Posted On: 03/20/18 10:48 AM
The biggest high school basketball classification in Minnesota started with 63 teams on March 6.
We’re down to eight. Here’s what they’re about:
(1) Cretin-Derham Hall
The Raiders sit atop the seedings to no one’s surprise based on the participants in this year’s tournament. CDH (27-2) boasts the best record of anyone left standing in Class AAAA and likely the best starting five in the state. The stellar group of Gopher signee Daniel Oturu (18 points, 11 rebounds per game), superflyer forward Sy Chatman, lockdown defender Jacob Prince, sharpshooter Jaeden King and lead guard extraordinaire Ryan Larson is tough to beat.
Cretin was here last year as an unseeded team and almost took out eventual state champ Apple Valley in the first round with these exact same guys. They’ve proven to be almost untouchable when focused and on their game. Something to look forward to might be a potential rematch with Eden Prairie in the semifinals; the Eagles took out the Raiders in the final game of the regular season. CDH is the extreme favorite to win it all, and the fact that their bench guys have been excellent of late further solidifies their odds.
Cretin faces Wayzata in the first round on Wednesday.
(2) Apple Valley
The Eagles came into the season ranked number one, returning just about every key rotation piece from last season’s crazy state title run.
Of course. Tre Jones leads the way for AV, a consensus top-10 prospect nationally. He is averaging 23 points, nine rebounds and six assists at the point guard spot. Around him are capable complementary weapons like slasher Nathan Macho and shooters Ely Hendrickson and Zach Korba. Manning the middle is Harvard football commit Spencer Rolland at 6-foot-7.
The Eagles are the epitome of a drive-and-kick game, continually using ball movement, extra passes, shot fakes and quick first steps to gain advantages, and it all begins with Jones. The dangerous part about them, though, is the offense can end with any one of them getting a bucket and hurting you for what feels like too easy of a score. Their path to a third title in four years is well underway and you know Jones and company will not go quietly.
Apple Valley plays Forest Lake in the first round on Wednesday.
(3) Lakeville North
The Panthers make yet another return trip to the Target Center—their seventh consecutive—after edging rival Rochester John Marshall in the Section 1AAAA final. They are 25-4 led by one of the best coaches in Minnesota, John Oxton.
Junior forward Tyler Wahl leads North in scoring at 17 a game, his versatile talents down low and on the perimeter constantly giving opponents matchup problems. Fellow wing Tyler Lewko and breakout playoff performer Tommy Jensen average close to 11 a game as well. The Panthers run about eight or nine deep and even if they aren’t household names like in years past, they are smart basketball players who know their roles well and play extremely hard. Taking out a team led by Matthew Hurt is not an easy task no matter who you are, and North keeps doing it.
The third-seeded Panthers play Maple Grove in a rematch of the 2016 state quarterfinals on Wednesday afternoon.
(4) Eden Prairie
Multiple times this season, Eden Prairie has shown up big time in big games. They boast one of the toughest schedules in all of Minnesota and come into the tournament with a record of 22-7. Key wins include Minnehaha Academy, Minneapolis North, DeLaSalle and Cretin-Derham Hall; what do they all have in common? Every one of those teams was ranked number one in their respective classes, and honestly, all four of those teams probably crack the statewide top ten regardless of class.
The crazier thing is their rotation is just six guys, and four of them are sophomores. Guard phenom Drake Dobbs has found an affinity for exploding in big moments. 6-5 forward Austin Andrews gives up multiple inches in the post but gives opposing big men absolute fits on both ends. Connor Christensen and John Henry have come into their own as dangerous scorers on the wing. If you look at the Eagle box scores over the last month, most of them have four or five guys in double figures, and it’s a game of Whack-A-Mole for who goes off with a 20 or 25-point burst on any given night. Seniors Kyler Kluge and DJ Johnson are the anchors of perimeter defense and leadership to fill out the lineup. This team is young and deadly and extremely fun to watch.
EP faces Osseo in the 4/5 matchup on Wednesday, another rehash of the 2016 quarterfinals.
Osseo has had its share of struggles so far this year. Multiple key players with injuries or other issues, lack of size, you name it. But nobody can get the most out of anybody like Coach Tim Theisen can. The Orioles (23-6) enter the state tournament as a 3-seed from their section, upsetting top tens Champlin Park and Park Center to reach this point.
This team has that extra edge, and they proved it when they defeated PC on Friday 61-57. Emmette Page could be the biggest stock raiser of the entire winter, and he’s putting up a healthy 23 points per game with a fiery look of competitiveness every time down the floor. Zach Theisen was hobbled by a knee injury late in the season but looked as good as he could have against Park Center. He’s one of the most deadly three-point shooters in the state. We can’t overlook the other guys holding down this lineup either. Forward Richard Mulbah is small but sturdy and fearless; he can finish and rebound with the best of them. Think back to Kam Bettie from that 30-2 Osseo team two years ago, same type of player. And Johnson Fallah has come up huge for the Orioles in the playoff season with energy and wing slashing. Again, not household names, but guys that just get it done somehow.
Osseo squares off against Eden Prairie on Wednesday afternoon.
The Crimson (21-8) were overlooked this year when it came to contention in their conference and in their section, mostly because they returned zero varsity experience from a year ago. It’s hard to replace the production of their class of 2017, but the seven guys getting minutes for MG down the stretch have gelled all year and want people to know they’re real.
Jared Rainey had a fantastic varsity debut season running the point, averaging better than 13 points a game. Carleton commit Alex Battist patrols the paint with his quick ups and good positioning, putting up 12 and 9 per contest. Nate Adams and Jordan Stensland knock out treys consistently on the wings as well. The Crimson defied expectations and are headed to the Target Center for the third straight season.
Maple Grove plays Lakeville North on Wednesday in the quarterfinals.
The Section 7AAAA representative in the tourney, Forest Lake (19-10) edged past Blaine in the section final 64-62. It’s been a long time since the Rangers reached the tournament, but Manny Jingco and Cooper Berg lead the charge for this upstart Suburban East team.
Jingco was an offensive force at Stillwater before transferring to FL this year and he puts up 17 points per game. Cooper Berg follows along with Steven Colon at 10 per game. Not many big names on this roster, but their competition level during the year is really tough with the top half of SEC teams like CDH, Woodbury and East Ridge, so I have no doubt they’ll be ready to play.
Forest Lake opens the tourney against Apple Valley on Wednesday afternoon.
The Trojans pulled the playoff upset of the year last Wednesday to kick off State tournament berths, knocking out No. 1 Hopkins 63-61. It’s the second year in a row that Wayzata has come into that rivalry final game as the underdog and come out victorious. Their Lake schedule obviously gives them the experience of electric atmospheres.
Jacob Beeninga makes them go. The junior point guard is all kinds of slippery and fierce and talented with the ball in his hands. His range from downtown puts everything into motion for the great guard-oriented spread, drive and space offensive attack that Brian Schnettler employs. Add in knockdown shooters Drew Galinson and Luke Paulson to that mix and the Trojan core is one of the most dangerous groups from beyond the arc.
We can’t leave out the young bucks in this rotation either. Frosh Kody Williams had a phenomenal section performance as a secondary handler, cutting and slashing to the rim for uncontested layups throughout. Eighth grader Camden Heide brings a very mature game to the table, and his length bothers teams defensively. These guys have good careers ahead of them and are hoping to let the nerves die down before games get started.
Wayzata faces Cretin-Derham Hall on Wednesday morning to kick off Target Center play.