Gilbert (18-5, 12-2): The Tigers were one of the state's most pleasant surprises last year, getting off to a 9-1 start. They finished the year with 3A's most explosive offense, averaging 73.5 points a game, and they bring back a pair of double figure scorers from that group in Matt Ockey (15.2) and Tanner Henningsen (10.2). Ockey, our preseason pick for conference player of the year, is a high scoring wing capable of getting the job done at all three levels. He led the team with 50 made 3s last season, knocking them down at a solid 38.2% clip. Henningsen is a knockdown shooter who shot a remarkable 52.3% from behind the arc (34-65), giving Gilbert a dynamic backcourt that will be among the best shooting backcourts in the state. Also back is lead guard Tony Terrones (5.4), a small (5-9) but talented point guard who really values the basketball. The junior posted a solid 106-52 assist-to-turnover ratio as a freshman, and was even better last year, dishing out 81 helpers against 33 turnovers. He'll pair with Ockey and Henningsen
Gilbert (18-5, 12-2): The Tigers were one of the state's most pleasant surprises last year, getting off to a 9-1 start. They finished the year with 3A's most explosive offense, averaging 73.5 points a game, and they bring back a pair of double figure scorers from that group in Matt Ockey (15.2) and Tanner Henningsen (10.2). Ockey, our preseason pick for conference player of the year, is a high scoring wing capable of getting the job done at all three levels. He led the team with 50 made 3s last season, knocking them down at a solid 38.2% clip. Henningsen is a knockdown shooter who shot a remarkable 52.3% from behind the arc (34-65), giving Gilbert a dynamic backcourt that will be among the best shooting backcourts in the state. Also back is lead guard Tony Terrones (5.4), a small (5-9) but talented point guard who really values the basketball. The junior posted a solid 106-52 assist-to-turnover ratio as a freshman, and was even better last year, dishing out 81 helpers against 33 turnovers. He'll pair with Ockey and Henningsen to give the Tigers the best backcourt in the league. Jack Dresser (3.8) is the only other returnee who saw significant time last year, so they'll have some holes to plug, but this team has the best trio to build around, and is the favorite to take the conference crown this season.
Greene County (7-16, 4-10): The Rams lose a pair of 21 point a game scorers from last year's group in Trey Hinote and Lance Hughes. The good news is that they bring back two other double figure scorers in Carter Morton (15.0) and Tyler Miller (11.0), who should keep this offensive attack as one of the best in the league. Outside of Hinote and Hughes, the next eight players in last year's rotation return, so there is loads of experience. The unfortunate news is that this team was bad, bad, bad on the defensive end last year, allowing 73.2 points a game, which ranked 95th (out of 96) in 2A. There is a lot of firepower here, and they'll play some entertaining games again this year, but until they improve on the defensive end, it's hard to see them finishing in the upper half of the league.
Nevada (8-13, 5-9): The Cubs return their top two scorers from last year's group, Tyler Sansgaard (17.0) and Kody Kruschwitz (12.9). Sansgaard is one of the league's top scoring threats, capable of getting red hot and really filling it up from the arc. His 62 made 3s ranked second in the league last year, and are tops among returnees. Kruschwitz is a capable shooter as well, shooting just under 33% from the arc, but is better when he's getting to the rim and playing in the mid-range. Ayden Rhodes (3.3) has some experience and also returns. The key for this group will be improving on the defensive end of the floor. They allowed 64.6 points a game last year, which ranked 58th (out of 64) in 3A. In nine league losses, that number ballooned up to 73.6 points a game. Improve on that end, improve in the win column.
North Polk (6-15, 5-9): Three double figure scorers have graduated, leaving the Comets in a complete rebuild. The good news is that they have a really good young guard to start building around in sophomore Jevin Sullivan (7.7). Sullivan has grown quite a bit in the last year, and is now playing at about 6-3, with great length. He's a sharpshooting guard who will be asked to step into the primary scoring role, which looks like a role he's capable of filling. Outside of Sullivan, returnees only scored 79 points last year, so there is not much experience back. If Sullivan keeps progressing and turns into one of the league's best players, they can win some games and finish in the middle of the pack.
PCM (13-8, 10-3): The Mustangs are always competitive, and probably will be again this year, but they have some major holes to fill with the graduation of their top three scorers, who took over 67% of the team's scoring output with them. Derek Brown (7.2) is the leading returning scorer, and lead guard Jason Stafford (6.5) is also back, a quality point guard to build around. He dished out 87 assists against 37 turnovers last season and is the team's leading returning 3-point shooter as well. The Brown-Stafford tandem is a great place to start building a team. Gatlin Boell (2.7) and Grant Landgrebe (1.6) are the only other returnees who saw significant time last year, so coach Fred Lorensen will have a lot of holes to plug. Despite that, PCM should be competing for a top-3 finish yet again this year.
Roland-Story (10-12, 6-8): The Norsemen lose their top four scorers from last season. Dylan Ihle (6.9) is the leading returning scorer. He knocked down 32 3-pointers last year, and will pair with Sam Skaar (5.1) to give Roland-Story a serviceable backcourt. Adam McIlrath (3.1) is the only other returnee with significant experience, and look for standout football player Zach Twedt (1.6) to make an impact this year. With so much experience gone, it'll be tough for Roland-Story to replicate last year's near-.500 mark.
Saydel (5-17, 1-14): The Eagles had an average point differential in league games of -22.6 last year, and lose their leading scorer, Colton Myers, who averaged over 18 points a game. The good news is that this group will be more experienced, with six of their top eight rotation players returning. Dakota Ellsworth (9.7) is the headliner. He led the team in rebounding last year and finished second in scoring. Look for Kobe Moriarty (7.6) and Camden Lo (4.6) to be the team's top perimeter scoring threats, while Ellsworth can do it from all three levels. This group ranked 60th (out of 64) in 3A scoring defense, allowing 65.9 points a game. That will need to drop significantly if they want to become more competitive.
South Hamilton (23-1, 13-1): For the third consecutive year, the Hawks will be replacing one of the school's all-time greats. They'll also be replacing one of the school's most successful coaches, as Nathan Hill resigned his post to follow the college careers of his two sons, Collin (Truman State) and Conner (Morningside). The top three scorers from last year's 23-win team have graduated, and this group will have a new look, with Cade Balvanz (10.4) the new focal point. Balvanz, an efficient 6-5 big man, shot 65.5% from the floor last year and blocked 23 shots. He was the beneficiary of playing alongside three really talented guards, and a lot will be asked of him this year. Quinton Grove (5.4) was a starter for last year's state semifinalist, and Doran Lutjen (3.0) was a breakout player at State, a highly athletic 6-0 guard who can play above the rim. New coach Matt Juber will have his work cut out for him, replacing Conner Hill, Logan Peters and Cole Berg, but the cupboard isn't bare, and South Hamilton should be competing for the league crown again.
Projected Order of Finish
2. South Hamilton
5. Greene County
6. North Polk
Analysis: South Hamilton has had a stranglehold on this conference for the last five years or so, but we expect that to change this year. The Hawks lose one of the school's all-time greats (Conner Hill) for the third year in a row, and have to replace their head coach, while Gilbert brings back a trio in the backcourt that will be among the best in 3A. The middle of the league is filled with good offensive teams, who could make a jump if they commit on the defensive end.
Preseason Player of the Year
2020 Matt Ockey, Gilbert: 15.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.3 steals
Ockey is the best player on what we expect to be the best team in the league, and as such, receives the preseason POY honor. A talented scoring guard capable of getting the job done from all three levels, don’t be surprised to see him averaging close to 20 points a game this year for the Tigers.
2020 Duran Lutjen, South Hamilton: Lutjen provided some electric highlights off the bench at State last year for the Hawks, and with three high-level guards graduated, it's time for him to shine. He's a supremely athletic guard who plays above the rim, and should have a big senior year for a South Hamilton team with a lot of production to replace.
Players to Watch
2020 Matt Ockey, Gilbert
2021 Tanner Henningsen, Gilbert
2021 Tony Terrones, Gilbert
2020 Tyler Sansgaard, Nevada
2020 Kody Kruschwitz, Nevada
2020 Cade Balvanz, South Hamilton
2020 Quinton Grove, South Hamilton
2020 Carter Morton, Greene County
2020 Tyler Miller, Greene County
2020 Cael Fisher, Greene County
2022 Jevin Sullivan, North Polk
2020 Derek Brown, PCM
2020 Jason Stafford, PCM
2020 Dakota Ellsworth, Saydel
2020 Kobe Moriarty, Saydel
2022 Camden Lo, Saydel
2020 Dylan Ihle, Roland-Story
2021 Sam Skaar, Roland-Story