Posted On: 03/7/18 1:20 PM
In a section dominated by the Northwest Suburban conference, history shows that this group can have two or even three potential state tournament teams. The last four years of dominant Division I-caliber players from Park Center, Osseo, Champlin Park and Maple Grove always made it interesting in the top half of seeding; Maple Grove has been planted in section 8, the consensus this year was that CP would be down, Osseo would be good to very good again and this would be Park Center’s year. Not so fast:
Contenders: Park Center, Champlin Park
The Pirates have been a top 10 team all season and beefed up the non-conference schedule to help their case, which they’ve been successful in. Their four losses came to Minnehaha, Champlin Park, Apple Valley and Osseo. NDSU commit Jarius Cook scores 16 points per game, center Dain Dainja 13, and Tommy Chatman and Khari Broadway 11 each. Their balance comes from a high-pressure defensive scheme, forcing turnovers and running out in transition. They’ve been without Dainja the past six games but managed to finish the year on an eight-game winning streak. PC’s top seven guys are as good as any in the state. It’ll come down to how they perform in the big games, looking to not repeat as simply section semifinal participants this season.
Champlin Park has had one of the more historic runs in the last few years, finishing 31-1 in both 2015 and 2017 and falling in the state title game. After the graduation of all but two rotation players, they’ve overcome experience concerns and vaulted themselves into the top 10 with a 21-5 record. Winners of 14 straight, the Rebels haven’t lost a game since a 68-67 heartbreaker against Blaine on January 19. That’s a long time ago. Josiah Strong has exploded in his senior campaign, averaging 22.6 points per contest, and his backcourt running mate Bennett Otto scores 16 a game himself. The offense is scarce after that, but the work of role guys like Kato Seley, Jared Walter, Alex John and Carlston McKenzie has made all the difference to elevate the ceiling of this team that nobody thought would be in this position. They’re the hottest team in AAAA.
In The Hunt: Osseo
With a 100 percent Zach Theisen, the Orioles jump up a category into the discussion of contenders. Zach’s been hobbled when attempting to get some run in the last couple regular season games. Nevertheless, coach Tim Theisen’s group is one of the most well-coached year in and year out, and senior stock-raiser Emmette Paige (22.9 ppg) can take on a huge load if the situation calls him to. Osseo doesn’t have size but forward Richard Mulbah pulls down close to 10 rebounds a game and will mix it up inside with anybody. If the Orioles can find scoring from a secondary or tertiary player, their chances of advancing deep in the section increase greatly.
Dark Horse: Spring Lake Park
They finished 11-15 on the season, so most don’t expect the Panthers to be a legit threat. But they’ve won their share of scheduled losses, like beating Maple Grove and Totino-Grace. SLP gave Champlin Park a scare in the final regular season game, a tight one where the Rebels pulled away by nine late. I like the sophomore scorers on this team: 6-foot-5 Blake Remme drops 17 a game, silky guard Gabe Myren adds 15 per contest and point guard Daydor Phillips runs the point. They’re likely a year or two away from really making a run, but I see them as an upset candidate against Roseville tonight and they’ll advance to meet Park Center in the semis. The Panthers are going to bug you all game long.
Winner: Champlin Park
The Rebels took care of the Pirates in the middle of their strong run to end the season on February 2; I think it goes the same way this time around. Strong and Otto will have their hands full with pestery ball pressure but I’ll take them to win the section. The question that could turn the tables is whether or not Dainja is available throughout section play. If he’s healthy and Park Center feeds him inside like they should all game, the Pirates will be in great shape. I’m going against chalk here.
Section 5AAAA semifinals: Tuesday, March 13 at Maple Grove High School
Section 5AAAA finals: Friday, March 16 at Rogers High School