Posted On: 11/27/18 2:27 PM

Class AAAA is going to be a ton of fun this winter as there are more teams that seem capable of winning a game in the state tournament this year than in recent years. There’s a ton of talent all over the state which should make for a lot of good games on any given night every week. Here are some things I’m excited about this winter:

Section 1: Can anybody end the Lakeville North vs. Rochester JM section final run?

It’s been six straight years with Rochester John Marshall meeting Lakeville North in the section championship and it’s been six straight years that Lakeville North has prevailed and advanced to state. The annual question is whether or not JM can beat Lakeville North. That answer is always the same. Yes. JM can beat the Panthers. Most of those games have been close and I’d assume if it were to play out that way in March, the game would be close. Can anybody upset that potential outcome and knock one of those teams off beforehand? Lakeville South and Rochester Mayo might have the requisite talent to make things interesting.

Section 2: Is Section 2 the best in the state?

Seven teams had winning records from Section 2 last year with three teams winning at least 20 games (plus Edina which won 19). Eden Prairie and Prior Lake are top-five teams in Class AAAA and Edina, Shakopee and Chaska are all in that fat middle class of teams capable of winning 15-22 games. It’s a crazy tough section with a ton of top-shelf individual talent. Whichever team wins that section will have likely beaten two teams that are of state-tournament caliber.

Section 3: How many teams will post winning records?

Apple Valley was the only team to record more wins than losses last season out of Section 3. It’s unlikely but there’s a non-zero chance no teams go into postseason play with a winning record this winter. Eastview is probably the best team on paper but given the Lightning play in the South Suburban Conference, there’s a chance they take more losses than their talent would indicate. Apple Valley is in the same conference and after graduating practically every key guy from the last two years, the Eagles head into the year with a lot of unknown. Park of Cottage Grove could be an improved team, but after winning six games, the Wolfpack have a lot to prove.

Section 4: How good will Cretin-Derham Hall be?

The Raiders return just one starter and one key bench guy from last year’s state title winning team. Never fear though as CDH reloaded with three very good transfers in Tre Holloman from Minneapolis North, Karsten Broadley from Fosston and Curtis Jones from Minneapolis South. That’s roughly 50 points per game coming in from other teams. Holloman is incredibly advanced for a freshman and was arguably Minneapolis North’s best player at times last year. Jones averaged 17 points per game for a South team that won 12 games and Broadley was a double-double machine for a very good Fosston team. Jaeden King is back after averaging 14 points per game in a complementary role which means the Raiders will once again have a ton of talent. They might not win 30 games but I wouldn’t be surprised if they got back to state and did damage again.

Section 5: Can Park Center win when it can’t impose itself athletically?

This is probably a question worth asking annually because Park Center is always one of the best teams in the state and that’ll be the case again this year. The Pirates have been among the state’s elite the last three years but come up short in the postseason because they run into teams that can control the tempo and don’t fold under PC’s pressure. The Pirates have an elite package of guards that can overwhelm people. But can they execute in nip-and-tuck affairs? They haven’t always in the past. With multi-year starting guards in Khari Broadway and Tommy Chatman along with phenom big man Dain Daija, Park Center should be able to win games in multiple ways.

Section 6: Is there any way Hopkins misses the state tournament a third year in a row?

Hopkins is never not one of the most talented teams in the state. But in the last two years, the Royals have been knocked out of the section tournament by Wayzata. When was the last time Hopkins didn’t go to state three years in a row? The Royals missed the state tourney two years in a row in 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 but backed that up with an absolutely dominant 2009 team. This team isn’t nearly as good on paper as that but the Royals certainly have a tantalizing outfit this winter. Wayzata is good again too though. So don’t expect them to simply roll the competition.

Section 7: Who is the favorite?

Section 7 has been the weakest collective section in Class AAAA the last few years. For better or worse, there doesn’t appear to be a clear-cut frontrunner this year either. Cambridge-Isanti probably returns the most talent and the Bluejackets won 18 games last year. But Andover, Coon Rapids and Forest Lake will certainly be in the mix as well.

Section 8: Will Maple Grove keep its state streak going?

It’s been a good run here lately for the Crimson. Even in what an outsider would view as a likely rebuilding season, Maple Grove won 18 games in the regular season and got to the state tournament. Jared Rainey is back to give the Crimson a steady hand at point guard and there’s always talent ready to replace the guys who’ve graduated. Watch out for Buffalo though as the Bison have things rolling again and will be one of the 10 best teams in the state.