Section 1AAAA Preview: Is this the year JM Gets over the Hump?

High School
Minnesota

Posted On: 03/6/18 5:37 PM

Postseason basketball is upon us. With less than three weeks left in the high school season, there isn’t much time left to soak it in. Section tournaments kick off postseason this week.

Lakeville North has owned Section 1AAAA for the last six years, evolving into one of the top basketball programs in the state. Beating Rochester John Marshall in the section final has become something of a yearly tradition it would seem, as the Panthers have ended the Rockets’ season five straight seasons. But the Rockets have perhaps the best player in the state in Matthew Hurt. And they are on fire having won 13 games straight heading into the postseason.

The questions around the Rockets traditionally are simple: Can they win if the talent and athleticism isn’t heavily skewed in their favor?

Favorite: Lakeville North

The Panthers were hit hard by graduation last season but it’s been business as usual as Lakeville North won 22 games in the regular season. That included wins over Apple Valley, Eden Prairie, St. Cloud Tech and Wayzata.

Tyler Wahl was pegged as a potential breakout star for the Panthers and he’s delivered, averaging 17 points per game while supplying steady defense, playmaking and rebounding. Tyler Lewko’s taken his game to another level and first-year point guard Tommy Jensen has been very good. 

The Panthers play extremely tough defense traditionally and have a lot of capable contributors. That hasn’t changed. John Oxton is one of the best coaches in the state and good coaches can have a major impact in the postseason as gameplans get more comprehensive and gameflow becomes more controlled.

Next Up: Rochester John Marshall

The Rockets have never lacked talent in the five years they’ve reached the section final. They routinely pump out Division I and II caliber players and dominate in their conference. But Lakeville North has been the unsolvable problem for JM.

Matthew Hurt’s had an amazing season, averaging 34 points and 14 rebounds to go along with four assists and four blocks. He’s the focal point of every gameplan yet he continues to dominate games. He’ll have to do more of the same as the Rockets don’t have the kind of firepower around him that they’ve had the previous few seasons.

Eric Stai’s enjoyed a solid senior season, averaging 11 points, six rebounds and three assists.

JM certainly finished the season on a roll as the Rockets went undefeated in the second half of conference play, avenging early-season losses to Mankato East and Austin.

In the Hunt: Lakeville South, Owatonna, Farmington

The Cougars and Tigers will square off in the 4 vs. 5 matchup with the winner getting — most likely — a third matchup with Lakeville North.

Lakeville South beat Farmington both times this year but it’s been a month since the two teams played. Shae Mitchell and Cooper Jackson have been really good for the Cougars. A name to remember will be Riley Mahlman. The freshman big man averaged 10 points per game in one of the best conferences in the state.

Farmington has an upperclassman-laden group and the Tigers have a good deal of experience as many of their young guys played significant minutes last season. Caden Freetly is a solid combo forward who can shoot and defend. He led the team in scoring on the season averaging 12 points per game. Four other guys averaged 7.9-10.2 points. So the Tigers have a balanced attack.

Owatonna had arguably the best season in school history, going 20-6 in the regular season and earning the No. 3 seed. If there’s an illustration of the difference between the Big 9 and the South Suburban, it was last year when the Huskies had one of the best seasons in school history, winning 18 games before losing to Lakeville South by 30 in the 4/5 game.  

Many of Owatonna’s top guys are back though and this Huskies team is potent. Dalton Kubista is one of the best wing players in the state and the Huskies have size up front with Nolan Malo and Andrew Jackson as well as athleticism in the backcourt with Alex Raichle and Jason Williamson.

Chip and a Chair: New Prague, Rochester Mayo, Rochester Century

It’s tough to see either of the two Rochester schools getting out of the first round as the Spartans will face Rochester JM while the Panthers get a date with Lakeville North. But there have probably been larger upsets, so why not? Mayo’s got the Madsen brothers and the Spartans are riding a three-game win streak into the postseason, so they’ve got some good vibes. The Panthers don’t quite have those kind of vibes as they are 2-7 in their last nine games. All seven losses are by at least 11 points and four are by at least 30. But The Panthers have a good crop of young talent that will be getting a taste of the postseason.

And New Prague plays a slow-it-down, defensive style game that on the right night can give any team fits. That’ll keep the Trojans in a game even if they have a bit of a talent/athleticism deficiency.

Prediction

Is this the year the Rockets get over the hump? That’s been the question for about three years now. I don’t think they do. Hurt will get his points but I think when it comes down to it, the Panthers slow down the friends and limit Hurt enough. And on the other side, I trust Oxton to control the game from the sidelines and Lakeville North’s depth to win out as a number of guys are capable of breaking the game open.