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Posted On: 03/7/18 9:30 AM
We all figured AAAA would be a battle across the board in 2017-18. But it’s even more entertaining to zoom in not only on the class, not even only on the metro… all the section tournaments are bound to be full of surprises. 4AAAA doesn’t get to be excluded from that conversation.
Contenders: Cretin-Derham Hall, East Ridge
The Raiders brought back just about everybody from last year’s state tournament qualifier and were a top-3 team coming into the season. They’ve buzzsawed through all but two teams on their way to the 1 seed in section 4. 6-foot-10 Daniel Oturu leads the pack along with mid-major commodity Sy Chatman up front. Division II-caliber guards Ryan Larson and Jaeden King man the backcourt and elite defender Jacob Prince rounds out the lineup. Lately the CDH bench has stepped up and been rewarded with more crunch time minutes, giving the Raiders some necessary depth. Only a couple teams in the state can match their size, and one of them is on the other side of this bracket.
East Ridge is young. Very young. But they are also insanely talented and insanely tall. A 21-5 regular season with a few big wins helped propel the Raptors to the 2 seed, thanks to 21.5 ppg from junior forward Courtney Brown Jr., 18.8 from 6-foot-9 sophomore sensation Ben Carlson and 11.1 from frosh Kendall Brown. This group made a surprise section final run last season and fell in overtime to Cretin; can they cash in this time around with another season under their belt?
In The Hunt: North St. Paul, Woodbury
The Polars get less weight to their schedule due to the Metro East conference, but their 22-4 record does not lie. They became outright conference champs this year led by explosive wing Goodnews Kpegeol, Bryce Phillips and a flurry of athletic role players willing to do dirty work. Their head-to-head loss to Woodbury dropped them to fourth in the section, but if they get to play CDH in the semifinal, expect a fight.
Michael Jones leads the Woodbury Royals, who are 15-11 after a tough run of competition. Jones averages 25 points per contest with DJ Fleming right behind at around 14 a game. The rest of the offense is hard to come by but they’ve shown they can hold their own against more athletic squads like Park Center. Their first-round game with White Bear Lake could be interesting.
Dark Horse: White Bear Lake
The Bears have had a rough stretch of seasons recently, usually falling in the last two slots of section seeding. But young talent is in the pipeline led by 6-foot-8 Jeremy Beckler (19 ppg) and other physical role players. They went 15-11 on the year and did split with their first-round opponent Woodbury. I like that game as an upset pick, and don’t be surprised if they give the semifinal a good run as well.
Winner: Cretin-Derham Hall
They’re just too complete. When Oturu is blocking shots and dunking on people, Chatman and Prince are defending well, King is hitting threes and Larson is distributing it all, the Raiders are tough to match. The section championship against an awesome East Ridge team would be something to experience for sure. I like Cretin to take the three wins here.
Section 4AAAA semifinals: Saturday, March 10 at Hastings High School
Section 4AAAA finals: Thursday, March 15 at Hastings High School