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.

The Trojan Horse strikes again

Prologue
To Osseo for the 6AAAA championship game.  Its a 1 vs 2 seed rematch of last year's game between Wayzata and Hopkins.  Last year Wayzata played about a perfect a game as you can expect and pulled the upset.  Is that in the cards again?  Hopkins won both regular season meetings including the last one at Wayzata 89-63.  That was a game that Wayzata had a 9 point lead in before Hopkins blew them out.  Both bands on hand but disappointing student sections.  Jet's Pizza and Pepsi to fill the long pregame wait.

Game Time:
Three combined triples start the scoring in this one.  Then a 6-0 Hopkins spurt.  Anthony Davis converts a turnover and puts back a free throw miss for a bucket during that run.  14-7 Hopkins looking to pull away early.  But then the always deadly Wayzata shooting heats up.  Drew Galinson and Jacob Beeninga with bombs.  Dane Zimmer with back to back hoops for a 21-13 lead inside the 9:30 mark.  Then a long Wayzata possession results in an Anthony Davis steal for a 3 point play.  Akeem Woods adds a reverse layup.  That's a 10-2 Hopkins run.  26-15 Royals at the 7:03 mark and Wayzata needs a timeout.  That timeout works as the rest of the half is all Wayzata.  They go on a 19-5 run over a 4 minute stretch and is all of the scoring for the rest of the half.  Five Wayzata threes in the run.  Beeninga with 3 of those and a layup during the run.  Kerwin Walton all of the Hopkins offense in that run.  34-31 Wayzata at the break.  Beeninga with 4 3s and 16 points in the half.  Kerwin Walton with 12 points to lead the Hopkins offense.  Wayzata with 8 makes from the deep beyond in the half.

Beeninga pivots and buries another bomb.  Galinson adds a difficult 2 and a short jumper over Joe Hedstrom.  41-32 Wayzata just under 2 minutes into the 2nd half.  Hopkins comes right back.  Zeke Nnaji with 2 inside buckets in a 9-0 run and we're tied at 41 with 12:56 left.  Nnaji with an elbow jumper.  Beeninga counters with a 3 point play. Then a tie up which leads to a shove and a Hopkins technical for 2 Beeninga free throws.  48-43 Trojans with 8:56 left.  Wayzata very patient in their possessions and not risking anything against the bigs inside.  Plenty of dribble weave like action with kickouts.  Luke Paulson with a tough lefty finish at the 3:25 mark and the lead is 6.  The rest of Wayzata's points are at the charity stripe. They go 8-8 including all 3 front ends in the last 1:03.  They would need all of them.  Zeke Nnaji and Kerwin Walton with late 3s.  Anthony Davis straight to the rim and the lead is 1 with 6.1 left.  Beeninga makes the last 2 free throws with 5.3 left and Wayzata smartly fouls in a Foul or Defend situation with 2 seconds left.  Anthony Davis makes the 1st, intentionally misses the 2nd.  Nobody gets the board.  Wayzata wins 63-61.

Post Game:
Hopkins finishes the season 26-2 with the only losses in their first and last games.  Kerwin Walton with 4 triples and 18 points to lead the Royals.  Zeke Nnaji adds 16 and was also on the glass.  Anthony Davis with 14.  The 3 Hopkins bigs combined for 51 points in the last meeting.  They combined for 21 points in this one.  This opens up a seed for Section 1, 2 or 5 as it looked like there would be only 2 seeds available for those 3 section winners (assuming CDH, AV and Hopkins took the top 3 seeds).  Eden Prairie, Park Center and the winner of Lakeville North and Rochester John Marshall would take the other 3 spots.  Now if Edina and/or Osseo win their finals on Friday, then the discussion for the 5th seed could get interesting.  Edina would definitely have a leg up though.

Wayzata moves on to state for the 2nd straight year.  Jacob Beeninga absolutely outstanding with 30 points in the win.  He knocked down 5 treys and was 11-11 FTs.  He absolutely would not let the Trojans lose.  After the Hopkins 9-0 run to tie the game, he had a laser assist for a layup then 5 points in a row as the Trojans built a lead they would not relinquish.  Then he was 6-6 from the foul line in the last 1:03 including the last 2 clutch ones with 5.3 left to force the Foul Or Defend situation at the end.  Drew Galinson adds 12 points.  Nobody else more than 5.  But the Trojans stayed very composed.

2018 4AA Semifinals

Since I was told concessions were supplied, I had to make the trip to St. Paul Washington for the 4AA semifinals.  For the record, the concessions were wonderful.  A shoutout for the great hospitality.  I saw a couple of games early in section 4AA play but none of these teams.

Game 1: 1 Minnehaha vs 4 Trinity
Terry Lockett out of the Minnehaha lineup.  He's replaced by frosh Chet Holmgren.  Trinity incredibly patient with their possessions and taking care of the ball for the most part.  But if you could draw up a more poorly played half for Minnehaha, I'd like to see it.  Ben Maslow 2 3s and its 8-5 Trinity at the 12:47 mark.  Jalen Suggs to Prince Aligbe for 3 to tie before the offenses go really quiet.  10-8 Trinity at 11:24.  Suggs sits with his 2nd foul and Minnehaha goes 1-3-1 to try and up their energy level.  Trinity goes scoreless for 7 minutes with that lead but when its broken they go up 12-10 at the 4:21 mark.  4 straight Trinity turnovers change the momentum.  Suggs with 2 hoops but then a technical for his 3rd foul late in the half.  The Redhawks still manage a 13-4 run over the last 3:25 for a 23-17 lead.

They'll quickly stretch that lead to 27-17 with Suggs on the bench to start the 2nd half.  But Trinity   rallies with a 10-2 run.  Oliver Waldron with a nice up and under move for a 3 point play and a Aaron Wessel triple in the run.  29-27 Minnehaha with 12:40 left and they take timeout.  Suggs with a steal for a dunk countered by another Masek hoop.  That would be the end of Trinity's scoring for the night with 11:05 left.  Suggs again, Bickham with a putback and then a kickout to Kaden Johnson for 3. Then its Suggs on the break with an angry dunk and Bickham in the post again.  Etc etc etc.  Trinity can't throw it in the ocean and its a runaway.  Minnehaha scores the last 31 points of the game in the last 10:55.  That takes a 2 point game to a 62-29 Minnehaha win.  Jalen Suggs 14 points and 5 steals.  JaVonni Bickham 14 points.  Aaron Wessel 7 for Trinity.  Minnehaha finally woke up but everything that could go wrong in the 1st half did.  Missing bunnies, silly fouls, silly gambling on defense etc etc.

Game 2: 3 New Life Academy vs 7 St. Paul Academy
St. Paul Academy coming in on a 9 game winning streak including a win over New Life so this looked very interesting.  But speaking of difficult offense, SPA couldn't get anything to go their way early on.  In the 1st 14+, they get a turnover for a layup and an offensive rebound bucket.  That's it.  I liked the idea of the packed in flat 3-2 zone.  Mark Rygh with a couple of 3s against that early on.  Big man Zach Thor's hammer strikes from 3 as well as the Eagles build a 20-4 lead.  The SPA offense would finally come to life and they pull to within 25-13 at the break.

Post Ryan Moore productive for SPA out of the Princeton Offense.  His early bucket cuts the margin to 10.  But then the Spartans miss a layup on a turnover and Rygh turns that into a 3 point play on the other end and then cuts vs the zone for another bucket.  So instead of being single digits, New Life has the lead back to 30-15 with 12:33 left.  Moore puts back his own miss and adds 2 free throws as SPA tries to stay close.  Thor's hammer strikes again from deep, Rygh with 2 more free throws and Drew Wynia's 1st hoop of the night.  Gus Grunau 4 straight but SPA has to extend down 14 inside of 10 left.  It gets out of hand from there and New Life wins 58-30.  Mark Rygh with 18 points to lead the Eagles in the victory.  Zach Thor adds 12.  Gus Grunau 11, Ryan Moore 10 for SPA.  SPA was patient and ran some solid Princeton stuff but they weren't going to get much inside against the New Life size. 

The section final is Friday at Washington.  Maranatha forced New Life to turn it over a truckload in the MCAA championship game and it became blowout material.  This Minnehaha roster is like that only on steroids (figuratively, that's not a cheap shot people).  Plus Minnehaha really likes to gamble for steals.  New Life's size can bother JaVonni Bickham inside where he can struggle to finish against fellow bigs his size.  Plus the bigs are mobile enough to not be totally mismatched when he steps away.  Minnehaha is a heavy favorite if they come to play.  But tonight for almost 3/4 of the game they didn't.  That's the big wildcard.

A dynamic duo of section semifinals

What a day on the schedule with the 2AAAA semis in the afternoon.  That followed by the 4AAAA semis at night.  On paper this promised to be big time games and they did not disappoint.  Excellent crowds on the whole.  Plenty of miles to go and plenty of Pepsi to drink.  Let's get to the details.

2AAAA: 1 Eden Prairie vs 4 Chaska
Quick 6-0 start for Eden Prairie thanks to a turnover and blocked shot.  Chaska with a timeout 1:02 into the game after that.  They respond with an 11-2 run.  Connor Christensen with a pair of 3s and a jumper, Austin Andrews 4 late FTs for a 38-30 EP lead at the break.  The 2nd half was a defensive struggle.  Both teams cranked it up on that end.  But in particular it was the Eden Prairie defense that held Chaska to 4 2nd half field goals.  Eden Prairie would pull alway thanks to that and win 67-48.  Great balance for Eden Prairie with 5 of their 6 scorers in double figures,  Kyler Kluge leads with 16 points.  Cole Nicholson 15 points and Parker Bjorklund 13 points to lead Chaska but they didn't get any help.

2AAAA: 2 Prior Lake vs 3 Edina
Edina would use an early 13-2 run to take a 17-9 lead.  Jacob Hutson doing work inside with 9 early points.  Dawson Garcia with 3 FTs and a triple as he was the only major 1st half offense for Prior Lake.  Jack Middleton with a couple of 3s in the half and 10 points for a 30-21 Edina halftime lead.  Edina opens the half on a 9-0 run with 4 different players scoring.  Robert Jones stops that with an emphatic dunk but the Edina lead is 16.  Jones with 2 more buckets as Garcia has to sit with 4 fouls at the 10:53 mark.  Jones 3 more hoops in a 12-2 Prior Lake run after the lead got to 20.  55-45 Edina with 5 minutes left.  Then its Sam Nissen and Brandon Collins for 3 and the Lakers are within 57-51 with 3 minutes left.  That's a 20-6 run for Prior Lake.  But Edina's guards too good with a lead late.  Middleton with a layup and 3 free throws to push the lead back to double digits.  8-8 Edina FTs in the last 1:15 seal it.  Edina advances with a 70-62 win.  They'll play at Eden Prairie on Friday.  They lost at EP 72-63 in the regular season.  Jack Middleton 23 points for Edina.  Jacob Hutson 13 of his 19 in the 1st half.  Anders Nelson 10 of his 15 in the 2nd half.  Dawson Garcia with 13 points and 11 boards on my sheet.  Robert Jones 13 points, 10 boards and 5 blocks unofficially.  He was passive offensively in the 1st half but transformed to be a force in the 2nd half.  After pounding Edina inside in the 1st meeting, I was surprised at the lack of post touches or a post plan for Prior Lake.  Edina fantastic job of spreading the floor and moving the ball for great looks.  That was in spite of not wanting to challenge the bigs at the rim.

4AAAA: 3 Woodbury vs 2 East Ridge
This was the best game of the day with no team up by more than 6 during the game.  No DJ Fleming for Woodbury or Kendall Brown for East Ridge.  Michael Jones sets the tone with the 1st 12 for Woodbury.  Courtney Brown counters that with 8 early points of his own.  But its the role guys who score the points in a 10-0 run for a 18-12 Woodbury lead inside the 8 minute mark.  Woodbury not guarding the 2 starting defenders for East Ridge making offense really hard to come by.  So Patrick Lynott comes off the Raptors bench and hits a 3.  That helps rally East Ridge but they still trail 23-21 at the half.

TJ Kelly with 3 early buckets.  Ben Carlson with a triple, a FT and putback for a 35-31 East Ridge lead at 10:34.  Momentum shift immediately killed by a Jones 3 point play before you can blink.  Carlson and Brown buckets for a 39-34 East Ridge lead with under 9 left.  Timeout Woodbury to regroup.  Jones to the rack for 2 and then an NBA 3.  East Ridge misses after a timeout and Jones isn't giving it up.  He feels it and buries a cold blooded 3.  44-39 Woodbury with 5:10 left and their crowd erupts after the 10-0 run.  East Ridge counters with their own 9-0 run with a scoop for 2 and 2 FTs from Brown. 48-44 East Ridge with 1:44 left and that 2nd possession hurdle looks huge.  Jones scores and then East Ridge turns it over 3 straight times.  Jones makes a free throw on 1 and Woodbury converts another one.  Woodbury has it down 1 with 24.1 left and Jones can't get his attempt to go.  Carlson makes 1 of 2 FTs with 15.3 left and Woodbury has 1 last chance.  Its Jones attacking and he's fouled with 1.1 left down 2.  He steps up and makes the 1st.  But the 2nd is no good.  East Ridge wins 49-48.  Michael Jones fantastic with 31 points for Woodbury.  Knowing his clutch play, its hard to fathom that he would miss 2 late free throws and a shot to tie in the last 1:06.  But he left it all out there and that's something you have to respect.  Ben Carlson with 18 and Courtney Brown 17 for East Ridge.

4AAAA: 4 North St. Paul  vs 1 Cretin-Derham Hall
CDH jumps out to a 14-2 lead with Daniel Oturu dominating inside.  But its not blowout city.  North St. Paul comes back with an 11-1 run.  Goodnews Kpegeol a 3 and a 2 in that run.  Dajuan Carter off the NSP bench with a steal for 2 and another bucket . Kpegeol scores on a lob to tie the game at 23.  CDH goes to the break with a 29-25 lead.  Oturu continues his great play in the 2nd half.  He puts in an inbound lob.  Blocks a shot on 1 end, grabs it and then scores in the post on the other end.  Ryan Larson for 2, Jaeden King for 3 and Oturu with a steal that he converts.  53-38 CDH pulling away inside 10:30 to play.  Oturu dunks a miss and converts a high low feed for 2 more.  61-44 inside 7.  No danger the rest of the way.  CDH wins 77-63.  Daniel Oturu with a monster performance and the numbers show it.  He ends up on my sheet with 30 points, 19 rebounds and gets the 10th block late for a triple double.  Ryan Larson with a solid night of 18 points.  Jacob Prince with his usual lunch pail performance and he ends up with 14.  Goodnews Kpegeol with 17 points to lead North St. Paul.  Dajuan Carter with 15 points off the Polars bench.  He'll be a major key for the Polars next season.

2018 6AAAA Semis

Prologue
To Osseo for the 6AAAA Semifinal matchups.  Light student crowd for the early game.  Excellent jerseys for the Wayzata student section.  One of their members got a scolding for shooting a game ball that came into the stands.  Quality pep band music from the Lake Conference reps.  Wayzata band digs out the classic "Rhythm is gonna get you" by Miami Sound Machine (Gloria Estefan's band).  Jet's Pizza with Pepsi always an outstanding menu pair. 

Game 1: 1 Hopkins vs 4 Robbinsdale Armstrong
Zeke Nnaji a handful inside with 10 points for Hopkins in the 1st 6+ minutes.  Soph Jake Breitbach with a triple and then 2 steals from the top of the 1-2-2 zone that lead to buckets.  17-14 Armstrong at the 10:50 mark.  The Falcons keeping the game at their pace by spacing the floor and looking for cuts.  Hopkins counters with an 11-2 run thanks to a couple of Kerwin Walton bombs.  One of those on a post kickout from Joe Hedstrom who also added 3 FTs during the run.  Breitbach backdoor and reverses it home plus 2 FTs to start a 6-0 run.  25 all inside 4 minutes to play in the half.  Hopkins gets the last 2 hoops for a 29-25 halftime lead.

Armstrong comes out of the locker room with a 9-0 run.  Isaiah Miller with the rainbow, an assist for a layup, then a ridiculously good left handed backdoor pass from halfcourt.  That pass results in an even more ridiculous reverse layup finish high off the glass by Breitbach.  34-29 Armstrong inside of 14 minutes to play.  Nnaji scores to break the run but leaves with some kind of apparent leg injury.  Hopkins always seems to have a big run in them.  Tonight was no exception and they go off on a 29-6 run after being down 5.  Blaise Beauchamp 2 triples and another bucket in the run.  Dane Zimmer with 2 inside hoops.  Armstrong 1 FG in a 6:40 stretch after their last lead.  58-40 Hopkins with 5:16 left.

Armstrong isn't done as Hopkins turns it over on 4 straight possessions.  That results in a 9-0 run with 2 layups and a dunk.  58-49 Hopkins with 3:35 left and they miss a front end.  But Hedstrom puts it back and Armstrong only scores 1 more bucket.  Hopkins advances with a 66-51 win.  Joe Hedstrom with 16 points.  Blaise Beauchamp 3 triples and all 13 of his points in the 2nd half.  Zeke Nnaji 12 points in limited minutes.  Dane Zimmer with 10 off the bench.  Soph Jake Breitbach with 15 points to lead Armstrong.  Ben Inniger and Nashiem Lozier with 10 each.  This was coach Greg Miller's final game for the Falcons.  A terrific run for one of the more highly respected coaches around.  Congratulations and best wishes on the next journey.

Game 2:  2 Wayzata vs 3 St. Louis Park
Hot shooting early for St. Louis Park.  Cire Mayfield for 3, then he'll find Luke Peterson for the 1st of 2 triples for him.  9-2 Orioles jump out to the lead.  Mayfield then picks up his 2nd foul at the 14:22 mark.  Coach Breitenbucher has to go offense for defense with him for most of the rest of the half.   Keaton Heide helping Wayzata hang around with a 3 and another bucket.  Wayzata within 2 at the 6:11 mark.  Frosh Kody Williams off the bench with a couple of hoops.  Then after the teams exchange the lead each way, Williams with 2 more hoops.  Heide makes bonus free throws for a 27-25 Wayzata halftime lead.

Heide keeps it going early in the 2nd half.  He drives for 2, hits a 3 and drives again for 2 more.  On the other side center Anthony Rayson with 2 hoops and 2 free throws.  Then Jacob Beeninga comes on after a quiet 1st half.  He buries a handoff 3 on an inbounds and drives for 2 more to stretch the Trojans lead to 41-31 with 11:30 left.  Mayfield converts a turnover for a layup as the Orioles look to shift the momentum but on the next possession he gets caught with a hand in the cookie jar holding a cutter off the ball.  Its his 4th foul with 10:44 left and he has to sit.  Wayzata turns that into a triple to keep the lead at 9.  Williams with 2 more drives very unchallenged to the basket and the margin stays at 9.  Mayfield returns at 7:22 and immediately scores.  Williams to the rack again for another easy bucket.  54-45 Wayzata with 6:20 left.

St. Louis Park rallies with Jacob Houts for 3 after a Rayson hoop.  St. Louis Park pulls within 54-50 with 5:15 left.  Then the main scoreboard goes out and we have to light up the old fashioned boards.  Wayzata scores and St. Louis Park gets 3 chances on the offensive glass but cannot convert.  The long stretch of trading continues.  Mayfield to Aidan Doherty for a layup, Drew Galinson makes bonus free throws.  Rayson 2 free throws, Williams another easy drive for 2.  60-54 Wayzata with 1:54 left. Mayfield and Beeninga trade 2 free throws with Mayfield fouling out on the Beeninga freebies with 1:32 left.  Doherty grabs a miss and makes 1 of 2.  Wayzata holds and gets a driving chance for an easy layup but its no good.  Doherty converts that with 47.1 left.  1 possession game.  Then a baseline drive and a drift pass finds Beeninga all alone in the right corner.  NOOOOOOOOO, NOOOOOO, NOOOOOOOO, great shot! is the dagger 3-pointer with 32 seconds left. Williams gets a swat on the defensive end and that's the last gasp.  Wayzata wins 66-59. 

Freshman Kody Williams with 16 points off the Wayzata bench to lead all scorers.  He was as good as anybody on the floor all night in a notable performance.  Jacob Beeninga with 14 of his 15 points in the 2nd half.  Keaton Heide adds 14.  Cire Mayfield and Anthony Rayson 13 each to lead St. Louis Park.  Joey Whitlock adds 12.  Wayzata will take on Hopkins in the section final at Osseo on Wednesday night.  Hopkins won both regular season meetings.

A small school section double dip

Now its the part of the schedule where its 2 per night.  I get to jump ahead a day thanks to Charter Stars moving their home game with Humboldt to Mounds Park Academy in 4AA.  Mounds Park Academy then hosting Community of Peace in the 4A bracket.  The pulled pork outstanding as usual at one of best concession stands in the metro.  The rare find of a 12 ounce bottle of Gatorade goes with the meal deal.

Game 1: 9 Humboldt vs 8 Charter Stars
Humboldt going zone in this one which slows the pace down.  The offense for each team not doing much.  9 all midway through the 1st half.  Davionte Davis 3 and a putback.  Darnell King with a couple of layups.  That's part of a 14-3 Hawks run over 5 and a half minutes.  Only 1 Charter Stars FG in the last 7 minutes of the half.  Humboldt 23-15 at the break.

Taye Carter with a putback and a post bucket to keep Charter Stars within 29-22 with 12:24 to play.  Desmond Lugo off the Humboldt bench with a couple big triples in transition.  Humboldt adds a turnover off a layup and the lead doubles to 37-23 with 9:10 left.  That run happens with Carter on the bench.  He comes back in at the 7:59 mark.  He scores a couple post buckets where Humboldt had no answer for him.  Brett McNeal adds 3 free throws.  His miss of a 4th isn't converted into points though.  That could have cut the lead to 7 or 6 with just over 4 minutes  left.  A couple of late hoops make the margin bigger than the game appeared.  Humboldt wins 57-41.  Davionte Davis with 16 points.  Taye Carter with 16 to lead Charter Stars.  Humboldt advances to play top seed Minnehaha on Saturday.  That game will be played at Trinity at 5 PM.

Game 2: 14 Community of Peace at 6 Mounds Park Academy
The Tigers beat 11 seed Nova by 1 last night to make this game and its their 3rd in 3 days thanks to Monday's snow day.  Who knows if that had anything to do with their offense as they couldn't buy a bucket in the 1st half.  Thankfully Mounds Park Academy couldn't score either.  The Tigers with only 1 field goal in the 1st 9+ minutes but still only trailed Mounds Park 8-4.  Yahya Madar knocks down back to back 3s starting at the 8:35 mark to break the ice off of 1 basket.  That snapped a 6 minute stretch where neither team made a field goal.  Community of Peace finally gets their 2nd field goal at the 5:15 mark on a putback.  Freshman Jack Paulson adds 3 hoops and 2 free throws and the Panthers lead grows to 31-9 at the 2:20 mark.  The lid has finally come off the basket but the Tigers still trail 34-18 at the half.  Freshman guard Tyrell Green has a big 2nd half for Community of Peace.  He makes 5 of his 6 3s in the 2nd half.  But the outcome is never in doubt.  Mounds Park Academy wins 80-49.  Yahya Madar with 18 points for Mounds Park Academy.  Tyrell Green with 6 3s and 21 points, most of that in the 2nd half, to lead Community of Peace.  Reports are that this is the 1st ever playoff win for Mounds Park Academy (I can't confirm or deny that).  They advance to play at 3 Christian Life on Saturday night.

District Duel Doesn't Disappoint

Prologue:
To North St. Paul where the Polars host the 4 vs 5 matchup in section 4AAAA.  This one with lots of extra spice as its against district rival Tartan.  These teams come in ranked 10 and 11 in the final state poll and both 22-4.  Late arriving full house on hand.  The outstanding NSP pep band also in the house with one of the largest cheerleading squads you'll see.  Add in the element that its North St. Paul as the high seed against the tradition power Tartan for even more spice.

Game Time:
Offense was really hard to come by in this one.  9-5 North just over 4 minutes in and that doesn't move when Tartan takes a timeout at the 12:50 mark.  3 straight Tartan turnovers allow the Polars to extend the lead to 14-7 at the 9:11 mark and Tartan needs another timeout.  Just sloppy play driving into multiple guys.  Tartan getting long possessions but not making any shots.  The lead grows to 21-11 at the 3:20 mark.  Tartan rallies with a putback, then a blocked shot leads to a Brady Hartman triple and the Titans add 2 FTs to finish a 7-0 run.  Tytist Dean with a late triple.  North St. Paul takes a 26-20 lead to halftime.  Nobody with more than 5 points in the half.  Antwan Kimmons lit up the Polars in the regular season game here but had only 1 field goal which was an offensive rebound.

Tartan offense continuing to struggle as they don't get their 1st FG of the second half until 12:35 left.  NSP opens the half on a 7-0 run with turnovers being a factor again.  Cahlil Golden's main job was defense in this one (more on that below) but his putback for a 3 point play and layup off a turnover were 2 of the plays in that run.  33-20 NSP with 14:27 to play.  Finally some shots start falling for Tartan.  They knock down 3 bombs.  Then Goodnews Kpegeol commits his 4th foul with 10:04 left.  Kimmons makes 1 of the 2 free throws.  Good timeout at that point from North St. Paul as they lead 38-34.

Brenden Lankford getting to the rim uncontested as the ballhandler in the pick and roll for 2 easy layups.  He's been a center for as long as I can remember. But tonight he handled the ball quite a bit and adeptly at that.  M'akil Weems with a couple of buckets to counter that for Tartan as the Titans stay within 6.  Then a big momentum 3 from Dean at the 5:50 mark to put the Polars up 9 and the crowd loves it.

Tartan isn't done.  Kimmons puts back a miss off a turnover.  Weeks drives for 2 tough hoops.  Kimmons converts another turnover into a free throw.  47-45 NSP hanging on with 2:05 left.  They will hold it.  Tartan lets it go before giving their 1 final foul with 52.8 left.  They'll go for a steal on the inbound but foul which pays off because the front end is missed.  Andre Jenkins-Whitmore attacks and scores with 31 seconds left and we're all tied.  North St. Paul gets it to the front court and takes time with 13.7 left.  Kpegeol gets the inbounds and attacks.  He misses but gets it back and is fouled with 3 seconds left.  He makes both.  Tartan gets 1 last chance but a desperation attempt from 3 is no good.  North St. Paul wins a thriller 49-47.


Post Game:
Tartan finishes 22-5 overall, 12-4 in the Metro East (3rd).  That's a impressive season for a group that only had Kimmons coming back from a very experienced and talented group last year.  They'll have a ton returning next year including Kimmons.  Antwan Kimmons finishes with 12 points to lead the Titans.  M'Alik Weems with good minutes off the bench and 10 points.

North St. Paul improves to 23-5 and they won the Metro West at 15-1.  They will play Cretin-Derham Hall Saturday at 7 PM in Hastings.  Nobody reached double figures in scoring for the Polars.  Brenden Lankford with 9 points to lead the way.  Goodnews Kpegeol with 8.  Dajuan Carter with 8 off the bench.  Carter and Lankford will be the backbone of the roster next year as the Polars lose 7 seniors who played tonight.

Strategy Session:
Now lets get to the fun stuff.  Let's start with the final play call.  Nothing fancy.  Just get the ball inbounds to Kpegeol via a box set and zipper screen for him.  Then straight 1-4 low.  I thought Weems did a very nice job on him all night but the offensive rebound was a killer and he made the clutch free throws.  Coach Johnson also made a point of trying to immediately snuff out any Tartan run as he took a quick timeout in each half to stop runs and keep the lead.  None of this MoKiller wait until we score nonsense.

The defensive scheme that NSP had was really interesting to watch too.  It was executed well and a very sound plan.  For the 1st significant stretch of the half, they went 1-3-1 zone.  With their length and athletes, a very reasonable defensive choice.  Tartan definitely not a shooting team and it showed up tonight.  Despite that success, for the last 10-12 minutes of each half, the Polars switched to man defense.  OK that also makes sense since that is their standard.  But I loved the idea that they not only faceguarded Kimmons out of it, they decided to take the nearest 2nd defender and double him on any catch.  Side note: I once did something similar to McKinley Wright in fall league with great impact and he was not at all pleased.  This man to man idea totally took Kimmons out of the game and those doubles forced him to turn it over initially.  Kimmons had 3 field goals and 2 of them were putbacks.  He did wonders for himself by attacking the glass for rebounds on both ends.  North didn't even save the double team portion as a 2nd half wrinkle which would have been a very reasonable tactic as well.  Tartan had more success against the man as they were able to attack off the bounce.  But the zone kept Tartan very off balance as well.  They did have some short corner success in the 1st half and NSP quickly adjusted and got out of it.  Overall, hat tip to Damien Johnson and his staff

A battle of American Legends

Prologue
Its the start of the local 3 week state tournament season.   The season breaks into 4 short parts.  We begin part 1 with opening round play.  Big and small schools in action tonight.  I decide to take in a regular season rematch in section 4AA.  That's St. Paul Washington at Minneapolis Edison. Edison won only 2 games after Christmas but one of them was at home vs Washington by 6 on the final Saturday of January.  Washington with only 1 played win after the holiday.  Its 12 vs 13 and while it may not be pretty, it should be entertaining.  If nothing else, the legendary American figures these names represent makes for a good title.  Late arrival so I leave the concessions alone.

Number of Teams I've Seen: 146 (165 games, 96 days, 51 buildings, 26 online)

Beverage Ticker: 1128.1 ounces (12410 Calories)
  • Pepsi: 304.5 ounces (3800 calories)
  • Coke: 229.8 ounces (2740 calories) 
  • Dr. Pepper: 72 ounces (900 calories)
  • Sprite Zero: 20 ounces (0 calories) 
  • Sprite: 208.9 ounces (2480 calories) 
  • 7 Up: 36 ounces (420 calories)
  • Red Gatorade: 140 ounces (980 calories)  
  • Red Powerade: 40 ounces (260 calories) 
  • A&W Root Beer: 36 ounces (510 calories) 
  • Mug Root Beer: 12 ounces (160 calories) 
  • Barq's Root Beer: 12 ounces (160 calories)
Food Ticker:
  • Hot Dogs: 28
  • Walking Tacos:8
  • Pizza: 22
  • Pulled Pork Sandwich: 1
  • Chipotle: 1 (thanks to Bethel staff and Chipotle Gal)
Game Time:
Story of the early1st half is Abdi Wasa Farah.  He scores the 1st 8 Edison points with a pair of triples.  Then he'll add a couple free throws, another triple and another bucket.  He has 15 of the 1st 21 Tommies points.  That helps Edison to a 21-8 lead at the 10:15 mark.  Edison also hammering Washington on the offensive board.  Edison's offense would leave them though as they go the next 7:35 with only 1 field goal.  Washington goes on a 11-2 run during that time.  Spoh Drew White with a free throw, triple and floater for 6 points in that run.  23-19 Edison at 2:50.  Edison finishes the half strong with 7 of the last 8 points.  Farah with his last points of the night on his 4th triple.  That gives him 18 at the break.  Edison 30-20 lead at the half.

Ahmed Mohamed 3 early hoops and 2 free throws for Edison.  White with a couple of left wing 3s.  Soph Zaveon Smith with a free throw and drive for 2 and the Edison lead is down to 40-36.  Then its another Mohamed bucket, this one via inbounds and Jackson Rusnacko with a 3 point play.  45-36 Edison with 12:09 left.  Then an Edison technical after a foul with 9:47 left.  Washington misses the front end of the bonus and then misses both technicals.  After the early rally, this is a deflating stretch.

Kshui Harris-McCalister with a 3 on the possession.  Then an Edison turnover and White turns that into a 3 point play.  Then Jackson Carver puts back his own miss and its an 8-0 Eagles run.  The lead is down to 1 with 8:35 left and its game on.  White adds 2 free throw to tie it at 46 with 7:53 left.  The offenses struggle but Smith converts a turnover and its Jamen Hines with the floater and Washington has the lead with 4:25 left.  Mokiller Timeout Eagles with 4:02 left and a 50-48 lead.  14-3 run for Washington as once again the Edison offense disappears.  1 FT this 8 minute stretch for the Tommies.

But Washington won't score another bucket.  Jermain Cornell with the drive for 2 and adds 2 free throws.  That keeps Edison within 53-52 with 2:25 left.  Washington turns it over and its Montrea Talabi scoring on a BLOB with 2 minutes left.  Tommies back on top 54-53.  Harris-McCallister with 2 freebies around an Edison timeout.  Then Edison misses and Washington promptly turns it over.  Edison can't get a look vs the zone and they'll turn it over with 48 seconds left.  Edison finally sends Harris-McCallister back to the charity stripe with 28 seconds left.  After a timeout to ice him, he calmly drains both.  57-54 Washington in the lead.

Then a wild ending.  Edison again not finding any offense and Jackson Rusnacko is fouled with 13 seconds left.  He misses both bonus free throws but Talabi gets not 1, not 2 but 3 chances at the miss and puts it back with about 5 seconds left.  Edison didn't take a timeout, TICK TICK TICK, but Washington lobs it in anyways when they could have just held it.  Its tipped right in front of the Edison rim and White may have gotten a way with a tick tack foul but barely comes up with it as time expires.  Washington wins 57-56.


Post Game
Edison finishes their season 6-21, 1-11 in the Minneapolis City.  Abdi Wasa Farah with all 18 of his points in the 1st half to lead the Tommies.  He knocked down 4 3s vs the Washington zone.  Nice job of screening the baseline guys in the zone to get open looks by the Tommies.  But they mysteriously got away from it in the 2nd half.  Most of the roster returns next season.

13 seed Washington advances to play at 5 seed St. Croix Prep on Thursday night in the 2nd round.  The winner of that gets an early Saturday afternoon trip to 4 seed Trinity.  Soph Drew White with 21 points and 4 3s to lead the Eagles.  I hadn't seen that level of shooting from him previously.  The game changed when he was the guy moved to the middle of the zone offense with about 10 minutes left in the game.  With the struggles the Eagles against that defense until then, its very surprising the move wasn't made much sooner.  Soph Zaveon Smith with 10 of his 16 in the 2nd half as the other Eagle in double figures.  Kshui Harris-McCalister came up big with all 8 of his points in the 2nd half.  He hit the clutch 3 after the technical to get the momentum started.  Then cool under pressure with all 4 free throws in the last 1:51.  Jackson Carver gave them a calming presence handling the ball amongst the Edison chaos.  He was the guy I was begging to see in the middle of the zone to see what he could create from there.

2018 Mr Basketball Final 5 Commentary

The Mr Basketball Committee has announced their 5 finalist for the 2018 Mr Basketball award.  Here they are alphabetically.

Tre Jones - Apple Valley
Gabe Kalscheur - De La Salle
Owen King - Caledonia
Daniel Oturu - Cretin-Derham Hall
Calvin Wishart - Delano

Jones, Kalscheur and Oturu are absolutely no surprise and obviously deserving.  You know the Gopher commits would be highly represented on this list and we get 2 of them.  Caledonia's Owen King had a big year and the Warriors lost to the top 2 teams in AA by a total of 6 points.  Not to mention high level wins against St. Cloud Cathedral, Lake City and Byron.  King was terrific in the Minnehaha game.  He's very worthy as well.   All 4 were dominant factors for their teams.

Now for the 5th spot.  Calvin Wishart had a monster year for Delano and is definitely their difference maker.  Fantastic individual numbers there.  The knock is the team record.  The season has not matched high expectations with only a 15-11 record and 5-5 in their tough league.  Plus some of those big games were blowout losses, see Edina and Eden Prairie just to name a couple.  This is for a team that came into the season as a team mentioned in the same league with De La Salle, Orono and Austin for best in AAA. 

I think the same argument of team success applies to Michael Jones at Woodbury despite not having the level of expectations.  His season was fantastic carrying the offense.  Ugly blowouts to start the year vs Lakeville N and Wayzata started a pattern of not winning big games.  But they did get a big one over North St. Paul and with the gang up vote of the Suburban East coaches got the 3 seed.

Sy Chatman and Matt Todd are victims of better options in front of them.  CDH already had Oturu in the final 3 so I wouldn't put another player from there.  Matt Todd a big season but I'd take Jones against a big school schedule.  Odell Wilson part of a loaded roster and also had a terrific season but he's not at the level of my 5th pick.

That leaves Jarvis Omersa would have gotten my 5th vote.  Orono making the late season run with 15 straight wins.  That includes a sweep of the very tough Wright County East schedule that includes Delano.  Plus they beat Monticello and Matt Todd.  They have no bad losses on the schedule and they had plenty of chances to win the CDH and Minnehaha games.  Obviously the Gopher resume helps but he has the double double numbers with team success to back this up.

2018 Section Predictions

Its time for my annual Better Than Chalk section predictions.  The idea here (and I've actually been successful) is to pick the bracket better than if you picked just high seeds.  Because anybody can pick the high seeds and have a great percentage.  Better Than Chalk means picking the upset seeds and having it be right.  Of course we all know its better to be lucky than good.  But having almost everybody that I previewed, hopefully there's enough there to be Better Than Chalk again.   So we'll work backwards from big to small.

Section 8AAAA
Maple Grove no problems in round 1 with Brainerd.  4 STMA won at 5 Elk River in their season opener.  Plus the Elks have lost 8 of their 10.  STMA moves on. 3 Rogers has to work but holds off 6 Buffalo for the 3rd time with the 2 having just played.  2 St. Cloud Tech struggled with 7 Moorhead during the regular season but Tech is better now.  Tech moves on and its not as close as the 3 point regular season meeting.

Maple Grove takes out STMA in the semis.  The other semi should be a dandy.  Tech beat Rogers by 2 in the regular season   Rogers has won 12 of their last 14 after a 2-5 start.  Jordan Belka is a handful but I like how Tech matches up here. Tech wins another close one.

Maple Grove has been better than expected to earn the 1 seed and with solid guard play plus Alex Battist inside they've earned the top seed.  But this is the year Tech was looking at, they're still the deeper team.  I I'll take Tech here but Maple Grove's shooting will have to be dealt with.

7AAAA
1 seed Forest Lake no problems with St. Francis in the 1st round.  Andover and Coon Rapids split the regular sesaon with Andover's home win a couple weeks ago getting them the home game here.  Coin flip this 4 vs 5 game and give me Andover at home since they've seen Coon Rapids twice.  That should allow Andover to play their disciplined pace.  The 2 vs 7 Father vs Son rematch just got an extra dose of juice added to it when Duluth East beat the Bluejackets by 15 on Friday.  Cambridge-Isanti wins the rematch on their court.  Anoka lost 10 of 13 coming home but stayed within striking distance of Blaine twice.  3 seed Blaine wins again as Anoka tries to keep the game slow.

No miracle run for Andover this year as Forest Lake gets them in the semis. Andover doesn't have enough firepower.  Blaine has lost 5 out of 6 down the stretch and lost to Cambridge-Isanti at home in their season opener.  That was the 2nd game for the Bluejackets which is a big advantage.  Plus C-I has played a game at Chisago Lakes so they have familiarity with the gym.  In the words of Lee Corso, not so fast my friends.  Give me that Bengal head gear.  Too much Ray Mitchell and I think Blaine gets on the glass and gets to shooters.

In the final, the Mitchell vs Manny Jingco matchup is very appealing.  Forest Lake won the regular season matchup by 16.  The Rangers have also struggled down the stretch losing 6 of their last 9 and the wins were a stolen OT game at Stillwater, at Park and at Mounds View.  Not impressive wins.  Expect a grind it out affair here too.  I think Forest Lake is more consistent so I'll take them to move on

6AAAA
Top seed Hopkins gets the opening bye thanks to only 7 teams in the section.  Joe Hyser's South team sneaks up on people but they go to Armstrong who's beaten Osseo and Totino-Grace in February and just won at Blaine on Friday.  Armstrong moves on in the 4 vs 5 game.  Wayzata no problems with Southwest in the 2 vs 7 game.  St. Louis Park and Washburn is the 3 vs 6 game with the Orioles having the 17 point regular season home win in early December.  But this is an upset pick.  Cire Mayfield out for St. Louis Park if I understand correctly.  St. Louis Park totally different without him as shown in a Friday loss to Chanhassen.  Washburn has only 1 decent win since Christmas but I'm still going to take Washburn here.

If Armstrong still had Race Thompson this semi would be much more interesting.  But have to take Hopkins here.  Wayzata takes out Washburn in the other semifinal  Both winners way too much firepower.

Wayzata was absolutely clinical last year in the section final vs Hopkins.  Hopkins won't forget that and their size was destructive in a Hopkins blowout win a couple weeks ago.  Give me Hopkins here.

5AAAA
1st round is very straight forward.  Top seed Park Center no problems with Mounds View.  Ditto that for 2 seed Champlin Park over Centennial.  Spring Lake Park is tough at home including a 10 pt regular season loss to Roseville.  This time they meet at Roseville. Roseville moves on.  Osseo likely without Zach Theisen but they still have enough to take out Irondale.

As to the semis, Champlin Park is rolling with 14 straight wins.  Osseo got them in the regular season but even if Osseo was 100% healthy I still like the Rebels here.  Park Center moves on in the other semifinal.

Champlin Park won at Park Center a month ago in a game I saw.  Bennett Otto came up big in that game.  I think Park Center has enough to slow Josiah Strong down plus enough offense of their own to win the grudge match.  Defensively Park Center's athletes can hold the Rebels in check so I like that matchup.  Dain Dainja is also an important difference but he missed a big chunk of February.

4AAAA
What a section we have here.  Top seed Cretin-Derham Hall no problems with Stillwater.  The 4 vs 5 game is a real doozy and the best one on the 4 vs 5 list we'll cover here.  Its a big rivalry game with 5 seed Tartan going to 4 seed and Metro East champ North St. Paul.  These teams split 2 tight games on home court.  PG Antawn Kimmons has been electric for Tartan but North St. Paul's size is a problem.  They'll need a big game from Goodnews Kpegeol to move on.  With home court, I think they barely survive and advance.

Woodbury despite a 15-11 record got the 3 seed over NSP thanks to a head to head win.  What do they get, a 3rd meeting with White Bear Lake.  The teams split 2 close games on home court during the regular season.  WBL winning by 4 at home a couple weeks ago.  Their size represents a real problem for Woodbury.  But Michael Jones is a problem for everybody.  Woodbury also moves on in a tight one because of home court.  And don't overlook the 2 vs 7 game here.  2 seed East Ridge won by 6 at 7 seed St Paul Central in the regular season.  The Minutemen have the athleticism to bother East Ridge.  The Daveonte Davis vs Courtney Brown matchup is a very good one to watch as both can play inside and out.  East Ridge wins at home but it won't be your typical 2 vs 7 walk in the park.

The semifinals here are absolutely stacked as all 4 teams have been ranked during the season.  Ryan Larson's health still a question for CDH and NSP might be as well equipped as anybody to deal with the size of Oturu and Chatman.  That's a relative statement of course as nobody else besides Hopkins has a pair like that.  Jacob Prince will slow down Goodnews Kpegeol enough for CDH to move on.  Then the district rivalry between Woodbury and East Ridge.   These teams split the regular season with each winning on the road.  The East Ridge youth can only get better with more games.  I think they slow down Michael Jones just enough to advance.

Cretin-Derham Hall takes out East Ridge in the final.  East Ridge will have their day but its CDH's year.  The Raptors have had no answer for the Raiders this season.  Daniel Oturu has been absolutely dominant in those games.

3AAAA
Speaking of YUCK, Apple Valley is the only team over .500 in this section.  Eastview is the 2 seed at 10-16.  Enough said.  Apple Valley rolls over Rosemount in round 1.  Hastings takes out Burnsville.  Park has fallen apart without Charlie Gorres and fell all the way to 7 despite wins over Sibley and Hastings.  Eastview is a bad draw for them and the Lightning move on.  I think Eagan was a bad draw for Sibley.  Eagan playing better with wins over Eastview and Burnsville in the last couple of weeks.  Sibley going thru a very rough 2nd half of the season.  I'll take Eagan here.

Apple Valley steamrolls thru their semifinal.  Eastview won a close meeting with Hastings in the regular season.  Both teams run a lot of sets and execute very well.  Hastings matches up with their size vs Machacek and Crowl for Eastview.  Eastview pulls it out late.

Its hard to beat a team 3 times.  Yes it is.  It doesn't matter here.  Apple Valley moves on with too much Tre Jones.

2AAAA
Another section of death.  Top seed Eden Prairie could have the benefit of playing all home games to make state which I have a huge problem with.  No way a team should be playing a home semifinal and especially not a home championship game.  Chaska takes out Minnetonka in the 4 vs 5 game that should be very competitive.  3 seed Edina gets no picnic with Shakopee but they have enough firepower to move on.  Prior Lake got the 2 seed thanks to their head to head win over Edina.  But no other good local AAAA wins.  Prior Lake's size will bother Jefferson as they want to get basket cutting stuff.  Jefferson is a nightmare matchup with their execution and they'll drive the Lakers nuts.  But Prior Lake will hang on and advance.

Eden Prairie at home took out Chaska by 12 over the holidays.  They'll grind out another win here.  Then Prior Lake and Edina in the rematch of a thriller that I saw.  Edina had no answer for Prior Lake's size.  Robert Jones was a defensive monster and if it wasn't for a big game from Luke Glenna, Edina would have been blown out. But Prior Lake outside of the Edina win lost all their other big local AAAA games (2 to Apple Valley, 2 to Lakeville N and 1 to Minnetonka).  Edina has had success pulling teams bigs away from the rim with pick and roll (see CDH).  They do it here and win the rematch.

Then a fun rubber match in the section final.  Edina won by 17 at home while EP won by 9 at home.  Guard play all over the place with stoppers in force.  DJ Johnson for Anders Nelson and Luke Glenna for Drake Dobbs.  Both teams have a ton of shooters.  Eden Prairie with home court moves on plus Austin Andrews gives the Eagles a better inside presence.

1AAAA
Don't sleep on this section.  No 1st round upsets.  Lakeville N, Rochester JM, Owatonna and Lakeville South all move on.  But Farmington is just coming off a win vs Lakeville North.  South has been up and down but they'll sneak out another home win over the Tigers.

Then a pair of league matchups in the semis.  JM has handled Owatonna twice.  JM wins again but Owatonna keeps it close.  Then let's play the Lakeville rivalry in Rochester, travel sigh.  Rivalry games are wicked.  Too much firepower from North and then move on.

Then another dose of kryptonite.  North and JM meet for the 6th straight year in the section final.  Get there super early for the Saturday afternoon affair because its in the small gym (thank you Three Dog Night?) and should be absolutely jam packed.  Matt Hurt has another monster game but not enough help.  Lakeville North beats JM for the 6th straight year in the final.

6AAA
Another brutal year in 6AAA with every team at or above 500.  1 De La Salle takes out 8 Henry (how did they not get 7th seed?) in round 1.  2 Orono takes out 7 Mound-Westonka.  Then a couple of compelling matchups in the middle.  4 Waconia won by 12 at 5 Benilde-St. Margaret's in the regular season.  I like Waconia at home but BSM has a workable matchup here to keep it tight.  Expect a slow methodical game there.  6 Roosevelt won by 3 at 3 seed Cooper in early December.  Leo Buchwald didn't play against Washburn this week and that would be a big loss.  Deszi Sims more than capable of carrying the Teddies to the upset win.  but I also like this matchup for Cooper.  Cooper wins a tight one at home in a game that will be helter skelter and entertaining.

De La Salle and Orono get the semifinal home games.  De La Salle takes out Waconia on the island.  Cooper with no good matchup for Jarvis Omersa but they should be able to pressure the Orono guards.  Orono in a fun one.

Then the matchup that everybody wants.  Orono vs De La Salle.  Again no matchup for Omersa but Jamison Battle is a matchup problem on the other side.  This is a state tourney championship level game at Chanhassen in a great atmosphere.  Expect a classic with De La Salle coming out on top.

4AAA
Columbia Heights no problem with Hill-Murray in round 1.  In many other matchups, Johnson would be an easy pick as the 5 seed.  But they're the 5 seed because they've lost to Fridley twice.  Its a bad matchup for the Govs and Fridley gets them for a 3rd time.  2 seed Mahtomedi no problem with Como Park  3 seed Totino-Grace advances vs St. Anthony.

Columbia Heights matches up well with Fridley and handled them twice in the regular season.  I see that again.  Totino-Grace vs Mahtomedi is very interesting.  Mahtomedi relies on balance.  When Will Schmidt gets it going as a shooting 4 man, the Eagles are tough to deal with.  I think Mahtomedi's execution carries the day to get enough offense.  I think they find a way to slow down Schmidt or Charlie Jacob to limit the Totino-Grace offense.

In the final, Mahtomedi's execution will drive Columbia Heights nuts.  But Heights can speed the game up and get them out of their stuff.  That's the difference and Heights moves on.

3AAA
Top seed St. Thomas Academy no problem with Richfield.  Markel Aune will put some numbers against 2 seed St. Croix Lutheran but the Crusaders still take out 7 seed Kennedy.  3 seed Harding and 6 Highland Park split in the regular season. This will be a very tight game.  I take Jovan Christian at the buzzer for Harding to advance.  South St. Paul beat Holy Angels in the regular season so I'm a bit surprised that SSP has the go on the road for this one.  Just think about that statement for a minute considering the last decade of SSP basketball.  Expect a nail biter here with Holy Angels winning at home.

St. Thomas Academy and St. Croix Lutheran both roll in the semifinals.

Then a fun matchup in the final between those 2.  Garrett Maag and Sam Vascellaro going at it would be a fun matchup to see.  Both teams are battle tested in tough games all season.  Shooting will be a big key here.  St Croix Lutheran can shoot it well enough to win on any night.  But they've also had plenty of nights where they've gone cold.  I like St. Thomas Academy here as I think they have more margin for error.
 
1AAA
Not a full prediction here but I include Simley games from here since they are no longer in 3AAA.  They'll take out Red Wing in the 1st round at home as the 3 seed.  But I have them losing to Northfield in round 2 down in Rochester.

5AA
Only 14 teams here so that means only 6 1st round home games with the top 2 receiving byes to the quarters at STMA.  Holy Family over ISM, Breck over HLWW and Maranatha over PACT should be blowouts.  The other 3 games are interesting.  9 seed Providence lost by 2 at Litchfield early in the year.  Providence wins if they get to 50 but I don't see that happening.  Lots of guard play in the 7 SW Christian vs 10 Blake game.  Blake won by 8 at home in February.  Give me the 10 seed here in a tight one.  6 seed Rockford has won a pair of close ones vs Watertown-Mayer, they'll do it again.

In the quarters, North no problem with Litchfield.  Breck knocks off Maranatha again in a good 4 vs 5 game.  Too much David Roddy.  Holy Family gets another win over Rockford in the 3 vs 6 game.  Brooklyn Center wins a high scoring affair vs Blake.

North vs Breck is an interesting David Roddy vs Odell Wilson matchup.  The rest is all North and the Polars advance.  Brooklyn Center vs Holy Family is a rematch of Brooklyn Center winning by 6 at Holy Family in early December.  Holy Family knocked out the Centaurs in the 1 vs 8 game in St. Michael last year.  Holy Family is battle tested, very experienced and can shoot it.  Brooklyn Center is still relatively young and I haven't liked their defense all year.  Outscoring people will get you to a certain point, but that road ends here.  Holy Family wins the rematch.

If there's a team in the section that can knock North out, its Holy Family.  North should get a serious wake up call in this one but at the end of the day, its too much Polars.  Of course its also wonderful that this game is being played at St. Cloud State.  The 5AA/6AA championship doubleheader at Halenbeck Hall is great tradition.  But with so many metro teams now in the bracket that idea needs to be re-evaluated.  Wayzata, Osseo, Chanhassen, Hopkins, Maple Grove are just a few sites that would make a lot of sense.

Now we get to the goofy stuff.  4A and 4AA have decided to switch their format.  The top 4 seeds automatically receive double byes to Saturday's quarterfinals.  So they now only have to play 3 games to make state instead of 4 in the past.  The 5-8 seeds still open on Thursday.  But the 9-12 seeds now have to open on Tuesday in pigtail games vs the bottom seeds.  Then they get to play the 5 vs 12, 8 vs 9 etc games.  This is where my picks will be made or be broken.

4AA
Path 1: 9 Humboldt def 8 Charter Stars
Path 2: 13 Washington over 12 Edison, then lose to 5 seed St Croix Prep.  St. Croix Prep then beats 4 seed Trinity.
Path 3: 11 St. Agnes over 14 St. Paul Prep/HSRA then lose to 6 seed Concordia.  Concordia then falls to 3 New Life
Path 4: 10 Nova over 15 AFSA, then Nova def 7 St. Paul Academy.  Nova then falls to 2 seed Cristo Rey.

Humboldt has struggled down the stretch but they did beat the Charter Stars by 10 in the regular season.  Seems like I've picked against the Stars all year (to my sorrow) so for fun lets continue the theme.

Washington lost at Edison in the regular season but I think Washington has more talent than that record indicates with a young roster.  St. Croix Prep beat Trinity in regular season MCAA play before losing the 3rd place game of the MCAA tourney by 2 to the Tri-Hawks.  I think Prep gets it done here.

St. Agnes disciplined enough to move on vs HSRA but they'll lose a 3rd time to Concordia.  Then a tough 3 vs 6 rematch still goes to New Life.  New Life won the regular season game with Concordia by 8 in a low scoring affair.  New Life's size too much and Concordia won't turn the Eagles over (foreshadowing)

Nova should blow out AFSA.  Then a rematch of a regular season 4 point loss at SPA.  I like an upset here.  Then too much Cristo Rey in the quarters.

That leaves us with 1 Minnehaha vs 5 St. Croix Prep and 2 Cristo Rey vs 3 New Life Academy in the semis.  Minnehaha rolls as they are too big and athletic.  New Life's size is a problem for Cristo Rey but Cristo Rey will be able to force some turnovers but I don't see enough of that and New Life survives.

New Life's size and style gives them a chance to keep the game manageable.  But Minnehaha is just a higher level Maranatha team that was able to force New Life turnovers almost at will.  That's the issue the Eagles face in trying to pull the upset.  Too much Minnehaha here and they'll go back to state to continue their title defense run.

4A
Now we get really messy.  We have Monday night games that could be snowed out and the winners have to play Tuesday with another round on Thursday followed by the entry of the top 4 seeds on Saturday.  As I've long said with section 4A, rule of the pigtail games is always pick chalk. So that means 14 Community of Peace over 19 Metro Schools College Prep, 15 Legacy over 18 Lincoln International and 16 MN Transitions over 17 Hmong Academy (a repeat of early in the season).  Those are the 3 Monday games.

On Tuesday, the 9 thru 13 seeds enter.  9 seed Groves gets 16 MTS and I'll take MTS here.  MTS has 2 wins over Liberty Classical who beat Groves twice in TCAC D2 play.  13 seed Chesterton some how just knocked off TCAC D3 regular season winner Calvin Christian in the TCAC tourney.  They split with 12 North Lakes in the regular season and won on the road.  I'll pick it again.  11 Hope Academy took 2 out of 3 from Community of Peace this year. That includes an 11 point road win last week in the TCAC tourney.  I'll take Hope again with the idea of another big game from Caleb Hoilien.  The 15 Legacy at 10 Calvin Christian game is sneaky close despite the mismatch of records.  Both lost big to PACT and Legacy has played bigger schools while Calvin played D3 TCAC.  Calvin hangs on at home thanks to Jaeden Schaap but expect it to be single digits.

On Thursday, here come the 5 thru 8 seeds.  The Cinderella run of MTS comes to an end here vs 8 West Lutheran.  The Warriors beat MTS in the Calvin Christian holiday tourney and get another W here.  5 seed Heritage no problem with 13 seed Chesterton.  6 Mounds Park Academy takes out 11 Hope Academy.   7 Liberty Classical Academy won by 8 at Calvin Christian in early December.  They'll win another close one here.

Then the top 4 come in on Saturday.  1 CHOF no problems in their rematch with 8 West Lutheran.  5 Heritage knocks out 4 Learning for Leadership.   6 Mounds Park Academy vs 3 Christian Life is a toss up.  I like Mounds Park Academy's big school schedule to help them here.  2 Prairie Seeds no problem with 7 Liberty Classical in the final quarterfinal.

In the semis, CHOF wins a end of season rematch with Heritage.  Prairie Seeds takes out Mounds Park Academy.  I see double digits in both of those.

Then the rematch of CHOF and Prairie Seeds from late in the regular season.  Prairie Seeds kept the game close despite not playing with 3 important guys.  That includes Peter Anderson and Emmanuel Jones who are back in the lineup now.  Prairie Seeds will be motivated after being section runner up to North the last 2 years.  Give me Prairie Seeds.

2A
Now for those of you who read on twitter (and if you don't, start now! @tchoopsczar), you'll know that I'm already 1-0 for my predictions.  I took the free center square by taking 7 seed Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity over winless 10 seed Sleepy Eye St. Mary's on Thursday  But the Bulldogs run ends with a loss at 2 seed BOLD on Monday.