Conference Preview: River Valley South

Featured
Iowa

Posted On: 11/2/17 8:47 AM

The Teams
Durant (9-13): The Wildcats lose leading scorer Luke Whitlock from last year’s team, but bring back plenty of experience outside of that. They’ll be led by guard Josh Hein (8.4), who looks primed to step into the primary scoring role. An effective 3-point shooter, he’ll be tasked with carrying this team offensively after they struggled to score last season, averaging just 50 points a game. Mason Compton (7.0), Easton Botkins (5.6), Joe Lilienthal (5.3) and Bryce Lafrenz (5.1) all return after playing significant minutes last season. There isn’t enough talent here for the Wildcats to remain competitive for 32 minutes against the Reginas, West Branchs and Tiptons of the league, but they could battle for a fourth place finish in this division.

Iowa City Regina (13-9): It’s hard not to get excited about the Regals under first year head coach Jared Galpin. They return their top five scorers from what was a very young, but successful, team last season, and they have the balance to be a major threat not only in this division, but in the state at the 2A level. Senior wing Jocoa Kerschen (12.6) will be their leader, a talented wing with good size who competes on the glass and has the length to defend multiple positions. Where he truly excels, however, is in his shooting. Ignore his numbers from last season (32.1 3P%), because he’s an elite shooter, one of the best in the state. He’ll be joined on the perimeter by Masen Miller (8.4, 43.9 3P%), Jake Phillips (8.5, 42.1 3P%) and Ryne Schooley (9.1, 39.5 3P%), which gives them a ton of shooting to put around their star big man. 6-9 sophomore Even Brauns (10.4) has the look and skill level of a potential Division I player, and he’s going to be nearly impossible to defend at this level. Look for him to be much more heavily involved in the offense in his second high school season. The bench has some talented role players on it as well, with players like Zach Seaman (4.2), Blake Berns (3.6) and Bryce Barnett (1.9) adding some scoring and ball handling. Barnett is a talented point guard with good court vision who will ensure that the offense doesn’t skip a beat when Phillips or Miller are off the court. This team has a real chance at being a state title team with all the talent, experience and balance they have, and they’re a clear favorite in this division.

Mid-Prairie (7-17): The Golden Hawks did what they were supposed to do last season, beating the teams they were supposed to beat, and losing (often times big) to teams they should have lost to. The issue coming into this season is that they’ll need to replace the top three scorers from that team. They’ll be led by Brad Tornow (6.6) and Tom Butters (5.6), a pair of players who will need to see their shooting percentages rise in larger roles. Tornow, a 5-8 sophomore guard, had a solid freshman season, leading the team in assists and steals. He’s a slasher who is able to get into the paint, but can struggle to finish at times. Butters will be joined in the paint by Kyle Miller (4.2), a 6-7 senior forward who could become a matchup problem if he has improved. Dominic Pickard (4.6), Cary Schaefer (3.6), Ryan Slaubaugh (2.3) and Josh Slaubaugh (1.5) all return for Mid-Prairie as well, giving them plenty of experience returning. This was a balanced team last year, with nobody averaging more than 8.8 points, and we expect more of the same this year. If they can become a better shooting team (30.7 3P%), they can be more competitive against the bigger, bettter teams in the league.

Tipton (13-11): Three rotation players have graduated for the Tigers, but their two stars return in Logan Hoffman (22.8) and Andrew Stewart (15.3), a duo that will win Tipton plenty of games this year. Hoffman, our preseason POY, is a big, nimble post player who has steadily worked to stretch his game away from the basket, and could be the toughest player to defend in the division this season. He has great hands, great footwork, runs the floor well and lives at the free throw line, where he’s an 82% shooter. Stewart is more perimeter oriented, and if he can get that 3-point percentage up from last year’s 33.6% closer to a 37-38%, watch out. Jacob Tischuk (4.7), Frank Bierman (3.3) and Luke Becker (2.4) likely round out the starting five for the Tigers, and any production they can get out of them will be gravy. This is Hoffman’s team, and they’ll go as far as he and Stewart can take them.

West Branch (18-6): The good news for the Bears is that they only lose one player from last year’s roster who scored a point. The bad news is that that player is Cooper Kabela, who is one of the best players in the school’s history. He averaged 24 points a game last season and is going to be a tough player to replace with his diverse inside-out skill set. Beau Cornwell (19.2) is a gunner with extreme range and confidence, and he’ll step into the role as top dog this year for the Bears, who fell just one game short of the state tournament last season. Cornwell led the team in assists last season (97) and steals (80), while knocking down 57 3s. He hasn’t seen a 3 he isn’t comfortable taking, and that confidence is going to lead to some huge nights. Ben Thompson (9.0) will step into Cornwell’s role as the second scoring option. He does most of his damage inside the arc, shooting an efficient 52.3% from the floor last season. Tanner Lukavsky (4.7), Brett Schiele (4.3) and Ted Bridges (3.5) are also back after playing big minutes last year. This team will go as far as Cornwell will take them. They should contend for a division crown and a state tournament berth again this season.

West Liberty (7-15): The Comets lose leading scorer Noah Feldman from last year’s group, but scorers two through five are back, giving them plenty of returning experience. Younger brother Seth Feldman (10.2) will likely be the leading scorer for the Comets this year. He’s a capable shooter from distance, and he’ll have the ball in his hands a lot after dishing out 62 assists last year. Spencer Daufeldt (8.8) is also back, a 6-1 forward who does all of his damage around the rim and averaged over five free throw attempts a game. Tanner Iske (6.8) and Nathan Schemmel (2.5) are the other key returnees. This group will battle with Durant and Mid-Prairie for a fourth place finish behind the “big three” in the division.

Wilton (2-20): The Beavers struggled to put the ball in the bucket last year, averaging just 35.7 points a game on 30-25-54 splits. They lose their top four, and five of their top six scorers from that team, so there can’t be much reason for optimism in Wilton. Jared Townsend (3.8) and Cole Rabedeaux (1.5) are the leading returnees. With all the teams above them returning plenty of talent, it’s hard to see this group competing most nights. They may be able to pick up a non-conference win or two, like they did last season.

Projected Order of Finish
1. Iowa City Regina
2. West Branch
3. Tipton
4. Durant
5. West Liberty
6. Mid-Prairie
7. Wilton

Analysis: Regina is a healthy favorite here, with loads of talent, balance and experience returning. West Branch and Tipton both have players who are capable of taking over any given game and present the two biggest threats to the Regals in the league. Durant, West Liberty and Mid-Prairie all have things to be excited about and could potentially cause issues during playoff time.

PRESEASON PLAYER OF THE YEAR

2018 Logan Hoffman, Tipton: 22.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, 56.3 FG%, 81.9 FT%

A highly efficient big man with great touch, Hoffman has worked on expanding his game and is now capable of knocking down an occasional 3 to go with his exceptional work around the rim. Don’t be surprised if the Tipton big man averages a double-double, and a big one at that, for a Tigers team that can contend for the division crown.

BIGGEST SLEEPER

2019 Bryce Barnett, Iowa City Regina: He likely won’t get a chance to start given the Regals have sophomore point guard Masen Miller also on the roster, but Barnett is a highly skilled ball handler with size and excellent court vision. He has great command of whatever offense he’s leading and will ensure that the Regals have no dropoff when Miller isn’t on the court.

PLAYERS TO WATCH
2018 Logan Hoffman, Tipton
2019 Andrew Stewart, Tipton
2019 Beau Cornwell, West Branch
2018 Ben Thompson, West Branch
2020 Tanner Lukavsky, West Branch
2018 Jocoa Kerschen, Iowa City Regina
2020 Even Brauns, Iowa City Regina
2020 Masen Miller, Iowa City Regina
2018 Ryne Schooley, Iowa City Regina
2018 Jake Phillips, Iowa City Regina
2019 Seth Feldman, West Liberty
2019 Spencer Daufeldt, West Liberty
2020 Brad Tornow, Mid-Prairie
2019 Tom Butters, Mid-Prairie
2019 Mason Compton, Durant
2019 Josh Hein, Durant
2020 Joe Lilenthal, Durant