Posted On: 08/12/19 8:00 AM
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 2A, 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.
1.) Camanche (20-4 last year, 74.3% of scoring returning)
You could make strong arguments for any of the teams that we have ranked in the top five to grab the pole position in August, but we’re going with the Indians, who will put the strongest starting five on the floor this winter, and one of the most explosive offensive units we’ll see around the state, regardless of class. Four starters return for this group, and they add in a big transfer in LJ Henderson, who averaged 11.5 points at Clinton last season and has cut his teeth playing three varsity seasons in the 4A Mississippi Athletic Conference against the likes of DJ Carton, Dylan Peeters and Cortaviaus Seales. Dropping down to the River Valley Conference, Henderson is going to be one of, if not the best, athletes in the league and there are some high expectations for what he’ll be able to provide a team that already brought a lot of firepower back. The leading scorer is Cameron Soenksen (20.0), one of the top scorers in 2A, and a gunner with “in the gym” range. He’s a superb athlete who finishes above the rim with regularity, and putting Henderson alongside Soenksen should provide for plenty of highlights in Camanche this season. The straw that stirs the drink, and the team’s most important player, is 6-7 lead guard Caleb Delzell (14.7), one of the most uniquely talented players in the state. He has great size at the point guard spot, is an excellent passer, and is also one of the best rebounders in the state, averaging 9.6 boards a night last season. Look for him to post multiple triple-doubles this season, and he’s on the short list of players in the state who could post a quintuple-nickel line on a given night (5 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 steals, 5 blocks). The other two returning starters are Zayne Feller (7.2) and Zach Erwin (5.1). Erwin excelled as a secondary ball handler last season, dishing out 94 assists (against just 34 turnovers), while Feller is a highly efficient 6-3 forward who shot 60% from the floor. As if they needed more firepower, they’ll also bring back junior guard Jordan Lawrence, who averaged 7.1 points a game and started some games as a freshman before missing last season with an injury. This team is going to average well above 70 points a game this season, and will likely lead the class in free throw attempts. The big question with Camanche is always whether their free-wheeling style of play will show up in the big games, and whether they can knock down shots. Adding Henderson to the mix gives them some more versatility on the offensive end, and adds a strong, athletic defender on the wing. The Indians have never won a state title in basketball, and this group has a real chance to change that this year.
Nobody in the state was impacted by the poor weather we had last winter more than the Panthers, and for a really young team, that probably wasn’t the best. At one point they went 16 days without playing a game, from January 15 to February 1, and many of those days they also weren’t able to get a practice in. The good news is that only 14 points are gone from that roster, and all five starters last season were sophomores, so this group knows each other really well and should be ready to hit the ground running this winter. They’re led by 6-6 forward Justin Recker (18.5), an athletic big man who runs the floor, protects the rim and led the team in rebounding. He’ll be flanked by four capable shooting threats in Luke Lambert (11.5, 36.7 3P%), Connor Lambert (9.9, 35.7%), Tyler Luensman (5.4, 35.7%) and Devin Kraus (4.3, 39.0%). Kraus came off the bench last season to give a bit of scoring punch, while Brayden Cleeton (1.7) is the other returning starter, another bigger body in the paint at 6-3, who shot just under 74% from the floor on limited attempts. Jeff Carlson (2.5) also returns to give the Panthers another body off the bench, and there is significant hype around freshman Tate Petersen, who may be good enough to crack the starting lineup, and at worst should be a very strong rotation piece for Monticello. With the top seven scorers back from last year’s team, and this being a group that is very familiar with each other, this year and next could be special for the Monticello community.
3.) Treynor (20-4 last year, 79.5% of scoring returning)
The Cardinals are probably the best 2A basketball program in the state right now, averaging 21.2 wins a year over the last decade, and they’ll have plenty more success this season with four starters returning. Jerry Jorgenson, who led the team in 3-point shooting last season, is a major loss, but he’s the only player who scored more than 29 points last year that is gone, meaning this team is going to be loaded with experience and talent. A trio of double-figure scorers return in Jack Tiarks (13.3), Jack Stogdill (11.8) and Jon Schwarte (11.6), while Luke Mieska (2.1) is also back as a returning starter. Tiarks, at 6-4, and Schwarte, at 6-10, give Treynor one of the best frontcourts in the state, and they should be able to dominate the glass and the paint on both ends of the floor. Stogdill led the team in assists, and will be asked to be the team’s primary perimeter scoring threat, while they’ll also need Mieska to provide a bit more of a scoring punch. Look for increased production out of guys like Sid Schaaf (3.9), Quinn Navara (2.4), Craig Chapman (2.1), Tim Zimmerman (3.4) and Blake Sadr (1.8), all five of whom saw significant time last year, giving them nine returnees with plenty of playing experience. Coach Scott Rucker is among the best in the state, and he has this program rolling. They’ll test themselves again in non-conference play with games against Heelan and Kansas powerhouse Blue Valley Northwest, and the Triple Js will be among the best trios in the state to build around. Look for the Cardinals to be back in Des Moines after a one-year absence, with a great chance at taking home their second state title.
4.) Boyden-Hull (State runner-up, 24-3 last year, 63.7% of scoring returning)
If you’re a basketball purist, you’ll always love watching the Comets play, as they generally put five kids on the floor who are fairly interchangeable, able to do everything on the floor, and they always have great depth and balanced scoring. Look for more of the same this season for Boyden-Hull, which has been one of the most successful programs in the state since the turn of the century, playing in six state championship games since 2000, including last season, when they lost to North Linn. Two starters are back from that group in Keyton Moser (12.1) and Spencer Te Slaa (10.0), while Tanner Te Slaa (8.9) also returns after a really solid freshman season. In all, six of the top nine scorers from last season’s group return. The Te Slaa brothers are both good perimeter shooters, especially Spencer, who shot 45.5% from the arc last season, and they provide length and athleticism on the wing. Moser led the team in rebounding and ranked second in assists last year, and he will likely have the ball in his hands quite a bit this season, making plays for others from all over the floor. He’s a versatile, inside-out scoring threat. Andrew Frick (5.8, 42.4 3P%), Josh Heitritter (4.8, 37.5 3P%) and Marcus Kelderman (3.3, 5-12 3P) give them some more shooting and depth, and they will always find more pieces to plug into whatever holes they may have. This group, much like Cascade in eastern Iowa, plays the game beautifully, sharing the basketball with all five players on the floor being viable threats to do anything. Playing in the Siouxland, they’ll always be ready for postseason play, and this group has a real chance to take home a state title.
5.) West Sioux (21-1 last year, 63.2% of scoring returning)
The Falcons put together perhaps the best season in the school’s history last year, winning their first 21 games before falling to Rock Valley, 60-56, in the district final. They bring back three starters from that highly successful group, and are adding another major piece to that core as well in the form of former Newell-Fonda guard Bryce Coppock, who averaged 28.2 points a game last year with the Mustangs. Pairing Coppock with returnee Hunter Dekkers (22.5), an Iowa State football commit, gives the Falcons one of the best backcourts in the state, and an awful lot of scoring punch. Coppock and Dekkers combined to shoot 154-350 (44%) from behind the arc last season, and the scary thing is, they won’t be alone. Also returning is Baxter Walsh (15.1), a big-time shooter in his own right who made 48 3-pointers at a 49.5% clip last year. Putting those three snipers on the court together is going to make this perhaps the most potent offense in 2A. They averaged 74.5 points a game last season, shot above 51% from the floor and just shy of 40% from behind the arc last year. All of those numbers may improve. Kade Lynott (6.5) is the other returning starter. He showed some playmaking ability dishing out 63 assists against just 28 turnovers, which means that West Sioux is going to be able to feel comfortable having any of these four key players handling the basketball. Nobody is going to outscore this group, and they are going to rack up the wins. Look for Hunter Dekkers to continue adding bullet points to his stellar high school athletics resume, and he should help lead West Sioux to the school’s first ever state tournament appearance, and they’ll be a strong threat to take home the crown with all their firepower.
6.) Dyersville Beckman (16-6 last year, 72.8% of scoring returning)
Four starters return to a Blazers team that gave 2A champion North Linn their second closest game of the season (12 points) in the district final last year, and Beckman looks poised to get over that hump this year and punch their ticket to Des Moines for the first time since 2007. They’re headlined by do-everything guard Michael Keegan (18.2), a 6-6 bundle of versatility who led the Blazers in every major category, and it wasn’t even really close. In addition to his scoring prowess (and 53-41-71 shooting splits), he dished out 102 assists, had 72 steals and blocked 59 shots. His versatility on both ends of the floor really opens up everything for Beckman. He will have his pick from a number of Division II offers and is one of the best players in 2A. Luke Goedken (9.5), Tom Jaeger (6.9) and Jack Westhoff (4.3) are the other returning starters for this group, and while they will need to find some depth behind that quartet, they’ll have one of the best players in the class to fall back on. Beckman Catholic is annually a strong program, and they should be able to find the rotation pieces to fit in alongside the rest of the group, and Keegan is good enough to win games for them while they find those parts. This group is going to be strong defensively (21st in 2A last year, 49.3 points a game), and they’re going to be tested playing in the 3A-dominated WaMaC. Watch out for the Blazers this winter.
7.) Iowa City Regina (State qualifier, 20-3 last year, 61.2% of scoring returning)
Only North Linn was hotter than Regina in the post-holiday break portion of last season’s schedule, as the Regals ran off 14 straight post-break wins (15 straight overall) before a narrow loss to a very good Boyden-Hull team in the first round at State. And while only two starters return to that team, those two returnees were the top two scorers from last year’s team, and one of them is on the short list for best players in 2A. Masen Miller (20.4) led the team in every major category except blocks, and led the state in made 3-pointers (99), making them at a 43% clip. He recently committed to play Division II ball for former Iowa great Jeff Horner at Truman State and is the best shooter in the state. In addition to his scoring prowess, he’s an excellent passer. Also returning is junior wing Ashton Cook (13.4), a long, athletic wing who does a majority of his damage inside the arc, but is a talented playmaker and defender. They’ll get a big boost from the return of junior big man Nick Wagner, who wasn’t ready to play last year until State, when he came off the bench to give them eight points and three rebounds. He’s a big body with great touch around the rim, and he’ll provide some size, toughness, rebounding and scoring ability in the paint. Alec Wick (2.4) dished out 40 assists off the bench last year and could be a solid secondary ball handler, allowing them to move Miller off the ball occasionally, freeing him up to come off screens and knock down shots. The Regals always have great athletes, and the Miller-Cook-Wagner trio is going to be among the best in 2A, which will make them a threat to make it to State again.
8.) Des Moines Christian (State qualifier, 17-7 last year, 81.1% of scoring returning)
The Lions have consistently been a winning program, and that should continue this year with over 80% of last year’s production returning to a state tournament team. The top three scorers, and six of the top seven, are back, headlined by athletic guard Curran Ingram (15.0), a versatile scorer who is a threat to score from all three levels. Seth Juhl (7.8), Jackson Waring (7.5) and Brady Hewitt (6.1) are the other returning starters, while Ben Loverude (4.8), Grant Veenstra (4.0) and Spencer Hixson (3.2) are all back after seeing significant playing time off the bench. That’s seven key returnees, which is more experience than most teams in this class have. If this group can improve on their perimeter shooting (31.6% last year from 3), they could turn themselves from a state tournament threat to a state title threat. Until that happens, however, it seems like a trip down the road to play at Wells Fargo may be the ceiling.
The Titans enjoyed a highly successful season last winter, rolling off 20 straight wins following an early season loss to South Hamilton before falling by three to Madrid in the district final. Three starters return from that group, giving SCC plenty of returning firepower. They’re headlined by 6-1 Zane Neubaum (18.7), a skilled forward who does a majority of his damage around the rim but is capable of extending out and knocking down an occasional 3. He also ranked second on the team in assists, and will likely have the ball in his hands a bit more this winter following the graduation of lead guard Matthew Clark. Brennan Holder (8.7, 54 3PM) gives them a solid shooting option, and Landon Schleisman (4.3) will step into the primary ball handler role vacated by Clark. Homer Martz (4.6) and Cole Corey (2.0) each saw time in every game last season and will need to step into bigger roles this season. Neubaum is going to be one of the best players in the class, and should average close to a double-double, with solid efficiency numbers to boot, and lead the Titans to plenty of wins.
10.) North Linn (State champion, 26-0 last year, 36.6% of scoring returning)
It was a magical season last year for the Lynx, who won the school’s first state title behind one of the best players the state has ever seen, record shattering point guard Jake Hilmer. He was the catalyst of a senior class that went a combined 102-4 in their four varsity seasons, and that group is going to be sorely missed. Nonetheless, the Lynx will be heard from in 2A again this season, as another Hilmer is roaming the halls of North Linn High School, Austin (10.4), who is coming off a highly successful freshman season. This will be his team now, and he should bring many of the same things that older brother Jake brought to the table – excellent scoring ability and shooting, passing and great awareness of how to play defense in his father’s system. Also returning is Austin Miller (10.8), the lone returning starter from that state title group. Miller was often the recipient of Hilmer’s fantastic playmaking, shooting an absurd 73% from the floor. He’s a physical, athletic forward who runs the floor and can make plays on both ends of the floor. They’ll need to get big production out of kids like Josh Smith (5.9), Gunner Vanourney (2.0), Parker Bechen (1.9) and Kaleb Kurt (1.0), as well as some younger players making their way through, but the Lynx have become one of the best basketball programs in the state, and they are going to be good again, even if they only return two big pieces and lose one of the state’s best ever. This group plays an up-and-down, frenetic style that is going to create havoc, and they should win plenty of games this winter.
Ten more teams to watch
Albia (13-8 last year, 83.8% of scoring returning)
Three starters and the top four scorers from last year’s Blue Demons team return to a group that got off to a blazing 9-1 start before stumbling down the stretch. Look for them to be much improved this season. They’re led by Blake Chance (21.0), a 6-4 junior wing who led the team in every major category last season. He’ll pair with Brayden Messamaker (10.0, 57 3PM) and Joe Teno (5.6, 23 3PM) in the backcourt, giving them a trio of solid scoring threats. Messamaker was a dangerous scorer off the bench last season and had a strong spring and summer, especially playing with Albia in team camps. Nathaniel Wynn (6.7) is the other returning starter, a forward who does almost all his damage around the rim. With four key pieces back to a team that got off to a great start and lost four games by single digits, look for the Blue Demons to be dangerous this winter.
Cherokee (8-14 last year, 99.0% of scoring returning)
The Braves return as much production as anyone in the class, as only James Pingrey (14 points last season) has graduated. All five starters return to a team that had six players average at least 6.5 points a game, headlined by Ryan Hurd (15.5, 9.1 rebounds), a 6-6 senior forward with the ability to score inside and out. Kobe Grell (10.3) is a quality lead guard who did a solid job protecting the ball last year (75 assists, 46 turnovers), and Cole Pitts (8.2), Brayden Farver (6.5) and Trevor Lundquist (6.7) are all quality perimeter options alongside Grell. Alex Paulsrud (9.5) provides some additional size in the paint. Eight of this team’s losses came to 3A teams last season, which will happen again this year playing in the Lakes Conference, but they are going to be well prepared for 2A postseason basketball. If they can improve some on the defensive end (ranked 90th in 2A, allowed 65.2 points a game), they could be a dark horse team to make a real run come late February.
Denver (16-7 last year, 68.1% of scoring returning)
Last year’s Cyclones team was interesting, in that the majority of the production came either from seniors or sophomores. Luckily for Denver, the sophomores outnumbered the seniors, and three of the best ones are back now as juniors. Three double-figure scorers return, led by Kyler Matthias (15.8) and Bryce Phelps (15.7), a tandem that combined to make 133 3-pointers last season and will make up one of the better backcourts in 2A. Phelps dished out 150 assists last season and also led the team with 66 steals. Isaac Besh (10.0) is the other returning starter, he made 39 3s of his own and is a really good secondary ball handling option, dishing out 78 assists last season (against 49 turnovers). Guard play goes a long way towards winning high school basketball games, and the Cyclones have three good ones to build around. Five of their seven losses last season came to either Aplington-Parkersburg or Dike-New Hartford, the two best teams in the NICL. Both of those teams should be down a bit this year, which should help out Denver as well.
Mount Ayr (18-4 last year, 74.6% of scoring returning)
Three double-figure scorers return for the Raiders, headlined by Dawson Frost (15.6), who leads a talented trio of guards who should be able to put some points on the board this winter. Payton Weehler (11.7) and Isaac Grose (11.1) are the other key returnees, while Cayden Lambert (5.0) made 25 3s off the bench last year and will be asked to step into a bigger role. This group has a huge piece to fill in the form of graduated point guard Myles Greene, who dished out 206 assists against just 43 (!) turnovers last season. He made the offense go, and if they don’t find a capable replacement who will take care of the basketball, they could struggle, and that question mark will be a major factor in just how productive this team can be.
OABCIG (18-5 last year, 39.4% of scoring returning)
The unfortunate news for Odebolt-Arthur/Battle Creek-Ida Grove (great name, by the way), is that only one starter returns to last year’s 18-win group. The good news is that that sole returnee very well may be the best player in 2A basketball, and one of the best in the state, regardless of class. Athletic freak Cooper Dejean (23.3) is an explosive junior who ranks among the leading returnees in scoring, rebounding and assists in 2A and will be a force this year. Incredibly bouncy and skilled, teams are going to throw a lot of junk defenses at his this year, but with his passing and playmaking abilities, he should be able to put his inexperienced teammates in good positions. The lack of experienced players alongside Dejean is the only thing keeping the Falcons out of the top 10. He’s that good.
Osage (14-8 last year, 72.9% of scoring returning)
The bad news for the Green Devils is that they lost their leading scorer, Brett Bobinet, who averaged just under 15 points a game last season. The good news, however, is that he’s the only key piece from last year’s team that is gone, so they should be loaded with experience. The Bluhm brothers, Jonah (13.7) and Elijah (6.9) will be the leaders for this group, but don’t be surprised to see Thor Maakestad (5.6), Jarett Scharper (4.7) and Ty Creger (4.5) take major steps forward this year. They were the best defensive team in 2A last season, allowing under 40 points a game. This group lost six games last season by four points or less, so they were really close to putting together a great season last year. Look for this more experienced group to close out more of those tight games this winter, and they should be a real threat to punch a ticket to Des Moines.
Pella Christian (14-9 last year, 56.6% of scoring returning)
Similar to St. Albert in 1A, you can somewhat ignore the Eagles’ record during the regular season, because they play in one of the best 3A conferences in the state (Little Hawkeye), so they are tested all year against bigger schools, and they’re always well prepared come postseason play. Two starters return from last year’s group, headlined by 6-9 center Josh Van Gorp (11.2), a mountain of a young man who shot 71.5% from the floor last season and can be dominant on both ends of the floor. The other returning starter is Dan Jungling (8.4, 57 3PM, 46.7 3P%), a solid lead guard who will have the ball in his hands a lot this winter. Two key bench pieces return as well in the form of Jack Vermeer (6.7) and Keean Cadwell (6.0), each capable scorers and shooting threats. Vermeer in particular could emerge as a real secondary scoring option this season. PC is always a well-coached group that usually goes pretty deep, and while they have a lot of pieces that need to be replaced, you can expect more of the same this year. Ignore the record, and watch out for them come postseason time.
Van Meter (State semifinalist, 22-4 last year, 53.6% of scoring returning)
It’s been a pretty remarkable last five years or so for the Bulldogs’ entire athletics program, and despite losing two big-time scorers from last year’s group, Van Meter should be right back in the thick of things in 2A again this winter. Three starters return to a team that ranked second in the class in scoring defense, allowing just over 40 points a game, and while they lose their best defender in Ryan Schmitt (89 blocks), they return some key pieces who will buy into this defensive system. The large majority of the scoring this season is probably going to be done by Anthony Potthoff (14.3), the only returnee who averaged more than 4.3 points a game. He led the team in made 3s last season and shot over 50% from the floor, so he’s a good place to start. After getting called up to varsity late last season, sophomore guard Chris Schreck (1.3) was starting for the ‘Dogs at State, gaining valuable experience against some strong guards. He’s tiny, but he’s fearless and is going to be a quality leader for this group. The other returning starter is Parker Fryar (2.3), a solid role player. Look for senior wing Ian Abrahamson (4.2) to have a strong bounceback year after missing the second half of the season with an injury, he could emerge as the secondary scoring threat. Brett Berg (4.3) was efficient off the bench, and Zach Madden (3.4), Jackson Wilcox (2.2), Harrison Smith (1.9) and Blade Koons (1.6) all saw significant time last year. Few schools in 2A have the athletes that Van Meter does roaming their halls, so this group isn’t going anywhere. They’ll find new pieces to plug in and be really strong yet again this season.
West Lyon (5-15 last year, 91.6% of scoring returning)
It was an uncharacteristically poor season last year for the Wildcats, but they should enjoy a big-time bounceback year in the 2019-20 season. They lose just 94 points from last year’s group and return a trio of double-figure scorers in Jalyn Gramstad (13.7), Logan Meyer (12.4) and Jaxon Meyer (10.7). The Meyer brothers are both efficient post players who will control the paint, while Gramstad is the team’s top perimeter scoring threat and ball handler. West Lyon almost always has a strong athletics program, and they should be able to take advantage of a Siouxland Conference that loses a lot of talent and win way more games this season.
Woodward-Granger (16-5 last year, 76.6% of scoring returning)
The Hawks lose a significant scoring threat in Noah Hoyt, who averaged just under 14 points a game last season and shot nearly 60% from the field, but they bring back six of their top seven scorers, including four starters, to a team that won 16 games and should be really strong again this year. This group is led by guard Bryce Achenbach (14.1), who led the team in every major category, and if he can become a more potent threat from the arc (28.4% last season), he could be primed for a huge senior season. Keith Braunschweig (12.7) is a versatile inside-out threat, who at 6-3, can get his shot off whenever he wants at this level. Kaya Bowlsby (7.5), Reese Jamison (6.6) and Alex Bice (4.1) are the other returning starters, while Nick Buch (3.1) returns with plenty of experience as well. With six key pieces returning to what was a strong group, Woodward-Granger has their sights set on a trip to Des Moines for the first time since 1986.