Shine the Light

Night 2 of the 2021-22 season takes me to Concordia Academy for their season opener vs Kaleidoscope.  This trip is usually one of my more miserable and dangerous trips due to weather and traffic but I beat both tonight.  I was able to enjoy my first hot dog at a high school game since the pandemic began.  In the words of the real Billy Crystal (not the ref), simply MAHVELOUS.  Even that awful beverage known as Coke couldn't spoil the experience.  Fun blackout and spotlights for both team intros.  Yes the Chicago Bulls thing is played out but since I'm from that era, it never gets old.  

Song of the Day: Blinding Lights - The Weeknd

Food And Beverage Counter:
Hot Dogs: 1
Coke: 12 oz

Game Time
East Ridge transfer Lorenzo Levy starting at the point for Concordia.  Kaleidoscope going all Jordan Bohannon/Jess Settles/Brad Davison with 3 juniors in the starting lineup who seem like they've been there for a million years.  The Comets hanging around early before AJ Greene heats up for Concordia.  He scores 3 out of 4 buckets for the Beacons as they stretch the lead to 28-14 at the 9:07 mark.  Michael Jude with a pair of 3s for Kaleidoscope to try and keep them close.  Then its bombs away for Concordia and not Kaleidoscope.  Greene keeps his streak going with a pair of bombs in a 4 bucket stretch.  Kaleidscope not guarding the 3 point line or the paint.  The lead explodes to 56-26 at the half.

AJ Kargel sits out the 2nd half for Kaleidoscope with an apparent injury (hand maybe?).  No need to risk him in this one.  The teams trade buckets to start the half.  Then Concordia runs off the next 21 points thanks to a 5 of 7 stretch from deep.  4 straight turnovers for 7 Concordia points in that run too.  68-28 with 13:44 left as the run progresses.  Garbage time from there.  Concordia wins 89-44.

Post Game
Kaleidoscope opens the season 0-1.  Their star PG Michael Jude leads the way with 17 points, 11 in the 1st half.  He made 5 triples.  Mathew Aasen works his way to 14 points inside.  That leaves only 13 points for the rest of the roster.  AJ Kargel scoreless in his limited minutes.  They go home for 2 very winnable games against Lakes International and Chesterton next week.  Then only 1 home game until January 19th.  Defensively whether it was man or their 1-1-3 zone, very little resistance.  Many of the Concordia triples, way too easy.  Swing swing bang.  But I did like their offensive rebounding.  Yes some of that is because of all the 3s they take. But for an undersized team, they get more of those than you expect.

Concordia starts the season 1-0.  They get a week off before hosting United Christian.  Then they go on the road to start league play at New Life.  The Beacons knock down a school record 15 3s from 5 players on the way to the win.  Junior shooter Luc Swanson with 6 of those on his way to 18 points.  AJ Greene with 18 of his game high 23 points in the 1st half.  David Erickson chips in with 12 points.  Soph PG Lorenzo Levy 13 points and a bunch of assists in this one.  I liked what I saw from Levy.  Quick, good passer and shooter plus a good amount of swagger to boot.  Great addition for the Beacons.  It totally changes how they look from last year when AJ Greene was the guy with the ball in his hands most of the time.  Now he's playing in a more natural spot off the ball. 

Czar Insights

For details on exactly what the value in the chart mean, click here for the full explanation of Czar Insights. Interesting stat of of the night was 0 FT attempts for Concordia.  They do win the other 3 Four Factors categories though.  The 3 point shooting     15-33 for Concordia compared to 5-24 for Kaleidoscope.  Concordia to largely keep the Comets from generating points in transition too.  25-4 Concordia edge taking advantage of 16 Kaleidoscope turnovers.

For some stupid reason the image for Czar Insights won't upload here at the moment so here's a link to it on Twitter

2021-22 Season Opener, Dragon style

Season 15 gets underway and why not get a new building and road trip out of the way on night number 1.  I'm off to Lakes International Language Academy in Forest Lake to see the Dragons take on Liberty Classical Academy in the season opener.  This is a rare conference game to start the season.  Since its me, no surprise that its the EMAC.  Had to weave thru the crowd attending the musical/play that was going on across the hall.  Sadly no concessions or programs but we'll make do.

Game Time
Senior guard Cameron Lacy out of the Liberty lineup.  Junior forward Trent Verbeek still providing enough star power with 3 other juniors and a senior in the lineup.  LILA going with 3 sophomores in their starting lineup.  This one was out of hand pretty quickly.  Liberty gets the 1st 7 points of the game and never looks back.  Turnovers starting about midway thru the 1st half allowed this one to get out of hand.  8 turnovers in an 11 possession stretch turn result in a 17-3 run.  33-7 Liberty at that point.  A 7-0 run across halftime sees the lead briefly dip under 20 points.. But Liberty is too big inside for a young LILA lineup.  They pound the glass inside and run away to a 77-32 win.

Post Game
Lakes International Language Academy starts their season 0-1 overall and in the EMAC.  Junior wing Jake Fakler leads the Dragons with 15 points including 3 triples.  Senior guard Joe Navratil adds 12 points.  But only 5 other points from the rest of the roster.  That looks like a season long issue.  They tried 2-3 zone to start and then some 1-2-2 with Fakler on top to change it up but no great answers for the height inside.  Quick turnaround for the Dragons as they go back to back at Nova Classical.  Next week they visit Kaleidoscope before returning home to EMAC play vs Community of Peace on Thursday.

Liberty Classical Academy starts the season 1-0 overall and in the EMAC.  Forward Trent Verbeek leads the Lions with 20 points and a couple of threes.  14 of those points coming in the first half.  Daniel Kneen also very productive banging inside.  He adds 16 points, 10 in the second half.  Great balance with 5 other players having between 6 and 9 points. They too will play Nova next, but not until Tuesday.  That's part of a 2 game home stand with AFSA as the other game.  Then a 3 game road trip starting with a tough game vs recent rival Avail on Monday Dec 13th.  More on Avail on Monday when they have a big EMAC game with Hiawatha.

Czar Insights

For details on exactly what the value in the chart mean, click here for the full explanation of Czar Insights.  Most notable value here is a 50-8 advantage on points in the paint.  Liberty wins 3 of the Four Factors












Introducing Czar Insights, a new visual Game Summary

Changing with the Times

The Czar's 15th season of games here in cyberspace launches Thursday with the 2021-22 season opener.  As with anything over a long period of time, it takes on a life of its own and evolves.  Last year brought a ton more video and that's not going away.  While I'm hopeful that we'll be able to spend much more time in the gym this season, video expands the amount of teams and games that can be seen.  That's all for the better. 

Video is a beautiful thing as you can go back and rewind to see replays and/or to get accurate stats amongst other things.  All sports have seen analytics explode over recent years.  Its also no secret that I enjoy the number crunching.  So its a very natural area for me to dive into in this forum.  I've taken a stab at some of those stats with 3 different Four Factors studies over the years.  The next progression, with the help of video, was writing up Four Factors data on a game by game basis that you saw last season.  

Therefore, its only fitting in this milestone season 15 that there's another evolution. This year I've taken that stats package and put it in the weight room for the entire offseason.  So after all of that number crunching, the time is now.

I now present ...Czar Insights!

Visual Game Summary

Czar Insights is my new and expanded visual game summary.  I had 2 main ideas when putting this together.  The first idea is to be visual.  Too often stats are just listing a bunch of numbers and it can hard to see context and relationships between data.  I've attempted to put data that can be compared right next to each other for that reason.  Color coding and graphs make it easier to draw those conclusions while still showing the meaningful numbers.  Many of the display ideas are incorporated from college and/or NBA locations.  

The second idea was to be concise.  The balance between displaying too much and too little is always difficult to determine.  I tried to keep this in a 1 page like format for simpler viewing. At the same time, I wanted to display as much as possible without there being so much clutter that it took away from the analysis.  I think this draws that balance of having everything displayed be valuable but yet easy to find and use.

Yes there are no new fancy stats like DARKO or RAPTOR here.  I did this for a couple of D3 games this month and you can find all the same data online.  But that isn't the point.  The idea is to supplement the basic box score with deeper insights in a concise and consolidated visual format for the high school level.  I don't know of any other high school writing that provides this level of stats detail or a visual. Look for this on most of the games I write about this season.  This will give a deeper and easier view into the different team factors that played into the outcome of the game.  For reference, I've included the Czar Insights for each the class AAAA state quarterfinals from the 2020-21 season.  Click on the images below to see a bigger picture.  Let's breakdown each of the 6 sections displayed. 

Section 1: Four Factors
This is the standard Four Factors data that I tracked last season.  The visual has been updated from the chart used last season.  If you're not already familiar with the Four Factors, you can read this.  Team colors and showing the actual value are used for easier viewing.

Section 2: More Factors
Most shooting values I use are in terms of Effective Field Goal Percentage.  That shows the impact of 3s.  But there's a place for old fashioned Field Goal Percentage so I show that first.  The difference between EFG% and FG% is that EFG% gives extra credit for 3s since a make is worth more.  Neither takes into account free throws  TS% is True Shooting Percentage which does take into account free throws.  This is a newer wave shooting metric.

AST% is the percentage of made shots that were assisted.  This can be an indicator of ball movement which can lead to better shots and therefore a high shooting percentage.

STL% is the percentage of possessions where the team got a steal.  Note this differs from TO% in the Four Factors because not every turnover is a steal.  Steals are the turnovers that lead to easy points though.

Section 3: Scoring Summary
This section tracks some commonly used breakdowns of scoring. Unlike the first 2 sections which are all percentages, this section and the next section are all raw totals.

2nd Chance is 2nd chance points.  These are points that come after an offensive rebound.  These are especially demoralizing points.  A low number here but a high ORB% shows a lack of conversion of these opportunities.

Pts Off TO is Points Off Turnovers.  These are points that come on the possession after an opponents turnover.  It doesn't necessarily have to be a live ball turnover or a turnover that turned directly into points.  Ex: Team throws the ball out of bounds, set play on the other end for a bucket.  Those count as points off turnover.  I'm not a fan of that definition but that's how its used so I'll use it here for consistency

Pts in Paint is Points in the Paint.  These are baskets that are scored in the Paint area as defined by the shot chart (see below).  This means it doesn't include the entire paint like the normal stat does.  I refuse to count floaters from just inside the FT line as points in the paint.  By definition, it also doesn't count any free throws taken if you're fouled on a shot in the paint. Theory says more points in the paint leads to more wins, but NBA math has actually shown this to not be true.

Bench Points. These are the points scored by any player who didn't start the game.  Can be an indicator of a team having better depth than their opponent.

A good example of meaning in this section is the Maple Grove vs Champlin Park game.  Champlin Park winning Points off Turnovers and 2nd Chance points helped keep them close despite shooting 3-30 from the 3 point line.

Section 4: Hustle Board
The intent of this section is to help measure some of the intangibles that don't appear in a basic box score.  There are 4 basic stats here.  Steals, Blocks and Deflections are self-explanatory.  Charges is the number of charges taken.  This chart stacks them all together to better show the cumulative effect.  See Wayzata's dominance of Duluth East in this area.

Section 5: Game Flow
When did it all go sideways?  That question gets answered here.  This chart is actually 2 charts in 1. It combines 2 of the game flows that I've seen presented online.  The chart legend shows the Points Per Possession (PPP) metric for each team.  PPP is a great overview metric for offensive efficiency as turnovers, free throws and field goal percentage all impact that value.  1 point per possession is an easy number to remember as a general benchmark for good or bad.  It also applies to defensive efficiency as a low opponent PPP often shows quality defense.

The 1st chart is the line graph.  This shows the total points at that number of possessions into the game.  There are also vertical comments that are added in for pointing out specific points on the clock in the game such as halftime.  This is a very basic chart showing the progression of a team scoring over the course of the game.

The 2nd chart is the filled-in areas along the horizontal axis at the 0 points marker.  I like to call it the Momentum Tracker.  Basically its a map of what the lead was at each point in the game.  This chart maps difference in the score per possession from the perspective of the winning team.  That way the winning team value always appears on top at the end of the game.  I think its a tremendous visual for showing the momentum swings in a game and exactly when they happened.  Yes, that data can be gleaned from the line graph, but I feel it really stands out here and was therefore useful to include.  A big slope in that section demonstrates a big run.

The Duluth East vs Wayzata game demonstrates this very well.  Duluth East had an 11 point lead at possession 29 so you see a large downward red area.  After that, at possessions 40 to 45 you see the graph has flipped to a 8 point Wayzata lead and a large blue area.  That shift was a 23-4 Wayzata run.  That was after having only 1 lead of 2 points in the 1st half as shown just before possession 15.  You also see that by the upper lines crossing over and separating.  See also the end of the CDH vs Rosemount game where Rosemount lost a late lead.

Section 6: Shot Chart
Its no secret that I'm huge believer in shooting being the main factor in winning.  Coaches use shot charts as their way of viewing shot data.  Therefore having this section was mandatory.  The upper half of the court is for home team.  The bottom half of the court is for the away team.  This shot chart is broken down into 13 bubbles for each team.  That includes 10 shot regions, free throws and 2 more bubbles to summarize.  Here's how the 10 shot regions are defined.  5 of them are for 3 point shots and the other 5 are for 2 point shots.

  • Corner 3s (left and right): These are 3s taken below the 2nd FT marker.
  • Wing 3s (left and right): These are 3s taken above the 2nd FT marker and outside the NBA lane lines.
  • Top 3s: These are 3s taken from between the NBA lane lines.
  • Baseline 2s (left and right): These are 2s taken from outside the NBA lane lines and below the 2nd FT marker.
  • Wing 2s (left and right): These are 2s taken from the wedge shaped area defined by the 3 point line, line above the 2nd marker and divided in half by the mid-line.
  • Paint 2s: These are 2s taken inside the NBA lane lines and below the 2nd FT marker.

Each of the 11 individual shot bubbles is generally located in the spot on the court that it describes.  Then there are the 2 summary bubbles at halfcourt for each team.  These bubbles combine the values for all of the 2s and 3s taken.  Idea behind this format is to not only distinguish between 2s and 3s but also to be able to split out 2s that are high-quality via attacking the rim vs the dreaded by analytics midrange 2.  On this chart, that would be the paint 2s vs all other 2s.  It also provides the detail and visual of where exactly where a team was making shots from.

Inside each bubble, there's the following data.

  • EFG%: The Effective Field Goal Percentage on the shots taken from that region.
  • %ATT: The percentage of the total shots that were taken from that region.
  • AST%: The percentage of made field goals from that region that were assisted.
  • BLK%: The percentage of shots taken from that region that were blocked.
The bubbles are color coded based on the EFG% for shots in that area.  This allows a quick glance to see where a team shot the ball well from and where they didn't.  The standard thresholds are set to <40% for Red (bad, stop that), >=50% for Green (good, keep doing that) and Yellow for inbetween (be careful).  If a team didn't take a shot from a particular region the bubble is removed from the display. You'll see that on the Shakopee shot chart where they didn't take a midrange 2.

A couple of slight color threshold modifications for the chart.  Free Throws use 60% and 70%.  Paint shots use 50% and 60%.  The 2 point overall bubble uses the paint values to help generate what the overall EFG color threshold for that bubble should be.  So that's why you may see overall 2 point shots over 50% but not colored green because most of those shots were in the paint. 

So there it is, click on any of the images below to expand it.  I hope it adds value to what is presented for each game.  Any feedback you have is welcome. 

Czar Insights for 2021 Class AAAA State Quarterfinals

2021-22 Season In A Nutshell

The Czar's 2021-2022 Season Preview series concludes with the traditional Season In A Nutshell preview.  This is a higher level season overview for casual fans who don't eat, sleep and breathe hoops.  Its who and what you need to see and when and where to see it.  If you missed any of the 13 conferences or 125 teams covered in the previews, a full list of them can be found here.

New Coaches
Jeremy Hable - Andover
Jesse Jefferson - Anoka
Lance Pettis - Blaine
Spencer Waldvogel - Centennial
Aaron Kloeppner - Champlin Park
Kris Babler - Eagle Ridge Academy
Kyle McDonald - Forest Lake
Trent Davis - Irondale
John Towle - Liberty Classical Academy
Mario Reese - Mounds Park Academy
Robbie Whitney - New Life Academy
Rob Ware - Robbinsdale Armstrong
Chris Pierce - St. Agnes
Saladin Wright - St. Paul Highland Park
Khalid El-Amin - St. Thomas Academy
Matt Hendley - United Christian
Dan Rubischko - Waconia
Greg Burke - White Bear Lake

The NW Suburban sees almost half of its members turn the page with 6 new coaches this season.  3 new coaches in the Suburban East as well.  A majority of the new hires stayed with in-house connections.  St. Thomas Academy and Forest Lake swung for the fences with the 2 highest profile hires.  17 of the 64 coaches in class AAAA have 1 year experience or are new this season.  That's over 25% of the class.

10 Notable Local Events (excluding holiday tourneys)

  • Southside Showcase - Dec 11th (Minnehaha)
  • Breakdown Tipoff Classic - Dec 11th (Hopkins)
  • Breakdown Big 12 Classic - Dec 18th (Totino-Grace)
  • Rumble on the River - Dec 18th (Hiawatha Collegiate) 
  • Hall of Fame Winter Classic - Jan 15th (Anoka-Ramsey)
  • MBBCA MLK Cultural Games - Jan 17th (Macalester)
  • Dream Classic - Jan 17th (Minneapolis Roosevelt)
  • Border Battle - Jan 22nd (Minneapolis North)
  • South Metro Showcase - Jan 22nd (Burnsville)
  • Breakdown Community Clash - Jan 29th (STMA)
10 Non-Conference Games to Watch (single game events only)
  • Shakopee at Wayzata - Dec 14th
  • Minnehaha at Park Center - Dec 18th 
  • De La Salle at Benilde-St. Margaret's - Dec 21st
  • De La Salle at Minneapolis North - Jan 8th 
  • Chicago Whitney Young at Totino-Grace - Jan 8th
  • Minnehaha at Wayzata - Jan 11th
  • Hopkins at Minneapolis North - Jan 25th
  • Cretin-Derham Hall at De La Salle - Feb 19th
  • Columbia Heights at Minnehaha - Feb 24th
  • Wayzata at Minneapolis North - Feb 28th
10 Conference Games to Watch
  • De La Salle at Columbia Heights - Jan 11th
  • Wayzata at Hopkins - Jan 18th
  • Park Center at Totino-Grace - Jan 21st 
  • Cretin-Derham Hall at East Ridge - Jan 28th
  • Central at Johnson - Feb 1st
  • Columbia Heights at De La Salle - Feb 4th 
  • Hopkins at Wayzata - Feb 11th
  • Totino-Grace at Park Center - Feb 18th
  • Shakopee at Eastview - Feb 24th
  • Robbinsdale Cooper at Benilde-St. Margaret's - Mar 1st
10 Impact Transfers
  • Donavhan Cain - Beloit Turner (WI) to Cretin-Derham Hall
  • Cam Holter - Holy Angels to Minneapolis Southwest
  • Aiden Johnson - Heritage Christian to Legacy Christian
  • Cohen Kellogg - Minnetonka to Orono
  • Ahjany Lee - Byron to Totino-Grace
  • Brandon Melchior - Elk River to Cretin-Derham Hall
  • Payton Mogire - Maple Grove to Robbinsdale Armstrong
  • CJ O'Hara - Totino-Grace to Hopkins
  • Cody Pennebaker - St. Francis to Park Center
  • Gani Stevens - St. Anthony to Minneapolis North

Also note that 2 local high-major recruits, Camden Heide (Wayzata) and Josh Ola-Joseph (Osseo), have left the state for prep school. They are at Wasatch Academy (UT) and Compass Prep (AZ) respectively. 

10 Upperclassmen to Watch
  • Carter Bjerke - Wayzata (U of St. Thomas)
  • Kendall Blue - East Ridge (U of St. Thomas)
  • Braeden Carrington - Park Center (Minnesota)
  • Taison Chatman - Totino-Grace
  • Alonzo Dodd - South St. Paul
  • Tre Holloman - Cretin-Derham Hall (Michigan St)
  • Ahjany Lee - Totino-Grace (U of St. Thomas)
  • Pharrel Payne - Park of Cottage Grove (Minnesota)
  • Demarion Watson - Totino-Grace (Iowa St)
  • Nolan Winter - Lakeville North
10 Underclassmen to Watch
  • Casmir Chavis - De La Salle
  • Daniel Freitag - Bloomington Jefferson
  • Randy McClendon - De La Salle
  • Mercy Miller - Minnehaha
  • Grayson Okoronkwo - Blake
  • Chiang Ring - Minneapolis South
  • Jack Robison - Lakeville North
  • Andy Stefonowicz - Minnetonka
  • Jerome Williams - Minneapolis South
  • Max Woods - Chanhassen
10 Local Teams to Watch
  • Columbia Heights
  • Cretin-Derham Hall
  • Eastview
  • Minneapolis North
  • Minnehaha Academy
  • Park Center
  • Shakopee
  • South St. Paul
  • Totino-Grace
  • Wayzata

Active Streaks of 20 Games Or More In Conference Play

  • Minneapolis North - 60 wins
    • 36 home wins.  Last loss was 2/6/15 vs South
    • 30 road wins.  Last loss was 2/5/16 at Minneapolis Washburn
  • Minnehaha - 37 wins.  Last loss was 2/6/15 at St. Paul Academy
    • 22-0 home record all-time in IMAC play
  • St. Croix Prep - 34 wins including last 8 wins in the MCAA.
    • 20 home wins.  Last home loss was 2/9/18 vs New Life Academy
  • Hill-Murray - 33 road losses.  Last road win was 2/10/17 at South St. Paul.
  • Minneapolis Roosevelt - 27 losses.  Last win was 2/1/19 vs Washburn
  • Anoka - 25 losses.  Last win was 1/21/20 vs Rogers
  • Nova Classical Academy - 25 losses
    • 0-25 all-time in Skyline play
  • Mounds Park Academy - 23 losses.  Last win was 2/9/18 at home.
    • 65 road losses including their years in the Tri-Metro.  Last road conference win was at St. Paul Academy 2/1/2008
  • Chaska - 20 home wins.  Last home loss was 2/13/18 vs Bloomington Jefferson
  • St. Paul Central - 20 road wins.  Last road loss was 2/5/18 at St. Paul Johnson
Section Winners
We gave thoughts on 13 conferences plus independents.  I'll match that here with predictions for the winners of 14 metro area sections.  That includes all the 6 local A,AA and AAA sections and all 8 AAAA sections.

4A: The story here is current and former MCAA.  Legacy holds the current MCAA and section crown.  Former MCAA members New Life (dropping down from 4AA) and Trinity will also make noise here.  CHOF is always a potential threat.  Hope and Kaleidoscope will fill up the scoreboard.  It should be a very competitive section.  Most of those competitors play each other so things will be more clear late in the season.  Give me Legacy to repeat here.
4AA: Minnehaha moves back to their usual section.  With high-major talents Mercy Miller and Prince Aligbe leading the way, they are the heavy favorites in a very weak section. Don't be surprised to see double-digit teams with a below .500 record here.
5AA: Minneapolis North returns a strong guard group led by Willie Wilson.  Plus they add Gani Stevens inside.  They remain the heavy favorite here.  Maranatha and Blake look to be other contenders here.  Hiawatha has plenty of experience back and a quality PG in Jessye Lewis but their EMAC schedule will hurt them here.
3AAA: A real contrast in this section looms in the section final.  On 1 side, you have traditional power De La Salle (last year's section 6 winner) and their defensive minded style.  On the other, you have upstart South St. Paul and their high powered offensive system.  PG Alonzo Dodd is the head of the snake for South St. Paul.  Devin Newsome and Shawn West-Zimpel are wings who can fill it up.  De La Salle can counter with their own strong perimeter trio.  Junior Nasir Whitlock had a breakout summer and will lead the offense.  Sophomores Randy McClendon and Casmir Chavis join him.  Give me South St. Paul here.
4AAA: A heavyweight matchup between neighbors Totino-Grace and Columbia Heights looms in the section final.  Totino-Grace is arguably the state favorite so I take them here.  Despite graduating a ton of depth and losing CJ O'Hara, the addition of Ahjany Lee from Byron keeps them loaded.  Remember they had the lead with 6 min left vs Minnehaha in the section final last year.  PG Tommy Chatman looks poised for a big season.  Heights returns basically everybody from a team that was in the top 3 of the polls all year.  Their wing duo of Muja Burton and Hassan Kamara leads the way and they have size to try to match the big Totino-Grace front line.
6AAA: This is the deepest section top to bottom of the group listed here.  Wright County reps Mound-Westonka and Hutchinson will both make noise here and Delano isn't anything to sneeze at.  Hutch's Sam Rensch could put a team on his back.  From the Tri-Metro, you have last year's section 3AAA state qualifier, Richfield, returning a couple of quality pieces.  Holy Angels is no slouch here either.  From the Metro West, you have a talented Orono squad plus my pick to win the league and this section Benilde-St. Margaret's.  Their duo of Maddox Alipate and Daniel Ijadimbola should carry the day.
1AAAA:  Owatonna is the pick to repeat here.  Their strong guard duo of Brayden Williams and Ty Creger plus forward Evan Dushek all return to the lineup.  Lakeville North returns to the section that they've won the last 8 times they've played in it but they're a year away from doing it again.  Lakeville South will also contend here.
2AAAA: Shakopee returns almost everybody from last year's state semifinalist team that knocked out Owatonna.  They have to be the pick here with Nick Katona leading the way.  Chaska plus the strong Lake Conference group of Eden Prairie, Edina and Minnetonka make it a difficult section.
3AAAA: I'm taking Eastview here with their reloaded roster and the experience of Kenji Scales.  But last year's teams in the section final can make plenty of noise here too.  Minnesota commit Pharrel Payne looks to lead Park back to the final.  Caleb Siwek put Rosemount on his back last year and should do the same again this year.
4AAAA: Cretin-Derham Hall made the state final last year with Tre Holloman playing a do everything role.  The Raiders have reloaded around him and are the heavy favorite here.  East Ridge has a strong backcourt of Kendall Blue and Alex Mattes.  If they can find front court play, they can be dangerous here.
5AAAA:  Sneaky tough section here with Park Center as the favorite. The Pirates return Minnesota commit Braeden Carrington to lead a very talented roster.  Their rival Osseo returns plenty of experience and talent.  Mounds View has a pair of talented guards coming back.  Spring Lake Park and Maple Grove are sleepers here.
6AAAA: Wayzata and Hopkins are again the favorites here.  Very strong perimeter play for both squads.  I'll take the defending state champs Wayzata.  The 2 Robbinsdale schools will look to give them a run. 
7AAAA:  There are 5 new coaches in this section including a 3rd member of the McDonald family with Kyle taking over at Forest Lake.  Duluth East loses 2 stars but they get Will Van Scoy back from injury.  They'll feature experienced guard play plus major breakout candidate Isaac Nyakundi inside replacing Noah Paulson.  That's more than enough to win this section of rebuilding teams.
8AAAA: Maple Grove has owned this section in recent years but they've moved to section 5.  That leaves the section for Buffalo's taking.  The trio of Antonio Bluiett at the point, Zach Zrust up front and Will Pool on the wing carries the Bison to the state tourney.

Season Thoughts
After 5 straight season, it looks like Minnesota won't have a McDonald's All-American representative.  Despite that, the class of 2022 is as deep as we've seen.  8 high-major kids from the state as of now.  Minnesota and St. Thomas with 3 local commits each.  That should make for a very entertaining season with lots for the local fan to follow.  Quality depth at the top of AA, AAA and AAAA should make for some very exciting state games.  Note that the state tourney site is yet to be determined as Target Center is booked with the Timberwolves.  Sounds like everything will be at held at the U of Minnesota this season.

As to individual conferences, the EMAC, MCAA and Metro East will be in down years.  More tough seasons ahead in the Metro West, NW Suburban and Lake.  The Minneapolis and St. Paul city leagues see their traditional recent powers continue to thrive.

Great to see the local events back.  The Breakdown has its usual loaded Big 12 and Tipoff Classic events.  Plus they now have the Capitol Classic over the holidays which takes over the old U of St. Thomas holiday tourney spot.  The Southside Showcase and Hall of Fame Winter Classic are also back on the schedule.  Plus you have the Border Battle at Minneapolis North this year. 

The predictions and off season work are in, bulletin board material has been put up.  Let's get to it.  Time to #ShockTheCzar.

2021-22 Lake Conference Preview

This is the 14th preview in my 2021-2022 season preview series.  In this preview, I finish my look at my normal list of conferences with a look at the Lake Conference.  For a list of all the season previews and how they are done, click here.

Buffalo Bison (2020-21 season 7-9, 4-8 Conference, Tie 4th)
Buffalo returns 4 of their top 5 scorers to the starting lineup this season.  Antonio Bluett (18.1 PPG) and defensive pest Carter Jackson (7.3 PPG) take care of the perimeter spots.  Forward Zach Zrust (13.7 PPG) can play inside and out.  Will Pool (8.5 PPG) returns on the wing.  Carson Giddings provides guard depth.  No real size behind Zrust in the lineup.

Eden Prairie Eagles (2020-21 season 12-7, 6-6 Conference, 3rd)
Coach David Flom returns 2 double figure scorers from last season.  That includes matchup nightmare Chiddi Obiazor (16.1 PPG) at a forward spot.  The junior forward had a breakout season last year.  He's took quick for bigs and too powerful for wings.  Senior lefty Miles Smith (10.3 PPG) provides a major shooting threat.  Junior Jermell Taylor also returns to the starting lineup.  Dalal Gaarhaye provides experienced size inside.  Matt Kelley will see time at a guard spot.

Edina Hornets (2020-21 season 7-10, 4-8 Conference, Tie 4th)
The Hornets return 3 significant pieces from last season.  Forward Brady Helgren (17.2 PPG) can score inside and shoot it.  The guard spots are strong with PG Sammy Presthus (10.7 PPG) and lefty SG Gabe Jobe (20.5 PPG).  Jobe was the league's top scorer last season.  Seniors Noah Deets, Dane Lusty and Jack Dickey will be the depth.  A strong youth movement awaits behind them.

Hopkins Royals (2020-21 season 12-5, 9-3 Conference, 2nd)
Elvis Nnaji returns to the front line after averaging 10.8 PPG.  Max Wilson and Tyrell Sappington return in the backcourt.  The Royals add CJ O'Hara from Totino-Grace and frosh Jaleel Donley who saw big varsity minutes at Bloomington Kennedy last year.  8th grader Jayden Moore figures to be in the strong perimeter rotation as well.

Minnetonka Skippers (2020-21 season 6-12, 4-8 Conference, Tie 4th)
Coach Bryce Tesdahl returns 3 double figure scorers to a young lineup.  Junior Jalen Cain (17.7 PPG), senior Vlad Ciubotaru (14.3 PPG) and soph PG Andy Stefoniwicz (10.5 PPG) all return.  They also add reinforcements in junior transfers Ibo El-Amin and Alex Jones.  Soph Will Koeppen also saw major minutes.  All of them are perimeter players so keeping that group happy with enough shots is a major question.  They struggled with interior play on both ends last season and their 2 main post players have graduated.

St. Michael-Albertville Knights (2020-21 season 6-13, 4-8 Conference, Tie 4th)
Three starters return for STMA.  Leading scorer Johnny Tennyson (15.3 PPG) returns to lead the perimeter group.  Fellow guard Riley Purcell (7.5 PPG) and forward Carson Radke also return to the lineup.  The 11.7 PPG from forward Wyatt Blakstvedt will be missed.

Wayzata Trojans (2020-21 season 19-2, 11-1 Conference, 1st)
The defending state champs have to replace 3 of their top 5 scorers.  That includes 2 graduations and top scorer Camden Heide (17.9 PPG) to Wasatch Academy (UT).  With Heide back, they were still the state AAAA favorite.  But the Trojans are still very talented.  Forward Carter Bjerke (14 PPG) and Drew Berkland (9 PPG) are the top 2 returning scorers and deadly from 3.  Juniors Hayden Tibbits and Spencer Hall figure to play bigger roles at the guard spots after seeing major minutes last season.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Wayzata 
  2. Hopkins
  3. Eden Prairie
  4. Edina
  5. Buffalo
  6. Minnetonka   
  7. St. Michael-Albertville

Conference Overview
Wayzata still comes in as a favorite.  Hopkins and Eden Prairie will battle for 2nd behind them.  Then the next group of 3 could finish anywhere.  Edina and Buffalo both feature strong returning backcourts along with a talented inside forward.  Minnetonka has plenty of scorers but can they get stops?  That leaves only the last spot for STMA.  There's plenty of talent returning across the entire league.  That's after every team won at least 4 league games last year.  So expect each night to be a slugfest and another tight grouping in the standings.

Conference MVP: Carter Bjerke - Wayzata

Underclassmen to watch:  

  • Brody Wishart - Buffalo
  • JJ Sullivan - Eden Prairie
  • Daniel Molhoek, Nick Presthus, Kole Hanson - Edina
  • Jayden Moore, Jaleel Donley - Hopkins
  • Andy Stefonowicz, Jordan Cain, Will Koeppen - Minnetonka
  • Jackson McAndrew, Drep Nepstad - Wayzata
Conference Games to Watch
  • Wayzata at Hopkins - Jan 18th
  • Hopkins at Eden Prairie - Feb 8th
  • Hopkins at Wayzata - Feb 11th
  • Wayzata at Eden Prairie - Feb 18th
 Non-Conference Games to Watch
  • Wayzata vs Totino-Grace - Dec 11th (Tipoff Classic)
  • Shakopee at Wayzata - Dec 14th
  • Wayzata vs Cretin-Derham Hall - Dec 18th (Big 12 Classic)
  • Hopkins vs Osseo - Dec 18th (Big 12 Classic)
  • Wayzata vs Osseo - Dec 29th (Capitol City Classic)
  • Hopkins at Minneapolis North - Jan 25th
  • Wayzata at De La Salle - Feb 24th
  • Hopkins at De La Salle - Mar 1st


2021-22 South Suburban Conference Preview

This is the 13th preview in my 2021-22 Season Preview Series.  In this preview, we head south for a look at the South Suburban Conference.  For a list of all the season previews and how they are generated, click here.

Apple Valley Eagles (2020-21 season 4-15, 4-14 Conference, Tie 8th)
Apple Valley once again has to replace their top 3 scorers.  That includes Dylan Omweno (11.2 PPG) who is now at crosstown rival Eastview.  Junior forward Khalif Bettis (8.9 PPG) will lead the offense.  Quinn Ewald (6.6 PPG) also returns to the starting lineup as a hard working wing.  Mileo Patterson will see time on the front line as well.

Burnsville Blaze (2020-21 season 0-19, 0-18 Conference, 10th)
Burnsville loses 3 of their top 4 scorers from last year's squad.  Junior guard Henry Saykeo (9.1 PPG) leads the returning unit.  Nobody else averaged more than 3.7 PPG last season.  Brendan Affana-Shanks returns in the center spot.  Sterling Brown and Abdihamid Jama return at perimeter spots.

Eagan Wildcats (2020-21 season 6-13, 6-12 Conference, 7th)
Coach Kevin McKenzie returns 3 of his top 4 scorers from last season.  The junior duo of double figure scorers Oscar Khazon (13.7 PPG) and Emmanuel Schmitter (13.2 PPG) returns on the wings.  Khazon is a knock down shooter and Schmitter is a solid all around wing.  Logan Schmidt (6.6 PPG) returns to anchor the middle.  The experience of 8 seniors who all saw significant minutes will be missed.  Olana Mitoro and Mason Amann are main candidates to fill those minutes.

Eastview Lightning (2020-21 season 17-3, 16-2 Conference, 1st)
Eastview replaced all 5 starters last season and won the league outright.  Now they lose 6 of their top 7 scorers.  But the Lightning once again will reload and be a threat to win the league.  Kenji Scales (14.7 PPG) returns at the PG spot.  They also add Dylan Omweno from Apple Valley as another guard.  Juniors Mario and Myles Adams look to fill wing spots.  The front line is loaded with Jamal Ambrose and Chet Kloss.  Both are in the classic Eastview mold of bigs who can step away from the basket and shoot it.

Farmington Tigers (2020-21 season 12-8, 11-7 Conference, 6th)
The Tigers have to replace 4 of their top 6 scorers from last season.  Leading scorer Kyle Hrncir (13.8 PPG) returns to the lineup after a nice summer with WOTN.  Guard Sam Hoffman (6.9 PPG) and forward Zach Cochnauer (5.7 PPG) also return to the rotation.  Rod Finley and Connor Weed will also see major minutes.

Lakeville North Panthers (2020-21 season 13-7, 12-6 Conference, Tie 3rd)
It will be a youthful Lakeville North roster after graduating 3 of their top 4 scorers.  That includes a combined 26.5 PPG from Will Blascziek and Cooper Laufenburger.  3 juniors will lead the way.  That group features a pair of talented wings in Nolan Winter (11 PPG) and Hudson Vaith (5.6 PPG).  Add in soph lefty Jack Robison (4.1 PPG) and you have a nice core for the next 2 seasons. Seniors R'Moni Warner (5.9 PPG), Brayden Manning and Michael McDonald will see rotation time.

Lakeville South Cougars (2020-21 season 13-7, 12-6 Conference, Tie 3rd)
The Cougars have to replace 2 double figure scorers including star guard Reid Patterson (18.2 PPG) and Trystan Ressler (10.4 PPG).  The wing position will be deep with Avery Mast (12.2 PPG), Sam Fliehe (7.5 PPG) and lefty Connor Beauchamp.  Chase Androff returns to man the interior.  Junior Jackson Ressler is an option to run the show.

Prior Lake Lakers (2020-21 season 4-15, 4-14 Conference, Tie 8th)
Senior forward Malcolm Jones led the league in scoring at 20.2 PPG last season.  Expect that to happen again this season.  Kellan Miller (8.3 PPG) and PG Kyle Haas also return to the starting lineup.  Emmett McKush and Tommy Hjerpe are experienced guards in the rotation.

Rosemount Irish (2020-21 season 15-7, 12-6 Conference, Tie 3rd)
The Irish are coming off a state tournament season.  They gave Cretin-Derham Hall all they wanted in a 41-40 loss in the state quarters. Senior Caleb Siwek (20.1 PPG) is the top sniper in the league along with being a clutch player in crunch time.  I expect a monster season from him.  The next 3 scorers behind him need to be replaced.  That includes the 10.8 PPG, defense and leadership of guard Sean Sullivan.  Junior guard Anish Ramlall (6.1 PPG) should pick up much of that.  Carter Theisen and Sam Kuseske return to man in the interior.

Shakopee Sabers (2020-21 season 17-6, 13-5 Conference, 2nd)
Shakopee returns most of their balanced rotation from last season.  Forward Mick Wherley and his 10.8 PPG will be the hardest thing to replace.  The main key will be keeping leading scorer Cade McGraw (12 PPG) healthy at the point guard spot.  UMD commit Nick Katona (11.7 PPG) and Sam West are versatile forwards. Yonis Mohamud (7 PPG) can score in bunches from the shooting guard spot.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Shakopee 
  2. Eastview  
  3. Rosemount
  4. Lakeville North  
  5. Lakeville South 
  6. Eagan
  7. Farmington 
  8. Prior Lake 
  9. Apple Valley
  10. Burnsville 
Conference Overview:
Shakopee made the state tourney last year and has most of the roster back.  That makes them the pick here.  Eastview will reload and give them a stiff challenge.  The next 3 all tied for 3rd last season and that seems very plausible again as all return multiple pieces.  I'll put Rosemount at the top of the group thanks to their state qualification and return of Caleb Siwek.  Eagan loses experience but returns 2 top scorers and an experienced big. Combined with Farmington's losses, I'll flip-flop them in this year's standings.  Prior Lake has the best player of the rest. Apple Valley and Burnsville are in major rebuilds.

Conference MVP: Caleb Siwek - Rosemount

Underclassmen to watch:
  • Jeremy Sherlock - Burnsville
  • Jack Robison - Lakeville North
  • Isaac Snell - Shakopee
Conference Games to Watch
  • Eastview at Shakopee - Jan 28th
  • Shakopee at Eastview - Feb 24th
Non-Conference Games to Watch
  • Eastview at Chaska - Dec 3rd
  • Eastview vs Maple Grove - Dec 11th (Tipoff Classic)
  • Shakopee at Wayzata - Dec 14th
  • Eastview at Minnehaha - Dec 14th
  • Eastview vs Cretin-Derham Hall - Dec 30th (East Ridge Holiday Tourney)

2021-22 Suburban East Conference Preview

This is the 12th preview in my 2021-2022 season preview series.  In this preview, I continue my look at the local big schools with a look at the Suburban East Conference.  For a list of all the season previews and how they were generated, click here.

Cretin-Derham Hall Raiders (2020-21 season 18-6, 13-5 Conference, 3rd)
Senior PG Tre Holloman (20.3 PPG) returns as the lynchpin for last year's state runner up.  Nine seniors need to be replaced but the Raiders will reload with a couple of notable transfers.  Guard Donavhan Cain was a double figure scorer in Wisconsin last season.  Center Branden Melchior averaged double figures at Elk River last season.  That will take some of the scoring load off of Holloman and provide more balance.  Charlie Plum also returns to provide front line depth.

East Ridge Raptors (2020-21 season 12-7, 11-6 Conference, 4th)
Coach Josh Peltier needs to replace most of his front line.  The strength of the team will be the guards with St. Thomas commit Kendall Blue (15 PPG) and junior Alex Mattes (12.7 PPG).  Junior Pete Koland also returns at a guard spot. A talented sophomore class is behind them.  From that group, Brayden Carlson figures to be a key option to take up the interior minutes.

Forest Lake Rangers (2020-21 season 11-9, 10-8 Conference, 5th)
Kyle McDonald takes over the program making for a 3rd McDonald coaching in section 7AAAA.  He has to replace 6 of the top 7 scorers from last season.  Soph Owen Waldoch (4 PPG) should take up some of the slack from the loss of leading scorer Jordan Boysen (12.8 PPG) inside.  Nick Bartlett (11.2 PPG) returns to lead the perimeter group.  Ted Carey will be 1 option in the rotation.

Irondale Knights (2020-21 season 1-18, 1-17 Conference, 10th)
Former St. Bernard's point guard and St. Catherine's assistant Trent Davis is the new head coach.  He has 4 top scorers returning to work with.  DJ Anthony (9.6 PPG) and Drake Gomez (9.3 PPG) are 2 of those options.  Calvin Marcellus is a banger inside.  Juniors Max Herlofsky, Dane Dedominces and Cooper O'Brien are other rotation options.

Mounds View Mustangs (2020-21 season 16-4, 15-3 Conference, Tie 1st)
The Mustangs lineup is led by a quality perimeter duo.  Kobe Kirk (15.2 PPG) and Dylan Wheeler (12 PPG) were 2 of the top 3 scorers last season.  Both can handle and shoot it.  Ryan Edelman (4.5 PPG) returns to his screening and defending forward role.  Ben Erickson and Duncan Loegering look to step into the rotation.

Park Wolfpack (2020-21 season 11-10, 9-9 Conference, 6th)
High expectations this season with Minnesota commit Pharrel Payne (14.8 PPG) in the middle.  They are coming off a run to the section final last season.  Jamari Walker (7.5 PPG) returns with Payne on the front line.  Wings Evan Bearth (10.4 PPG), Brady Perryman, Jack Blumberg and Brayden Fick all return to the rotation.  The big question is what do they do at point guard.  Jayden Lane's experience, fearless mentality and 10 PPG at that spot will be sorely missed.

Roseville Raiders (2020-21 season 4-14, 4-13 Conference, 8th)
Roseville has to replace their 3 top scorers from last season.  That includes 10.1 PPG from leading scorer Elijah Burns up front.  Size will be the question mark with the entire frontcourt graduating.  Leighton Alvarez is a top option there.  The wings will be the strength with Keyon Broussard (6.6 PPG) and soph Ataa Adjetey-Mensah (4.8 PPG) returning.  Seniors Charlie Pearson and Cohen Rice will also see perimeter rotation time.

Stillwater Ponies (2020-21 season 4-15, 4-14 Conference, 9th)
Junior Max Shikenjanski (24.2 PPG) will once again run the show. He's coming off a monster summer season as the 16U MVP.  Tyler Tompkins (14.1 PPG) and center Sam Shikenjanski (7.7 PPG) need to be replaced.  Nobody else who returns averaged more than 4 PPG.  Nicholas Koehn (4 PPG) and Andrew Gustafson (3.9 PPG) return to the starting lineup and look to pickup some of that offense to help take the load off of Shikenjanski.

White Bear Lake Bears (2020-21 season 7-12, 7-11 Conference, 7th)
Former Osseo assistant Greg Burke takes over the program.  He has to replace Kanye Raheem's 13.9 PPG on the wing.  But the guard spots are still strong with juniors Jack Janicki (19.7 PPG) and Jack Misgen (9.2 PPG) coming back.  Janicki is one of the state's top juniors and Misgen is a quality shooter.  Seniors Alex Lockwood and Brock Taugner also return to the lineup.

Woodbury Royals (2020-21 season 17-4, 15-3 Conference, Tie 1st)
Woodbury has to replace 4 of their top 5 scorers.  That includes 3 double figure wing scorers led by Brad Cimperman and his 14.5 PPG.  Wing Blake Rohrer (9.7 PPG) should be the top option and easily move into double figures this season.  Guard James Maier (3.7 PPG) and forward Dom Cuoco (5.9 PPG) are the remaining players from last year's rotation.  Very limited experience after them.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Cretin-Derham Hall   
  2. East Ridge    
  3. Mounds View
  4. Park
  5. White Bear Lake
  6. Stillwater  
  7. Woodbury  
  8. Forest Lake  
  9. Irondale  
  10. Roseville
Conference Overview:
Its a strong year in the league with the top 6 scorers coming back.  Cretin-Derham Hall reloads and looks to make another run at a state title.  Behind them I see a great battle between East Ridge, Mounds View and Park.  I could justify those teams in any order.  White Bear Lake has the best 2 pieces out of the remaining teams and the best chance to jump into that 2nd group.  Stillwater has Max Shikenjanski but can they get him help out of their Princeton Point system.  Woodbury and Forest Lake will battle behind them.  Both have heavy losses from last season so its hard to put them in the top half.  Irondale and Roseville bring up the bottom again. 

Conference MVP: Tre Holloman - Cretin-Derham Hall

Underclassmen to watch: 
  • Mekhi Edwards - Cretin-Derham Hall
  • Brayden Carlson, Charlie Theis, Parker Wellman - East Ridge 
  • Owen Waldoch, Reid Olson - Forest Lake
  • Joey Fretheim - Mounds View
  • Ataa Adjetey-Mensah, Will Devries - Roseville
Conference Games to Watch
  • East Ridge at Cretin-Derham Hall - Dec 14th
  • Park at Cretin-Derham Hall - Dec 16th 
  • Stillwater at White Bear Lake - Dec 16th
  • Cretin-Derham Hall at East Ridge - Jan 28th
  • Cretin-Derham Hall at Park - Feb 3rd
  • White Bear Lake at Stillwater - Feb 3rd
Non-Conference Games to Watch
  • Cretin-Derham Hall vs Totino-Grace - Dec 11th (Tipoff Classic)
  • East Ridge vs Hopkins - Dec 11th (Tipoff Classic)
  • Cretin-Derham Hall vs Wayzata - Dec 18th (Big 12 Classic)
  • Cretin-Derham Hall vs Eastview - Dec 30th (E Ridge Holiday Tourney)
  • Wayzata at East Ridge - Feb 2nd
  • Cretin-Derham Hall at De La Salle - Feb 19th
  • East Ridge at Minneapolis North - Feb 19th