Conference Preview: North Iowa Cedar West

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Posted On: 11/8/17 3:58 PM

The Teams
AGWSR, Ackley (15-7): Nine seniors from last season’s roster need to be replaced for the Cougars, including six of their top seven scorers. The only returnee among the regulars is Alex Hames (7.7), who was fourth in the team in scoring last season but proved to be an effective shooter from distance, knocking down 37 3s at a 37.4% clip. The only other returnee who scored more than 20 points last season is Ethan Ubben (1.9), who had 27 points on the season. There are a lot of question marks to fill in for this AGWSR roster, and after losing so much experience and talent, it’s hard to see them not falling towards the bottom of the league.

BCLUW, Conrad (4-18): The Comets struggled to score last season, averaging just 43.1 points a game on 36-25-55 shooting splits. The good news is that five of the top six from that team return, so we can expect to see some improvement. They’ll be led by Troy Dolfin (11.0), a forward who does most of his damage inside the arc. Jonny Neff (4.7) will provide some additional help in the paint. The perimeter will be manned by Logan Mann (7.3), Blake Mann (4.2) and Jack Garber (3.7). Garber was the team’s most successful shooter last season (42.4 3P%, 14-33), and they’ll need him to knock down shots to take some of the pressure off of Dolfin and Neff in the paint. If this group can take better care of the basketball (76 assists to 449 turnovers last year), that will help them on the offensive end as well. With plenty of experience back they should be better, the question now becomes if the talent is good enough for the returning experience to make much of an impact.

East Marshall (17-6): Few teams in the state were better than the Mustangs once Zaine Leedom (17.9) became eligible last season. The Grinnell transfer, who became eligible on January 13, was the league’s best player not named Joe Smoldt after he became eligible, and the team only lost three times with him on the floor – twice to Smoldt and Gladbrook-Reinbeck (by three and five), and once to Collin Hill and South Hamilton (by two in the substate final), who went on to give eventual champion Western Christian their best game at state. And now, a large chunk of that roster returns, giving them the league’s best team and a real shot at making a state tournament appearance. They’ll be led by the aforementioned Leedom, a versatile combo forward who can score inside and out, rebounds at a high level and blocks shots. But he’s far from alone. Zane Johnson (14.6) plays with a relentless motor and pairs with Leedom to give the ‘Stangs a top-notch pair of rebounders. And Tyler DeBondt (10.6) dished out 190 assists to just 35 turnovers last season, making him one of the state’s elite distributors. Role players Logan Nicholson (4.0), Eli Anderson (3.7) and Justin Ridout (2.7) also return, giving them some experience to place alongside the “Big Three”. I made the prediction before last season that the Mustangs would be state tournament bound, and they fell two points short last season. I’ll make the same prediction again this year. Not only do they win this division (quite handily), but they make a trip to Des Moines as well.

Gladbrook-Reinbeck (26-3): The Rebels have the impossible task of replacing one of the state’s most productive players in history in Joe Smoldt, who finished seventh in state history in scoring and 3-pointers, and top-20 all-time in assists. A big-time winner who led the Rebels to a state title, a runner-up and a fourth place finish, while winning 1A state tournament MVP all three years, there isn’t a way to replace him. And also gone are five other members from the most winning senior class the school has produced. A pair of starters return however in Caden Kickbush (11.6) and Walker Thede (3.2), so not all will be lost. Kickbush, a 6-5 senior wing, is long, athletic and can score at all three levels. This will be his team now, and he’ll put up some big numbers. Thede was a glue guy last season, a contributor on the defensive end who would get an occasional bucket. He’ll need to place a much larger role now. Mason Skovgard (2.8) and Jackson Kiburis (2.5) also return, so they have some experience coming back. They’ll need to learn how to play without Smoldt, and that could take a while. But Kickbush will be one of the division’s best players, and while they likely can’t contend with East Marshall, they should still push to be a top two or three team in the division.

Grundy Center (6-17): The Spartans were a tough luck team last season, losing ten games by single digits. Now, they lose their top three scorers, which will make life difficult. The leading returnee is guard Sage Klar (5.4), a capable shooter and ball handler who will be the team’s primary playmaker. Drew Rathe (4.1) provides some shooting, as does Mitchell Munson (3.6). Look for Joe Johnson (4.1) to hold down the paint after leading the team in blocks (19) coming off the bench last season. They’ll need to find some production out of other returnees like Tanner Appel (3.4) and Jordan Hook (1.7) if they want to remain competitive in the league this year.

South Hardin (4-18): The Tigers’ return four of their top five scorers, which should give them a bit of hope for improvement on the four wins they posted a year ago. Kevin Rewoldt (7.9) averaged over nine rebounds a game and blocked 29 shots last season, while also being far and away the team’s most productive offensive player, shooting 63.1% from the floor. They’ll need to get the senior forward the ball more often this season if they want to improve in the win column. Cade Spieker (6.6) joins Rewoldt in the frontcourt, while Cauy Teske (7.2) figures to be the leader of the backcourt after knocking down 43 3s last season. Jacob Vander Wilt (4.9) will join him there, as will Christian Penning (7.6). They allowed over 60 points a game last season, while scoring only 45 a night, so if they can improve on both of those numbers a bit, they’ll see more wins coming. They shouldn’t finish in the basement this season, but an upper half finish is likely out of the question.

West Marshall (10-13): If a team is going to make a leap up and challenge East Marshall in the division, it may be the Trojans. They lose their leading scorer but bring back a load of experience and the second through seventh leading scorers from last year’s young team. Sophomore guard Peyton Pope gave them a spark when he joined the team last season, averaging 10.9 points a game in his seven varsity contests, and shooting 44% from behind the arc. He’ll probably be looked at as the go-to option this season. Beau Coberley (9.3), Alex Dickey (8.1) and Cam Bannister (7.8) were all solid players last season and each are viable shooters from the arc. Joseph Halverson (6.4), Josh Larson (3.4) and Cole Baccam (2.3) return as role players after seeing plenty of action last season. This team isn’t going to have much size, which could hurt them against the Leedom-Johnson frontcourt, but they’re going to be able to put five shooters on the floor with pretty much any lineup they threw out there, and they’ll be able to score on teams. If they’re able to hold their own defensively and on the glass, they could make some noise.

Projected Order of Finish
1. East Marshall
2. Gladbrook-Reinbeck
3. West Marshall
4. South Hardin
5. AGWSR, Ackley
6. Grundy Center
7. BCLUW, Conrad

Analysis: This is East Marshall’s year in the league after falling short against Gladbrook-Reinbeck twice last season. The Mustangs are primed not only to run through this league, but make a trip to Des Moines as well. The Rebels have built up a solid winning program and despite losing one of the state’s best players all-time, should remain competitive, and West Marshall brings back plenty of talent and experience. They can play with most teams with the shooting they’ll put on the floor.

PRESEASON PLAYER OF THE YEAR

2018 Zaine Leedom, East Marshall: 17.9 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.9 blocks, 59.8 FG%

The leading returning scorer in the division, Leedom was sensational last year after becoming eligible following his transfer from Grinnell. A gifted all-around player who can provide plenty of highlights, his non-stop motor and tremendous skill level make him a nearly impossible matchup at the 2A level. He’s a double-double threat with the ability to score from anywhere on the floor and protect the rim on defense.

BIGGEST SLEEPER

2020 Peyton Pope, West Marshall: The 6-0 sophomore guard averaged nearly 11 points a game in his seven varsity contests last season, giving the Trojans a spark late in the season. He’ll be the primary scoring threat for a team looking to jump up and contend with Gladbrook-Reinbeck for second place in the division.

PLAYERS TO WATCH
2018 Zaine Leedom, East Marshall
2018 Zane Johnson, East Marshall
2018 Tyler DeBondt, East Marshall
2018 Logan Nicholson, East Marshall
2018 Caden Kickbush, Gladbrook-Reinbeck
2018 Walker Thede, Gladbrook-Reinbeck
2020 Peyton Pope, West Marshall
2018 Alex Dickey, West Marshall
2019 Cam Bannister, West Marshall
2018 Beau Coberley, West Marshall
2019 Joseph Halverson, West Marshall
2018 Troy Dolfin, BCLUW, Conrad
2019 Jonny Neff, BCLUW, Conrad
2018 Kevin Rewoldt, South Hardin
2019 Cade Spieker, South Hardin
2019 Cauy Teske, South Hardin
2018 Sage Klar, Grundy Center
2019 Alex Hames, AGWSR, Ackley