Posted On: 01/25/18 12:13 PM
More contenders have emerged than expected out of Class AAA basketball this year as the class has stood up and picked up some huge victories. Who is above and below expectations? NHR breaks it down.
Above. Austin. Only one loss on the season and the Packers have defeated some quality top ten Class AAAA competition plus Mankato East. They were a top 5-6 team coming in but they’ve been even better than that proving to be a legit state title contender when most thought that would be too much with Both Gach going to prep schools. Duoth Gach and Tate Hebrink have been what they were expected to be but Moses Issa has stepped up.
Below. Winona. With a couple double figure upperclassmen scorers back and such a good class, they were expected to have much more than four wins at this point.
Watch Out For. Austin is of course above what was expected, Northfield has been good as expected at 10-4, and then there is Simley with Isaiah Robinson and Jake Binley. If the young guys step forward the Spartans could be March dangerous when it comes to the section semis and maybe section finals.
Preseason Pick: Austin. Changing that? Never.
Above. Mankato West. At 10-5 under Jeremy Drexler the Scarlets are about four games better than I expected them to be. Center Michael Sathoff is getting his 17 a game with several double doubles as expected but fellow seniors Dondree Spann, Griffin Corbett, and Dawson Frericks have all found ways to give double figure numbers consistently with production on both ends. This is a veteran team playing like an experienced bunch.
Below. Nobody has really been below expectations. Worthington is 9-7 and against their schedule I thought they would be a game or two better but for the most part this section has went about where things were expected to.
Watch Out For. Mankato East does have some wins I wouldn’t have predicted which has made them a Class AAA title contender. East has the talent for good wins but beating Orono, Marshall, JM, and Waseca so far was more than I thought they would do. Very impressive.
Preseason Pick: Mankato East. Changing that? Nope.
Above. St. Croix Lutheran. The Crusaders have only one loss on the season. Their schedule is still that of a smaller school team as they have played 12 of their 14 games against Class AA and Class A teams but Garett Maag, Jack Kuckhahn, Aaron Jenniges, and Adam Arroyo have done the job needed to get wins against the teams they have played. An impressive 13-1 start.
Below. So many. Expectations weren’t high for most of the section but most teams have been worse than expected. St. Thomas has played a very difficult schedule but most thought they would be better than 7-7. Richfield is winless, Kennedy only has three wins, and after a great 16-17 season Highland Park has only won four games. South St Paul though is BETTER than expected though with five early season wins and they’ve played Sibley, Simley, and Hastings very tough.
Watch Out For. St. Thomas. I know the Crusaders are six games better in record but St. Thomas has played eight ranked big school teams this year where as the Crusaders have played a small school schedule. When they play I think STA/St Croix Lutheran will be a great game but I believe the Cadets will have a big edge of battle tested experience. I also believe STA is about to go on a run after their 7-7 start. I think they can likely win 10 of their next 12.
Preseason Pick: St. Thomas. Changing that? No.
Above. Fridley and Mahtomedi. Fridley is 10-3 and Mahtomedi is 11-4. At 18.3 a game Jerome Cunningham is starting to blossom like many have been waiting for him to, Evan Nelson is always a solid PG, and Nate Soto is a multi sport athlete scoring 16-17 a game. Fridley has been better than expected and Mahtomedi is well past what anyone though. They brought next to nobody back from last year’s varsity rotation but J’Vonne Hadley is proving to be the guy that we saw in the summer and fall while Jack Shay, Tim Lindquist, and Karmoga Laro have all been very good with their first varsity minutes. And Columbia Heights. They came into the year as a top three team and they have yet to lose. That’s meeting if not stepping above expectations. Not a surprise like the Tigers and Zephyrs but still above expectations.
Below. St. Anthony Village. They have four or five losses that you would never expected considering Aaron Smith and Tait Nelson are back from great seasons (high school and AAU) but Smith has only played half of the games which is key reason why the record has slipped to what it is.
Watch Out For. Totino-Grace. Same story for this team each year. They play a tough schedule that has some of the best big school squads in the state so the record doesn’t look great (Ls to Austin, Park Center, Hopkins, Wayzata, Osseo, etc) but come section play time they will be right in the mix.
Preseason Pick: Columbia Heights. Changing that? Nope.
Above. Willmar. Are you kidding me? Willmar has yet to lose. A huge surprise this season. Noah Slagter has been all state caliber and the guys around him – Ty Roelofs and Drey Dirksen among others – have stepped up. And it’s not like Willmar is mopping up against teams you don’t know, they are having their way against Central Lakes teams. Tech, Big Lake, Sauk Rapids, Alex, Fergus, you name it, Willmar is rolling. Dassel-Cokato has been way better than expected as well and Monticello at 13-3 has really turned things around from last year.
Below. Big Lake lost a lot of very good seniors but they still have talent so a 2-11 record seems like a surprise.
Watch Out For. The guards, Matt Todd and Cal Wishart. You don’t want to face these guys in sections. Todd’s Magic is a smaller team and Wishart has dealt with an ankle issue, but they will be a strong contender to what Willmar has done.
Preseason Pick: Delano. Changing that? No. As good as Willmar is, they haven’t faced a guard playmaker like Todd or Wishart. Both will be tough to knock out, as will Willmar. Can’t change my pick, Delano is well tested against their tough schedule.
Above. Minneapolis Roosevelt. Have you seen Deszi Sims? I have. And that was game one of the season. Sims and Coach Mestas have the Teddies about 2-3 games better than expected and Sims is scoring 25 a game. This guy has exploded and don’t be surprised with anything that comes next with him. Put him on your radar, everyone! Also, at 9-6 Mound-Westonka has had a really nice year under Coach Phillips.
Below. Waconia has lost seven of their last eleven games. Their schedule is always tough, losing isn’t the surprise as their schedule was going to have some losses, but the losses by big margins lately is what has been tough. At 8-7 I would say Waconia is really only 2-3 games under what I thought they would be when I had them 8th to start the year in Class AAA. Schedule doesn’t get easier either.
Watch Out For. I still believe strongly it will come down to DeLaSalle and Orono and I don’t think anyone can put a dent in that. Orono beat Roosevelt and Waconia by big margins and DeLaSalle took care of BSM. Those would be the closest teams to give a challenge and the top teams put big numbers on them.
Preseason Pick: DeLaSalle. Changing that? Not until I see it happen, it’s been a long, long time. So no of course. Orono this year has the best chance I’ve seen lately though.
Above. Princeton. The Tigers have turned a 7-21 season into an 11-3 start led by Adam Williams, Jon Stimmler and James Flicek all having great years. Stimmler is scoring nearly 20 a game and physically grabbing everything and finishing everything inside. Also, Hibbing is 11-4 and playing better than expected.
Below. Hermantown. At 7-10 with some experienced players they are a few games under expectations.
Watch Out For. GR. At 11-5 they have lost some games you wouldn’t expect them to despite Nate Seelye putting up some massive numbers and having some great games. When it hits playoff time Grand Rapids is usually the most dangerous team in the section and I don’t see that changing.
Preseason Pick: Grand Rapids. Changing that? Not yet. But Princeton just had a nice win against Cambridge and in just over a week they play Grand Rapids. This section is the closest I came to switch my pick but GR is such a March threat.
Above. Bemidji. The Lumberjacks are winning with toughness, balance, ball movement, and team play. Guys like Colten Jensen, Kade Peterson, and Spencer Konecne are having great years for a team that nobody expected to be 10-4.
Below. Nobody is really far below expectations. Alexandria and Fergus Falls likely have a loss more than I thought they would and the same could be said for Detroit Lakes and Apollo, but nobody is really below what we thought they would be.
Watch Out For. Sauk Rapids-Rice. Beating Delano by 18 without Calvin, beating Tech, taking Willmar to overtime and giving them a better run than anyone, the Storm have won 8 of 10 and have turned a corner.
Preseason Pick: Fergus Falls. Changing that? No, but the section seems up in the air.