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Posted On: 08/9/18 8:00 AM
With July’s evaluation period now behind us, and plenty of time to kill between now and late November, it’s time to take a look at who we believe will be some of the teams to keep an eye on in each classificaton this winter. And, since everyone likes rankings, why not roll out a de facto preseason top 10 for each class, with our “Way Too Early” top 10 lists.
How well do these rankings predict what may happen over the course of the coming season? Well, the top ranked teams in each class in these “Way Too Early” rankings qualified for the state tournament last year, and with the exception of Van Meter (who played the eventual champion Cascade in the first round of 2A), each team at least made the semifinals. With the exception of Treynor in Class 2A, the eight teams who played for state championships were all ranked in the top five of their respective classes, and 27 of 32 state qualifying teams were either ranked (21) or in the “others to watch” (six) portion of the rankings. Last year’s champions were ranked first (Grand View Christian), second (Cascade), third (Glenwood) and fourth (Cedar Falls), respectively. Will that mean anything this year? Perhaps not, but it’s probably better to find yourselves near the top of these lists than not.
Below you’ll find our top 10 for Class 1A, along with some other teams that could make some noise, as well as a brief summary of why each team is in their respective spot. Enjoy.
1.) Grand View Christian (State Champions, 25-1 last year, 43.2% of scoring returning)
The two-time defending champions in Class 1A have had an interesting offseason, to say the least. They dealt with the known departure of star guard Grant DeMeulenaere, who graduated after leading the team to a pair of titles. But they were also dealt a few significant blows to their depth as guard Mach Nyaw, a 13-point a game scorer, decided to return to Storm Lake, and the Glenn brothers, Sam and James, announced that they’d be transferring to Southeast Polk. Nonetheless, more reinforcements are on the way, in the form of 6-7 wing Harouna Sissoko, formerly of Lincoln Academy (GA), who reportedly has Division I scholarship offers from Coppin State, Tulsa and Middle Tennessee State. Sissoko will join forces with recent Drake commit Issa Samake (11.5), a 6-7 shotblocking extraordinaire who took last year’s state tournament by storm with his dunking and shot blocking abilities. That tandem will form the most athletic frontcourt in 1A history, and with the size, length and athleticism that duo possesses, they’ll be nearly impossible to score on inside the paint. Arturo Montes (11.5) also returns for the Thunder, giving them another big (6-5) body in the paint, but he can also stretch out to the 3-point line and provide some matchup problems for other teams. The question for this group is going to be the guard play. Bryce Crabb (7.0) is going to be asked to take on a bigger ball handling role, as will Kong Neyail (4.9). There are going to be some question marks on this team, and if the guard play falls off following the departures of DeMeulenaere, Nyaw and Glenn, they could be a little vulnerable. That said, with Sissoko and Samake protecting the rim and providing all sorts of highlight reel plays all winter, Grand View Christian looks primed to make a run at the 3-peat.
2.) Bishop Garrigan, Algona (19-5 last year, 100% of scoring returning)
If any team is going to give Grand View Christian a run for their money, it should be Bishop Garrigan, who return everyone from last year’s 19 win team. The Golden Bears are probably the only team in the class that have the size to matchup against GVC, as they went 6-1, 6-3, 6-4, 6-5 and 6-7 across their starting lineup last year, and are probably even bigger this year. They’re led by a star tandem of big men in TJ Schnurr (18.9) and Angelo Winkel (14.8), the latter of whom had one of the best freshman years of any player in the state last year. That tandem shot 54.4 and 62.6% from the floor, respectively, and each has the ability to score from all three levels. Look for Winkel to become one of the best players in 1A this year, as just a sophomore. Cade Winkel (12.2) gives them more size at 6-4, and he’s a gifted passer for his size, leading the team with 102 assists last year. Look for him to continue being the primary playmaker and facilitator for Bishop Garrigan. The starting lineup is rounded out by John Joyce (10.9) and Brad Capesius (8.1), both capable shooters, ball handlers and passers. This group didn’t go terribly deep last year, but with everyone returning, look for them to become a little deeper this year. This was one of the most explosive offensive teams in the state, ranking 5th in 1A at 72.9 points a game, but they struggled some on the defensive end, particularly against the bigger schools they played, allowing 71.2 points a game in their five losses. Three of those losses came to 2A schools, and the other two cam against 22-3 Dunkerton and 19-6 West Fork. They’ll need to play better against top notch competition this year, but with all the talent, size and experience they have returning, they’ll be ready for it. This is a serious state title threat.
3.) George-Little Rock (State qualifier, 19-7 last year, 70.6% of scoring returning)
A state qualifying team last year, the Mustangs bring back a load of experience, with six of their top eight rotation players from that group returning, including their top two scorers from what was a very balanced group. The ‘Stangs are led by Lucas Nagel (12.4), a talented playmaking forward who led the team in scoring and assists, while also ranking second in rebounding and blocking 22 shots to boot. He’s a wing who thrives on getting into the paint and scoring or facilitating. Caleb Terhark (10.2) is another bigger forward who does a large majority of his damage around the rim and was the team’s top rebounder last year at 8.7 a game. Landon Jumbeck (9.7, 38 3PM) is the top perimeter scoring threat, while Blake Johnson (6.2) will step into a bigger role after coming off the bench last year to provide shooting (44.1 3P%). Look for guys like Matt Haken (5.6) and Payton Mauldin (3.5) to step into larger roles after being role players off the bench last year. The Mustangs play in the always loaded Siouxland Conference, which prepares them well for postseason play, as the majority of that league is strong 2A teams. A balanced group that was perhaps a year ahead of schedule in reaching State last year, look for G-LR to make some noise this year on their return trip.
4.) West Fork (19-6 last year, 71.6% of scoring returning)
The Warhawks have perhaps the best player that doesn’t get enough attention around the state in senior wing Zach Martinek (18.8), a super talented playmaking wing capable of dominating games, and look for him to do so an awful lot this year. At 6-4 and with his playmaking and scoring abilities, he’s a difficult matchup at the 1A level, and he’s primed to have a massive senior year on both ends of the floor. Mitchell Halloran (11.5) also returns for West Fork after knocking down 58 3s last season, giving them a solid second scoring option for when teams try to dedicate their defensive efforts towards slowing down Martinek. Ian Latham (8.0) is also back after starting last season as a sophomore. This group will need to find some role players to step up alongside this talented trio, but there’s a chance that Martinek is the best player in 1A this year, and if he has the type of year I think he’s capable of having, this group isn’t just a threat to make it to Des Moines, they’re a threat to give GVC a run.
5.) New London (19-5 last year, 79.7% of scoring returning)
The Tigers had some adversity to overcome last season, as they played the first 15 games without arguably their best player after Mason Porter (13.0) suffered a terrifying hand injury before the season began. The result of that injury, however, may help the Tigers out this year, as it allowed guys like Isaac McSorley (15.9) and Grant Swanson (13.1) step into larger roles, which should benefit them greatly this year. In all, four starters and double figure scorers return with Porter, McSorley, Swanson and electrifying point guard Keontae Luckett (13.8), who may be the best non-Issa Samake athlete in the class. This team isn’t loaded with shooting, but Porter, Luckett and McSorley are all capable of creating their own shots, and their defense is going to lead to plenty of transition opportunities as well. They’ll need to find some depth, sure, but that quartet is going to be among, if not the best, in the class, and will create all sorts of problems on the defensive and offensive ends of the floor. This is an efficient offensive team, and they’re loaded with talent and experience. Look for them to be among the top 5 teams in the state all year long.
6.) Don Bosco (State semifinalist, 24-4 last year, 47.5% of scoring returning)
The Dons were in our “other teams to watch” section in this article last year, and then went on to spend a good portion of the year in our top 10 before making some noise at State, reaching teh semifinals before falling to North Linn. They lose their top two scorers from that group, and three starters overall. So why are they still so highly regarded here? Well, guard play wins basketball games, especially at the high school level, and Don Bosco may have the best guards in the class with Jack Kelley (14.5) and Zach Huff (8.3) coming back. That duo combined to dish out 254 assists last year (against just 122 turnovers), and they’re both capable of taking over games. They’ll both be asked to step into larger scoring roles this year following the departure of 35.2 points a game, but they’re capable of getting into the paint and finishing, or scoring from any level. The Dons are going to need to find other players to step into larger roles, namely Cael Tenold (4.8) and Kendall Becker (3.9), but Don Bosco is a traditionally strong athletic school, and we have faith they’ll find the necessary role players to fill into the slots alongside Kelley and Huff. This was one of the best defensive teams in Class 1A last year, allowing just 46.2 points a game, and don’t expect that to fall off too much. This will be a more guard oriented team even than it was last year, but at this level, that’s probably a good thing.
7.) Montezuma (19-4 last year, 84.5% of scoring returning)
Always one of the top defensive teams in 1A, last year was no exception for the Braves, as they allowed just 39.6 points a game, good for second in the class. They primarily use a 2-3 zone, and they’ve benefited in recent years by having a rim protector or two. This year will be no exception, with Hunter Ray (11.2) back in the fold after blocking 50 shots last season. He’s a versatile player on the offensive end, capable of scoring inside the paint or stepping out to the arc and knocking down an occasional 3. The biggest reason the Braves are in this top 10, however, is sophomore guard Trey Shearer (16.0), who is coming off a remarkably impressive freshman year in which he led the team in scoring, assists and steals. He is going to be a star at the 1A level, and his stardom will start to come to fruition this year. He’s going to be the best player on the floor in just about every game the Braves play, and that’s going to be enough for them to win an awful lot of games. In all, the top four scorers from last year’s team return, with Cole Watts (9.5, 44.3 3P%) returning on the perimeter to put another shooter alongside Shearer, and Nolan Reynolds (7.6) providing some additional punch. Three of this team’s four losses last year came to Lynnville-Sully, a state tournament qualifying team that was loaded with talented seniors. The SICL will now be going through Montezuma, and this group looks primed to make a run to Des Moines behind Shearer.
8.) Ankeny Christian Academy (19-4 last year, 57.2% of scoring returning)
Last year’s Eagles are an incredibly interesting team to look back on. They ranked second in 1A in scoring (74.6 a game), fourth in defense (43.5) and lost just four games. Those four losses came to just two teams, as they lost twice to a 20-4 2A Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont team, and twice to eventual 1A champion Grand View Christian. The issue is that this group is difficult to judge, because the Bluegrass Conference that they play in is weak. Their schedule ranked 115th in 1A last season, so how much weight can you put into those impressive numbers? There is no question that this team is going to score. They lost leading scorer Drew Wilken, but bring back a pair of talented scorers in Jayce Goergen (12.5) and Caleb Grizzle (12.4). Grizzle, in particular, is interesting, as he could become one of the best players in Class 1A this year. A 6-7 forward who can score from all three levels, Grizzle averaged 7.7 rebounds and blocked 78 shots in addition to his scoring, and look for that scoring number to explode this year. He’s a matchup nightmare at the 1A level, and his improvement is going to be the biggest thing to watch as far as this team’s ceiling is concerned. Chad Elrod (7.6) is also back as a starter, but they’ll need to fill in some other holes. The unfortunate news for ACA is that they’ll likely have to go through Grand View Christian again to try to get to State, as it’ll be tough for the IHSAA to break them up unless ACA looks like a top 3-4 team in the state heading into the postseason. This group is going to be very entertaining, but will that poor schedule come back to haunt them? Only time will tell.
9.) St. Edmond, Fort Dodge (12-11 last year, 67.5% of scoring returning)
Don’t pay too much attention to the Gaels’ record that was just over .500 last year. Like Council Bluffs, St. Albert, the Gaels play in a 2A/3A conference, so just about every game they play is against larger schools and quality competition. Their record probably won’t be sterling again this year, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be a quality team. They’re led by Andrew Gibb (20.8), a big bodied wing who can score from anywhere, and may lead 1A in scoring this season. He’s joined by Jackson Kochendorfer (12.2, 72 3PM), one of the most dangerous shooters in the state. That tandem is going to light up the scoreboard often this winter. The issue for St. Edmond is that last year’s team was pretty much a four-man show, with Gibb and Kochendorfer doing a majority of the scoring, and the departed Sean Flaherty and Will Woodruff doing the dirty work and holding down the paint. This group is going to be small, and has an awful lot of production and size to replace around the rim. But with the scoring punch they bring back on the wing, they’ll be deadly.
10.) Exira-EHK (15-8 last year, 88.8% of scoring returning)
The Spartans had some tough luck last season, as five of their eight losses last year came by four points or fewer. They return their top four scorers, and that type of experience should come in handy in those types of close games this year. They’ll be led by a talented guard trio of Cole Burmeister (14.7), Josh Pettepier (10.6) and Nelson Trey (9.7), and 6-6 senior Dakota Rold (13.2), a big-time rim protector who blocked 73 shots last season. Burmeister and Pettepier each shot at least 40% from behind the arc and serve as the team’s primary ball handlers, while Trey is a really solid fourth scoring option. Rold is the type of athletic big man who is a major matchup problem at the 1A level, and his defense in the paint is a difference maker. Any time a team is returning this much of their production, they’re due for a major jump, so don’t be surprised to see the Spartans run their win total up to the 19-20 range during the regular season, and be a real threat to make it to Des Moines come late February.
A dozen more teams to watch
Dunkerton (22-3 last year, 55.3% of scoring returning)
There’s a really strong argument to make for the Raiders to be in the top 10, and they may find themselves in there very early in the season. After all, they won 22 games last season and return their top two scorers from that group in Zach Johnson (15.6) and Brady Happel (14.9). The issue that we have with this group is that the only other returnee who saw any sort of significant playing time last year is Brady Stone (5.7). There is a lot of production that needs to be replaced from this group. As we said, there’s a good chance we’ll come to regret not including them in this initial top 10, but we’re in a wait-and-see mode with the role players before we can move them higher.
Stanton (21-2 last year, 75.8% of scoring returning)
The Vikings were one of the most explosive offensive teams in 1A last year, ranking fourth in scoring at 74.1 points a game. They bring back an awful lot of that firepower in Drake Johnson (22.0) and Donnie Weis (18.7), a pair of high level scoring guards who each shot well above 50% from the floor. They had an inexplicable loss to Griswold last year, who finished 2-20, but their only other loss came to Council Bluffs, St. Albert in the district final. A possible contributor to that loss? The massive difference in strength of schedule. According to BC Moore’s system, the Vikings played the 133rd most difficult schedule in the class, and don’t expect that to change this year. This is a group that is going to rack up a lot of wins, score a lot of points, but at the end of the day, the lack of competition throughout the year will likely end up being an issue come postseason play.
Ar-We-Va (17-4 last year, 79.8% of scoring returning)
Like Stanton, Ar-We-Va likely falls victim to a relatively easy regular season schedule once postseason play rolls around. And, like Stanton, the Rockets return a pair of big-time scorers in Drew Schurke (17.3) and Keegan Simons (15.5). This is a group that generally plays strong defense, regularly ranking within the top 20 in 1A in scoring defense, and with the strong group of returnees, look for their scoring defense number, which was 40th last year (52.8 a game) to improve and bring an even better win total to Westside. Look for Simons, a 6-2 senior, who averaged 15.5 points and 13 rebounds, to have a massive senior year, but this group is going to need to become more efficient if they want to make a postseason run, after shooting just 39.6% from the floor. If they can improve their field goal percentage to the 44-45% range, and drop that scoring against average, Ar-We-Va could spend some time in our top 10 and be a threat to make a State run.
Edgewood-Colesburg (State qualifier, 21-5 last year, 57.8% of scoring returning)
A magical season for the Vikings culminated in their first ever state tournament appearance, and while it was immediately cut short by a dominant North Linn team, Ed-Co experienced an amount of success the school had never seen on the hardwood. And with three double figure scorers returning this season, they’ll be looking to duplicate that success. They’re headlined by the Rochford brothers, senior Preston (11.0) and sophomore Parker (12.4), who combined to shoot 44.3% from behind the arc last season, giving the Vikings one of the most potent shooting backcourts in 1A. Also back is Ethan Streicher (10.3), another talented scoring guard who played well alongside the Rochford brothers in the backcourt. This group lost all of their size with the graduations of 6-4 Jacob Wessel and 6-3 Calvin Heims, who were the team’s top two rebounders (Wessel also blocked 69 shots), so they’re going to be small, and will be looking to force turnovers and chuck up 3s with their talented backcourt. They’re going to need to rebound as a team and keep other teams off the glass, but the pieces are in place for Ed-Co to make another run to the state tournament (and the good news for them is that North Linn has moved up to 2A, so while they may lose to them again in the regular season, they won’t have to worry about the Lynx come postseason play).
Bedford (19-6 last year, 86.1% of scoring returning)
The Bulldogs have a really nice mix of players returning, with their top four scorers from last year back. They’re led by the inside-out combination of big man Cooper Nally (15.9) and guard Brennan Sefrit (18.1), who give the ‘Dogs plenty of scoring versatility. Damien Henry (7.6) gives Sefrit some help in the backcourt, while Abe Weed (8.3) provides some additional size and strength in the paint with Nally. Jordan Perkins (6.7) will likely join that quartet in the starting lineup, and he can score a bit insdie and out. With the scoring punch and experience they have returning, and Nally’s rim protection (76 blocks), this group will be a State threat after falling in the substate final last year.
Rockford (17-6 last year, 64.9% of scoring returning)
The Warriors lose their leading scorer from last year in Zach Bushbaum, a 13-point a game scorer. However, five players who averaged at least five points a game are back, including a trio of guards who could give them a pretty potent offensive attack. Jake Staudt (11.0, 38 3PM), Kaden Lyman (8.8, 36 3PM) and Max Rooney (8.7, 26 3PM) are all capable shooters, and if they improve on their 30.4, 34.0 and 30.2 3P% respectively, the Warriors could turn into a very lightweight version of their namesake from Oakland. Look for this team to shoot an awful lot of 3s, which will make them a high variance team, but on nights when they’re clicking, they’ll be deadly.
Saint Ansgar (11-10 last year, 87.5% of scoring returning)
The top three scorers from last season return for the Saints, a group that, much unlike most of the others on this watch list, was solid on the defensive end, ranking 53rd in 1A allowing just 54.2 points a game. The issues came on the offensive end of the floor, where the Saints scored just 50.7 points a game, good for 92nd in the class. The biggest issue was that they shot just 38.7% from the floor. With plenty of returning experience, including a pair of double figure scorers in Ethan Kirchgatter (14.6) and Collin Kramer (13.9), they should improve on those shooting numbers. Erik Gerdts (5.8, 31 3PM) gives them a solid perimeter option alongside Kirchgatter, and Kramer (29 blocks) provides rim protection. Even if the Saints don’t improve on the defensive end, a jump in offensive production will lead to more wins this winter.
Highland, Riverside (11-12 last year, 99.4% of scoring returning)
The Huskies were a frustrating team last season, as they showed glimpses of what they could be in handing 2A state qualifier Wapello their only regular season loss, but they weren’t consistent on the defensive end of the floor, and it led to a below-.500 record. If they’re going to make an improvement and become a legitimate threat in 1A, they’ll need to clean up the defense, which ranked 118th in the class last year, allowing 62.4 points a game. They’re led by a possible Division I big man in Zack Lasek (20.7), a 6-7 forward who can score inside and out, and dominate games on a nightly basis. He, like the rest of the team, needs to bring more consistent effort on the defensive end, but the skill set is there for him to be an absolutely dominant force at this level. He’ll be joined in the starting lineup by Trey Lasek (12.0), Mason McFarland (11.0), Cole Adamson (9.7) and Brody Burton (5.7), giving the Huskies plenty of experience. This is a group that loses only NINE points from last year’s roster, so if there isn’t improvement on both ends of the floor, they certainly won’t have inexperience to blame. If they can put forth a better defensive team, and trim that points against average down into the 54-55 points a game range (which would still be just a middle of the road defensive team in 1A), they’ll be extremely dangerous. But they have to prove that commitment first.
Danville (11-11 last year, 98.0% of scoring returning)
Danville has a proud basketball tradition, and after a few down years, this could be the year the Bears make a return trip to State. They lose just 32 points off of last year’s roster, which was one of the most explosive offensive teams in 1A, ranking sixth at 71.7 points a game. They bring back a trio of double figure scorers in Max Wilcox (19.6), Taylor Kennsett (15.7) and Bryce Carr (11.3), and in total, they bring back their top nine rotation players from last year. Any improvement this team is going to make, however, is going to need to come with a major increase in their defense. They ranked 143rd (out of 147 1A teams) in scoring defense last year, allowing 70.4 points a game, which helped attribute to their seven losses by single digits. Part of those defensive numbers can be linked to the fast pace that the Bears like to play, but if they can tighten up on that end of the floor, even just a bit and get the average down into the 62-63 points a game range, they’ll be a real threat to make a State trip after a two year absence.
Newell-Fonda (17-7 last year, 70.9% of scoring returning)
The Mustangs got off to a rough start last year, losing their first three games of the year by an average of 17.7 points a game. They responded strong after that, however, going 17-4 the rest of the way against a schedule that BC Moore’s system ranked as the 11th toughest in Class 1A. The ‘Stangs are led by a very talented young backcourt in Bryce Coppock (21.9) and Aden Mahler (10.7), a pair of small, but productive, junior guards coming off big sophomore seasons. Coppock serves as the team’s primary playmaker and scorer, and thrives on getting into the paint despite his 5-9 stature. Mahler is the team’s top shooter, knocking down 53 3s last year at a 43.8% clip last season. RJ Rojas (7.5) also returns to the starting lineup, and Tanner Gerke (2.7) is back with some playing experience from last year. There are some holes to fill on the roster, but the guard tandem of Coppock and Mahler is going to win an awful lot of games and will be a threat to make a Des Moines run come late February.
Janesville (15-7 last year, 79.6% of scoring returning)
The top four scorers are back for the Wildcats, led by a really talented inside-out combination that will lead to plenty of wins in northeast Iowa this year. Codey Hicks (18.0, 9.3 rebounds) shot just under 69% from the floor last season and is a dominant force in the paint, while guard Spencer Hoff (13.2) is the primary scoring threat on the perimeter. Hoff is joined by Josh Hahn (8.6), who led the team with 100 assists, while Caden Conrad (6.5) provides some additional size and rim protection in the paint with Hicks. That duo combined to block 64 shots last season. The ‘Cats had the 10th best scoring defense last year, allowing just 46.6 points a game. Look for that number to remain strong. Four of Janesville’s losses last year came to Dunkerton (22 wins) and Don Bosco (24), and they were competitive in three of those games. With plenty of returning experience, look for them to give those teams a run for their money in the Iowa Star, and be a real threat to do some damage in the postseason.
Mormon Trail (15-3 last year, 80.0% of scoring returning)
Like some of the other teams on this watch list, the Saints don’t play against very difficult competition through the year, with their schedule ranking 137th in 1A last season. They bring back a trio of double figure scorers in Parker Hitt (17.3), Keaton Gwinn (15.9) and George Shanks (12.6), as well as another major role player in Kase Hitt (8.2), giving them plenty of returning experience. Unlike many 1A teams, this group takes good care of the ball, posting a 2.5-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Two of their three losses last year came to Ankeny Christian Academy, and they’ll have to get through them this year, but with the returnees and scoring punch, they’ll have a chance.