney to open the season.
    Here are some players, not all inclusive of course, who in my humble opinion helped themselves the most during the April period.
    • Zeke Nnaji - D1 Minnesota.  Scouts were raving over his performance during both open weeks.  That earned him a Minnesota offer amongst others.  No Minnesota player saw his stock jump more this month.
    • Tyler Wahl - D1 Minnesota.  Picked up a Wisconsin offer during the open period.  His versatility to run the point when Tyrell Terry rests (or was out at the Comets tourney) really sticks out.  Perfect complimentary player.
    • Dawson Garcia -D1 Minnesota 16s.  Picked up offers from Texas and Minnesota just to name a couple.  Long, athletic and skilled.  Plenty to be excited about. 
    • Dain Dainja - Grassroots Sizzle UAA.  Showed off his handles in addition to his usual big bodied work and quality feet inside.  His name definitely moved up lots of lists.
    • David Roddy - Howard Pulley.  Far and away Pulley's best player during their difficult 2 week stretch.  As he did during the high school season for Breck, did a bit of everything from ballhandling to rebounding to scoring inside and out for the Panthers.  Picked up a St. Louis offer during the open period.
    • Ben Carlson - D1 Minnesota 16s.  Picked up a Minnesota offer right after the open period.  Long on the radar of teams like Wisconsin, his play has also been a notable part of the hot start for the D1 16s.
    • Jared Rainey - Heat Nelson.  Played very well at both the Comets tourney and at Proving Ground.  D2s have another couple of chances this month to see him locally with the Heat tourney and Battle At The Lakes coming up the next 2 weeks.
    • Brady Williams  - Fury Zurn 16s.  Every time you looked up this month it seems like he was dunking on somebody.  Classic example of a smaller town kid playing on the circuit and getting noticed.  Keep his name in the back of your mind.

    2018 Open Period 1 17U Results

    So Minnesota teams hit the road for the 1st open period.  Here's how the 17U teams did.

    Dallas
    Howard Pulley 2-2
    David Roddy and Blaise Beauchamp solid weekends for the Panthers.

    Grassroots Sizzle 2-2
    That's more games won they all of last year in the UA Association.
    Jalen Suggs 12/10/12 in win vs C2K Elite out of Ohio.  Breakout weekend for Dain Dainja

    NY2LA Association
    Comets Lewis 4-0
    Comets DLR 2-2
    WOTN Swedberg 1-3
    Select Leafblad 1-3

    Adidas Silver
    Mentality Minnesota 3-1
    44 Elite 1-2

    Indianapolis
    D1 Minnesota 4-0, no game closer than 15 points.
    They beat the Omaha Crusaders who beat Howard Pulley earlier this month.
    Matt Hurt did what he normally does.  Zeke Nnaji with a nice breakout weekend.

    D1 Prospects 2-2 in Adidas Silver division

    Pittsburgh
    Fury Wilde 4-1 in Pittsburgh, made final 8

    St. Louis
    Grassroots II 0-4

    Madison
    Crossfire II 2-2

    Omaha
    43 Hoops 1-3
    Fury Kaupa 2-2
    Heat MacDonald 4-1 (lost championship game)
    Heat Nelson 2-2
    Heat Henderson 3-1 (won their 2nd round losers bracket)
    Twin Cities Pirates 3-1 (lost 1st game and then swept their bracket)
    MN Magic Team Nike 3-2 (lost 2nd division championship)

    Sioux Falls
    Crossfire Bellefeuille 4-0 champions
    SW MN Stars  3-1
    Comets Kirchner 2-2
    D1 Rise 2-2
    MN Bulldogs 3-1

    The 2018 AAU Road Adventure Begins

    This weekend marks the 1st of the 5 D1 open periods for the 2018 AAU season.  This weekend and next are the 1st 2 periods with the rest being in July.  No certified events locally so our teams will scatter across the country this week.  I count no fewer than 6 different out of state locations to find our teams this weekend.  Can you say tons of online viewing?  Let's go through all of it.

    Dallas
    Dallas is the center of activity this week with no fewer than 5 circuits and 10 different events going on.  Minnesota teams are well represented in the following events.

    Nike EYBL
    Howard Pulley
    The 16s play an absolutely loaded Phenom U team out of Wisconsin on Friday night.  I saw them in Milwaukee at the start of the month and they are scary good.  The 17s end their 4 game weekend vs one of the top 2 players in the country, Vernon Carey, and Nike Team Florida.

    Under Armour Association
    Grassroots Sizzle top 17s.  They open vs top 20 player Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and KC Run GMC

    Adidas Silver
    44 Elite (old Net Gain squad)
    Mentality MN
    These 2 teams have multiple possibilities of meeting in their final game on Sunday.

    NY2LA Association17s
    Midwest Unsigned
    Comets Lewis
    Comets DLR
    WOTN Swedberg
    Select Leafblad

    NY2LA Association 16s
    Comets Stumpf
    Team GetShook
    WOTN Davis
    Select Cave

    NY2LA Association 15s
    Select Ohnstad
    Comets Servaty
    Team GetShook

    Powerade Platform
    MN Phenom.  Their 16s and 17s are on the road again this week after playing in Chicago last weekend.  In a bit of interesting scheduling, Pure Prep and elite big guy Xavier Foster from Iowa is in their pool but the teams don't play each other.

    St. Louis
    Grassroots Sizzle has another team representing Minnesota in the Recruit Look Hoops league.

    Indianapolis
    Adidas is going to 4 regions for the 1st week of play.  Their midwest region visits Indianapolis with everybody else coming to town next week.  All of Adidas visits Atlanta next week.

    Adidas Gold
    D1 MN 15s, 16s and 17s.  The D1 17s end vs the Omaha Crusaders on Sunday.  Omaha beat Howard Pulley for an Iowa title on the same weekend as the Comets Shootout.  D1 17s also play EG10 (Eric Gordon's team) which tweaks my interest since the Rockets are playing the TWolves right now.

    Adidas Silver
    D1 Propsects 17s
    Gain Elite 16s (old Net Gain)
    Gain Elite 15s (old Net Gain)

    Pittsburgh
    The Pitt Jam Fest is a very well regarded event for east coast teams.  Its also rare in that the schedule is setup for 2 games on Friday night.  Also rare in that it takes a heck of a run just to have a Sunday game.  Its easy to be out early Saturday afternoon.

    Fury Wilde 17s
    Fury Zurn 16s
    Heat Tauer 15s

    Omaha (Midwest Live)
    Now 1 of the 2 notable regional events that our teams are attending.
    17s
    43 Hoops
    Fury Kaupa
    Heat Macdonald
    Heat Nelson
    Heat Henderson
    TC Pirates (another part of the Net Gain split)
    MN Magic (2nd division)

    16s
    Grassroots Sizzle
    Fury Kline
    Heat Moberg
    Heat Presbi
    MN Matrix
    MN Suns
    Mpls FAB
    Heat Lang (2nd division)

    15s
    D1 Prospects
    Heat Bohrer
    Heat Johnson
    MN Suns
    Team Tyus 14s

    Sioux Falls (Spring Jam)
    Sioux Falls has the shortest trip for our teams going out of town with their annual 1st open period event.

    17s
    MN Bulldogs
    Crossfire I
    SW MN Stars
    D1 MN Rise
    Comets Kirchner

    16s
    SW MN Stars
    WC United

    15s
    WC United
    Crossfire Bertsch
    Fury Poppen
    SW MN Stars

    Minneapolis (Minnesota Select tourney)
    This is the 1 local event going on.  You of course have the non-NY2LA Select teams.  But the notables here are in 15U.  Both Howard Pulley 15s are attending along with Fury Syverson.

    2018 Comets Shootout Preview

    Its the annual kickoff to the AAU season with the 2018 Comets Shootout in St. Cloud.  While its not on ACT weekend, the concepts and scheduling remain the same.  Here's what to look for.

    17U
    In 17U, there are 40 teams.  That means 16 of them kickoff at 3:00 or 4:10 with pigtail games into the 32 team championship bracket.  The regular bracket games start at 4:10 and end with Round of 16 games at 10:00 Saturday night.  That leads into the quarterfinals starting later Sunday morning.  We'll break this down into the 4 bracket sections of 10 teams that provide 2 teams each to the quarterfinals. 

    Section 1:
    This section holds the top seeded Comets.  Other teams of note are Crossfire's top team (very underestimated, had a great year last year), Heat Henderson and the top Select squad.  The hosts have to be the favorite to make the semis from this bracket.  I'll take the Comets over Select Leafblad in the quarters.

    Players to Watch:
    Jack Thompson, Issac Fink, Noah Christensen (NDSU commit) - Comets Lewis 
    Jason Kaul - Crossfire Bellefeuille
    Jeremy Beckler - Heat Henderson
    Malik Willingham - Select Leafblad

    Section 2:
    In this section you have Fury's 2nd team, the NY2LA team from the WI Playmakers, Heat Nelson and another Select squad.  But the big elephant in the room is D1 Minnesota.  Their loaded 17s are scheduled to attend.  If their 16s show up to play up instead there will be a riot.  That includes Tyrell Terry, Tyler Wahl, Zeke Nnaji, Matt Hurt and big addition Patrick McCaffrey from Iowa who's a top 30 kid nationally.  D1 MN a heavy favorite to advance to play the Comets in the semis.  I'll take them over Fury Kaupa in the quarters.

    Players to Watch:
    Matt Hurt, Patrick McCaffrey, Tyrell Terry, Zeke Nnaji, Tyler Wahl, Robert Jones - D1 MN
    Luke Paulson, Carson Schoeller - Fury Kaupa
    Jared Rainey - Heat Nelson

    Section 3:
    Here you have a solid group of teams as well.  Fury Wilde headlines this quarter.  D1 MN Prospects, Comets DLR and the top ECI crew also lurk here.    Fury is the pick to take out Comets DLR to advance to the semis.

    Players to Watch:
    Matt Schlottman - D1 MN Prospects
    Jacob Beeninga, Cole Nicholson, Dane Zimmer - Fury Wilde
    Jenson Beachy, Josh Jeziorski - Comets  DLR
    Joe Jahner, Isaac Undlin - ECI Prospects

    Section 4:
    This is the quarter of death.  There's always 1 round of 16 game that jumps out and its here.  44 Elite, Heat and WOTN top teams and the sleeper Comets 3rd team are here.  44 Elite is the reformation of last year's Net Gain crew with modfications.  They are dangerous and like they've done in past years I'd expect a ringer or 2.  But they have the toughest road as they'll have to take out Heat MacDonald in the round of 16 before a quarterfinal matchup likely with the top WOTN squad.  I'll take them to pull it off.


    Players to Watch:
    Jalen Dearring - 44 Elite
    Cade Goggleye - Comets Kirchner
    Sam Schwartz, Malik Spearman - Heat MacDonald
    Tyler Robarge - WI City Select
    Tyler Kemp - WOTN

    16U
    As is usual the 16U kids take the stage for the morning and early afternoon sessions.  Always a great opportunity to see some young kids.  There's always somebody who jumps onto the scene.  These games are 2 pool games on Saturday into a 16 team 4 game bracket on Sunday.  D1 MN 15s are playing up.  Team GetShook made a run here in 15U last year and they're back so don't be shocked to see them do that again.  Expect a wide open bracket here with depth being valuable for the championship game (4th game in 9 hours)

    Players to Watch:
    Jacob Hutson - Fury Kline
    Charlie Katona, Cameron Steele - Fury Zurn
    Tait Nelson, Cole Chapman, Daydor Phillips - Heat Moberg
    Nick Hendler, Walker Johnson - Select Cave
    Nate Heise, Tate Machacek, Steven Crowl, Ryan Samuelson - WOTN Davis

    2018 State Tourney Preview

    Its state tournament time and thankfully no blizzard in the forecast.  Here is what catches my eye.

    Class A
    Bracket (1st round at Williams Arena on Thursday)
    Mahnomen/Waubun vs 1 Mayer Lutheran
    5 Hinckley-Finlayson vs 4 Russell-Tyler-Ruthton
    Heritage Christian vs 2 North Woods
    Rushford-Peterson vs 3 Cass Lake-Bena

    Beware of underdog team: Rushford-Peterson
    I love the draw for Rushford-Peterson here.  They are 23-7 with 3 1 point losses against bigger school schedule.  North Woods and Cass Lake-Bena have beaten up on many weak teams up north.  In my bold predictions in the Breakdown book at the start of the year I said an unseeded team would make the final in class A.  Rushford-Peterson is that team.

    Mayer Lutheran has all the pieces of size and shooting.  They've won 20 in a row and their losses are all to big schools.  That includes AA state opponents Minnehaha and Jordan. Hinckley-Finlayson is experienced.  They lost to AA Virginia by 3 at Virginia while North Woods at home beat Virginia by 3.  RTR is from the always tough section 3 with a record of 30-1 so expect that to be a terrific 4 vs 5 game and the winner can give Mayer Lutheran a run.  In the end, I take Mayer Lutheran over Rushford-Peterson for the title.

    Class AA
    Bracket (top half qtrs at Target Center, bottom half at Williams Arena on Wednesday night)
    Jordan vs 1 Minnehaha
    5 St. Cloud Cathedral vs 4 Esko
    Breckenridge vs 2 Brooklyn Center
    Minnewaska vs 3 Caledonia

    Minnehaha's road opened up when Minneapolis North collapsed in the section 5AA final.  I saw Jordan lose to Minneapolis South on MLK day, quickness was a problem then and will be a problem here.  The state tourney lights will be on so I expect Jalen Suggs to raise his game to a championship level.  Esko is always dangerous with 7'3" Adam Trapp in the middle.  But Cathedral is making a return trip with a pair of stars in Michael Schaefer and Mitch Plombom.  If they get a lead, Esko can't leave Trapp in the middle of a zone.

    Noah Christensen has been fantastic for Breckenridge.  They took out undefeated Perham in the section final so don't sleep on the Cowboys.  Brooklyn Center doesn't like to defend but they'll find a way to survive round 1.  That won't be the case in the semis.  The King clan has been fantastic, including Mr Basketball finalist, Owen King.  The Warriors will be motivated for another shot at Minnehaha and I think they get it.  Caledonia let Minnehaha get a 16 point lead last month before losing by 4.  Owen King was huge in that game despite some foul trouble.  I think they keep it interesting.  Minnehaha wins their 2nd straight AA title.  The wildcard for the Redhawks is Terry Lockett.  He's been out with an injury.  If he doesn't play, that means the already thin bench gets thinner and Jalen Suggs handles the ball much much more.

    Class AAA
    Bracket (1st round at Williams Arena on Wednesday)
    Hermantown vs 1 De La Salle
    5 St. Thomas Academy vs 4 Columbia Heights
    Sauk Rapids-Rice vs 2 Austin
    Delano vs 3 Mankato East

    Beware of underdog team: Delano
    Mr Basketball finalist Calvin Wishart leads a very talented roster that has also has a shooter/handler in Derek Techam and a very solid man in the middle in Keegan O'Neill.  They can spread the floor and can score a bunch of points.  Their lack of depth and Mankato East's athletic size present a big challenge in round 1.  Austin and De La Salle no problems in round 1.  Columbia Heights will probably use the 4 seed as motivation.  I like the draw against a St. Thomas Academy team that will have a tough time matching up athletically.  But Columbia Heights isn't deep and St. Thomas Academy can hit enough shots to win.  De La Salle and Austin move on to the final and the curse and streak continue.  De La Salle wins #7 in a row.

    Class AAAA
    Bracket (1st round at Target Center on Wednesday)
    Wayzata vs 1 Cretin-Derham Hall
    5 Osseo vs 4 Eden Prairie
    Forest Lake vs 2 Apple Valley
    Maple Grove vs 3 Lakeville North

    Beware of underdog team: Wayzata
    Wayzata got a great draw.  They just knocked off a team with bigs in Hopkins in the 6AAAA final.  With their ball and player movement, this is the draw that CDH didn't want.  Not to mention, CDH would be looking at EP (who beat them) and Apple Valley after that.  That's as tough a road as you could have created for the 1 seed.  Jacob Beeninga is tough as nails physically and competitively to will his team to wins.  They went small in the section final taking Tanner Jonas off the floor which would force Daniel Oturu to defend away from the rim.  Does CDH dare play 1-3-1 against the shooting potential.  Shooting teams are great but the big building is a great equalizer.  If Wayzata advances, they split with Eden Prairie in the regular season and Osseo is banged up right now.

    But don't discount how Osseo is defending right now.  Plus Emmette Page has been fantastic all year getting buckets.  They'll need every bucket with forward Anthony Williams out and guard Zach Theisen hobbled.  Eden Prairie too sound and too balanced.  Expect a fairly low scoring game with Eden Prairie moving on.  Apple Valley will find a way to contain Manny Jingco and move on.  Lakeville North too deep and too good defensively, they'll move on over Maple Grove.

    That sets up the top 4 seeds by my picks for a couple of terrific semifinals.  Eden Prairie beat CDH at the buzzer at the end of the year.  I think they do it again by getting Oturu and Sy Chatman away from the basket with pick and roll.  That's been the magic potion against the Raiders all year.  CDH has gotten away with Sy Chatman away from the rim defensively (he's a center by trade and still learning perimeter defense where he often gets lost), it bit them in the last meeting and will do so again here.  Apple Valley won the rematch with Apple Valley with Luke Martens back in the lineup.  I won't bet against Tre Jones after what he did last year.  He leads them to the title with 2 big games in the semis and championship.

    Heritage wears the Cinderella slipper

    Prologue
    To Anoka-Ramsey Community College for the section 4A final between 5 seed Heritage Christian (12-17) and 6 seed Mounds Park Academy (9-19).  Once upon a time I used to do the combined 4A/4AA finals at Holy Angels.  Once that went away, I stayed away.  But the story of one of these Cinderella teams making it was too good to pass up.  Hollywood on the call with black sleeves tonight.  The good folks at ARCC taking care of me for a rare evening of the low angle view at the scorer's table.

    Game Time
    Heritage comes out 2-3 zone and that's just part of a slow early pace.  MPA patient in their zone offense.  Heritage patient in their Swing Offense.  Yahya Mader 2 early 3s for Mounds Park.  Ben Allen a deep Heritage 3.  Seth Halvorsen adds a putback and 2 FTs at the 9:15 mark for Heritage.  13-12 Mounds Park Academy on top.  The free throws come on Madar's 2nd foul.  He stays in but MPA goes 3-2 to try to save him. 

    Later, the teams trade triples and Halverson hits from deep as he starts to turn it on.  Heritage takes the lead 22-19.  MPA then starts to turn it over.  Halvorsen adds a free throw and a bucket on 2 of those.  That's inbetween 2 putbacks by MPA soph Alex Nicoski.  27-25 Heritage before an end to end trip by Nick Guiang ties it.  .  MPA 1 last possession to tie it, they go a few seconds too quick and Halvorsen runs out for a hammer 1 handed slam just before the buzzer. 31-27 Heritage at the break.  Halvorsen 15 points with the momentum dunk.  Madar 9 before sitting late in the half with the fouls.

    The stars keep it going to start the 2nd half.  Madar 2 blocks on 1 possession and he'll take it the other way for the hoop and harm.  Halverson converts a turnover on a pretty Eurostep move.  Soph TJ Guggenberger comes up big for Heritage off their bench with 8 in a row via 2 triples and a drive for a nice scoop finish.  43-33 Heritage stretching the lead with 11:35 left.  Halvorsen adds a 3 for a Mokiller timeout and a free throw.  9:32 left as Heritage leads 49-35 after a 14-4 run in under 4 minutes.  Sam Frederickson adds 2 layups to stretch the lead to 16 with 8:20 left.

    Mounds Park Academy won't go away.  Ben Nippolt with his 3rd and 4th triples of the night before fouling out with 4:23 left.  Those cut the lead to 10.  Madar with a pair of 3s to cut the lead to 6 with 1:30 left.  They'll press and force a turnover as Heritage ducks the shoulder trying to gain space with 1:05 left.  But turnovers will seal it.  Ben Allen converts 1 into 2 free throws.  Then a Halvorsen steal and an absolutely nasty monster 2 handed dunk on Madar with the foul.  Easily the best dunk I've seen all year (Here's the video).  Heritage Christian Academy advances to the state tournament with the 64-56.

    Post Game
    Junior Yahya Madar leads Mounds Park Academy with 4 triples and 19 points.  Junior guard Ben Nippolt adds 4 triples of his own off the bench for 12 points.  Nick Guiang chips in with 10 points.  The Panthers finish their season 9-20.  That's more wins than they had in the last 2 years.  That included breaking a 10 year 100+ game losing streak in conference games and a win over Larpenteur Ave neighbor Hill-Murray.  Lots for head coach Jake Schwartz to be proud of in his 1st year.

    Seth Halvorsen was terrific for Heritage.  He leads the Eagles with 26 points.  Him and Ben Allen really controlled the pace of the game.  Sam Frederickson and soph TJ Guggenberger each add 10 critical points.  The Eagles defense generated enough turnovers to be the difference.  Heritage is pretty thin depth wise but they're well coached and who ever they draw at state will have to work to knock them out.

    A Section Final For the Ages

    Prologue
    To Chanhassen for the highly anticipated 6AAA final between Orono and De La Salle.  These teams regarded as state title contenders when the season began and both have lived up to that expectation.  Its a full house in the bleachers and on the rails.  Lithgow, a JMOA rep and a 3rd on the whistles.  A quality performance as usual from the De La Salle pep band.  Richard Pitino in the house to watch his 2 Gopher recruits Gabe Kalscheur and Jarvis Omersa

    Game Time
    Max Bjorklund carrying the Orono offense early.  He goes floater, drifts to the weakside corner for 3, adds a free throw and hits a kickout 3.  12 all at the 10:16 mark.  CJ Dickson runs the floor hard for a layup, Gabe Kalscheur 2 FTs and a slick drive by Tyrell Terry for a 18-15 DLS lead.  Griffin Sage then knocks down 2 3s in a personal 8-0 run.  Then a Jarvis Omersa block and he'll grab that and find Bjorklund running out for a dunk.  10-0 Orono run and DLS needs a timeout.  25-18 Spartans lead at the 6:10 mark.  Kalscheur quickly responds with a 3 and a 3 point play.  Bjorklund with a jumper and 3 in a 8-0 Orono run.  Kalscheur answers that too with a pair of bombs.  Then a turnover and nobody finds Tyrell Terry so he says why not and buries a 3.  Kalscheur adds 2 free throws to end the half.  35 all going to halftime.  Kalscheur with 20 and 3 triples.  Bjorklund 16 with 3 triples of his own.

    Kalscheur shot 5-5 from the line in the 1st half but incredibly had a stretch where he missed 7 out of 9 in the 2nd half.  He makes 1 of 3 FTs and a layup off a turnover to start the half.  Omersa very quiet in the 1st half on offense with only 2 FTs.  He picks that up in the 2nd half.  His back to back buckets put Orono back on top before Colton Codute sits with his 4th foul with 13:59 left.  Thomas Lecy for 3 and a Omersa putback for a 3 point play.  The Orono run is 11-2 for a 49-43 lead with 11:37 left.

    An extra pass finds Jamison Battle for a left corner 3.  Omersa counters that with his own 3 to keep the lead at 4.  Codute back in the game and makes 4-4 FTs, all on the 1 and 1.  That counters a couple of Dickson buckets.  58-56 Orono inside of 7 minutes left.  Then 2 offensive boards for Orono leads to another Bjorklund 3.  Then its bang again from deep for Bjorklund.  Bjorklund then kicks to Sage for another bomb.  Omersa then smacks away a Kalscheur drive and Codute finishes that.  69-57 Orono with 4:47 left.  Orono crowd erupts and De La Salle needs a timeout.  Islanders in real trouble here.  Its an 11-1 Orono run in about 1:20.  Everything on their side.

    But champions don't go away and Kalscheur rises to the occasion.  Terry scores, Orono misses a front end.  Rayquan Moore for 3.  Kalscheur an offensive board for 2 free throws after an Orono timeout.  Then its Kalscheur with a block and he turns that into a 3 on the other end.  Bjorklund 2 FTs to keep the lead at 4.  Then Kalscheur for 3 as Battle gets run over setting the screen.  Count the basket and Battle makes both ends of the bonus.  De La Salle has the lead back 72-71 with 1:39 left.  OH MY!  15-2 Islanders run in under 3 minutes.

    Oh the fun is just beginning.  The fans will stand for the rest of the game.  Bjorklund responds with a clutch 3.  Kalscheur with a charge at the 1:15 mark.  Orono has the ball back up 2 and Codute makes 2 FTs with 46.8 left for a 4 point lead.  Kalscheur with a 3, Omersa 2 free throws and its Kalscheur again for 3.  78 all with 13.9 left.  How clutch is that!  De La Salle takes timeout on the make to set the defense.

    But in this game, you know the fun can't be over yet.  Orono gets into nothing out of the timeout and a pass is knocked out of bounds with 5.2 left.  Orono has it on the side in front of their bench.  Omersa sets a zipper screen and gets the ball a step off the right block.  He takes 1 rhythm dribble and then spins right shoulder to the basket.  His attempt is short, Dickson grabs the rebound and time has not run out before Omersa fouls him on the frustration foul with 0.5 left.  The entire building is stunned and in disbelief.  Dickson makes both free throws to win it.  Heartbreak city for Orono after leading by 12 with 4:47 left and 4 with 46.8 left.  De La Salle wins 80-78.

    Post Game:
    Orono finishes the season 23-6.  Max Bjorklund was fantastic with 28 points and 6 triples to lead the Orono offense.  Colton Codute 17 points.  Griffen Sage with 11 ponits.  Jarvis Omersa 16 points, 18 rebounds and 5 blocks.  You have to feel terrible for him having his high school career end that way.  Without his play during the season and in the 2nd half of this one, the Spartans likely don't make it this far.  He had a great look inside at the end to win it and that's all you can ask.

    Gabe Kalscheur with 7 3s and 38 points to lead the Islanders despite 9-16 FTs.  He scored 14 out of 16 De La Salle points to bring them back to tied at the end.  That included 4 3s in the last 2 minutes.  Couldn't have asked for a better game from him.  CJ Dickson with 12 points off the bench.  He ran the floor and attacked the basket in the full court and half court very effectively.  De La Salle's shot at a 7th straight class AAA title stays alive.  They'll be the top seed in next week's state tourney.

    What a fantastic game that will go down in the memory bank.  Great environment, high quality play.  De La Salle just so sound defensively.  Orono solid play on their end as well.  Both teams making big time plays.   Star players making star plays.  And oh by the way, an absolutely improbable ending.  It doesn't get better than all of that.