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Posted On: 03/5/18 7:14 PM
Postseason Basketball is upon us with section tournaments beginning this week.
Section 6AA might be the deepest and most power-packed in the state as there are not only two borderline state title contenders, but also seven 20-plus win teams.
St. Cloud Cathedral won the section a year ago and finished fourth in the state tournament, losing to Annandale in the third-place game. The Cardinals are now in Section 6 after section realignments shuffled things last spring.
Both of those teams will be in the mix to get to state tournament again but there’ll be heavy competition. Melrose has been one of the biggest surprise teams in the state, losing just two games all season. Maple Lake, Kimball, Eden Valley-Watkins and Pine City have all enjoyed fine seasons as well.
The Dutchmen got to the section championship game a year ago but graduated a monster senior class that included Dillon Haider. They haven’t skipped a beat this season, going 24-2 while beating teams like Cathedral, BOLD and New London-Spicer.
Reegan Nelson has emerged as one of the best juniors in the state, putting up roughly 15 points and eight rebounds while supplying terrific defense. Preston Keavney and Damon Van Beck have been steady in the backcourt as well.
Melrose has been one of the best offensive teams in the section, averaging nearly 68 points per game.
Melrose earned the No. 2 seed in the section due to seedings being based on QRF metrics.
Next Up: Annandale, St. Cloud Cathedral
The two teams that played in the state tournament last season, the Cardinals and Crusaders earned the Nos. 1 and 3 seeds in the section.
The Cardinals went 20-6 in the regular season and have gone to state five straight seasons. They’ll have to grind their way through a loaded section if they are going to make it for a sixth year in a row. But if they get there, the Cardinals have the talent and experience to multiple games.
Nick Bieniek and AJ Hinz present one of the best inside-outside duos in Class AA and the Cardinals have a roster full of kids that know how to play. They control the pace as well as anybody and play on their terms.
Cathedral is the most talented team in the section with a pair of Division II senior big men and a number of talented perimeter players coming into their own.
Michael Schaefer and Mitch Plombon give the Crusaders two bigs that will likely be better than any big any other team can trot out. Both guys can control the paint, run the floor, stretch the defense and defend multiple positions. Jackson Baustian-Jangula might be the key to their success as he gives the team a very good shot-creator and shot-maker from the point guard spot.
Also a Threat: Maple Lake, Eden Valley-Watkins, Kimball
Maple Lake started the year 2-3 through its first five games. The Irish are 19-2 since with two wins over EV-W, Mora, Maple River and Kimball. They’ve beaten the teams behind them in the section. They lost to Annandale right away to start the year but as the No. 4 seed, they could get a rematch with the Cardinals if they can win two games. Cole Trager, Mitch Hoistad and Joseph Stokman all average double figures in scoring.
EV-W went 23-2 on the season, only losing to Maple Lake. The Eagles head into the postseason ranked No. 10 on NHR and can thank one of the best defenses in the state for that as they allow just 46.9 points per game. Dominic Schlangen and Luke Jansen lead the way and Joshua and Justin Streit are players to watch as well.
Kimball won 21 games on the year and have an upperclassman-laden roster. Hayden Gagnon and Drew Gustafson are top-notch perimeter scorers and Weston Hine is an impact defensive presence on the interior.
This is an extremely tough section to predict. It was tough at the beginning of the year when the two legit contenders were supposed to be Cathedral and Annandale. It’s even tougher now that Melrose, Eden Valley-Watkins and Maple Lake have seemingly emerged as contenders too.
I still think it comes down to Cathedral and Annandale in the end as I’d trust the Crusader talent and the Annandale coaching/system to carry both clubs through to the final.
I’ll take St. Cloud Cathedral in that case. Annandale beat the Crusaders earlier in the season in a game in which Baustian-Jangula was just coming back from an injury. I think him being healthy could be the difference as very little separates those two teams. AJ Hinz was amazing in that first matchup and wouldn’t be at all surprised if he and Bieniek carry the Cardinals all the way to state. But I think Cathedral’s big man duo of Schaefer and Plombon gives the Crusaders an edge because they not only can control the boards, but they can rely on those guys to get buckets in what figures to be a slow-paced, half court game.