Photo: Tim Kolehmainen Breakdown Sports

Posted On: 03/27/21 2:54 PM

The number one spot in Class A team rankings has been a nomadic position all season. We’re down to the final eight teams in the smallest Minnesota high school basketball classification as the State Tournament begins Tuesday to find out the true champion. Here’s the lowdown on all eight:

South Division

(1) Legacy Christian Academy

The Lions have crushed the opposition throughout the season en route to a 20-1 record, the only blemish a conference loss to Lester Prairie. Legacy outscores opponents 76-54 on average this year, led by floor general Jake Wald Jake Wald 5'11" | PG Legacy Christian Academy | 2021 State MN , who puts up 12 points and 5.5 assists per game. Three other teammates are in double figures, forward Trent Harrison spearheading the scoring with 13 points per game. Wings Harley Kendall and Brian Halcomb are threats to put pressure on the rim, and freshman Micah Strand is already one of the best shooters in the metro (45 percent from deep on 117 attempts). Charlie Bovee and Tommy Steffen provide even more depth and shooting. Legacy has many different ways to exploit mismatches and they have great chemistry.

The Lions take on the South Division’s fourth-seeded Hayfield March 31 at Rochester Mayo High School.

(2) Central Minnesota Christian

Sitting at 18-4 on the season and taking down two subsection number one seeds in the playoffs so far (Lac qui Parle Valley and Southwest MN Christian), the Bluejays are playing their best ball. Case Mulder Case Mulder 5'10" | PG Central Minnesota Christian | 2022 State MN is a versatile scorer averaging 19.7 points per game and he is flanked by frontcourt pair Ben Van Eps (15 PPG) and Blake Greenwaldt (13 PPG). Two of their four losses this season were avenged in the playoffs. This team is on a mission and have won their last three games by a total of 19 points — their clutch gene is appearing.

CMCS battles South third seed Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s March 31 at Mankato East High School.

(3) Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s

If there’s one word you’d attribute to the Knights this season, it’s this: offense. SESM is 19-3 and the highest-scoring team from Section 2A. They are currently on a nine-game winning streak averaging 76 points per game during that stretch. It begins with 6-foot-3 junior guard Carson Doemeier, who is 16th in the state with 24.2 points per game. Trent Steffensmeier is as strong a number two as you could ask for at a Class A program, right behind at 17.8 PPG. The Knights’ high-octane style led to key victories over BOLD, Lester Prairie and St. Clair in the playoffs. Kaleb Waits and Kyle Golbirsch add scoring help at 11 and 9.6 points per game as well. I expect their quarterfinal to be a shootout.

SESM plays Central MN Christian in the South 2/3 matchup March 31 at Mankato East High School.

(4) Hayfield

The Vikings have an argument for being underseeded in this division. After starting off 1-2 in January, they’ve gone 17-2 since, including a win over higher-seeded Lyle/Pacelli in the regular season and convincingly defeating them again in the section 1A semifinal. Hayfield went on to beat Southland to clinch a state berth. They have maybe the best player in the South Division in Ethan Slaathaug Ethan Slaathaug 6'3" | SG Hayfield | 2021 State MN , a 6-3 senior guard who dropped 40 in the 1A title game and is nearly unstoppable from anywhere on the floor., averaging 25.5 points per game. He’s assisted by sophomore guard Isaac Matti Isaac Matti 6'1" | SG Hayfield | 2023 State MN at 17.1 PPG and Easton Fritcher is a nearly-guaranteed double-double. Ethan Pack is another double-figure scorer for the Vikings, who are outscoring opponents 73-55 this season. As dangerous a team as any in this tournament.

Hayfield faces Legacy Christian Academy March 31 at Rochester Mayo High School, where they recently played the section final.

North Division

(1) Nevis

The Tigers are 20-2 on the year with a handful of dangerous offensive options. 6-foot-4 junior Eddie Kramer Eddie Kramer 6'5" | SF Nevis | 2022 State MN leads the way in scoring and is flanked by backcourt pair Mathias Warrington and Derek Lindow. The Section 5A champs grinded out wins over Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa and Upsala to reach the State Tournament and have won 12 in a row since an overtime loss to another top Class A team in Mahnomen/Waubun. Nevis had little trouble in the Northland Conference this season, just four of their 18 regular season games decided by less than 14 points. Will they be tested by better competition in the state tourney?

The Tigers take on fourth-seeded Hancock March 31 at Perham High School.

(2) Deer River

Making their first ever tourney appearance, the 20-2 Warriors knocked off section 7A favorite Nashwauk-Keewatin in the title game to send themselves to State. Deer River is spearheaded by dominant wing Ty Morrison Ty Morrison 6'4" | SG Deer River | 2022 State MN who averages more than 20 points per game. Blake Fox serves as an excellent second option, and the rest of the Warriors can do their part to put the ball in the hoop: they scored the most points per game in Class A all season at 82.3 on average. They impressively took down second-highest scoring team and perennial 7A power North Woods 88-83 in the section semifinal.

Deer River plays third seed Badger/Greenbush-Middle River March 31 at Pequot Lakes High School.

(3) Badger/Greenbush-Middle River

The Gators are dancing after also knocking out a presumptive section 8A favorite in Cass Lake-Bena, a 55-48 affair, in the championship. BGMR is 19-3 on the year and winners of 10 straight, defeating subsection number ones Fertile-Beltrami and Cass Lake-Bena en route to the Target Center trek. Senior forward Adam Benke Adam Benke 5'11" | SG Badger-Greenbush-Middle River | 2020 State MN is the top Gator scorer and rebounder, while junior Kobey Dallager and sophomore Zac Blawat Zac Blawat 6'2" | SF Badger-Greenbush-Middle River | 2023 State MN add versatility on the perimeter. If they can keep up with the other high-scoring teams in the State Tournament, they can compete.

BGMR battles Deer River March 31 at Pequot Lakes High School.

(4) Hancock

The Owls boast maybe the most impressive section resume of the entire Class A field, toppling undefeated Mahnomen/Waubun in the 6A title game 77-71 to reach The Big Dance. They also beat West Central Area in a 46-40 overtime grinder the game before. Hancock is battle-tested and doesn’t mind getting into a lower-scoring affair — they are 17-5 and are the least potent offense in the Class A field at 61.4 points per game, while allowing just over 50 per contest as well. They have key wins over strong teams in Parkers Prairie and Lac qui Parle Valley as well. 6-foot-7 junior center Matt Thompson Matt Thompson 6'6" | C Hancock | 2022 State MN is a prolific scoring threat and the pair of Kody Berget and Brandon Kellenberger combined for 53 points against Mahnomen/Waubun in the section final.

Hancock faces North Division top seed Nevis at Perham High School March 31.

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