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.
How well do these rankings predict what may happen over the course of the coming season? Well, of the 32 state tournament qualifying teams last year, we had 19 ranked in the top 10 in their respective classes, and another four written about in the “others to monitor” sections. The top-ranked teams in our preseason rankings all played for the state championship in their class, with 1A North Linn, 2A Boyden-Hull and 3A Ballard finishing runner-up, and 4A Waukee taking home the title. Our 1A #3 team, Montezuma, won the 1A championship, and our #2 team in 2A, Western Christian, also took home the crown. We were most successful in Class 4A, with our top four teams (Waukee, Cedar Falls, Ames, and Johnston) all making the semifinals, and six of the 10 ranked teams reaching the state tournament. So, while this isn’t the definitive list of how teams are going to perform this year, it’s certainly a good thing to find yourselves near the top of these initial rankings.
Below you’ll find our top 10 for Class 1A, along with some other teams that could make some noise, as well as a brief summary of why each team is in their respective spot. Enjoy.
1.) North Linn (State runner-up, 27-1 last season, 91.8% of scoring returning)
Since the start of the 2015-16 season, the Lynx have been the gold standard for small-school basketball in the state, compiling a sterling 155-5 (.969) record. They were up-ended by a red-hot Montezuma team in the 1A championship game last year, but return all five starters and will be looking to add to their trophy case this winter. They’re led by senior lead guard(17.3 points a game), the catalyst on both ends of the floor who is averaged 7.7 assists and 3.6 steals a game as well as a junior. The Upper Iowa commit is lightning-quick with the ball in his hands, flies all over the court defensively, and thrives on getting others involved. He’s the focal point of their fast-paced attack that averaged 76.5 points a game last year, but he’s far from alone. Junior forward (15.6) stepped into the role that vacated following his graduation admirably, shooting over 63% from the floor and becoming the beneficiary of a number of easy buckets provided by the Lynx pressure defense and Hilmer assists. (14.1) is a versatile 6-2 scoring threat on the perimeter who can get to the rim or fill it up from 3, and junior guard (10.2) is another double-figure returnee. (9.1) is the other returning starter, a quality guard on both ends. (4.2) will be the top player off the bench. The Lynx are the poster child of small-school basketball in this state, and until they prove otherwise, they deserve to be the team that everyone is hunting.
2.) AHSTW (20-3 last season, 99.6% of scoring returning)
AHSTW has never qualified for a boys state basketball tournament. Expect that to change this year. The Vikings are coming off a 20-win season, return all but six points from last year’s team, and are dropping down to 1A for postseason play this year. Those are all big pluses when considering this year’s group. All five starters return, headlined by the dynamic trio of senior wing(18.9), and junior forward (17.6, 7.6 rebounds), and wing (16.8, 6.2 rebounds). Grobe led the team in scoring, but it’s Lund who is probably the team’s best player, a talented stretch-forward who can score inside and out at a highly efficient clip. He shot nearly 65% from the floor and knocked down 43.8% of his 3-point attempts as a sophomore. Junior lead guard (5.6, 4.8 assists) is a quick and heady point guard who thrives on getting others involved, and he does a great job protecting the rock. If they can get some increased and more efficient production out of role players like JJ Madsen (2.9), Nick Denning (2.3), and Jace Peterson (2.0), this group has a chance to be special. The Grobe-Lund-Sternberg trio is probably the best trio of players in the class, and by dropping down to 1A, they’ll avoid conference rival Treynor in the postseason, who handed the Vikings two of their three losses last year. The Vikings are in an area of the state that shouldn’t house too many serious 1A contenders, and they shouldn’t have too many obstacles in their path on the way to Des Moines.
3.) Grand View Christian (State semifinalist, 21-2 last season, 75.1% of scoring returning)
The Thunder won three straight 1A titles from 2017-19, and after missing the state tournament in 2020, rebounded and made it to the semifinals last year. They bring back four of their top five scorers from that group that lost to eventual champion Montezuma, and they’ll be one of the top threats to North Linn this season. The dynamic senior backcourt of(19.3) and (14.7) can score in bunches and put pressure on defenses in a variety of ways. Hammonds has one of the best mid-range games in the state, showing the ability to stop on a dime and elevate into his smooth jumper. Baucum was a pleasant surprise last year, emerging as a secondary scoring threat who does a great job getting to the bucket. The headliner for this group will be 7-0 junior big man (10.0, 15.9 rebounds, 4.9 blocks). His size and athleticism is unheard of in 1A basketball, and if he can develop any sort of offensive game, he’ll be unstoppable. He’s impossible to score on in the paint, runs the floor hard, and is an excellent rebounder. Caleb Parlee (7.0) and Josh Sanderson (3.5) are solid role players who also return. One area of concern for this group will be the free-throw line. They went just 10-29 from the stripe in their opening-round state tournament win over St. Mary’s, and shot just 56.4% from the line on the season. Those numbers need to improve if they want to win the state tournament.
4.) Remsen, St. Mary’s (State qualifier, 22-4 last season, 76.9% of scoring returning)
Defense has been the name of the game for the Hawks over the last five years, each of which they’ve qualified for the state tournament. Last year, they allowed just 41.8 points a game, and a good chunk of that roster returns, so expect them to be dominant on that end of the floor yet again. Two starters,and Levi Waldschmitt, need to be replaced following graduation, but the top three scorers return, and four of the top five are back. Junior wing (12.5) can score from all three levels, while senior forward (10.1) is remarkably efficient, shooting 60.5% from the floor last season. Senior guard (9.4) and junior wing Alex Schroeder (8.6) also return on the perimeter, giving the Hawks plenty of scoring punch. Expect to see Bunkers handling the ball more this season following Harpenau’s graduation, and he’s an adept ball-handler and decision-maker. The Hawks are an efficient offensive team and a dominant defensive team that is going to win a ton of games. They’ve got a great chance to make it to Des Moines for a sixth straight year.
5.) Gehlen Catholic (23-2 last season, 89.6% of scoring returning)
After sweeping St. Mary’s during the regular season, the Jays were upset in the substate final, falling a game short of their first state tournament appearance since 1983. A year older and more experienced, they’ll be well prepared should that situation arise again this year. They’re headlined by their dynamic scoring backcourt – junior(20.4) and senior (20.2). Bonderson is an excellent athlete who is equally adept at getting to the rim for athletic, above-the-rim finishes, or burying 3s. DeRocher is an excellent shooter who knocked down 44.2% of his 3-point attempts. He can also get to the bucket, leading the team in free-throw attempts. The graduation of Zach Kraft will be a bit of a blow to them, as he provided some strength and physicality in the paint, but everyone else returns with more experience. Keaton Logan (5.7) and Dylan Lehmann (3.9) joined Bonderson and DeRocher in the starting lineup for each game last year, and role players Drake DeRocher (3.5), Ryan Augustine (2.0), and Gabe Wiltgen (1.6) are all back. Gehlen should be deep and talented. It’s unlikely that they’ll be separated from St. Mary’s in postseason play, given that the towns are about 10 miles apart from each other, which is a shame because both of these teams will be deserving of trips to Des Moines.
6.) New London (19-5 last season, 97.8% of scoring returning)
The single most talented player in 1A basketball may reside in New London in junior point guard(22.4, 4.9 assists). Porter, who holds Division I offers from Bryant and IUPUI, is coming off a sensational sophomore year in which he posted 53-41-75 shooting splits. A well-built guard with a lightning-quick first step, he’s a matchup nightmare at this level with his ability to get to the rim for athletic finishes or pull up from 3. Fellow junior (17.2, 8.6 rebounds) is a perfect fit alongside Porter. Benjamin is an athletic forward who runs the floor, finishes above the rim, and protects the rim. At 6-6/6-7, he has great size and length, and is working to extend his range. (12.0) is a solid stretch-4 who knocked down 46.5% of his 3-point attempts last year, and senior wing Camden Kasel (8.3) is another capable perimeter shooting threat. With another year of experience for Porter, Benjamin and crew, the Tigers will be among the most dangerous teams in the state. Porter is good enough to carry this team, but he’s far from alone. Only 35 points from last year’s team are gone, so this team is going to be deep, experienced, and talented. If you’re looking for a state title “dark horse”, this is it.
7.) Newman Catholic (17-5 last season, 82.7% of scoring returning)
The Knights haven’t qualified for a state basketball tournament since 1984, but they have a good chance to break that drought this season. They were upset in the opening round of the postseason last year by North Iowa, and will be looking to advance significantly further this year. The top four scorers return, led by Iowa baseball commit(17.5, 7.3 rebounds). An athletic junior wing, Taylor can put the ball on the floor and get to the rim, rebounds effectively on both ends of the floor, and can make an impact defensively. Senior wing (13.0) is a strong scoring threat who could have a huge year if he improves his efficiency a bit, while junior forward Noah Hamilton (8.9) is a physical presence in the paint. Arguably the most important player on this roster, however, is junior point guard (8.8, 6.3 assists), a savvy lead guard who can score and facilitate at a high level. He knocked down 55% of his 3-pointers last year and posted a better than 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Role player Bennett Suntken (5.4) will be relied upon as another shooting threat on the perimeter. In the Knights’ five losses last year, they allowed an average of 76.0 points a game, so the defense needs to get better against the good teams on the schedule if they want to be considered a real threat.
8.) West Harrison (18-6 last season, 89.0% of scoring returning)
Like AHSTW, West Harrison is also looking to make some history and qualify for their first state tournament. The Hawkeyes are coming off a strong 18-win campaign that saw them rebound from a rough pre-holiday break stretch (3-5 before the break), winning 15 straight games before their postseason loss to St. Albert in the substate semifinals. They’re led by the (unrelated) Evans boys,(15.5, 9.8 rebounds) and (16.7, 14.5 rebounds), dominant performers who combined to pull down just under 10 offensive rebounds a game last season. Physical and athletic, they are the type of players who can dominate at this small-school level, and they showed they’re skilled too, knocking down a combined 52 of 119 3-pointers last year (43.7%). Fellow junior Mason King (13.1) gives them another quality scoring threat on the perimeter, a lead guard who gets others involved and can really fill it up. The Evans-Evans-King “Big Three” will be among the best in 1A, and they’ll give the Hawkeyes a real chance at making it to Des Moines for the first time in school history.
9.) Lake Mills (State qualifier, 25-1 last season, 50.2% of scoring returning)
The Bulldogs have compiled a 48-4 record and a pair of state tournament appearances in the last two seasons, with their losses in those tournaments coming to the eventual champion both years (Wapsie Valley and Montezuma). They lose a pair of big producers in leading scorerand Iowa State football player , who combined to average 30.9 points and 14.3 rebounds last year. That said, there is still quite a bit of talent returning, and this group should be the best team in the Top of Iowa West Division again. (13.3, 6.3 rebounds) is a big, physical wing who can score inside and out at 6-6, and he uses his length really effectively on the defensive end. His versatility on both ends will make him one of the most productive players in 1A this season. Senior lead guard (7.3. 4.8 assists) is the team’s best shooting threat and the primary ball-handler, a talented player who posted a 5.3-1 assist-to-turnover ratio last year. They’ll need to find increased production out of role players like Denton Kingland (5.6), Kadin Abele (4.2), AJ Ramaker (3.2), and Lance Helming (1.3), but coach Kyle Menke has done a really good job building this program, and they’ll find contributors. A third consecutive state tournament appearance is certainly within reach for the Bulldogs this winter.
10.) Gladbrook-Reinbeck (17-4 last season, 76.7% of scoring returning)
The Rebels suffered an early-season 11-point loss to 3A Crestwood, but their other three losses (twice to South Hardin, once to South Winneshiek in the substate final) came by a combined nine points. This team was extremely close to being really good last year, and they’ve got a chance to put together a special season in 2021-22. Five of the top six scorers return for the Rebels, headlined by lead guard(19.0, 7.3 rebounds, 6.8 assists), one of the best all-around players in 1A. The junior guard has good size, plays with pace, and if he can improve his 3-point shooting (28.0% last year), he could have an absolutely monstrous junior year. Senior forward (10.2, 8.0 rebounds) anchors the paint, while juniors Caleb Egesdal (9.1), Luke Riffey (7.2), and Kadyn Shick (3.0) provide some additional scoring punch on the perimeter. They’ll need to find someone to help replace the shooting that the graduated Dylan Riffey (42.6 3P%) provided. Perhaps that will be Egesdal, who knocked down 43.2% of his 3s last year, but they could stand to find another shooting threat so that teams can’t just key in on him. This team will go as far as Kiburis can take them, and that will probably be a pretty long way.
Ten more teams to watch
*Teams appear in alphabetical order*
Dunkerton (17-6 last season, 77.5% of scoring returning)
After a three-year stretch in which the Raiders went 62-12 from 2016-17 to 2018-19, they had a down year in 2019-20, going just 10-13. But the building blocks were in place for a nice rebound year, and that’s exactly what they did last season, notching 17 wins, including a season sweep of rival Janesville. The Raiders are led by junior lead guard(11.8, 7.4 assists), who was one of the best passers in the state last season. He leads an efficient offense that was led in scoring last year by senior forward (13.4). Behrens shot over 64% from the floor, largely the beneficiary of Gardner’s excellent work in distribution. Junior wing Preston Gillespie (9.9) is a long, lanky perimeter defender, and senior wing Kyler Rich (6.3) can do a little bit of everything. That is a group that prides themselves on the defensive end of the floor, and they do a great job crashing the glass on both ends. If they can find a consistent perimeter shooting threat (just 31.5% from 3 last year), they could be very dangerous.
Edgewood-Colesburg (17-6 last season, 59.7% of scoring returning)
The Vikings lose leading scorer, but bring back three double-figure scorers in Jack Wiskus (11.4), Mason Ashline (10.4), and Lance Voss (10.0), who headline a very deep and talented senior class at Ed-Co. Fellow seniors Korey Putz (7.4), Nathan Carter (7.0), Ike Jones (6.0), and Konner Putz (5.3) are all quality role players with plenty of experience. This group pounds the offensive glass hard (13.0 offensive boards a game last season), they defend, and they force turnovers at a high clip. With the bevy of experienced players they have coming back, they should make plenty of noise this season in the Tri-Rivers and be a real threat to make it to Des Moines.
Janesville (19-5 last season, 74.4% of scoring returning)
The Wildcats put together a really strong year last season, with their five losses coming to very good teams in Dunkerton (twice), Gladbrook-Reinbeck, 2A Aplington-Parkersburg, and West Fork. The loss to West Fork came in the substate semifinals, and they’ll be looking to advance a little further this year. They’ll be led by one of the best tandems in 1A with 6-4 forward(22.6, 7.1 rebounds) and 5-11 lead guard (7.8, 8.7 assists) leading the way. Dodd is also a solid perimeter shooter, but they’ll need to find some more consistent shooting as a team (just 29.8% last season) if they want to make some real noise.
Lisbon (11-9 last season, 89.6% of scoring returning)
In do-everything senior wing(17.6), the Lions have one of the most versatile scoring threats in 1A. Becker, a 6-4 wing, can fill it up from all three levels, really improving as a shooter over his high school career. He knocked down 42.9% of his 3-point attempts as a junior, and he has the size, length, and athleticism to be an impact defender as well. Fellow senior (11.5, 8.4 rebounds) is a physical presence in the paint, and senior Tyler Scott (5.0, 2.7 assists) is a leader on the floor. If this group can limit the turnovers (16.1 a game) and become better at the free-throw line (59.6%), they could turn their close losses into wins.
Lynnville-Sully (13-9 last season, 92.4% of scoring returning)
A tradition-rich program, the Hawks put together a 263-53 record between the 2006-07 seasons and 2018-19, before a very uncharacteristic 5-16 mark in 2019-20. They started to rebound last year and should continue that upward trajectory this year, with 92% of their scoring returning. There has been a youth movement in Sully, with the top four scorers last season being comprised of two sophomores and two freshmen. With another year of added experience, watch out. Junior wing(15.4) is the team’s leading returning scorer, while sophomore guard (11.1) is the straw that stirs the drink, dishing out 4.7 assists. Sophomore forward Klayton Van Dyke (7.3, 8.8 rebounds) provides some physicality in the paint and rim protection. Look for this group to put together a strong year, and continue building towards the 2022-23 season.
Mount Ayr (19-5 last season, 53.6% of scoring returning)
The Raiders leave a fair amount of production, but bring back one of the best scorers in the class in junior guard(21.5), an efficient score-first guard who posted 55-40-90 shooting splits last year. He’s a menace on both ends of the floor who also had 3.3 steals a game as a sophomore. There will be a lot of pressure on Frost, as outside of Cody Larson (6.2) and Braydon Pierson (3.3), there aren’t very many experienced players returning.
Newell-Fonda (17-6 last season, 83.1% of scoring returning)
Only one loss last year came to a 1A team, a 61-41 setback to Remsen, St. Mary’s in the substate semifinals. The Mustangs bring a lot of scoring power back from one of the most potent offenses in 1A (averaged 70.9 points a game last year). Seven of the top eight scorers return, including the top two scorers in junior wing(17.0) and senior guard (12.5, 3.9 assists). This is a group that likes to go deep into their bench, fly all over the place on defense, and get up-and-down the floor. With so many experienced players returning to the rotation, they should jump out of the gates quick, and they’ll be dangerous come postseason play with their scoring power.
North Mahaska (16-5 last season, 60.5% of scoring returning)
The Warhawks put the state on notice last year with their season-opening win over eventual 1A champion Montezuma, signaling that this team had arrived (perhaps even a year earlier than expected). Three of the top four scorers are back in juniors(13.5, 8.8 rebounds), (13.4, 7.6 rebounds) and Lane Harmon (7.8). That trio will be one of the best in the class, and they’ll be the focal point of this attack, especially until the new faces can gain some experience. Look for North Mahaska to once again by a state tournament contender this year, and a real state title threat in 2022-23.
Wapello (16-4 last season, 40.2% of scoring returning)
The Indians lose a lot of production from last year’s group that fell in the substate semifinal to Easton Valley, but they bring back one of the best players in 1A in 6-4 point guard(17.6, 8.2 assists, 7.1 rebounds, 4.2 steals). A do-everything guard with great size, court vision, and the ability to score from all three levels, Griffin is primed to have a huge senior year. They’ll need to get increased production out of some largely unproven players like Tade Parsons (4.5), Ryan McDonough (2.0), and Jackson Lanz (2.0), but Griffin is good enough to rack up several wins in the SEISC.
Wapsie Valley (17-5 last season, 62.4% of scoring returning)
The Warriors will need to find some new ball-handlers, asand , four-year mainstays for the program, have graduated. The tandem dished out 10 assists a game last year and posted a better than 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. That type of talent and experience will be difficult to replace. That said, four of the top six scorers are back for the Warriors, led by senior wing (12.6) and junior big (11.6, 9.5 rebounds). Meyer, the breakout star on the 2020 1A state championship team, got off to a bit of a slow start last year but came alive down the stretch to lead the team in scoring with 44-39-61 shooting spits. An athletic wing who can score from all three levels, he’ll need to have the ball in his hands more this year. Harter, a transfer from Sigourney, was excellent on both ends, blocking over a shot a game to go with his efficient scoring and rebounding. Parker Landsgard (7.2) and (6.9) are the other key returnees. Landsgard does most of his scoring inside the arc, while Westpfahl is the top returning shooter, knocking down 45% of his 3s last year. They’ll need to find a quality ball-handler and decision-maker to replace Bellis and Risse, but there is still plenty of athleticism, size, and talent here.