Posted On: 03/5/18 3:36 PM
There is a lot of familiarity between the teams that make up Section 8AAA. Five of the eight teams are members of the Central Lakes Conference, playing each other twice in the regular season, and the other three teams each played at least one game against each section team during the regular season.
It appears that there is a clear line in the sand between the top half and the bottom half of the section when you only look at the records, however, when you take into account how tight some of the games were between the top teams and the ones at the bottom, you’ll realize that there will be no gimmes in this bracket.
We’ll take a look at the contenders, teams that are in the hunt, and a dark horse in this section, as well as try and predict the winner in this Section 8AAA preview.
Contenders: Fergus Falls, Sauk Rapids-Rice
The Fergus Falls Otters enter the playoffs as the defending Section Champs and the hottest team in the section at the moment, riding an 8-game winning streak, including five victories against section opponents. Fresh off of committing to Minnesota State-Moorhead, Nathan Rund had one of his biggest games of the season in their finale, going off for 35 points in a win against Sartell-St. Stephen last week. Paired with fellow senior Harrison Christensen, Fergus Falls brings a lot of playoff and State Tournament experience to the table. They square off with #8 Little Falls on Tuesday as the #1 seed in the bracket.
On the other side of the bracket, the #2 seeded Storm of Sauk Rapids-Rice enter the playoffs with an 18-8 overall record and a 9-2 record against section opponents. They have an impressive trio of seniors in Cody Landwehr, Deng Deang, and Anthony Massman that are looking to make a deep playoff run in their last go-around. They handle the bulk of the scoring as the only three players on the team averaging in double-figures, and they form a balanced inside-outside-intermediate attack for the Storm. They split the season series with Fergus Falls, and will open the playoffs at home against the #7 seed Sartell-St. Stephen.
In the Hunt: Alexandria, Bemidji
Alexandria features one of the most dynamic players in the section in 6’10” senior Justin Balcome, as well as a tough and gritty point guard, Trey Hoepner. These two players alone give the Cardinals a chance in every game. The Cardinals have had an up and down year, finishing with a 14-12 overall record, however, they were 9-3 in the section. They are in the same half of the bracket as Fergus Falls, a team that beat Alexandria twice in the regular season, which makes it a tough road to the title game for Alexandria. They open up as the #4 seed at home against St. Cloud Apollo on Tuesday.
Overall, Bemidji had a successful year, going 17-8 overall, however, they struggled in the section, finishing with a 2-6 record. On the bright side, all six of those losses were close games, with the opposing teams’ average margin of victory being only 4.33 points. They have a plethora of athletic wings led by seniors Ryan Bieberdorf, Linaes Whiting, and Jace Peterson. Junior 6’9” big man Spencer Konecne is still a work-in-progress on offense even though he is averaging double-figures, but he is a game-changer on the defensive end with the amount of shots he alters and his ability to rebound the basketball. They are the #3 seed and will square off with #6 Detroit Lakes in Bemidji on Tuesday.
Dark Horse: St. Cloud Apollo
This team has been hard to get a handle on this season, they have played some of the top teams in the conference and section tough at times, and at other times they have lacked offensive punch and defensive intensity on their way to an 11-15 overall record and a 4-6 mark in section games. It is undeniable that they have some solid athletes and scorers on the roster in Marquise Smith, Renell Edwards, and Michael Gravelle, as well as an emerging inside presence in Deng Diew. The question is whether or not they can put it all together at the same time for 36 minutes. We’ll find out on Tuesday as they open up as the #5 seed at Alexandria.
Winner: Fergus Falls
The Otters are playing as well as they have all year, they have senior leadership, a go-to scorer, and a roster full of players that have experienced a great amount of playoff success. For all of these reasons, I believe that they will make another trip to the State Tournament. It won’t be an easy road, however, as they have had close calls with a number of section teams this season. There are a lot of quality players and teams in this section that will make it an interesting one to keep an eye on.
The semifinals will be on March 10th at St. Cloud State, with the championship game being held at a neutral site on March 15th.