Posted On: 03/16/19 8:29 PM
The biggest high school basketball classification in Minnesota started with 63 teams on March 5.
We’re down to eight. Here’s what they’re about:
(1) Park Center
The Pirates enter the State Tournament off the heels of a triple overtime victory against Champlin Park on Friday. With a record of 28-1 (the only blemish coming to Armstrong) and wins over top 10 squads Prior Lake, Eden Prairie and Edina. Park Center has a deep rotation led by 6-10 center Dain Dainja. Athletic forwards Detavius Frierson and Khari Broadway defend at high levels. Senior backcourt pair Emmanuel Tamba and Tommy Chatman were instrumental in the section run offensively, and Tamba can check just about any perimeter player in the state. The bench guard trio of David Ijadimbola, Josh Brown and Josh Lewis have all played big roles in big games (Brown is especially on fire with eight triples in the last two playoff games). They can run teams out of the gym but often will be neutralized by smart and patient defenses that collapse on drives and recover to closeouts. Dainja’s first State appearance will be a sight to see, and this Park Center team has been waiting for this moment a long time.
Park Center will face unseeded conference rival Maple Grove in the quarterfinals on Wednesday at 10 a.m.
The Royals enter the State Tournament for the first time since their banner year in 2016. Holding a record of 24-4, Hopkins has played another excellent schedule with opponents such as DeLaSalle, Minnehaha Academy twice, Champlin Park, Minneapolis North, East Ridge, Lakeville North and the very talented Lake Conference slate. Led by Arizona signee and top prospect Zeke Nnaji, who scores 25 points per game and is the most potent offensive big man in the state, Hopkins has a roster assembled that can match up player-for-player with almost anyone. Kerwin Walton could be the best shooter in the 2020 class and is a high major prospect on the wing at 6-4, Jalen Dearring has made large strides orchestrating halfcourt offense and scoring in double figures every game at the point guard spot, and forward pair Andy Stafford and Dane Zimmer are top 10 defenders in Minnesota right now. The mix of talents that complement each other are hitting maximum synergy in the Lindbergh Center proven by a convincing win over Wayzata (who had upset Hopkins the last two years) in the section 6 final. Bench depth and consistency is the one question mark, but with winners at every position in the starting lineup, maybe the Royals won’t need to rely on their backups a lot. Another scary team at Target Center.
Hopkins will face off against unseeded Cambridge-Isanti on Wednesday at 2 p.m.
(3) East Ridge
Representing Section 4AAAA and sitting at 27-2 on the season (losses to Prior Lake and Eden Prairie), the Raptors receive the 3 seed in their first ever State Tournament. Four East Ridge players average double digit points and three of them are 6-foot-7 or taller. Sophomore guard (!!!) Kendall Brown leads the way scoring 17.5 points per game and is an absolute matchup problem for opposing guards (too small) and forwards (not explosive enough). He’s a top 25 recruit in the 2021 national class. His older brother Courtney Brown, Jr. is a UW-Milwaukee signee and scores 15 per game having improved his ballhandling and outside shooting to a threatening level this season. Manning the middle is star 2020 6-10 big man Ben Carlson (16 ppg). He has superstrength and finishes through contact impressively. Patrick Lynott and Zach Zebrowski combine for almost 20 points per game and are more than ball-movers at the guard spots; both are shot creators in their own right who can dagger you if you aren’t looking. Another starting five that is tough to match athletically and skillwise. Keeping them maintained in transition is a tall task.
East Ridge faces off against unseeded Eastview on Wednesday at 4 p.m.
(4) Eden Prairie
Hot off a 17-point win over top-seeded Section 2AAAA opponent Prior Lake on the Lakers home court, the Eagles might be the team nobody wants to see right now. At 20-9 with another hellacious schedule under their belts, Eden Prairie has a fully healthy rotation for the first time since late January and are playing incredible team defense. Drake Dobbs scored 29 in the section final and has been on a tear for the last six weeks. The trio of forwards — Austin Andrews, Connor Christensen and Ariel Bland — are switchable defensively, can shoot the 3 and are terrific offensive rebounders. All three are in or near double figure averages. As is shooting guard John Henry, a knockdown sniper who has gotten back to 100% health and is good for at least two huge treys a game and can affect things with his 6-4 frame. And those guys are all JUNIORS. Drew Edwards, Lukas Dunford and Miles Frisch provide hard-nosed help off the bench in the spurts they need. I picked EP to win the whole thing at the beginning of the year; they might have the best route to reach the title game as a lower seed.
Eden Prairie will face off against 5th-seeded Lakeville North on Wednesday at 12 p.m.
(5) Lakeville North
A 25-4 record and another big win over Rochester John Marshall in the Section 1AAAA final snags Lakeville North their eighth straight State appearance. Tyler Wahl mans the ship alongside as steady a group of Panther contributors as we’ve seen: Wahl scores 18 a game and is a Swiss Army knife on both ends while Josh Kamara handles top defensive guard assignments, Tommy Jensen knocks out jumpers off the dribble and pass, Jack Rusch continues to be an elite shooting option as a breakout senior, and Tate Staloch teams up with twins Eli and Will Mostaert inside for efficient scoring and rebounding. The name of this AAAA tournament is “how many viable guys can you throw onto the court to provide stability?” and North fits that bill once again with coach John Oxton leading the charge.
Lakeville North will face off against 4th-seeded Eden Prairie on Wednesday at 12 p.m.
The Section 3AAAA champs enter the State tourney for the first time since 2012 (remember Ben Oberfeld?) and have some talent you’ll want to see. They are 18-11 and have had a rough second half of the year, but they won games when it really mattered. The junior quartet of 6-10 smooth stretch forward Steven Crowl, 6-5 bruiser Tate Machacek, 6-4 stockrising wing Ryan Thissen and point guard Jaylen James have been through a lot as the core Lightning players with big-game experience; can they hang with East Ridge like they did early in the year (74-67 loss)? They’ll have to play a great defensive game against the Raptors.
Eastview will face off against 3rd-seeded East Ridge on Wednesday at 4 p.m.
Welcome the 17-12 Bluejackets to the State Tournament for the first time since 2008! Mike McDonald’s squad is a high-octane group led by 2020 guard Henry Abraham (23 points per game) and is supported by wing scorers Luke Malamisuro (17 ppg) and London Williams (11 ppg) to score 75 points a contest. Micah Ladd and Austin Chromy are both around 10 a game as well. They beefed up the non-conference schedule with teams like Edina and Eden Prairie to prepare them for situations like the one they’ll see at Target Center. Abraham can get going quicker than almost anyone in this tournament; will the opposing length intimidate him and his teammates?
Cambridge-Isanti will face off against 2nd-seeded Hopkins on Wednesday at 2 p.m.
The 23-6 Crimson are back at State for a fourth straight season behind hot-shooting backcourts, recently stepped up big men and a stable bench production. Jared Rainey scored 13 a game in the regular season and upped that number to 16 in the section tournament. He’s great at closing games out and will look to finish his high school career with a bang. Nate Adams scored 15 a game and brings confidence and leadership along with big shot making ability, as does speedster guard Kyle Dreyer. Sophomore Caden Boettcher has shown flashes of potential this season at the forward spot and takes on tough defensive assignments. The Crimson have shot the basketball incredibly well over the playoff stretch and will need another day of that to topple the top seed in the tournament, plus another disciplined defensive effort.
Maple Grove faces off against 1st-seeded and conference foe Park Center on Wednesday at 10 a.m.