Posted On: 02/28/18 8:00 PM
Postseason play is right around the corner with section tournaments starting this week at the small-school level.
New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva came out of Section 2AA last season, using a combination of stifling defense and shot-making from Oakley Baker and Benji Lundberg to finish with two wins at the state tournament.
The Panthers lost a monster senior class from last season but there’s been no letdown as NRHEG’s won 23 games and locked up the top seed in the south subsection. Jordan, the team the Panthers beat in the Section 2AA final, also had to replace a lot as it lost Jimmy Vollbrecht to graduation. The Hubmen had much more readymade talent in the cupboard though, so a 21-5 campaign doesn’t come as much of a surprise.
A one-two punch of Eric Tiedman and Ryan Samuelson is as good as it gets in the section and that’s enough to make the Hubmen the favorite in the section. Tiedman is the best player in the section, averaging 19 points per game while contributing on the glass, making plays for others and providing top-shelf defense. Samuelson will be the next star at Jordan as he’s averaging 17 points as just a sophomore.
The Hubmen average 70 points per game as a team and allow just 56. They’ve got size that few teams in the section can match, experience from a challenging schedule and top-shelf talent.
Next Up: NRHEG
NRHEG needed returning guard Benji Lundberg to step his game up this season. He’s delivered, averaging better than 18 points per game while effectively running the team and providing quality on-ball defense. Lundberg was the super sixth man for the Panthers last season and he’s been the unquestionable player of the year in the Gopher Conference. He’s an underrated lead guard and good enough to put the Panthers on his back and carry them to state.
The defense has been the engine again for the Panthers this season as they surrender just 46 points per game. Some of that can probably be attributed to the Gopher Conference being collectively down this year but the Panthers have been stingy all season long.
That’ll serve them well as games inevitably get slower and more physical.
In the Mix: Sibley East, Maple River
Five of the 15 teams in the section have winning records. So this section doesn’t feel as open as some of the others around the state. And even the two teams that pose perhaps the greatest threats to Jordan and NRHEG respectively, Sibley East and Maple River are each 0-2 against the teams at the top. All four of those losses were by double digits.
Sibley East does have arguably the best player in the section in Gavin Bates though, so the Wolverines will always be a tough out.
Maple River is one of the most consistent programs in Class AA and the Eagles play a methodical style that lends itself to postseason play. Ethan Sindelir and Mason Sohre bring a lot of postseason experience. So even if the Eagles might not have the offensive juice they’ve had in the past, they’ll be a difficult team to knock out.
I’ll take Jordan in a rematch of the section final game from last year. Tiedman and Samuelson are better than any duo NRHEG has seen to this point in the season (the Panthers finish the regular season against Waseca) and I think Jordan’s combination of size and athleticism will allow them to score enough against a tough NRHEG defense.
I think Jordan is more vulnerable than NRHEG to reach the section final if only because Sibley East has the type of top-end talent that can make things interesting in a tight environment but I’ll take Jordan to get to the state tournament.