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Posted On: 03/19/18 1:42 PM
State Week is here!
To start off #MNStateBB2018, Northstar Hoops brings you everything you need to know about each team represented in The Big Dance taking place from Wednesday to Saturday in Minneapolis. Class AAA begins at Williams Arena; here’s a breakdown of the field:
Six in a row? Yep. Seven? The Islanders are in pole position to win yet another state title this season. Having sat in the number one spot in Class AAA rankings all season, DeLaSalle is 24-4 under first-year head coach Travis Bledsoe and he picked up right where the storied program left off. De took part in a section final for the ages last week, defeating rival Orono 80-78 on last second free throws to clinch another berth in the tourney.
The Islanders are led by Gopher signee Gabe Kalscheur, 6-4 shooting guard who exploded on the big stage for 38 points against Orono. He’s averaging around 22 points per game. Next to him in the backcourt is hot commodity point guard Tyrell Terry, a junior who turns heads with his handles and excellent vision. Terry posts 17 points and a handful of assists per contest. 6-7 junior forward Jamison Battle knocks down deep bombs and puts up about 14 a game as well
Then comes the rotation of Houston Rockets-esque defensive stalwarts that attack in waves. Sage Booker, Christian Dickson and Rayquan Moore are all lockdown guards who can make any opponent work for their offensive share. Add in Malik Lamin for a post presence and this De squad has all the pieces once again.
DeLaSalle will face Hermantown in the first round of State on Wednesday.
The Packers are southern Minnesota’s worst nightmare with the athletic, fast and chaotic personnel they utilize to turn teams over and get easy buckets. Austin is 26-2 and outscoring opponents by more than 20 points all season, always ready to torture rival ballhandlers with their length and speed.
The defense is always there for Kris Hadness’s group, and that leads to a lot of offense. Four guys average double figures: Duoth Gach, Tate Hebrink, Moses Issa and Medi Obang all contribute in versatile ways to score the basketball. The flexibility to play different lineups because of their athleticism means they can tire out teams with smaller rotations using their esteemed trapping press.
Many say Austin was and is the only challenger to DeLaSalle’s throne; they met in the championship last season and De won going away. Can it be a different story this time around?
The Packers face Sauk Rapids-Rice in the quarterfinals on Wednesday at Williams Arena.
(3) Mankato East
Another representative from the Big Nine, the Cougars of Mankato East (24-5) have exceeded their expectations of simply being a top 10 team in AAA to transforming into a legitimate basketball contender in the state.
Armed with many athletic pieces just like Austin, East has a pair of monster 6-5 forwards in Damani Hayes and Uhana Ochan along with summer 2017 stock riser Edmon Oyet to inflict inside-out damage on defenses. Expect an alley-oop or two from them. We also can’t forget talented young guard Jax Madson who can score the ball efficiently in his own right. If you ask me, the possible semifinal between Packers and Cougars could be special. Austin took both games in the regular season by a combined 12 points.
Mankato East squares against former Tip-Off Classic foe Delano in the first round of the State Tournament.
(4) Columbia Heights
I recently watched the Hylanders (20-6) at the tail end of the regular season and boy can they play. The trio of Deundra Roberson (18.8 PPG), Wendell Matthews (17.3 PPG), and Quentin Hardrict (14.1 PPG) are a force when on their games. Roberson has become one of the best mixes of athleticism and talent at the guard position in Minnesota, Matthews is a 6-foot-6 rim protector and finisher with long arms and Hardrict’s slippery pace catches bigger defenders off guard to gain advantages to the lane. Jarvis Wright is averaging double figures for Heights as well in a secondary wing role.
The bench is thin, and that’s probably the only weakness of this team. The talent at the top can play with anybody, physically and mentally; all of these guys made the State Tournament as juniors last year, and they were impactful. Will they meet conference foe DeLaSalle in the semifinals once again?
Heights faces 5th-seeded St. Thomas Academy in the first round on Wednesday.
(5) St. Thomas Academy
The Cadets (20-9) hail from the Metro East Conference and Section 3AAA; both groupings are fairly weak but STA knows big games thanks to their insanely tough non-conference slate this year. Fun fact: the Cadets faced exactly HALF of Class AAAA’s state entrants this season! Games against Osseo, Apple Valley, Cretin-Derham Hall and Wayzata (along with Hopkins) definitely get you ready for big moments at the end. Talk about a tough schedule.
Do-it-all forward Sam Vascellaro leads the charge averaging an impressive line of 16 points, 6 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.8 steals per game. He’s supported by junior shooter Jack Thompson (12.3 PPG) and frontcourt anchor George Stewart (13.3 PPG, 6 RPG).
STA is well-coached and will be a tough team to guard throughout the tournament, as they are small but great drive-and-kick players. If Vascellaro can create and distribute across the board, they’ll be a problem.
The Cadets play Columbia Heights in the 4/5 game on Wednesday.
The Tigers (18-11), No. 2 seed in Section 5AAA, knocked out top seed Willmar in the section final and they are propelled by Georgia Southern signee Calvin Wishart. The 6-2 guard is just about impossible to keep in front. He dropped 48 points and 18 rebounds in the playoff win over Monticello last weekend, and when he’s on, he is on. He’s averaged an unofficial near-triple-double all season, being the catalyst for a Delano offense with just about 30 points per game and dishing out to inside-out weapon Keegan O’Neill (17.5 PPG) and spot-up threat Derek Techam (13.4 PPG). Those three guys make up just about all of the Tiger offense.
Delano will need their role guys to hit open looks and be strong with the ball throughout games while Wishart does his thing. I’m interested to see how opponents choose to defend him; will they throw another guy at him? Let him score all he wants? Ignore the rest of the Tiger players on the court? We shall see.
Delano faces Mankato East in the quarterfinal on Wednesday.
The 21-8 Storm surprised some with their section final win over annual State participant Fergus Falls last week, taking the Central Lakes grudge match when it really counted. 6-foot-7 forward Cody Landwehr plays a bruising inside game averaging 16 points and nine rebounds per contest for SRR.
Sauk Rapids-Rice seems like the typical outstate team that could get overlooked this year, a la Big Lake last season. They face a buzzsaw in round one, but they are talented and sneakily athletic. Fully healthy, Landwehr and co. can make some noise.
The Storm get Austin in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.
Wait, isn’t hockey season over? Yep. But not basketball season up in H-Town! The Hawks (14-15) are headed to the metro for State hoops as the 6th seed from their section thanks to some big upsets across the 7AAA board.
David Birkeland is the leading scorer and he spearheads a handful of double-figure guys for Hermantown. The Twin Cities opponent experience is not lost on these guys either, as they played tough with teams like Delano and Fridley, and even knocked off a good St. Cloud Apollo team earlier in the season. The last time winter lasted this long for the Hermantown hoops faithful? I don’t even know the stat, but you can bet they’re excited to keep playing ball in March.
The Hawks draw DeLaSalle in the first round of State on Wednesday.