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Posted On: 11/27/17 3:00 PM
Cedar Rapids Jefferson (11-12): The J-Hawks lose their top two scorers from last season, but bring back some talented guards who will knock off some teams they aren’t expected to this year. Willie Guy (12.4) is coming off a strong sophomore season in which he knocked down 55 3s (43.7%) and finished second on the team in assists. He’ll have the ball in his hands a lot, with running mate Kyler Bell (10.2) alongside him. Bell is a super athletic off-guard who is a terror in transition and has improved as a shooter. TJ Kuennen (2.9) and Raezjuan Shockley (2.2) provide some size on an otherwise really small team, and Shockley looks like he should be ready to take another step forward in his development after a productive freshman year. Look for guard Blaze Bouzek (1.5) to get more involved this season as well. The J-Hawks are going to be small, but they have lots of quickness and shooting, and they’ll knock off some quality teams this season.
Cedar Rapids Xavier (16-11): The two-time defending champions in Class 3A, the Saints have their work cut out of them if they want to make it a 3-peat. But they’ll be led by one of the state’s best players, and leaders, in point guard Matt Mims (15.3), a player we’ll never bet against. The lead guard of the Saints’ attack, Mims is a proven winner who seems to play his best basketball in their biggest games. He’s a lightning quick guard who excels at getting into the paint and is a gifted passer at well, dishing out 135 assists last year (to just 41 turnovers). He’s signed to play his college ball at South Dakota State. And while the Saints have lost a good amount of talent from last year’s roster, Mims won’t quite be alone. Upper Iowa signee Jackson Joens (11.6, 45.2 3P%), a 6-6 sharpshooter also returns. He’s one of the state’s best shooters. He’ll need to expand his offensive skill set a bit this year, but his shooting is top notch and fits in perfectly playing alongside Mims. They’ll need to find some increased production out of role players like Quinn Schulte (3.7), Gabe Lux (1.0) and Kyle Moeder (0.6). Another player to keep an eye on is freshman Jaylon Moses, who will begin the season on the sidelines as he works his way back from an injury, but has the looks of an impact player once he’s able to get on the floor. The Mims-Joens tandem is going to win a fair amount of games, and while they may not have a glossy record at the end of the year, they’ll be one of the top contenders to take home the 3A title again this year. In this division, they look like a team that will be among many contending for the second spot behind Iowa City West.
Dubuque Wahlert (7-16): Following the graduations of guys like Cordell Pemsl, Riley Till and David Wedewer, the Golden Eagles were bound to take a significant step back lasts year, with a largely inexperienced roster. And they certainly did take a step back, winning just seven games after playing in the 3A championship game three straight seasons. Still, there were some serious bright spots last year, with high quality wins over Davenport Assumption, Cedar Falls and Dubuque Hempstead. They lose their leading scorer, but the next five scorers from that group return, giving them a much more experienced lineup heading into this year. When we saw them play at a team camp in Madison over the summer, they were an incredibly balanced team, and we expect to see more of that this winter. They’ll be led by Peter Timmerman (11.2), an gifted playmaking wing who can score or facilitate and is one of the toughest players in the state. He’s capable of scoring on the block or from the arc, and at 6-6 can be a matchup problem. Will Leytem (7.9) and Craig Collins (4.8) provide some perimeter shooting, and Matt Bandy (7.7) and Jack Jaeger (5.7) will do a majority of their damage on the interior. Bandy was great at the aforementioned team camp, and is a physical banger in the paint who plays with great energy. If they’re able to get some production out of 6-9 Sam Gruhl (1.0), that would go a long way. He’s been a bit of a project, but he too played well at that camp, and has the size to make a major impact. There will rarely be a two-game stretch where the same player leads this team in scoring, which can be a good thing. They’ll need to improve on their efficiency (39.6 FG%), and if they can do that, they’ll be a quality club. Look for young guards Cael Schmitt and Jake Schockemoehl to make an impact this season as well for the Golden Eagles. As a 3A team playing in a 4A league, they’ll take their lumps, but they’ll be a real threat come postseason time and should be a middle-of-the-pack team in the league.
Iowa City West (23-3): The state’s preeminent program, the Trojans lose two of the best players in the school’s history with the graduations of Connor McCaffery and Devontae Lane. In all, four starters from last year’s group are gone, but no team in the state reloads with talent like this one, and this year is no exception, so nobody in the state is going to feel sorry for them. They’ll be led by junior wing Patrick McCaffery (13.8), a consensus top-50 player nationally in the 2019 class, and in many places is among the top 25-30. At 6-9 and with a huge wingspan, his all-around ability is catching up to his impressive athleticism and frame. He’s a huge matchup problem for anyone in the state with the ability to score inside or out. Look for him to have a huge junior season as he leads a talented team with aspirations of defending their state title, and taking home their fifth title in seven years. He’ll likely be joined in the starting lineup by Seybian Sims (6.2), Evan Flitz (4.1) and Hakeem Odunsi (4.7), with the fifth spot still up for grabs among a number of talented guards. That trio saw plenty of playing time off the bench (and Sims started some games last season), and they provide plenty of talent and versatility. Sims is an athletic 6-7 forward who runs the floor extremely well, competes on the glass and can protect the rim. Between him and McCaffery, teams are going to find it extremely tough to score around the basket. Flitz is one of the state’s best shooters, knocking down 50% of his 3-point attempts last year, and he’s a smart defender who will routinely draw a tough matchup. Odunsi is a skilled, playmaking wing who will likely have the ball in his hands quite a bit, as at 6-5 and with his ball handling and vision, provides a matchup issue. Look for guys like Jake Anderson (1.6), Dante Eldridge, Paul McGee, Brayden Adcock and Jalen Gaudet to play key roles for this team as well. This is the team to beat in the division, and our No. 1 team in Class 4A to open the year. There may be some early growing pains, and some losses with a loaded non-conference schedule, but this team is certainly capable of bringing home another state title.
Linn-Mar (10-13): An incredibly young team last season, the Lions lost seven games by fewer than 10 points. With six of their top nine scorers returning, look for their close game results to improve this winter. They open the season ranked No. 9 in our 4A rankings and will be led by junior wing Trey Hutcheson (15.8), who is on his way to becoming one of the most difficult players in the state to defend. At 6-6, he’s able to score inside with great footwork and touch, can stretch out to the arc (43.6 3P%) and has really improved his ball handling. A tremendous all-around player who has really taken his game up a notch, he’s primed for a huge season. Nolan Ruff (6.4), Jacob Robertson (5.3) and Cole Martin (3.2) provide some additional scoring punch and ball handling on the perimeter, while Nate Annis (5.6) and Jack Gertsen (2.8) give the Lions some size and capable interior scoring. A traditionally strong program that returns lots of talent, they’ll be a threat to make it back to the state tournament for the first time since 2012.
Waterloo East (6-16): Like Jefferson, the Trojans are going to be really small, but they have the potential to be really explosive offensively. They’ll be led by junior guard Tyrese Nickelson (24.8), who was one of the state’s best scorers last season. He had an eventful offseason, surviving a stabbing, but is back and ready to roll to begin the season. He’ll be joined by Ja’Cee Clark (11.8), a 5-9 point guard who dished out 118 assists last year and led the team with 80 steals. He’s a solid guard option alongside the explosive scoring of Nickelson. Also back are guards Jovahn Holmes (7.4) and Jordan Jackson (8.2). No returnee with any significant experience is taller than 6-2, so they’ll struggle to compete on the glass or against bigger teams, but they’ll be able to score on most teams, and Nickelson will be one of the most fun players in the state to watch.
Waterloo West (10-12): The Wahawks bring back leading scorer CaRondis Harris-Anderson (18.8), a versatile wing who can fill it up at all three levels and has steadily improved throughout his high school career. Sophomore point guard Nick Pepin (6.4) also returns after leading the team in assists last season and is a solid fit alongside the scoring ability of Harris-Anderson. Isaiah Johnson (5.2), Tyreek Green (5.5), Jaden Keller (2.1) and Jaquan O’Neal (2.6) also return, giving the Wahawks plenty of depth and scoring punch. They’ll need to improve on the defensive end after allowing 66.6 points a game last season, which ranked 43rd (out of 48 4A teams). This group is going to be able to score on just about anyone, as they have a versatile squad who can do so in a number of ways. But unless they improve on defense, they’ll be stuck in the middle of the division.
Projected Order of Finish
1. Iowa City West
3. Cedar Rapids Xavier
4. Waterloo West
5. Dubuque Wahlert
6. Cedar Rapids Jefferson
7. Waterloo East
Analysis: It’s the Trojans division again this year, and they should cruise to a division title. The most interesting race here will be for second place, where any of them teams we have slated to finish second through fifth could wind up. And Jefferson and East are both capable of pulling off upsets on any given night. This is as deep and talented as we can remember the MVC being, in both divisions, and it should make for some really entertaining basketball.
PRESEASON PLAYER OF THE YEAR
2018 Matt Mims, Cedar Rapids Xavier: 15.3 points, 3.6 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.7 steals, 44.8 FG%
A future South Dakota State Jackrabbit, Mims led the league in assists last year, while posting a 3.3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. As the catalyst of the two-time defending champions in 3A, he’s a proven winner who always raises his play when the stakes are higher. With lots of talent gone, look for his scoring production to continue to increase.
2020 Reazjuan Shockley, Cedar Rapids Jefferson: One of the biggest players on a really small roster, Shockley will be a key contributor in the paint for the J-Hawks this year. He’s a highly athletic forward who will be a major player in the MVC for the next three years.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
2018 Matt Mims, Cedar Rapids Xavier
2018 Jackson Joens, Cedar Rapids Xavier
2019 Quinn Schulte, Cedar Rapids Xavier
2019 Patrick McCaffery, Iowa City West
2018 Seybian Sims, Iowa City West
2018 Hakeem Odunsi, Iowa City West
2018 Evan Flitz, Iowa City West
2019 Trey Hutcheson, Linn-Mar
2018 Nolan Ruff, Linn-Mar
2018 Jacob Robertson, Linn-Mar
2018 CaRondis Harris-Anderson, Waterloo West
2020 Nick Pepin, Waterloo West
2020 Isaiah Johnson, Waterloo West
2019 Tyrese Nickelson, Waterloo East
2018 Ja’Cee Clark, Waterloo East
2019 Willie Guy, Cedar Rapids Jefferson
2018 Kyler Bell, Cedar Rapids Jefferson
2018 Peter Timmerman, Dubuque Wahlert
2018 Matt Bandy, Dubuque Wahlert
2018 Will Leytem, Dubuque Wahlert