Posted On: 03/7/18 6:52 PM
The last three section 2AAA winners are Mankato East, Waseca and Marshall. Those three teams have finished in the top-three each of the last three years and It’s likely that one of those three teams will reach the state tournament.
All three teams are ranked in the top-five in Class AAA, so it’s truly a three-horse race in this one.
Favorite: Mankato East
The Cougars went 21-5 during the regular season, taking all five losses in a very good Big 9 Conference. Mankato East challenged itself in the four nonconference games it gets, beating Waseca, Marshall and Orono (Nos. 4,5 and 6 in AAA Rankings).
The Cougars check all the boxes. They’ve got size, they’ve got experience, they’ve got shooting and they’ve got high-end talent needed when the competition heats up.
Damani Hayes is one of the best forwards in the state and is a matchup nightmare as he’s too big and strong for wings but too quick for true bigs. Edmon Oyet has emerged as a legit second scoring option and Uhana Ochan is a defensive anchor who can provide low-maintenance production inside. Throw in sophomore guard Jax Madson and sniper Kong Kong and there’s a lot to like about Mankato East.
Next Up: Marshall, Waseca
Perhaps the thing to like most about Mankato East is that the Cougars won’t have to beat both Waseca and Marshall to get to state. The Bluejays and Tigers landed to Nos. 2 and 3 seeds, setting up a likely third round in that always enjoyable rivalry.
The two teams split the regular season meeting with each team winning a home game.
Malik Willingham is one of the best players in the 2019 class and one of most entertaining players to watch in the state. He can catch fire and put up points in a way that few others in the state can. He’s got a number of talented players around him though too as Ryan Dufault, Matt Olsen, Kyreese Willingham and Adam Schumacher have all had their moments this season.
Marshall went to state last season on the backs of a terrific senior class. If it was supposed to be a rebuilding season, the Tigers apparently missed the memo.
Trey Lance has taken his game to another level, averaging nearly 18 points per game on the season while supplying top-notch defense. Matthew Onken and Bryce Paulsen went into the year as players to watch and both have delivered this season. Onken is one of the best bigs in the section and Paulsen is an athletic wing who can score from practically every level on the floor.
Watch Out For: Mankato West, Worthington
This section feels like a three-team race but the winner of the 4/5 game could certainly throw a wrench into things. Mankato West has been the definition of streaky as the Scarlets have winning streaks of three, four and four but also a five-game losing streak. But they’ve got maybe the best big in the section in Mike Sathoff. Dawson Frericks joins him up front to form a formidable big man tandem. Throw in senior guard Griffin Corbett and the Scarletts have the talent to make a potential rivalry game with East interesting.
Worthington lost to Mankato West in a holiday tournament in December but have since gone 12-5. The Trojans have kids that can play as Tyler Linder, Karasharo Ojulu and OD Othow are all capable of taking over stretches of a game.
This one feels like it could really go any of three ways and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Mankato East, Waseca or Marshall ultimately went through.
I’ll pick Waseca though. I might be a year early on this — I think the Bluejays are a top-three team in AAA next year — but I have a feeling they’ll run the gauntlet and beat both Marshall and Mankato East. Neither of those things are givens as all three teams are top-five-ish caliber clubs but I like Malik Willingham. I think he goes nuts in at least one of the games and Waseca rides him while getting enough defense and production from the rest of the company to make the state tournament.