Posted On: 03/7/18 4:00 PM
Section 4AAA has become one of the most competitive playoff regions in the metro over the past few years thanks to an influx of talent on the northeast side of town. NHR breaks down the contenders, challengers and underdogs here.
Contenders: Columbia Heights
I had a chance to see the Hylanders in full for the first time on Friday night and was mightily impressed with their core. Deundra Roberson, Wendell Matthews and Quentin Hardrict form one of the state’s best Big Three and can run, jump and fly with the best. Roberson is a versatile combo guard with a steadily improving jumper and Matthews is one of the best junior college prospects in the state with his strong 6-foot-6 frame and rebounds like a fiend. Hardrict is a defensive nightmare for opposing guards and finishes great at the rim for being undersized. Their next four rotation players need to hit shots at a decent rate to make them a complete team though. Heights made a big run to the state semifinals last year when nobody expected them to as juniors; this is a big opportunity for them.
In The Hunt: Mahtomedi, Totino-Grace
The Zephyrs graduated high-impact seniors from a year ago but have managed to put together a 19-7 record while competing in the Metro East. Mahtomedi has five players scoring double figures led by 6-foot-5 sophomore wing J’Vonne Hadley who is a prospect to watch in the coming years. Add in senior Jack Shay (13 ppg) and junior guard Zac Centers (12 ppg) and the Zephyrs have consistent production across the lineup. Highlights of their regular season include a big win over St. Thomas Academy and an overtime victory against Tartan, plus two very competitive games with conference champion North St. Paul. This is a much better Mahtomedi team than expected.
The Totino-Grace Eagles formed one of the tougher schedules for a AAA club this season, not to mention fighting the Northwest Suburban foes in their conference, and finished 14-12. Any slate with Hopkins, Park Center x2, Champlin Park, Minneapolis North and Austin on it means something. The Eagle five are all names worth noting. Lead guard Charlie Jacob has been turning heads for years now with his consistent, methodical point guard leadership and has developed his scoring habits greatly. Wings Nick Flottmeier and Braeden Mischke are versatile scoring threats and the frontcourt of highflying Tyler Kittelson and sharpshooting Will Schmidt keeps opponents on their toes. The bench has been thin but is playing well lately and I think the chemistry took a little while to put together, but I like the Eagles to make a run to the section final. Their first-round game pits them against St. Anthony.
Dark Horse: Fridley
Sure, they’re the next seed on the list, but I feel like the Tigers get overlooked almost every year even though their roster has been pretty consistent. Don’t forget that Fridley plays some of the best in AA and AAA in the Tri-Metro and even though they haven’t pulled any upsets, if you zoom in on those games they hang around longer than you’d think. Jerome Cunningham and Nate Soto score at high rates (around 19 and 17 ppg respectively) and despite few known names the rest of the rotation will try to outwork you. The game between them and Heights in the semis could be fun. They’ll meet St. Paul Johnson for the third time this year (gotta love that outcome of holiday tourney scheduling) in the 4/5 matchup.
Winner: Columbia Heights
Just too fast and athletic. Roberson has been on another level from the perimeter lately and with Matthews protecting the rim it’s hard to be physical against them and win. I’ll pick T-G to beat Mahtomedi in the semifinal and then hit the Hylander showtime buzzsaw.
Section 4AAA semifinals: Saturday, March 10 at St. Paul Washington High School
Section 4AAA finals: Thursday, March 15 at St. Paul Washington High School