Posted On: 11/27/17 12:00 PM

The Teams
Cedar Falls (16-8): A young team that was highly competitive last year returns largely in tact, as seven of the top eight scorers from last year’s top 10 team are back for the Tigers. They’ll of course by led by star guard AJ Green (21.5), a Northern Iowa signee. A highly-regarded prospect nationally, he’s an electric scorer who is as good a bet as anyone in the state to go off for 40+ on any given night. Combining tight handles with a silky jumper, he’s capable of scoring from anywhere on the floor and is also a capable facilitator. He’ll be joined in the starting lineup by Ben Gerdes (10.5), Logan Wolf (6.9), Jackson Frericks (6.2) and likely one of Jack Campbell (3.3), Sam Gary (1.5) or Reese Gardner (1.2). Gerdes is a tough, physical, undersized forward who will likely lead the team in rebounding and score efficiently. Wolf had a very strong summer with the Barnstormers and will step into Isaiah Johnson’s role as the team’s top perimeter defender. He’s a smart defensive player capable of defending any of the perimeter spots, and he’s become a much more confident offensive player as well. Look for him to have a breakout junior year. Frericks provide some size and length, and he can stretch out to the arc and knock down 3s. They’ll need him to play a little tougher this year, and with a year of physical maturation under his belt, that should come. With lots of experience returning, and one of the most dangerous players in the state leading the charge, the Tigers look like a state title worthy team. They open the year ranked No. 4 in our 4A rankings, and will have their hands full with Senior and Hempstead in this division.

Cedar Rapids Kennedy (19-7): Few programs in the state reload the way the Cougars do, who routinely lose large chunks off their roster, find new players and make a run to the state tournament. And while they lose five of their top seven players from last year’s roster, this is another season in which they bring back just enough talent to keep them afloat while the rest of the roster gets caught up. They’ll be led by the backcourt duo of Derrick Diggins (12.6) and Jackson Foley (8.4). Diggins is a hyper-athletic wing who led the team in assists and blocks last season and is capable of scoring at all three levels. Foley, a 5-7 point guard, is as tough as they come and is a high-level shooter who made 41 3s last season (43.6%). Also returning are role players Ki Jenkins (3.1) and Jack Wetzel (1.9). After playing a role last year as a freshman, look for Wetzel to become one of the top players for the Cougars this year. Coach Jon McKowen is one of the best defensive minds in the state, routinely switching up the looks they throw at opposing teams, and making life frustrating. While the Cougars lose quite a bit of punch from last year’s roster, there is no doubt they’ll find a way to replace them and once again be formidable.

Cedar Rapids Prairie (14-8): Last season was the best in years at Prairie, as they won 14 games and had arguably two bigger wins of their resume than any other team in the state with their wins over Iowa City West and Dubuque Senior. They were paced by one of the state’s most potent 3-point attacks, making 9.6 3s a night. They’ll need to replace a big portion of that with the graduation of Jake Eilers (76 made 3s) and Max Smith-Drahos, who led the team in scoring last year. However, four of the top six scorers from last year’s group return, giving them plenty of firepower to move forward with. Griff Clark (15.7) is one of the toughest guards in the state. A shifty, tough and fearless point guard, he’s equally adept scoring or facilitating, and he was one of the best free throw shooters in the state last year (91.6%). He gets to the line frequently, and he’s nearly automatic when he gets there. He’ll be flanked by the Murray twins, juniors Keegan (9.0) and Kris (5.0), who are coming off of solid sophomore seasons and great grassroots summers. They’ll be asked to carry a heavy scoring load, and both are capable of doing so. They’re long, athletic and great shooters who have worked to expand their all-around games. Look for huge years from the twins. Levi Usher (2.7) is the only other returnee who saw significant playing time last year, and he’ll be asked to be a solid role player, contributing on the glass and scoring an occasional bucket. There are certainly some areas that need to be filled, but the three-headed monster of Clark, Murray and Murray is going to keep scoring a lot of points on the south side of Cedar Rapids, and they have quite a few new options from last year’s sophomore team that they’re excited about. This group will win plenty of games.

Cedar Rapids Washington (4-18): The Warriors return five of their top seven scorers from last year’s group, so they should be improved. They’ll be led by Mick McCurry (9.5) and Collin Westmoreland (8.5), who make up a solid backcourt tandem. Drew Christensen (6.4), Luke Jonasson (5.5), Max Campbell (5.1) and Nolan Potter (4.7) also return, giving the Warriors plenty of experience. This team desperately needs to improve on the defensive end, as they allowed 68.6 points a game, which ranked 46th (out of 48 4A teams). They won’t win more games this year unless they improve on that end of the floor.

Dubuque Hempstead (18-6): After making the state tournament for the first time in the school’s history last year, the Mustangs will be looking to build on that experience this winter. They bring back two of their top three scorers with Lucas Duax (12.7) and Keith Johnson (12.6). An Upper Iowa signee, Duax is primed for an explosion this year. He’s an athletic point guard, able to score at all three levels and has the size and length to make a major impact on both ends of the floor. With older brother Connor now out of the picture, it’s Lucas’ team, and he’s set to have a sensational senior season. Johnson, an athletic combo forward, will be Duax’s primary sidekick and has all sorts of defensive abilities. He can defend multiple positions, rebounds at a high level and has the ability to stretch the floor on the offensive end. Look for Max and Michael Duax to provide some quality minutes as well for this talented team. They’re probably a step below Cedar Falls and Senior in the division, but the Duax-Johnson duo is going to win a lot of games and will have a chance at making another run to the state tournament.

Dubuque Senior (19-4): After spending years and years in the basement of the MVC, the Senior Rams have enjoyed a renaissance of sorts during this decade, enjoying more success on the hardwood than the school has ever seen. Our preseason No. 3 team in Class 4A, they look like a legitimate threat to take home the school’s first state title. With four of the top five scorers returning from last year’s team, this group is talented and will have depth. They’ll be led by one of the best duos in the state in power forward Noah Carter (18.5) and quick combo guard Carter Stevens (14.0). Stevens missed a good chunk of time last season with a foot injury, but he looked fully recovered when we saw the Rams over the summer and has the all-around offensive game that will make him a real pain to defend. Carter enjoyed a strong summer with the Iowa Barnstormers, displaying more athleticism than we’ve seen from him ever. He’s a gifted scorer who just has a knack for putting the ball in the bucket, able to score at will around the rim and he’s also one of the best pure shooters in the state. At 6-6, that shooting ability makes him nearly impossible to defend. The Carter-Stevens two-man game will get a lot of buckets this year. The rest of the returnees know their roles and play them well. Sam Link (8.5) and Nick Timmerman (6.5) are both capable shooters from the arc, and Timmerman is one of the toughest, most physical wing defenders you’ll find. Look for junior wing Marshaun Carroll to provide some additional scoring pop, likely off the bench. There is loads of talent in the Senior system right now, and if ever there is a year for them to win a state title, this is probably it.

Iowa City High (4-18): There is some reason for second year Little Hawks coach Derek Roberts to get excited, as they return three of their top four scorers from last year’s team. Guard Antonio Turner (11.7) was last year’s leading scorer, but look for that title to be taken by sophomore wing Keshawn Christian (8.3) this year. A strong, athletic 6-3 wing, Christian has the ability to score at all three levels and is a strong perimeter defender. Turner is a lightning quick guard who can break down a defense and get to the rim, and Ry Threlkeld-Weigand (8.3) is a sharpshooter who can knock down open looks. JP Rethwisch (3.3) played well in spurts last season, and 6-9 senior center Jeremy Kambomba (1.3) is a highly intriguing big man who earned minutes late last year and should play quite a bit this season. In a league loaded with talent, it’ll be tough to see a lot of improvement in the win column for the Little Hawks, but rest assured, this program is trending up.

Projected Order of Finish
1. Dubuque Senior
2. Cedar Falls
3. Dubuque Hempstead
4. Cedar Rapids Prairie
5. Cedar Rapids Kennedy
6. Iowa City High
7. Cedar Rapids Washington

Analysis: Perhaps the most intriguing conference race in the state, Senior and Cedar Falls are both state title worthy teams, and Hempstead, Prairie and Kennedy all look like teams who could make a run to the tournament. There is loads of talent in this division and it’ll be a fun one to keep track of all year.

PRESEASON PLAYER OF THE YEAR

2018 AJ Green, Cedar Falls: 21.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.1 steals, 43.4 3P%, 90.4 FT%

The leading scorer in the conference, the Northern Iowa commit is one of the most talented players the state has seen in recent years. The combination of elite ball handling, footwork and one of the best jump shots not just in the state, but in the country, make Green a nearly impossible player to defend. He’ll have a huge senior season for one of 4A’s best teams, as he looks to lead the Tigers back to the state tournament after a one-year absence.

BIGGEST SLEEPER

2020 Jack Wetzel, Cedar Rapids Kennedy: After playing a role on last year’s state qualifying team, the sophomore wing should be a major player for the Cougars this year. A versatile wing who defends, rebounds and can score from all three levels, he’s a player who will be one to keep an eye on in coming years.

PLAYERS TO WATCH
2018 AJ Green, Cedar Falls
2019 Logan Wolf, Cedar Falls
2018 Ben Gerdes, Cedar Falls
2019 Noah Carter, Dubuque Senior
2018 Carter Stevens, Dubuque Senior
2018 Griff Clark, Cedar Rapids Prairie
2019 Keegan Murray, Cedar Rapids Prairie
2019 Kris Murray, Cedar Rapids Prairie
2018 Keith Johnson, Dubuque Hempstead
2018 Lucas Duax, Dubuque Hempstead
2018 Derrick Diggins, Cedar Rapids Kennedy
2018 Jackson Foley, Cedar Rapids Kennedy
2020 Keshawn Christian, Iowa City High
2019 Antonio Turner, Iowa City High
2018 Collin Westmoreland, Cedar Rapids Washington