Posted On: 08/27/18 7:30 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 classification 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 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 4A, 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.) Dubuque Senior (18-5 last year, 67.4% of scoring returning)
The Senior Rams have been really close to breaking through and being the best team in the state a few times over the last decade or so, and this may finally be the group that does it. They spent some time ranked No. 1 last year, and they bring four starters back from that group, including superstar forward Noah Carter (18.3), perhaps the most versatile scoring threat in the state. The 6-5 combo forward recently committed to UNI and is one of the most efficient scorers and shooters in the state. He nearly lost a leg last year after a scare from compartment syndrome, but he came back late in the season and was dominant, then followed that up with one of the best summers of anyone with the Barnstormers. He is going to have a MASSIVE senior year, and is the primary reason the Rams are our team to beat in 4A. He’s far from alone, however, as other returning starters are Nick Timmerman (12.3), Sam Link (8.9) and Marshaun Carroll (7.3). Timmerman is one of the best perimeter defenders in the state, and is another really good shooting threat. Link knocked down 38.5% of his 3s and figures to step into the primary ball handling role following Carter Stevens’ graduation, and Carroll is a really talented scoring wing who greatly improved his jumper over the last 24 months. As a tertiary option for this group, he’s great. Jack Vandermillen (0.7) played well when we saw the Rams this summer, and Landon Hermsen (5.2), a long, 6-4 forward, gives them some size on the interior and some rim protection. This group is going to need to find some bench production, and maybe that comes from junior twin guards Brock and Cooper Medinger, who were solid players on last year’s sophomore team. This team has as much experience as anyone coming back, and while they’re certainly going to miss Stevens’ scoring, facilitating and toughness, Carter has a chance to be the most impactful player in the class, and he could lead the Rams to their first ever state title. They’re as good a bet as any to be cutting down the proverbial nets in early March.
2.) Des Moines North (20-4 last year, 67.4% of scoring returning)
There’s an argument to be made that the Polar Bears have the most talented team in the state this year, but there are some real questions that they’ll need to address if they want to win the school’s first state title. We’ll address the negatives later, and focus on the positives first. This group was far and away the most explosive offensive team in 4A last year, scoring 79.2 points a game, and they bring back a good chunk of that roster. They’re headlined by talented senior guard Tyreke Locure (28.1), a big-time scorer who also ranked among the state’s leaders in assists and steals. The South Alabama commit has put together a remarkable career and has a chance to finish his career as 4A’s all-time leading scorer. Also returning to provide firepower are Lino Malual (11.3), Gatdoar Bijiek (7.1) and Malik Allen (5.3), each of whom are good fits alongside Locure – athletic players who run the floor and can shoot the rock from deep. There is absolutely no doubt that this group is going to score points again. They play a very up-tempo style that fits with their personnel and makes for a very entertaining brand of basketball. The aforementioned issue lies on the defensive end. Dating back to 2003, the worst 4A state champion on the defensive end was last year’s Cedar Falls team, which allowed 56.5 points a game. North allowed 67.6 points a game last year. Some of that can certainly be attributed to their fast pace, which leads to more possessions, thus more opportunities for opponents to score. The fact remains that teams that give up that many points aren’t going to win state titles, and a large part of that is because it’s harder to score at State, so you can’t solely rely on that end of the floor. They need Locure to stay on the floor and take fewer chances. He fouled out of 10 games last season, and had four fouls in a bevy of others. Perhaps this is the group that can buck the trend. The talent is certainly there. There are going to be a ton of points scored on the north side of Des Moines, and a deep State run should be the expectation.
3.) North Scott (State qualifier, 20-4 last year, 70.4% of scoring returning)
It may look odd to see the Lancers ranked this high, considering they lost their only double figure scorer from last year’s team in Corvon Seales. But coach Seamus Budde is among the elite coaches in the state, and he has a lot of experience returning to play with. The Lancers are going to be led by point guard Cortaviaus Seales (9.0), the next in the line of talented Seales brothers passing through Eldridge. The improvement that “Tavi” has made over the last 18-24 months has been remarkable, and he looks primed to be one of the best two-way players in the state this year. He has the ability to break down a defense and get into the paint, and he’s a really solid decision maker who protects the ball and values possessions. He has some talented shooters returning to flank him on the perimeter in Reece Sommers (7.5, 40.3 3P%) and Sam Kilburg (6.6, 42.4%). Both of them are prototypical North Scott guards – tough, physical, defensive minded and will make the open looks that are given to them. The key to this group, and the reason they need to be considered one of the teams to beat, is junior forward Ty Anderson (7.4). Anderson recently committed to play his college ball at UNI, and he’s an athletic freak with outstanding length who is finally starting to come into his own and put the skills with his athletic ability. He’s improved tremendously in the last year, adding range to his jumper, and he’ll be a force on both ends of the floor. Look for Trent Allard, a 6-6 junior, to step in and play quality minutes in the paint as well. North Scott rarely goes very deep in their rotation, but their starting five is going to be really good, and this group is always going to defend. Budde always gets the most out of his teams, and this team has plenty of talent for him to play with, especially on the defensive end. Watch out for the Lancers.
4.) Iowa City West (State runner-up, 21-5 last year, 32.9% of scoring returning)
The best program in Iowa over the course of the last decade has been Iowa City West, as a bevy of Division I talent has passed through those hallways. They’ve won four titles in the last eight years, and have at least made the semifinals in each of those eight seasons. This may be the final season of a truly dominant Trojan program, however, as Liberty High is taking a good chunk of the talent that would’ve previously gone to West. Nobody in the state is going to feel sorry for Steve Bergman and the Trojans. They’ll be led by future Hawkeye Patrick McCaffery (19.9), who is going to be asked to play an even bigger scoring role this year after the graduation (or departure) of the team’s next eight scorers. The 6-8 wing is remarkably talented, and he’ll need to be dominant for West to have another state title chance. The Trojans were dealt a blow this summer as point guard Dante Eldridge, who was in line to have a huge senior season, will not be able to play for West this winter. Eldridge, who moved to Iowa City as a sophomore when his father Courtney took a job on the Iowa staff, played varsity basketball as an eighth grader back in Boston, so he has already played four varsity years, making him ineligible to play for the Trojans this winter. The Trojans will be bolstered by the addition of a pair of transfers in Even Brauns, who averaged 10.3 points last year at Iowa City Regina, and Nick Pepin, a point guard from Waterloo West. Brauns, a 6-9 junior, is a very athletic young big man with a slew of mid-major offers, but he’ll need to adjust to the physicality of the MVC, which could take a while. He’s very talented, and the size that him and McCaffery will provide, they should control the glass most nights. Pepin is a quick lead guard who can also stroke it from deep. He’ll factor into the backcourt alongside returnee Brayden Adcock. Adcock isn’t much of a scorer, but he’s a fantastic defender and should be a reliable point guard for this group. Expect Jalen Gaudet (1.3) to provide some additional toughness, athleticism and size in the paint, while Jacob Klein (1.1), Marcus Morgan, Cole Mabry, Ben VanderLeest and Tate Crane could crack the rotation as well. We know West is going to be a solid defensive team year after year, and there is no shortage of talent on the roster. How well the unproven pieces adjust to larger roles remains to be seen, and will be the biggest factor in just how good this team can be.
5.) Waukee (State semifinalist, 21-5 last year, 43.5% of scoring returning)
Routinely one of the most talented teams in the state, the Warriors lost quite a bit of production off of last year’s state semifinalist group, but bring back a pair of double figure scorers to build around in seniors Noah Hart (10.3) and Dylan Jones (10.7). Hart, who dished out 138 assists last year (against just 51 turnovers), is a supremely talented lead guard on both ends of the floor who looks primed for a huge senior year. He can do a little bit of everything on the floor, and he’s one of the most talented passers in the state. He’ll pair with Jones, also his grassroots teammate with the Iowa Barnstormers, to be a potent tandem. Jones is a super efficient 6-8 forward who shot 65% from the floor, can stretch out to the arc and protect the rim. He’s a walking double-double and provides the Warriors with versatility on both ends of the floor. The other returnees who saw some time last year are Michael Vicente (1.4), Trey Schaller (1.1), Griffin Parker (1.2) and Bennett Pedersen (0.8). Vicente looks like the one most primed to step into a major role, a long, athletic 6-3 wing who can give them solid minutes on the defensive end. Look for sophomore Payton Sandfort to play a major role for the Warriors this year. He’s one of the best shooters in the state and is on the short list to be the No. 1 player in our 2021 rankings when they’re released. The Warriors also add in Ottumwa transfer Andrew Curran, another talented shooter who made 48 3s for the Bulldogs last year and averaged 12 points a game. He’s been asked to be the primary scorer for an Ottumwa group that lacked talent, and should benefit by playing alongside much more talent, leading to more open looks. Waukee always has talent, and coach Justin Ohl is going to have them solid on the defensive end. If Curran and Sandfort step in alongside Hart to provide some perimeter scoring punch, this group could be deadly.
6.) Des Moines Hoover (19-2 last year, 60.0% of scoring returning)
There are some things in Iowa high school basketball that you can just count on year after year. One of those things is that the Hoover Huskies are going to be a top five defensive team in 4A. Expect that tradition to remain this year with the Huskies bringing four of their top six players back from a group that ranked second in the class last year, allowing just 42.9 points a game, including their best defender in point guard Kenny Quinn (4.6). Quinn is a bulldog on the defensive end who doesn’t back down from anyone, and despite being just 5-9, he’s capable of defending anyone on the floor with his toughness and physicality. He’s not much of a scoring threat, but he’s the heart and soul of this group on both ends of the floor, and as Quinn goes, the Huskies go. The bulk of the scoring for Hoover will be done by the guard tandem of Adam Jackson (12.1) and Hosea Treadwell (12.0). Treadwell has “in the gym” range, and is coming off a great summer with Kingdom Hoops. He has the look of a player who could average close to 20 a game this year. The tertiary scoring option will likely be sophomore guard Manny Austin (6.0), coming off a solid freshman year. That quartet are the only ones with significant playing time returning, but Hoover routinely finds players to fill into the holes, and this year should be no exception. We know the Huskies are going to be disciplined and defensive minded, and that’s going to win them a lot of basketball games again this year, and they’ll be a title threat should they make it to State.
7.) Cedar Falls (State champions, 21-5 last year, 46.8% of scoring returning)
The defending state champions lose the best player in the school’s history in AJ Green, the sharpshooting guard who led the Tigers to their first state title. He’s now playing ball down the road at UNI. But this group brings back plenty of talent to make another run to Des Moines and potentially a repeat state championship. They’ll be led by senior guard Logan Wolf (13.0), a long, athletic guard who is going to play football at UNI and walk on to the basketball team. He’s got great size at 6-4, and while he hasn’t been asked to be a primary scoring threat before, he has the skill set to do so. He’s one of the best two-way players in the state and if he can become an all-state caliber player, the Tigers will be really dangerous. This group is going to have some serious size with the return of 6-7 senior Jackson Frericks (7.0), 6-5 senior Jack Campbell (7.0) and the addition of 6-9 sophomore Chase Courbat, who may be the best sophomore in the state. That trio is going to give the Tigers plenty of length, size and versatility on both ends of the floor alongside Wolf. Other key returnees are Mason Abbas (2.2), Josh Ollendieck (1.5) and Sam Gary (1.9), while you can also expect to see junior guard Jaxon Heth contribute. This may be a group that relies a little more on the defensive end this year, rather than having Green pace a sterling offensive attack. But with the length they’re going to be able to put on the floor at each spot, they should be strong on the defensive end of the floor, and they’ll have a chance to repeat.
8.) West Des Moines Valley (State semifinalist, 17-9 last year, 27.3% of scoring returning)
As I’ve mentioned in each of their writeups, Valley is like Western Christian and Cascade in 2A, Waverly-Shell Rock in 3A and Iowa City West in 4A, a team that we’re going to include in the top 10 until they prove us wrong. The Tigers rebounded from a slow start (6-7) to reach the state semifinals for the fourth time in five seasons, before losing to eventual champion Cedar Falls. Leading scorer Trayvon Williams (10.2) returns from last year’s group, but he’s the only returnee among the top eight in scoring from last season, as Derek Emelifeonwu is now at a prep school in Louisville. Williams is an athletic, slashing guard who thrives on getting into the paint and creating issues on the defensive end with his length and quickness. While the Tigers may not have too many players with experience returning, they won’t be short on talent. Look for big men Aguek Deng (3.5) and Will Berg (1.7) to become the next in a long line of talented Valley bigs to play a major role. Deng, a 6-7 senior, has the potential to be one of the best defensive players in the state. He’s a long, supremely athletic forward who can switch on defense and protect the rim. He’s raw offensively, but should be able to score off of offensive rebounds and dishes from Williams and whatever other guards the Tigers produce. Berg, a 6-8 junior, is a combo forward who can score inside and out and is coming off a highly productive summer with the Iowa Barnstormers. Look for guards Jake Auer and Evan Obia to emerge, and with Valley being the biggest school in the state, by far, there will be no shortage of talent for coach BJ Windhorst to choose from. This is a group that is always going to be balanced, talented, and defensive minded, and this team should be no exception. While they may not have much proven talent returning, it will surprise no one to see the Tigers make the short drive back down the interstate to Wells Fargo in early March.
9.) Sioux City East (State qualifier, 19-4 last year, 59.8% of scoring returning)
The Black Raiders have had a stranglehold on western Iowa for a while now, and while they may get a little bit more of a push this year, it’s still East’s area. Last year’s second highest scoring team at 73.2 points a game, they’ll be paced by sharpshooting senior guard Aidan Vanderloo (16.4), one of the most efficient guards in the state. Vanderloo shot 52.5% from the arc last year and you can’t leave him an inch or he’ll drain 3s on you. He’ll be joined in the backcourt by a pair of talented returnees in Jack Peterson (9.2), a Morningside commit, and Sayvion Armstrong (4.6). Armstrong played well for the Raiders off the bench last season, and his quickness gives East another dimension in the backcourt. He’s one of the fastest guards in the state and he can create havoc on the defensive end. Peterson is a super athletic guard who can play above the rim and knock down 3s. Also returning are Jaleque Dunson (6.5) and Javonte Keck (6.4). At 6-6, Keck gives them some size in the paint, and Dunson, a 6-4 wing, gives them a load of length and athleticism on the perimeter. He looks primed to have a huge junior year, and if he can take the next step forward in his development, East could be a real state title threat. The Black Raiders have to replace some size and interior toughness following the graduation of walking double-double Van Rees, but this group will be quick and explosive on the offensive end, and they’ll be able to fly around defensively.
10.) Cedar Rapids Prairie (10-12 last year, 69.9% of scoring returning)
Few teams in the state are going to be able to put as much shooting on the floor as the Hawks can with the Murray twins. Kris (16.6) and Keegan (12.9) return for Prairie, giving them one of the most explosive tandems in the state. Each are deadly shooters from the arc, although their numbers from last year (33.1 and 36.9 3P%) may not necessarily reflect that. With four of the top five from last season returning, look for the twins to get some cleaner looks this year, and at 6-6, they can get shots off whenever they want. Harrison Cook (7.4) and Logan Burg (7.1) are efficient third and fourth options, with Cook providing the size in the paint, and expect to see Burg setting this team up on offense after leading the team in assists last year. He’ll have the ball in his hands even more with Griff Clark graduated. Another player to keep an eye on with this group is 6-6 freshman Gabe Berkel, who could potentially figure into the starting lineup, and if not, he’ll be asked to be a key rotation piece. We expect to see the Murray twins become more efficient this year, and with how explosive they can be, watch out. This group was 8th in scoring last year at 63.6 points a game, and that was with the twins shooting 43.7 and 39.7% from the floor, respectively. If this group can improve a bit on the defensive end, they can be deadly. They ranked 40th in the class at 62.2 points a game. Get that number down into the mid 50s and they can get to Des Moines for the first time since 1998.
Ten others to watch
Ankeny (8-15 last year, 68.7% of scoring returning)
The Hawks lost nine games by single digits last year, and with six of their top eight players returning, including their top two scorers, they should be able to turn a lot of those losses into wins this winter. They’re led by explosive wing Dillon Carlson (17.0), an athletic scoring wing who is capable of taking over games and being a dominant two-way player. He’ll be joined by a potent backcourt made up of junior guards Jaxon Smith (11.8), Nolan Otten (7.5), Jordan Kumm (5.3), Braxton Bayless and sophomore Jeron Crews (4.2). Bayless, a West Des Moines Valley transfer, is one of the best point guards in the 2020 class in the state and having a ball handler and passer of his abilities will open things up for everyone else on the team. This is a group that is loaded with shooting, and with Bayless running the show, they should be able to get plenty of open looks. Following the graduation of Ben Lyon, this isn’t going to be a big team, and they’ll need to focus on the fundamentals in regards to keeping teams off the glass, but look for this team to be much more explosive offensively than they were last year, and they should have plenty of defensive versatility with a number of players in similar size ranges. They showed some flashes of what could be with a late season win over Waukee last year, and expect to see more of that this year.
Bettendorf (10-13 last year, 71.4% of scoring returning)
The most dynamic player in the state resides in Bettendorf, Iowa, in the form of future Ohio State point guard DJ Carton (23.6). The hyper athletic lead guard has had a remarkable rise over the last two offseasons, turning himself from a low-major prospect into a five-star, high-major player who just narrowly missed out on making USA Basketball’s U18 team. And anytime a high school team in Iowa has a player with that type of talent, they’re going to be dangerous (see: Joe Wieskamp and Muscatine last year, for instance). But the Bulldogs do have some additional talent returning alongside Carton in the form of junior big man Lucas Hayes (5.2) and senior wing Trevor Feller (5.6). Feller is a respectable 3-point shooter (37.9%), and he’ll pair with Tyler Wellman (1.4, 47.1 3P%) on the perimeter alongside Carton to give the ‘Dogs some knockdown shooters who will get plenty of open looks off of Carton’s penetration. Hayes is a big body in the paint with soft hands and good footwork; look for him to have a big junior season. Oliver Bakeris (2.1) gives them another big body in the paint to either backup or occasionally play alongside Hayes. He is coming off a solid freshman year in which he contributed off the bench. Outside of Carton, Hayes and Feller, this is a group that is largely unproven, and they’ll need to improve as a team offensively after averaging just 48.1 points a game last year. But with one of the best players in the country taking the floor for them on a nightly basis, they’ll be in every game, and win a good chunk of them.
Cedar Rapids Jefferson (9-13 last year, 66.5% of scoring returning)
The J-Hawks were largely competitive last season, losing eight games by single digits. They bring back five of their top seven players from that group, including four of the top five scorers. They’ll be led by senior guard Willie Guy III (16.6), a strong scoring guard who also led Jefferson in assists last year. He thrives on using his physicality to get into the paint and score at the rim, but he’s also a 3-point threat as well, knocking down 63 3s last year. He’s joined in the backcourt by Ozzie Meiborg (11.4) and Blake Bouzek (5.2), another pair of shooting threats. Kyran Ligon (4.9), an athletic lefty, gives the J-Hawks some size in the paint and a presence on the glass. This group will take the next step if Raejzuan Shockley (3.8), a hyper athletic junior forward, can take the next step in his development. He’s shown plenty of flashes of his athletic ability over the past few years with impressive put-back dunks, but they’ll need him to stay on the floor and become a reliable contributor on both ends of the floor. The J-Hawks were the 10th highest scoring team in 4A last year, putting up 63.1 points a game, despite shooting just 41.2% from the floor. They should be very good on that end of the floor again, with a quick group of guards pushing the tempo. If this team really wants to compete and try to get Jefferson back to the state tournament for the first time since 2012, they need to improve on the defensive end. They were 43rd (out of 48 teams) last year, allowing 65 points a game. Get that down into the high 50s, and this team wins 15 games and is a state tournament threat. Keep that number close to where it was last year, and they’ll be putting a lot of pressure on their offense again.
Cedar Rapids Kennedy (11-13 last year, 59.4% of scoring returning)
The Cougars were dealt some significant blows last season, losing leading scorer Derrick Diggins midway through the year, and three other players quitting after the first game of the season. But Coach Jon McKowen has established himself as one of the best in the state, particularly with his defensive schemes, since taking the job in 2013, and he had the Cougs playing good basketball late in the year, including a nine-point loss to Iowa City West in the substate final. One of the benefits of the defections the Cougars suffered so that it thrust young players like Jack Wetzel (13.3) and Caleb Schlaak (6.6) into significantly larger roles than perhaps expected. Those two, along with Trey Sheets (7.4) and Grant Griffin (5.2), give McKowen a solid quartet to build around. Wetzel is a dynamic scoring forward who can get the job done inside and out, and at 6-5, with his ability to handle the ball as well, can be a major matchup problem. Look for him to be an all-MVC player this year. Schlaak was fantastic in the final 13 games for Kennedy after getting called up from the sophomore team, shooting 44.1% from the arc as a freshman on varsity, and showcasing elite scoring potential with his size at 6-6. Griffin and Sheets give the Cougars a pair of solid guards to put around the versatile scoring forwards. They’ve also received a boost from the addition of Linn-Mar transfer Tyler Andrews, an athletic wing who figures to fit seamlessly into McKowen’s defensive systems. Kennedy always finds new players to step into roles, and this year will be no exception. Wetzel and Schlaak give this team versatility and star power on the offensive end, and McKowen will coach them up on defense. Expect Kennedy to be a pain to play against, as they always are, and again be peaking late in the year.
Council Bluffs Lewis Central (12-10 last year, 85.3% of scoring returning)
The top four scorers, and seven of the top nine rotation players, from last year’s Titans return this year. They’ll be headlined by a trio of double figure scorers in Josh Simmons (13.3), Cole Jensen (11.5) and Seth Wineland (10.5). Simmons, the lead guard for this group, does a majority of his scoring in the paint and is a creative playmaking guard who led this group in assists, dishing out 96 on the year (next was 39). He’ll have the ball in his hands a ton. Jensen is the team’s primary option in the paint, and Wineland (40.5 3P%) gives the Titans a potent shooter on the perimeter. Other key returnees include Dane Norville (6.4), another efficient interior scoring option, Nolan McKenzie (4.8), Logan Jones (3.9) and Max Duggan (5.4). Duggan, a TCU football commit, may not play this winter and instead head to TCU early. We have no yet heard confirmation of his plans. If he sticks around, he’ll give this group another athletic body who can score from anywhere. Regardless, the biggest issue for this team is going to be the schedule. The Titans play in the Hawkeye Ten, as the lone 4A team in the league, so they play almost exclusively against 2A and 3A competition. Their schedule ranked dead last (48th) last year, according to BC Moore’s power rankings system. That hurts them come postseason time, but there is talent and experience here. They’ll win plenty of games. We’ll be keeping a particularly close eye on their December 18 matchup against Sioux City East to get a better gauge on how competitive this team can be in 4A.
Indianola (15-8 last year, 59.4% of scoring returning)
Only two players who scored more than 34 points last season return for the Indians, but fortunately for them, it’s their top two scorers from last year’s 15-win group. Evan Gauger (19.2) and Quinn Vesey (13.3) will combine to be one of the best scoring tandems in the state this year, and they’ll be heavily relied upon this winter if the Indians want to continue the upward trajectory of this program. Gauger, a talented playmaking guard who led the team in every major category, can be a dominant force on both ends of the floor. Vesey, a talented scorer, needs to become more efficient (39.1 FG%) for this group to take the next step forward, especially since the only other returnee who saw playing time last year is Matt Deike (1.7). But with two players with the talent that Gauger and Vesey have returning, Indianola will be a dangerous team, and one to monitor come postseason time, if they get a good draw (a team without much size).
Iowa City Liberty (8-14 last year, 96.7% of scoring returning)
The Lightning had an interesting first year as a program last season, playing as an independent, with a group largely comprised of freshman and sophomores. This year, they transition into the loaded MVC, and it may be tough going, especially early on. That said, they lose just 37 points from last year’s team, and have a potential all-conference player returning in junior combo forward Andre Brandon (14.3). A rapidly improving forward with the ability to score inside and out, he’ll be the focal point of what should be a dangerous offensive team. Iziah Paulsen (9.9), Bowen Gryp (7.6), Grayson Tyler (4.4) and Isaac Bender (9.5) also return, and each are dangerous 3-point shooters that the Lightning are able to put around Brandon. Bender got off to a great start last season, going 7-7 from the floor and 4-4 from the arc in two games before suffering a season-ending injury. Other key returnees include Ethan O’Donnell (6.8) and Sam Funke (5.0). This group got a ton of experience last year, and while they may struggle some adjusting to the rough and tough MVC, they could be a dangerous team later in the season, and they’re definitely a team to keep an eye on in the 2019-20 season.
Linn-Mar (13-12 last year, 51.4% of scoring returning)
The Lions lose a number of important pieces from last year’s team, with five of their top eight scorers gone. However, they return their most important piece in senior wing Trey Hutcheson (18.7), a scoring machine who is one of the best shooters in the state. He’s in line for a huge senior season on both ends of the floor, and he’ll be looking to lead Linn-Mar, once one of the most dominant programs in the state, back to State for the first time since 2012. Greg Hall (5.7), Jaren Nelson (4.1) and Hayden Passmore (2.1) return after getting significant playing time last season. Hall is a solid defender and 3-point shooter (40.7 3P%) who will be asked to step into a much larger scoring role this year. Nelson is coming off a huge summer with Quad City Elite, which saw him pick up a Division II offer from Quincy (IL), and Passmore is one of the better defensive wings in the state. Expect to see junior guard John Steffen to step into a major role for the Lions after being a dominant force on their sophomore team last year. He’s a high level ball handler and facilitator who can also put together big scoring efforts. The Lions are always loaded with shooting, and this year will be no exception. Additionally, they’ll be buoyed in close games by having Hutcheson on their side. The 6-7 senior shot 86.5% from the free throw line last year, and is a major weapon late in games. If the returnees can take another step forward in their development and take some of the scoring pressure off of Hutcheson, the Lions can make some noise.
Pleasant Valley (19-3 last year, 57.8% of scoring returning)
You know what you’re going to get out of Pleasant Valley year after year. They’re going to be a big, physical team that plays at a methodical pace and defends the crap out of teams. That won’t be any different this season, although they may be a little smaller than previous iterations of the Spartans have been. They’ll be headlined by a talented pair of senior guards in Carter Duwa (14.1) and Hunter Snyder (12.1), each of whom are good shooters with length who are effective perimeter defenders. The only other returnees who saw significant time last year are Cade Collier (2.1) and Carter Cline (2.0), so Duwa and Snyder will be asked to carry a majority of the scoring load. Duwa (40.5 3P%), Snyder (37.7%) and Cline (38.5%) are all good perimeter shooters, and with this team expected to be smaller, look for a good chunk of their scoring to come from the arc. Coach Steve Hillman has developed an efficient system that slows games down and suffocates teams on the defensive end, and that won’t change. Expect to see a lot of games played in the high 40s again this year at Pleasant Valley, and expect to see the Spartans pile up more wins by making life miserable for opponents.
Sioux City West (12-10 last year, 75.4% of scoring returning)
Headlined by Division II point guard Cliff McCray (14.7), look for the Wolverines to be a much improved team this year, despite losing two of their top three scorers. A Southwest Minnesota State commit, McCray is a hyper-athletic lead guard who can dominate games on both ends of the floor, either as a scorer or facilitator. He dished out 126 assists last year (to just 36 turnovers) and had 72 steals on the defensive end. Look for him to have a massive senior year. Also returning alongside McCray are Adien Belt (9.2), Omar Maldonaldo (6.5), Robert Mosey (6.0) and Micah McWell (6.1). Maldonaldo and McWell are dangerous shooters who shot 43.7 and 56.8% from the arc, respectively, while Belt is a quality combo forward. The Wolverines are going to be an explosive offensive team (ranked fifth in 4A in scoring last year at 64.8 points a game), and if they can improve on the defensive end, watch out. West hasn’t beaten crosstown rival Sioux City East since December 5, 2003, and a large majority of those 32 consecutive losses haven’t been competitive. I’ll make my first bold prediction of the season and say that the Wolverines end that losing streak this winter and get one from East. And they’ll be a dangerous team for the Black Raiders to face in a potential substate final.