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Posted On: 01/27/17 10:44 PM
When people I ask me “what do you know” as a form of greeting, my response is generally “not enough.”
One of my favorite things about sports is that they elicit a reaction. You watch and develop a certain perception about things. And if you are open-minded enough, that perception or thought process will change multiple times over the course of a sports season.
I’d like to start doing these more often because I feel like I learn something about a team or change my tune on a way of thinking every time I go watch games. I like to think I know my fair share. I know some. If there’s one thing I know wholeheartedly, it’s that I don’t know nearly enough.
So again with the spirit of learning in mind, here are some things I learned or was reminded of during January:
Marshall is a juggernaut
I’ve been on a Tiger train for a while now. I saw them play in the section tournament last year before they lost to Waseca in the quadruple overtime classic and I was impressed then. I saw them play again in the Breakdown Tip Off Classic where they steamrolled a solid Minneapolis Patrick Henry Team. Everybody knows Marshall is good. The Tigers have been ranked in the top 5 in Class AAA all year.
I didn’t necessarily learn that Marshall is good last weekend when they beat Waseca, but I think I learned just how good the Tigers are. They went to Waseca and beat the Bluejays 78-61 in a game where Waseca’s top scorer, Kaleb Nelson, was absolutely scorching. Nelson scored 31 points and seemingly upped the degree of difficulty on his shots with each passing attempt. The Tigers also got just seven points from their leading scorer Zach Bloemker. So they got seven points from their leading scorer while Waseca’s top scorer dropped 31 and they won by 17 on the road.
Marshall is like the Gonzaga of Class AAA. The Tigers are always very good but it’s easy to question their schedule. They are so far away from schools their size and they play in a conference where they are the biggest by quite a bit. So they don’t get tested during the year like some of the top teams. And that might come back to cost them at some point. But like I think this year’s Gonzaga team has a chance to win the title in the NCAA tournament, I think this Marshall team could very well win the title in Class AAA.
Five teams could possibly come out of Section 1AA
I’m not much for hot takes. I’m more of a lukewarm take guy; let things play out and approach things as rationally as possible. It fits my stale personality. But I’m about to venture onto a take that could be described as “warm” and that’s a big step. I could see any one of five different teams winning Section 1AA this year.
The heavy favorite is Caledonia. And the Warriors should be the heavy favorite. They are one of the top three or four teams in Class AA. Owen King is a stud. Noah King is terrific and Marten Morem is a third head in that attack. If I had to pick a winner in that section — and I will in the coming weeks — right now I’d pick Caledonia. But including the Warriors, there are five teams that outscore their opponent by double digits.
Lake City has just two losses on the year and lost to Goodhue by four points. The Tigers blew out Pine Island, beat Rosemount, Rochester Lourdes and Byron. They are young but they’ve got excellent guards in Marc Kjos and Mitch Marien.
Pine Island has a terrific three-headed scoring attack with Broc Finstuen, Camden Heepke and Mark Mboya Kotieno. The Panthers just beat Goodhue and has close losses to Rochester Lourdes and St. Charles.
St. Charles just got Justin Ruhberg back from injury and was solid without him. Guys like Keagan Maloney and Kaden Vaughn stepped up in a big way and while the Saints have already taken more losses than they did all of last year, their strength of schedule has undoubtedly been better. They’ve got enough experience and 3-point shooting to beat anybody.
Rochester Lourdes might be a dark horse. The Eagles lost at home to Caledonia and Lake City but beat Pine Island. They’ll finish with somewhere around 18 wins I’d bet and that likely lands them a No. 5 seed in that section. I could see them making a run or at the very least making a second or third round game better than anticipated.
The Big 9 is really tiered
This might be the case for a lot of conferences but since it’s the one I see most, it really hit me. The league is very definitively broken up into tiers.
Rochester John Marshall and Austin are clearly in the top tier. The Rockets never seem to beat Lakeville North, but they are certainly a threat. They got destroyed by Champlin Park and Hopkins earlier in the year and they might not be a top-five type of Class AAAA team. But with Matthew Hurt, Dedoch Chan and Isaiah Walden, the Rockets have loads of talent. They show it off nightly in conference play where they might lose one or two games.
Austin is loaded with talent as well and a legitimate top-five team in Class AAA. The Packers’ only loss is to JM — an 11-point game in Rochester in which Hurt dropped 39 points on 18 shots. Duoth and Both Chan are as good as it gets in the league and they’ll finish the year with 23-plus wins.
The next tier is made up of teams that will likely push for 15-20 wins. Owatonna, Northfield, Faribault and Mankato East are all in that mix. East is struggling lately but I’m still a believer in that group. The Huskies and Raiders are both less experienced groups but loaded with talent. Dalton Kubista is one of the top scorers in the conference and Hunter Koep and Alex Rasmussen make up a terrific one-two punch for the Raiders. The Huskies are rolling right now, winners of eight games in a row.
Faribault is the most experienced group with five upperclassmen starters. Kade Hart anchors a fantastic defense and the Falcons have scored more than I thought they would heading into the year. They’ve dealt with a lot of injuries and are still 9-3.
Winona and Mankato West fall into a “middle of the road” kind of tier as both teams might hover around that .500 mark. And Red Wing, Rochester Mayo, Rochester Century and Albert Lea have really struggled to get wins this year as all four teams either rely on a lot of underclassmen or guys who play basketball as more of secondary sport.
The “Shot Clock” brigade can take a chill
This one might seem a bit strawman given there aren’t that many people I know of clamoring for shot clocks. But I’m a sports writer and I see other sports writers on twitter endlessly pleading for a shot clock to be implemented in high school basketball.
Yes, the argument can always go back to the state tournament game a few years ago between Hopkins and Lakeville North where teams essentially held the ball for entire overtime periods. Yeah that’s not exactly fun to watch. Believe me; I grew up playing against Bob Brink’s Rocori teams that would run flex to death. I see teams like Goodhue, where “methodical” doesn’t do justice in describing the style of play.
It’s understandable. We want points. We want shots. More than anything we want a certain flow to a game.
I watch as much basketball as I can, which is less than I’d like and I’ve yet to really notice teams holding the ball to the point that it becomes an issue. I was at New Prague last weekend for a game between the Trojans and Prior Lake. They used a 35 second shot clock. If I correctly recall, there was one shot clock violation.
I think there are people that like having opinions — actually I know there are — and they like expressing those opinions. The notion that high school basketball needs a shot clock is incredibly overblown based on a few bad memories of extreme situations.
I don’t think shot clocks are coming. The logistics are too complicated at least for there to be one at every school or every class level. And honestly, I don’t think it’s a big deal. Getting back into a game late when a team doesn’t have to shoot presents challenges that wouldn’t be there without a shot clock. That’s the best argument I’ve gotten and I get that one. It also forces teams that might simply not have the athletes capable of playing a certain style to play a way they can’t. I could go on and on about certain pros and cons to having it. I enjoy the discussion and can see both sides to wanting them versus not. But I don’t think the lack of a shot clock hurts high school basketball as much as some think.