Posted On: 11/22/18 4:00 PM

There is no shortage of intrigue heading into the basketball season at the Class AA level. Minnehaha is gunning for a third-straight state title and while the Redhawks appear to have a significant talent advantage over the field (Jalen Suggs is quite the trump card), there are a number of very good looking teams which should make for a lot of good competition on a nightly basis. Here are some storylines I’m particularly intrigued to see play out over the course of the winter.

Section 1: How loaded is Section 1?

Section 1 figures to be one of the best in Class AA again this winter as six teams could potentially push towards 20 wins with another handful looking capable of posting above .500 seasons. Caledonia and Lake City are the two headliners again as both will lean on terrific duos. The Warriors have Noah and Eli King while the Tigers are led by Nate Heise and Reid Gastner. Rochester Lourdes, St. Charles, La Crescent and Stewartville all figure to be strong as wel. And never count out programs like Plainview-Elgin-Millville and Byron. Dover-Eyota and Pine Island should be improved as well, setting up some particularly juicy early-round section matchups late in the year.

Section 2: Where is the section with so much high-end individual talent graduating over the last two years?

An awful lot of top-notch individual talent has gone through Section 2 in recent years. With Jimmy Vollbrecht (Jordan), Oakley Baker (NRHEG) and Zac Olson (WEM) in 2017 and Eric Tiedman (Jordan), Benji Lundberg (NRHEG) and Gavin Bates (Sibley East) in 2018, a ton of talent has trickled through the programs in recent years. It doesn’t look like Section 2 has quite the same kind of juice this winter from an individual perspective. Ryan Samuelson looks like the next big piece for the Hubmen. Maple River and NRHEG have talent in the program as always but there isn’t an ‘all-time best in school history’ type at either stop. There were only five winning teams in the section last year. Is it going to be that top-heavy again?

Section 3: How big of a favorite is New London-Spicer?

New London-Spicer returns one of the best backcourt tandems in the state with Brandon Adelman and Ryan Wygnagowski. The Wildcats won 19 games last year and are a top-10 team in Class AA heading into the season. With a number of teams in the section graduating senior-heavy bunches, it would appear as though the Wildcats have a significant edge. Jackson County Central is one team to watch though when it comes to contending as the Huskies return a big core from last year including star guard Rudy Voss.

Section 4: How good is the young talent at Cristo Rey Jesuit and St. Croix Prep?

Minnehaha Academy is the runaway favorite in this section. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some intriguing teams still. Cristo Rey Jesuit and St. Croix Prep in particular have some young talent definitely worth checking out. Daniel McCarrell averaged nearly 20 points per game as a sophomore for St. Croix Prep while James Sommer and Erick Burgess form one of the best backcourts in Class AA.

Section 5: Does Minneapolis North dip at all?

Minneapolis North looked capable of taking down Minnehaha and making the jump from A to AA with consecutive state titles before getting upset by Brooklyn Center in the section tournament. The Polars lost two guys who played huge roles in the team’s two previous titles in Tayler Johnson and Odell Wilson along with Tre Holloman who transferred to Cretin-Derham Hall. They’ve still got an elite backcourt with Eli Campbell and Nasir El-Amin, but who steps up to fill the void left by all the talent that’s gone through the program the last few years? Watch out for Omar Brown and Davon Townley Jr.

Section 6: How many 20-win teams will there be this year?

Seven teams won at least 20 games last year in Section 6. St. Cloud Cathedral was the team to emerge from the field, getting to state for a second straight season and taking third. The field probably won’t be quite as insane this year as teams like Annandale, Kimball and Pine City could all see a bit of a dip in record. But even those teams won’t fall off entirely. Cathedral, Melrose, Eden Valley-Watkins and Maple Lake should all be strong again and there are a number of teams (Sauk Centre) that should be improved.

Section 7: Can Greenway capitalize on what appears to be a down section?

Esko’s owned Section 7 for a while now and despite graduating a terrific senior class, don’t expect the Eskomos to completely fall off. They’ll dip a bit though which could create an opportunity for the rest of the section to stand up and make a move. Greenway returns a ton of talent off a 24-win campaign last winter. Dylan DeChampeau and Jace Hansen-Cochran could combine to average 50 points per game.  

Section 8: Is another Breckenridge vs Perham section final a guarantee?

Breck and Perham have met in the last two section championship games with Perham, the favorite, losing to Breckenridge. The Cowboys have the best individual player in the section in Noah Christensen but they graduated a big chunk of the core that helped them reach the state tourney. Perham’s got a really good core back starting with Jenson Beachy and Josh Jeziorski who are both all-conference type guys. Is there a team that can upset either of those two teams? Hawley came close last year against Breckenridge and the Nuggets return almost their entire team. They could be a team to watch.