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Posted On: 10/16/18 1:00 PM
The Mississippi 8 had a bit of a rough year when it came to postseason play last year as the two teams at the top of the league both suffered first round upset losses. With the exception of Jordan Belka (Rogers) and Matt Todd (Monticello), a big chunk of the top players in the conference are back. There is a lot of talent and a lot of depth with a lot of teams returning seasoned players. Here’s what you need to know:
The Tigers will head into the 2018-19 season with the highest expectations they’ve had in more than a decade. They finished second in the conference a year ago and won 20 games before losing in the first round of sections in upset fashion. But with four starters back, they’ve got all the pieces to win the conference and go to the state tournament. It starts inside with senior center Jon Stimmler who averaged 17 points and nine rebounds a game as a junior. He’s a force inside and few teams can put bigs on the floor that can match his physicality. Adam Williams has been a productive wing player for the Tigers for a couple years now and gives them a go-to scorer outside. James Flicek is a solid complementary scorer and one of the better lead guards in the conference and the Tigers got better when Norwood-Young America wing Riley O’Neil (13 points per game as a junior) transferred in. The Tigers will be the favorite to win the conference and they’ve got legitimate state tournament aspirations.
Contender: Buffalo, Cambridge-Isanti
Buffalo snuck up on people last year and went to the section title game with a rotation primarily built on sophomores. This team will be a force for the next two years and could absolutely win the conference and section titles. Matthew Willert, Tony Dahl and Brandon Maatz averaged nearly 50 points per game combined as sophomores last year. Willert is one of the top prospects in the 2020 class. Aidan Bouman gives them a difference-maker in the frontcourt as well. Buy stock in this team before it gets expensive.
Cambridge-Isanti: The Bluejackets were quietly very good a year ago and they could be even better this winter as their top two scorers are both back. Henry Abraham averaged more than 20 points per game as just a sophomore and is one of the best players in the conference. Luke Malamasiuro put up 14 a night next to him. That duo will stress a lot of teams out. London Williams is back to provide some juice in the frontcourt and Micah Ladd was a solid rotation guy as a sophomore.
Should Compete: St. Michael-Albertville, Rogers, Big Lake, Monticello
Rogers won the conference last year but gone is Jordan Belka. The Royals relied on him an awful lot and while the program has achieved sustained excellence for a while now, the shoes to fill are bigger than they’ve been in a while too. Hunter Stull and Justin Dorr were both solid rotation guys last year. Ben McNaboe is back as well.
Monticello heads into life post-Matt Todd and while replacing his near-30 points per game won’t be an easy task, the Magic do have a big chunk of returning players and many of them are entering their third year as varsity regulars. Austin Wetter will be a junior and at times looked like the team’s second best player last year as a sophomore. Austin Puppe is solid as well. Carson Sawatzke, Shawn Sellner and Blake Thompson are all plus shooters, but will need to show they can create offense.
Big Lake had a down year after getting to state two years ago. With four starters back, the Hornets could be a sneaky pick to make noise in the conference and section this winter. Logan Nagorski is one of the top returning players in the conference and DeVonne Harris is one of the best two-way big men. Spencer Hinrichs — one of the top shooters in the league — is back as well
STMA was decent last year but will have to make up for losing several of its top scorers. Austin Jentzen is a very good defensive big man but he’ll have to produce more offensively. Kale Hoselton and Sean Buchanan both earned good minutes as sophomores and could be in line for heavier production outputs.
Rebuilding: Chisago Lakes, North Branch, St. Francis
Chisago Lakes has several intriguing guys back including forward Will Tinjum who will be heading into his third year as a starter. He averaged 14.6 points per game last year and can certainly cause problems for teams with his inside-outside game. Seth Thompson and Beau Backes both showed signs of being productive players as sophomores.
St. Francis doesn’t have much coming back but Wyatt Schroeder will have a chance to put up big numbers as a junior. He averaged better than 10 per game as an underclassman.
North Branch made strides last year towards average but lost a lot of seniors. Zach Gazda is back and he’s one of the best bigs in the conference. Connor Hartmann joins him up front. That’s a good start.
18-19 Conference Predictions
Mississippi 8 All Conference
Matthew Willert, Jr. Buffalo (POY)
Jon Stimmler, Sr., Princeton
Logan Nagorski, Sr., Big Lake
Adam Williams, Sr., Princeton
Henry Abraham, Jr., Cambridge-Isanti
Tony Dahl, Jr., Buffalo
Austin Jentzen, Sr., STMA
James Flicek, Sr., Princeton
DeVonne Harris, Sr., Big Lake
Luke Malamisuro, Sr., Cambridge-Isanti
Zach Gazda, Sr., North Branch
Brandon Maatz, Jr., Buffalo
Austin Wetter, Jr., Monticello
Will Tinjum, Sr., Chicago Lake
Austin Puppe, Sr., Monticello
Hunter Stull, Sr., Rogers