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Posted On: 02/28/18 5:42 PM
Postseason basketball is right around the corner with some of the small-school section tournaments starting this week.
Section 1AA might be the deepest in the state as four teams won more than 20 games and three more won at least 17. Lake City emerged in somewhat surprising fashion a year ago, knocking out St. Charles and Caledonia to earn a trip to the state tournament. The Tigers earned the No. 2 seed and will certainly be among the favorites to represent the section again at state this year.
The Warriors earned the top seed in the section thanks to a 22-4 regular season. Caledonia’s four losses came to Minnehaha Academy, Minneapolis North, St. Charles and Rushford-Peterson (without Owen King). The Warriors have wins over all of the top teams in the section and with King back healthy, they should be the team to beat.
King is the engine as he puts up big scoring numbers while also controlling the tempo and getting his teammates good shots in the flow of the offense. He’s good on the defensive end and he makes big plays at key moments. His brother Noah King is one of the best scorers in the state and provides a physical presence on both ends of the floor.
Those two give Caledonia the best one-two punch in the section but the Warriors have a complete team too. Sam Barthel, Eli King and Andrew Goergen are reliable perimeter players and Marten Morem is a capable third scorer on the interior.
If there’s a question I have about the Warriors, it would be regarding their ability to play in a slow-paced, low-scoring game. They lost to Lake City last season in that kind of game and they lost to Rushford-Peterson this season in that kind of game. Caledonia plays fast. The Warriors are most comfortable in an open game where they can get up and down the floor. Can they grind out a game played predominantly in the halfcourt?
Next Up: Lake City
The defending section champs, Lake City heads into the postseason with a 13-game winning streak. The Tigers have more than enough firepower to overwhelm their opponents but also are capable of locking in and playing a grit-and-grind defensive style game.
Marc Kjos and Nathan Heise make up perhaps the best backcourt in the section and the forward combo of Zach Bremer and Reid Gastner gives the Tigers four guys who are capable of taking over stretches of a game.
Kjos is the key guy as he not only leads the team in scoring and assists but he’s also a very good defender. His ability to create offense and make shots in the halfcourt while controlling tempo will be a key as the Tigers will likely try to keep games at a slower tempo.
In the Hunt: Byron, St. Charles, Plainview-Elgin-Millville, Zumbrota-Mazeppa
Byron earned the No. 3 seed in the section and actually won the Hiawatha Valley League (splitting with Lake City but playing in the title game because Lake City had won the conference last year) this season. The Bears beat Z-M (the team they’ll likely see in the second round of the section tournament) by 34. So the Bears will be heading into the postseason with a whole lot of momentum. Defense is the calling card for Byron as the Bears surrender just 51 points per game. With strong athletes like Mike Coble and Bjorn Knutson on the perimeter and Kaden Koski controlling the paint, it’s a tough group to put up points against.
St. Charles finished fourth in the section but went 8-4 over its final 12 games. The Saints aren’t as three-ball dependant as they were a season ago but they still run very good offense. Drew Leistikow averaged 16.7 points and eight rebounds and Kaden Vaughn is one of the best pure shooters in the state. Keagan Maloney is a key guy as well, averaging 12 points, five rebounds and four assists.
PEM won 18 games in the regular season and beat very good teams including Rushford-Peterson, Z-M and Maple River. Barron Holtz, Griffin Doughty and David Penrose make up a strong trio of scorers. Holtz is one of the top perimeter scorers in the section and Doughty is a top-notch interior player.
Z-M is enjoying the best season in its school history (winter sports are good for Z-M) as the Cougars won the HVL Blue division and earned the No. 6 seed in the section. The senior trio of Jacob Niebuhr, Robvon Jackson and Isaiah Nolte have been terrific all season and the team’s collective athleticism and ability to defend will make them a tough out.
Watch Out For: Dover-Eyota, La Crescent
A couple lower seeds to watch out for here. Dover-Eyota won 15 games during the regular season and earned the No. 10 seed in the section. The Eagles will face Stewartville in the first round of sections. Brady Williams is one of the best players in the section.
La Crescent is one of the most improved teams in the state, going 14-10 in the regular season after winning one game a season ago. The sophomore duo of Luke Schwartzhoff and Zach Todd up front plus steady guard play from Ben Nelson and Thomas Kiesau has led to a huge step forward. The Lancers will open at Rochester Lourdes, the No. 8 team in the section.
I’ve long thought Caledonia was the third best team in Class AA and capable of winning a state title. With close losses to the two teams ahead of them, there’s no reason not to consider them still in that class.
I’ve been on the Lake City bandwagon for a long time too though and I expect the Tigers to get to the section final game for a rematch with Caledonia. At that point, it’s anybody’s guess. Caledonia beat Lake City by eight earlier in the season. If it were a seven-game series, I think it would go six or seven. I’ll take Caledonia in a rematch.