Posted On: 12/2/18 10:52 AM

Talent runs so deep along all four classes in Minnesota that we need to keep a running tally of how teams are stacking up against each other and how they will react to their tough slates. In the opening round of this new weekly series, NHR brings you one team from each class to watch this week in their matchups.

Class A: Lyle/Austin-Pacelli – Looking at the box score from their close loss to Kingsland on Thursday, I’m very intrigued by the young talent on the LP squad. Zach Bollingsberg had a hard-earned 19 points; he’s just a sophomore. Then 6-foot-7 junior Mach Diang added nine points, six rebounds and three blocks, plus sophomore point guard Cole Walter had seven points and eight assists. 6-foot-2 eighth-grader Buoy Koak had nine points too! This young team could turn heads quickly in the Austin area and they’ll face Grand Meadow and Mabel-Canton this week, very winnable games. Matchups to watch: Cole Walter vs. Colt Landers (GM) and Drew Wyffels (MC). Walter seems to have the makings of a very solid floor general so watching him facilitate against the leading scorers of Grand Meadow and Mabel-Canton could be interesting. Landers scored 15 a game as a freshman and Wyffels is a senior coming back from a double-digit average last year.

Class AA: Blake – Don’t forget about the Blake Bears in the IMAC! They’ve put together a very solid, big school-heavy non-conference slate and will play it tough. After a 69-56 win over Minneapolis Southwest last Friday, the Bears have a tough Holy Angels team to play on Tuesday. Holy Angels added Washburn guards Charles and Emmett Johnson to form a highly talented backcourt. Blake has three guards to counter: Robert Grace IV, Gabe Ganz and Jasper Liu, all of whom got tons of minutes last season. Even if they don’t defeat Holy Angels, I’m excited to see how they compete. Matchup to watch: Robert Grace IV vs. Emmett Johnson. Grace is a sophomore, Johnson a freshman. Both have seen varsity floors for extended periods. Watch out for both of them down the road as they get older, but for now this will be one of the better underclassman guard faceoffs early in the year.

Blake will take on Mound-Westonka on Friday, another Class AAA opponent. M-W went .500 last season and return four of their top six, which means they have higher expectations moving forward. The Whitehawks have junior Jameson Sexton and senior Nicolas Phommahaxay at the top of the returning scorer leaderboard, small guards who will become main pieces. Once again the Blake backcourt will have a challenge in that section of the lineup. Matchup to watch: Gabe Ganz vs. Jameson Sexton. Ganz has a very slight size disadvantage but he was the heavy hitter for Blake last season scoring 16 a game. We’ll see how much Sexton can up his 8 points per game from 2017-18 to now as an upperclassman.

Class AAA: Orono – The Spartans stole an ugly one at Roosevelt on Thursday and the good news is it can only get better from there. They rebounded with a solid win over Monticello on Saturday; the big challenge comes this week with a road test against Hopkins, a home game against section foe Minneapolis Henry and then a Saturday matinee at St. Paul Central. That’s a handful of solid-to-great opponents and Orono will need to find consistent scoring punches to keep up. Matchups to watch: Blake O’Connor vs. Kerwin Walton (Hopkins), Orono scorers vs. Rashaud Rollins (Henry) and Daveonte Davis (Central). O’Connor is the top returner in experience and talent for Orono, so his stroke will need to be successful on Tuesday to keep pace with the Hopkins firepower and shooting of Walton. The rest of the Spartans lineup will need to help out O’Connor against Henry and Central’s leaders—Rollins averaged 13 a game as an explosive guard and Davis is one of the best wings in either city conference, scoring 23 a game as a junior.

Class AAAA: Rochester John Marshall – The Rockets don’t kick off their schedule until Thursday when Big Nine foe Mankato East comes to town for a conference tilt right out of the gate. The Cougars are right there as contenders in the premier southern Minnesota league so this will be a pivotal matchup right away between both teams looking to get a head-to-head win. John Marshall swept the league last season and their first test comes quickly in 2018-19. Matchup to watch: Montrae Hiatt vs. Joich Gong. Two slashing wings with improved shot-creation abilities who will be clear offensive options need to produce as secondary bucket-getters for both teams to be balanced.

JM then heads up to Hopkins on Saturday for a matchup with the Raiders of Cretin-Derham Hall, another fringe top 10 team in AAAA. Cretin loses most of their length from last season to counter Matthew Hurt so I expect the elite senior forward to have a big game. His passing is very unselfish so if he’s not getting an open look, he’ll kick it. Again it’s all about the production of the Rocket role players. Matchup to watch: Matthew Hurt vs. Jaeden King. I wouldn’t be surprised to see King get some time guarding Hurt as he is the closest in size at 6-foot-6. But King poses a great threat on the perimeter as a shooter with unlimited range and when he gets hot, nothing on earth stops his shot from going in. He’ll need a dynamic day of scoring to balance out the damage Hurt produces on a regular basis.