Posted On: 03/6/18 5:30 PM
If there’s one section to be unsure about, it’s probably Section 2AAAA.
Effectively nicknamed the “Section Of Death”, any of the top four seeds could emerge after next week, and it wouldn’t be far-fetched to see some upsets in the first round either. The kicker: there is no neutral site booked for this tournament. Furthermore, because the top two seeds (Eden Prairie and Prior Lake, assuming they both move on) are not available to host the semifinals, some other gym must be used; my guess is they’ll decide to use a school who loses in the first round. Then the highest seed remaining after the semifinals will host the section championship. Lots of implications there that are confusing and up for debate. But this preview is about the game, so here we go:
Contenders: Eden Prairie, Prior Lake, Edina, Chaska
Despite a quick slip-up of three games about a month ago, Eden Prairie has all the signature wins you could ask for. They picked apart Minnehaha Academy early on when the Redhawks were considered the top team in Minnesota; they knocked out Minneapolis North; and they completed the “Christian Brothers Sweep” by defeating both DeLaSalle and Cretin-Derham Hall, widely considered the best teams in AAA and AAAA respectively. The resume speaks for itself. Sophomore studs Drake Dobbs, Austin Andrews and Connor Christensen lead this super-talented and super-young group to a possible home-court finals. The Eagles split with Edina and defeated Chaska as well. They draw Chanhassen in the first round.
Prior Lake is 21-5 on the year, their best win coming against Edina three weeks ago. They beat who they should, their only bad loss coming to 5th-seeded Minnetonka on opening night. The frontcourt tandem of Dawson Garcia (21.7 ppg) and Robert Jones (13.5 ppg) is a nightmare to attack and defend in the paint. Point guard Sam Nissen also produces double figures and runs the show for the Lakers. Their season schedule is weaker than most, but the head-to-head win over Edina pushes them up to the 2 seed. This team is young and hungry; can they make a jump this early? They match with Jefferson, whom they defeated in a close game a while back.
The Hornets of Edina boast what could be the toughest resume in the state having contended with the very best of both AAA and AAAA. They are 17-9 carrying early-season victories over Cretin-Derham Hall and Apple Valley. They split with EP during the season and fell to Chaska by three points, along with a two point loss to Prior Lake. Point guard Anders Nelson is scoring 20.7 per game to lead the Hornet offense. Jack Middleton and Luke Glenna also average double figures and can defend just about anybody. Add in big man Jacob Hutson and this team is pretty complete. Edina was considered the number one team in the state for a time this year; their competitiveness with the brutal schedule they faced will benefit them down the road. They get Shakopee in the 3/6 game.
Chaska is a fun team. They are 19-7 with plenty of weapons all over the floor. Junior combo forward Cole Nicholson does anything you ask of him, expanding his shooting range this year to be a perimeter threat and scoring at a 22 per game clip. Senior wing Parker Bjorklund has become a versatile defender and productive scorer, putting up 16.5 points per game. Conner Krenos and Matt Eliason handle the backcourt duties and have performed at a great level all season. In terms of how they matched up during the regular season with section opponents, the Hawks fell to EP and took down Edina. They also boast a big win over Lakeville North which could play into seeding should they make state. Their semifinal against Eden Prairie could be a great one.
In The Hunt: None
I’ll keep this category blank because there’s not really any wiggle room with these teams. The high seeds can all win the section but all four low seeds can be upset dark horse candidates as well.
Dark Horse: Shakopee
Another very sophomore-heavy team who took a step back last season, Shakopee is on the rise and finished the year 14-12. They are propelled by 2020 players at almost every position, with Charles Katona (19.1 ppg), Caleb Druvenga (15.9 ppg) and Will Cordes (10.7 ppg) all carrying good loads. They can score with the best of them, giving Apple Valley a scare this year and playing very competitive ball with other good teams in the area. I like their young core a lot and their first round matchup with Edina is going to be GREAT. If they shoot the ball well it’s going to go down to the wire, and then a possible rivalry game that’s very winnable with Prior Lake or Jefferson could await them.
Winner: Eden Prairie
The venue situation that this comes down to is crappy, but I’m going to stick to it. I’ll take the Eagles because they’re playing great basketball and have been all year, their young guys aren’t young in terms of big-game experience, and most importantly they’ll have home court in the section final. My guess is Eden Prairie vs. Edina for all the marbles and a Lake Conference rubber match.
Section 2AAAA semifinals: Saturday, March 10 at high seed (if 1 and 2 seeds lose quarterfinals); neutral site (if 1 and/or 2 seed wins quarterfinals)
Section 2AAAA finals: Friday, March 16 at high seed