Posted On: 11/25/18 9:00 AM

The Teams
Dewitt, Central Clinton (6-16, 5-12): The Sabers bring back five of their top seven scorers from last year’s group, including leading scorer Alex McAleer (12.5). McAleer is a long, athletic junior wing capable of scoring from anywhere on the floor, and he should be one of the best players in the division. Drew Kueter (7.2) is a capable shooter, Jeff Grau (5.2) gives them some interior size at 6-5, and Devin Hurdle (3.5) and Kinney Tucker (3.4) have experience. This group really struggled with their offensive efficiency last season, posting shooting splits of 37-29-49 last year. Those numbers will need to greatly improve across the board if they want to make a jump in this strong division. 

Dyersville Beckman (14-9, 11-7): Traditionally a strong team despite being a 2A school playing in a 3A league, the Blazers will have a lot of work to do this year as only one of their top eight scorers returns. That returnee is a good one, however, in junior guard Michael Keegan (11.9), who was third on the team in scoring and proved himself to be a great facilitator last season, dishing out 81 assists to just 37 turnovers. At 6-4, he has good size for a lead guard, and he’s very talented, but they have nobody coming back with any sort of experience outside of Keegan, so they may struggle this season, especially early on.

Maquoketa (8-13, 7-11): Looking for a team to make a major jump this year? It may be the Maquoketa Cardinals, who bring back their top four scorers from a group that lost eight games by single digits last season. They’ll be headlined by Abe Becker (18.8), a sharpshooting senior wing who knocked down 88 3s last season at a 44.2% clip. Those 88 made 3s tied for the fourth most of anyone in the state, and with lots of experience returning around him, he should be able to get even cleaner looks this year. Macklin Shanahan (9.8), Kane Kopp (7.4) and Caiden Atienza (2.7) are other returning starters, while Connor Becker (5.8) figures to step into the final starting slot this winter. Becker and Atienza both produced well last year as freshmen and will look to take a step forward this year. Atienza, at 6-5, gives the Cardinals some much needed size to go alongside a very perimeter-oriented group of returnees. This is a team that lost a lot of close games last year and brings back a lot of production. As a result, look for the number in the wins column to skyrocket, and for Maquoketa to be a real threat to do damage in postseason play. With Becker, Becker and Kopp, they have a lot of shooting returning, and if Atienza can take another step forward, particularly with his rim protection, this could be the team to beat in the WaMaC.

Marion (14-11, 12-8): Following the departures of Anamosa (to the River Valley) and Western Dubuque (to the MVC), the Indians make the move from the West Division to the East. They were a surprise state tournament participant last year, riding a remarkably strong defense through the postseason grind and punching a ticket to Des Moines. They ranked fourth in 3A in scoring defense last year, allowing just 48.3 points a game, and they bring back four of their top five scorers from that team. Trevor Paulsen (10.6), a 6-3 forward, led the team in rebounding last year and ranked second in scoring. He’ll be the focal point of the interior attack, with Matthew Brase (6.6), Alex Whalen (5.9) and Jaffer Murphy (4.9) being the key pieces on the perimeter flanking him. Brase established himself as one of the state’s best shooters last season, going 42-76 from the arc (55.3%). Whalen is also a capable shooter, and Murphy provides them with loads of athleticism and quickness on the perimeter. Look for this group to be really strong on the defensive end again, and as they showed last year, if you’re strong on that end of the floor, you can win any game.

Mount Vernon (9-14, 7-11): Keaton Kutcher (12.9) burst onto the scene last year with a 30-point outburst off the bench. That came on December 8th at Anamosa, when the then-freshman guard went 10-13 from behind the arc. He carried that momentum through a strong freshman year in which he shot 41.7% from the arc. He’s the lone returnee for the Mustangs who scored more than 100 points last season. Nolan Brand (3.9) and Blake Booth (3.8) are back to give them some experience, but this will be a largely inexperienced group when they take the floor next week. Kutcher is one of the most dangerous players in the league, and he’ll win them a fair amount of games, but until they can find a reliable second scorer, defenses will be able to focus in on him and make things difficult. 

Solon (16-8, 12-6): Like Dyersville Beckman and Mount Vernon, the Spartans lose quite a bit of production from last year but bring back one of the league’s best players. In this case, it’s AJ Coons (17.5), a long, athletic junior wing who is capable of dominating games on either end of the floor. He’s a playmaking wing who can score and facilitate and should be a terror for opposing teams. Cam Miller (5.6) gives them some shooting, but those are the only returnees with significant experience. Solon always has plenty of athletes roaming their hallways, so they’ll be fine, especially with Coons in tow, but it’s hard to see them winning the division. 

West Delaware (17-6, 15-5): Coach Matt Uthoff is entering his sixth year at the helm for the Hawks, and he’s turned this West Delaware program into a consistent winner. And the biggest reason this program has been so successful is the way he has they playing defense. In his first year, the Hawks ranked 25th in 3A in defensive scoring average. They’ve improved every year, going 21, 10, 4 and 2 in the years since. They’ve allowed just 45.6 points a game each of the last two years, and while some of that can be attributed to their methodical pace on the offensive end, they communicate and lock teams down on the defensive end and that’s going to win them plenty of games. They’ve got a great piece to build around as well in senior big man Derek Krogmann (20.7), who has been one of the most productive players in the state for the last three years. The lefty is a walking double-double who averaged 20.7 and 12.4 rebounds last year. Look for Kyle Kelley (5.1) to step into the secondary scoring role, filling the role his older brother Tyler left when he graduated. The younger Kelley is a versatile scorer with good length, and he’ll contribute on both ends of the floor. Gavin Soppe (2.9) is the only other returnee who saw significant playing time last year, so this team is going to have a lot of holes to fill, but we know they’re going to defend, and we know they’ll have one of the best, most difficult players to defend in the class in Krogmann, and that’s going to lead to plenty of wins. 

 

Projected Order of Finish
1. Maquoketa
2. West Delaware
3. Marion
4. Solon
5. Mount Vernon
6. Dyersville Beckman
7. DeWitt

Analysis: The top three teams in this division are all strong. We have Maquoketa ranked 9th and West Delaware 10th in our preseason 3A rankings, while Marion is coming off a state tournament trip. Any of those teams can win this division, and any team in the division can beat anyone on a given night. 

 

Preseason Player of the Year

2019 Derek Krogmann, West Delaware: 20.7 points, 12.4 rebounds, 58.7 FG%

The second leading returning rebounder in the state (Ar-We-Va’s Keegan Simons averaged 13.0 last year), don’t be surprised to see the 6-7 lefty average something along the lines of 25-15 this season for the Hawks. He’s an efficient scorer who dominates games on both ends of the floor. The future Northern Iowa Panther will become just the 31st player in Iowa high school history to pull down 1,000 career rebounds.

 

Biggest Sleeper

2020 Jaffer Murphy, Marion: The junior guard is better known for his prowess on the soccer pitch, but he’s a lightning quick guard with great athleticism and lateral movement who can put pressure on the opposing team on both ends of the floor. He will be leaned on to be a stopper on the defensive end for a strong Marion team. 

 

Players to Watch
2019 Derek Krogmann, West Delaware
2021 Kyle Kelley, West Delaware
2020 AJ Coons, Solon
2020 Cam Miller, Solon
2019 Abe Becker, Maquoketa
2019 Macklin Shanahan, Maquoketa
2019 Kane Kopp, Maquoketa
2021 Connor Becker, Maquoketa
2021 Caiden Atienza, Maquoketa
2020 Michael Keegan, Dyersville Beckman
2021 Keaton Kutcher, Mount Vernon
2020 Nolan Brand, Mount Vernon
2019 Trevor Paulsen, Marion
2019 Matthew Brase, Marion
2020 Jaffer Murphy, Marion
2020 Alex McAleer, Central DeWitt
2019 Drew Kueter, Central DeWitt
2019 Jeff Grau, Central DeWitt