With July’s evaluation period now behind us, and plenty of time to kill between now and late November, it’s time to take a look at who we believe will be some of the teams to keep an eye on in each classification this winter. And, since everyone likes rankings, why not roll out a de facto preseason top 10 for each class? This is our “Way Too Early” Top 10 for Class 1A.
How well do these rankings predict what may happen over the course of the coming season? Well, two teams that were ranked No. 1 to start the year won state titles (Grand View Christian in 1A, Oskaloosa in 3A), another was ranked No. 2 (North Linn in 2A), and the final was ranked No. 7 (Cedar Falls in 4A, but they played No. 1 Senior for the title). In all, 19 of the 32 state qualifying teams were either ranked or written about in our “others to watch” portion of the rankings (down from 27 of 32 the year before!). So, do the rankings mean anything this year? Perhaps not, but it’s probably better to find yourselves near the top of these lists than not.
Below you’ll find our top 10 for Class 1A, along with some other teams that could make some noise. We also provide a fairly detailed summary of why each team is in their respective spot. Enjoy, and, as always, leave a comment if you disagree with anything.
This may be a bit of a surprising selection for the No. 1 spot, but there are plenty of arguments to be made for the Bulldogs to land here. After going 16-6 last season, the ‘Dogs return their top six scorers, and more importantly, drop down to Class 1A this season. A trio of players who averaged in double figures return, headlined by 6-6 senior wing Chett Helming (16.4 points a game last season), a big, versatile scoring threat who can do so from all three levels. Junior post Caleb Bacon (12.0, 10.6 rebounds) averaged over five offensive rebounds a night and is a force in the paint, and DaShawn Linnen (12.4) provides size and athleticism in the backcourt. Bennett Berger (5.7), Colby Groe (4.6), Jackson Rice (2.5), Mason Fritz (4.4) and Garrett Hanna (2.0) are all nice rotation players, with Groe and Fritz serving as returning starters for this group. Groe (113 assists to 47 turnovers) is a quality lead guard while Fritz (51 assists to 19 turnovers) is another reliable ball handler. The ‘Dogs shot just 29.2% from behind the arc last season, and that number will need to improve a bit if they want to make a serious run to Des Moines and a potential state title, but with loads of experience returning, and one of the best players in the class headlining them, Lake Mills looks like as good a bet as any to do damage in 1A this winter.
2.) St. Mary’s, Remsen (State semifinalist, 21-7 last year, 100% of scoring returning)
Three straight seasons have ended in the state semifinals for the Hawks, with them finally taking home a third place trophy last season after a pair of consolation game losses in the two prior seasons. They return every player from last year’s group, and should be in line to be one of the top contenders in 1A this winter. Always one of the best defensive teams in the state, St. Mary’s allowed under 45 points a game last season, and should be among the best in the state on that end of the floor again. They’ll be headlined by senior wing Spencer Schorg (15.8), who not only led the team in scoring but also in assists and steals. He’s joined in the backcourt by Skyler Waldschmitt (10.4), Brayden Ricke (8.9) and Blaine Harpenau (7.8), who give the Hawks plenty of balanced perimeter punch. While they don’t have elite size, senior Brady Homan (5.7) and sophomore Austin Jensen (4.3) are efficient options in the paint and tough on the glass. Look for Jensen to take another step forward after a solid freshman campaign. St. Mary’s has been one of the best programs in 1A over the last three seasons, losing just 11 games in the those three years (seven coming last season). Coach Scott Ruden has an experienced group that now knows they can win on the biggest stage. Look for the Hawks to make another trip to Des Moines, where they’ll be considered one of the favorites to finally cut down the nets.
3.) Montezuma (State semifinalist, 22-3 last year, 55.6% of scoring returning)
Last season saw the Braves make it to State for the first time in 29 years, and they bring back a significant chunk of that roster. Most importantly, they bring back junior guard Trey Shearer (22.4, 40.2 3P%), who will be the best player in 1A basketball this season. A shifty, 5-11 guard with tight handles and “in the gym” range, Shearer is capable of dropping 40 on any given night and will spur this group that looks like a real state title contender. Also back is fellow junior guard Cole Watts (11.8, 39.0 3P%), who missed a majority of last season with an injury but returned late in the year and helped provide a boost for the Braves. He’ll pair with Shearer to give Monte the best backcourt in 1A, and one of the best shooting backcourts in the state, regardless of class. Returning starters Brayden Arendt (5.6) and Eddie Burgess (3.6) give them some additional returning experience, and look for freshman Masin Shearer to potentially make an impact as well. Montezuma is always one of the best defensive teams in 1A, regularly holding teams below 50 points, and with the explosiveness that Shearer and Watts will provide on a nightly basis on the offensive end of the floor, expect to see the Braves rack up wins again this year. And once they make it back to Des Moines, they’ll have the best player on the floor.
The 2016 state champions are the last 1A team to win a title not named Grand View Christian, and they’ll have a great chance to book-end that GVC 3-peat this season. The Wolverines return four starters and will have one of the best players in the class in Jackson Louscher (20.5), a do-everything wing who led the team in scoring, rebounding and assists. He’s a versatile, 6-2 scorer who can get the job done at all three levels and was second in 1A in free throw attempts last season (Central City’s Nick Reid). Layn Case, who averaged 4.8 points and led the team in steals last season, is the only player gone from last year’s roster. Zeke Lundquist (10.2) is an efficient post player who shot just under 54% from the floor last season, while Tristan Wilson (5.2) and Case Moermond (4.7) are the other two returning starters. Alex Presthus (6.2) and Caden Hale (5.5) gave them some solid scoring punch off the bench last season and will be asked to step into some bigger roles this year. The Wolverines’ 2-3 zone always has them near the top of the ranks in 1A scoring defense, and last year was no exception, ranking second at just 40.6 points a game. Expect them to be excellent on that end of the floor again this year, and with the scoring punch that Louscher provides, they will rack up plenty of wins again. The key to them getting to Des Moines this year could come down to the postseason draw. Two of their five losses last season came to Remsen, St. Mary’s, who we have ranked second in the class heading into next season. The Hawks will be a difficult team to get past next year, although those two losses came by a combined eight points. Ideally we see those two teams separated and they each have a chance to stake a claim at a state title.
All five starters return for a Blue Devils team that may have been a year ahead of schedule last season, racking up 18 wins and averaging nearly 68 points a game. Look for them to be even more explosive this season with all that experience returning. Four players averaged in double figures last year, headlined by Trey Baker (15.7), a versatile, 6-4 junior wing. Carson Elbert (13.0, 40 3PM) returns as the group’s best perimeter shooting threat and 6-8 senior big man Isaac Gavin (12.6, 9.0 rebounds) should average a double-double this season and is a significant matchup problem with his size and athletic ability at the 1A level. The straw that stirs the drink is Jack Franey (10.4, 126 assists), who led the team in assists and steals. Hogan Franey (5.8) is the final returning starter, a quality second ball handling option alongside his brother. Troy Holt (2.4), JT Archibald (3.1), Derek Kleve (2.2) and Baize Gibson (1.6) give them some experienced options off the bench as well, as this group only loses one player from last year’s roster, Esa Johanson, who averaged just 3.8 points a game. With most of the roster returning, Martensdale-St. Mary’s should be a viable threat to make the school’s first ever state tournament appearance.
One of the most potent offensive teams in the state brings back a lot of firepower, as the River Hawks bring back four starters to a team that averaged 71 points a game last season, and each is a double-figure scorer. They’re headlined by Kaleb Cornilsen (16.2), a 6-4 junior post player who led the team in scoring and rebounding. He’ll be flanked by a guard trio that will rival any in the state in this class, and is filled with shooting. Cade Jargo (12.7, 55 3PM, 44.7 3P%), Nate Trenkamp (10.6, 46 3PM, 47.9 3P%) and Jessen Weber (11.0, 53 3PM, 40.2 3P%) combined to make 154 3-pointers last season at a 43.9% clip. That type of firepower from the perimeter being placed around a dominant interior player will make this team deadly. In addition to the shooting, that trio also combined to dish out 279 assists against 105 turnovers. With the combination of shooting and the ability to take care of the ball, this team is going to be tough to prevent from lighting up the scoreboard. After putting up 80+ points in seven games last year, don’t be surprised to see them hit triple digits this year. This is one of the most intriguing teams in the state, and a real threat to make some serious noise this season.
7.) WACO (17-5 last year, 81.8% of scoring returning)
The Warriors made a semi-surprising run to the substate final last year before falling to eventual state runner-up Alburnett in overtime. They bring back four starters from that group, including one of the most dominant players in the class in 6-6 senior forward Nik Coble (17.9, 14.1 rebounds). Coble shot 59.4% from the floor, 40.4% from 3, pulled down nearly four times as many rebounds as anyone else on the team, ranked second in assists (83) and steals (54) and blocked 80 shots. Simply put, he was dominant and will be the focal point for this group. Drew Kissell (11.4), Gabe Reichenbach (8.2) and Elijah McGohan (6.3) are other returning starters, and Braden Hammond (6.3) was a solid contributor off the bench last season who will likely step into a starting role this year. He led the team in made 3s last season and his shooting will be needed to help stretch the floor and try to take some pressure off of Coble. Kissell will step into the primary ball handling role following the graduation of Colton Horak, and don’t be surprised to see Coble doing some playmaking as well, as we noted his passing ability. This team will go as far as Coble can take them, and if last postseason is any indication, that could be Des Moines for the first time since 2006.
8.) Alburnett (State runner-up, 20-6 last year, 65.3% of scoring returning)
Coming off a surprising runner-up finish last season, the Pirates aren’t going to sneak up on anyone this year. They return three starters from that group, and will be able to put one of the best backcourts in 1A on the floor with junior Hunter Caves (13.8) and senior sharpshooter Austin Huber (10.5, 75 3PM, 44.1 3P%). Also returning is Shane Neighbor (8.2), who will step into a larger role to help try and fill in the (massively) vacated shoes of Izic Mackey. Caves is the ring leader of this group, a tough, physical guard who isn’t going to back down from anyone. He’ll have the ball in his hands a ton, and as he goes, Alburnett will go. One of the lasting images of last year’s state tournament was him walking off the floor with blood streaming down his face following a hard foul. He returned minutes later with a huge bandage around his forehead, and helped lead them to a semifinal win. This team will follow his lead, and should be a state tournament threat again this season. Expect to see them play stingy defense, control the glass and use that dynamic backcourt to control games, especially early in the season as they break in new pieces.
You can go ahead and always ignore the record when you’re looking at the Falcons, as they don’t play a single 1A school until postseason play starts. They play in a majority 3A conference, and as such, are playing against much larger, more athletic teams all season and are always well prepared for postseason play. Three starters return from a group that qualified for State and gave eventual three-time champion Grand View Christian their toughest game in Des Moines, losing by just seven points to the Thunder. Following the graduation of Jared Gast, this group will be a little more perimeter oriented with Sam Rallis (10.0), Ryan Hughes (5.2) and Lance Wright (6.9) the three returning starters. Wright and Hughes ranked second and third on the team in made 3s last season while Rallis, an undersized post player, gives them some toughness on the glass and in the paint. Connor Cerny (3.4), Jeff Miller (2.8), Isaac Sherrill (1.4), Aiden Antisdel (1.2), Jack Eickholt (1.5) and Cy Patterson (1.0) all saw action in nearly every game last season and will give CBSA plenty of experience. This group is probably going to be below .500 for much of the season, but that won’t mean that they aren’t one of the best teams in the class. Expect to see them competing for another trip to Des Moines come late February.
10.) Bishop Garrigan (State qualifier, 19-7 last year, 57.7% of scoring returning)
Last season saw the Golden Bears make their first state tournament appearance since 2010, and only two of their seven losses came to 1A schools (West Fork in the regular season, Montezuma at State). They return one of the best big men in the state, regardless of class, in junior Angelo Winkel (16.6, 9.5 rebounds), an athletic, 6-9 big who runs the floor and finishes at a high level at the rim. He’ll need to take his game up another level this year for Garrigan if they want to make a return trip to State. Two other starters from last year’s state qualifying team return in Winkel’s older brother Cade (9.4) and lead guard John Joyce (8.5), who ranked second on the team in assists last year. Joyce will need to take better care of the basketball this winter (80 assists, 60 turnovers) as the team’s primary ball handler. Rotation players Marcus Plathe (3.2), Cameron Baade (3.1) and Andrew Arndorfer (2.3) also return. Baade in particular will be a key piece after shooting 45.5% from behind the arc last season. His shooting ability will be much needed to help space the floor for Winkel. This group is going to drop some games, but with Angelo Winkel controlling the paint, their size and talent alone is going to overwhelm a lot of 1A teams. They’ll be a contender come late February to make a return trip to Des Moines.
Nine more teams to watch
Bedford (18-5 last year, 74.0% of scoring returning)
Few teams in the state will have as much experience as the Bulldogs, as Brennan Sefrit (21.2) and Cooper Nally (16.5) are four-year starters, while Jordan Perkins (11.7) will be in his second year starting and third year as a key contributor. Sefrit is a big-time scorer who led the team in steals and was second in the state, regardless of class, in made 3s with 92. Nally gives them a big body in the paint at 6-5, while Perkins is a versatile scorer at 6-4 who can go inside and out. That trio is going to be asked to do a majority of the scoring, but this team will only go far if they improve on the defensive end. They ranked 73rd in 1A last season, allowing 54.7 points a game, which seems like a fine number. But in their five losses, that number jumped all the way up to 75.2 points a game. It’s hard to outscore that number.
Central City (11-12 last year, 81.6% of scoring returning)
Coming off of one of the most dominant scoring seasons we’ve seen in our time as a company, Nick Reid (32.5, 13.1 rebounds) returns for the Wildcats. He scored 76 in a game last season against East Buchanan, and his presence alone will make Central City worth monitoring this year. A long, versatile scoring threat, he’ll constantly be getting junk defenses thrown at him, so the ‘Cats are going to need some other players to step up this time around if they want to have a chance at making a run to Des Moines. Patrick Wade (1.7) and Keegan Kula (4.6) are returning starters, while Ethan Tye (3.9) gives them a quality shooter at 40% from 3 last season. Non-Reid players shot just 30.7% from the floor last season, and that number will need to greatly improve, but any team that has a scorer like Nick Reid on the floor is going to be dangerous on any given night.
Don Bosco (16-7 last year, 37.5% of scoring returning)
Only two starters return for the Dons, and they lose the most of any team that is written about here, but they bring back a standout guard in Zach Huff (15.1, 57 3PM, 42.5 3P%), one of the best shooters in the state and a kid who looks primed to have an explosive scoring season as far-and-away the team’s top scoring threat. Lewis Havel (4.7) is the other returning starter, while Kobe Allen (2.2) and Mason Denton (2.1) have some experience and return. This is going to be the Zach Huff show, and he’s going to be a nightly threat to go off for 30+ this winter.
Edgewood-Colesburg (16-7 last year, 69.9% of scoring returning)
Four starters return for the Vikings, headlined by junior guard Parker Rochford (20.5), a big-time scoring threat who could become an elite scorer if his shooting returns to his freshman level (48.9 3P% as a freshman, 28.4% as a sophomore). In addition to his scoring prowess, he also led the team in assists and steals. Riley Ashline (9.0) led the team in rebounding, and Spencer Staner (5.0) and Keegan Hansel (4.7) also return as starters. If Rochford gets his shooting tough back, watch out for Ed-Co.
Gehlen Catholic (14-9 last year, 66.1% of scoring returning)
The Jays return four starters to a team that struggled down the stretch after getting off to a 9-3 start. They’re led by the duo of Jacob Nemmers (14.3) and Zach Kraft (13.3). Nemmers is a quality shooter at 37.1% from behind the arc, but his overall efficiency needs to improve (30.9 FG%). Kraft is an efficient interior option who will hold down the paint. Payton Rochford (4.7) and Dylan Lehmann (2.7) are also returning starters. In a league that includes West Sioux, South O’Brien, Unity Christian and Remsen, St. Mary’s, wins will be tough to come by, but this group is going to be well prepared for postseason play.
Keota (12-8 last year, 79.7% of scoring returning)
The Eagles have one of the state’s best scoring threats in JD Stout (28.4), a well-built guard who is one of the best shooters in the state, making 76 3s at a 45% clip last year. He has the ability to get his shot off whenever he wants and has “in the gym” range. Luke Hammen (9.1, 38 3PM) and Carson Sprouse (9.5, 38 3PM) give them two more shooting threats, while Brady Duwa (3.9) provides a solid interior presence. Loaded with plenty of shooting and a star player, Keota will be a dangerous team for anyone to see in their district, especially if they can improve on the defensive end (58.2 points a game against, 98th in 1A last year).
Lamoni (12-7 last year, 74.7% of scoring returning)
The Demons got off to a 12-3 start before dropping four straight to end the year. They bring four starters back from that group, led by 6-2 Stephen Ansong (13.1). Patrick Savage (5.3) is a solid lead guard while Hayden Stewart (9.2) gives them another scoring option, and Landon Gilliland (4.1) is the other returning starter. Noah Sawo (2.7), Brayden Olson (2.1), Javin Evans (1.8) and Ethan Owen (1.1) give them some additional experience.
Lawton-Bronson (15-8 last year, 66.1% of scoring returning)
Three starters return, including a pair of double figure scorers in Ben Thelander (15.0, 9.9 rebounds) and Gavin DeJager (11.7). Thelander, a 6-6 forward, can be a dominant force in the paint for the Eagles, while DeJager will pair with Connor Smith (3.6) to give them a solid backcourt. This group won 15 games last season despite having an assist-to-turnover number of 176-to-338. Improve upon that, and they can be really dangerous.
Turkey Valley (18-5 last year, 90.2% of scoring returning)
Four starters, and the top five scorers, return from last year’s team for the Trojans, giving them plenty of experience, especially when you consider they’re essentially getting back a fifth starter in Keegan Balk, who missed all of last season after starting as a sophomore. Ethan Leibold (17.6, 13.2 rebounds) is a walking double-double and a highly efficient post player who shot just under 61% from the floor. Eli Nymeyer (8.2), Eli Reicks (7.7) and Kannon Leuenberger (2.5) are the other returning starters, while Garrett Kurtenbach (6.3) and Kalvin Langreck (4.0) provide some scoring punch off the bench. This group was really strong on the defensive end last year, ranking sixth in 1A, allowing just 43.7 points a game. Look for them to be really strong on that end again. With plenty of experience returning and a strong defensive core, this group could make their first trip to Des Moines since 2010.
Writer’s note: We originally had Newell-Fonda listed as a “team to watch”, but star guard Bryce Coppock will be attending West Sioux next season, so we have taken them out.