Posted On: 09/1/21 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.
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 4A, 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.) Ames (State semifinalist, 18-4 last year, 65.0% of scoring returning)
Unlike the last several years, there isn’t a clear-cut #1 team in the class to open the year. We could make pretty strong arguments for any of our top three teams, but we’re going to go with the Little Cyclones to open the year at the top of the heap. They were an elite defensive team last year, allowing just 39.8 points a game while playing in the very difficult CIML. Three of the top four scorers return, headlined by future Iowa State lead guard Tamin Lipsey Tamin Lipsey 6'1" | PG Ames | 2022 State #107 Nation IA (16.3 points , 5.0 assists). A dynamic, physical two-way guard, Lipsey showed no ill-effects of the ACL injury that caused him to miss his entire sophomore year, picking up right where he left off by dominating on both ends of the floor. He’s one of the best on-ball defenders in the state, and he’s electric offensively with his ability to play with pace, get to the rim, or knock down 3s. Senior forward Trevion Labeaux Trevion Labeaux 6'3" | SF Ames | 2022 State IA (11.5) got off to a bit of a slow start following his transfer from Waterloo East, but came on late last year in a big way, showing why he’s been so highly regarded in the 2022 class. He’s an athletic freak who can defend multiple positions, rebound at a high level, and score efficiently around the rim. Fellow senior big Corey Phillips Corey Phillips 6'5" | PF Ames | 2022 State IA (8.6), a big man with agile feet, also returns. He showed the ability to stretch the floor a bit last year, knocking down 45% of his 40 3-point attempts, and any added shooting that he can provide will be huge. The final key returnee is junior wing Lucas Lueth Lucas Lueth 6'6" | SF Ames | 2023 State IA (4.9), an extremely long wing who also provides versatility on the defensive end. The Little Cyclones have one of the state’s elite players in Lipsey, and they’re outstanding on the defensive end. They return a bunch of pieces from a state semifinalist team last year, and they seem to be as good a pick as any to take home the 4A crown.
2.) Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln (State qualifier, 19-5 last year, 63.7% of scoring returning)
The Lynx rolled through conference play last year, going 15-0 against league foes and winning games by an average score of 67.9-40.7. Knowing that the MRC isn’t going to prepare them very well for postseason play, they’ve scheduled very aggressively this year. Their schedule features games against out-of-state powers like Belleuve West, Millard North, and Grand Island, all of Nebraska; Sunrise Christian Academy of Kansas; and Minneapolis North. There is also a game against an opponent to be announced at the Hy-Vee Arena in Kansas City, and another non-conference tilt against Dowling Catholic. Simply put, they are trying to test themselves as much as possible. Senior wing Josh Dix Josh Dix 6'5" | SG Council Bluffs Lincoln | 2022 State #149 Nation IA (19.4) has emerged as one of the best wings in the Midwest, pulling in offers from Iowa, Wake Forest, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Purdue, Colorado State, Drake, UMKC, Northern Iowa, and South Dakota State. At 6-5, Dix is a stat-sheet stuffing wing who dominates the game on both ends of the floor. He can really shoot it, gets to the bucket at will, and dished out 4.3 assists a game last season. He’s also a fantastic defender who uses his length really well on that end to jump passing lanes or contest shots. Fellow senior guard Jamison Gruber Jamison Gruber 6'1" | PG Council Bluffs Lincoln | 2022 State IA (11.9, 4.3 assists) is coming off a really strong summer, showcasing an improved jumper. In Gruber and Dix, the Lynx have a pair of very talented guards who take care of the ball and can fill it up. JR Knauss (3.3) was a solid role player last year, and senior big Jake Duffey (2.7) has some potential as well in the paint. There is some young talent in the system that could be ready to contribute as well. The Lynx are the class of western Iowa, and the non-conference schedule should pay some dividends this year. If someone can step up alongside Dix and Gruber, this team could take home the school’s first state title.
3.) Johnston (State runner-up, 12-5 last year, 51.2% of scoring returning)
The Dragons handed Waukee their only in-state loss last year and looked every bit the part of a state champion throughout the week at the state tournament before running into the buzzsaw Warriors in a rematch. In senior wing Steven Kramer Steven Kramer 6'5" | SG Johnston | 2022 State IA (13.1) and guard Trey Lewis Trey Lewis 5'10" | PG Johnston | 2022 State IA (12.6, 39.3 3P%), they have arguably the best one-two punch in the class. Kramer, a hyper-athletic 6-5 wing coming off a strong summer, recently committed to South Dakota. He’s a dynamic two-way player who can fill it up from all three levels or defend multiple positions. Lewis is a talented guard with great handles and a silky smooth stroke from behind the arc. They’ll have a lot of new faces in the lineup, as they lost four key rotation pieces (three to graduation, one to transfer), so they’ll need players like Mason Ryan (2.4), Andrew Pender (1.3) and Jaxsen Cahill Jaxsen Cahill 6'6" | SF Johnston | 2022 State IA to step up into bigger roles. The Kramer-Lewis tandem will be one of the best in the state, and they should keep the Dragons afloat as the new pieces get acclimated to major varsity minutes.
4.) Valley (16-5 last year, 55.4% of scoring returning)
There are some question marks here with the Tigers, as we’re not sure if senior forward Eli Raridon Eli Raridon 6'7" | PF Valley | 2022 State IA (17.6) is going to play this year. He has committed to play football at Notre Dame, and we are unclear if he’s planning on playing basketball this winter. If he does, the Tigers will be one of the state’s elite teams with the best one-two punch in the paint in the state with Raridon and Ruot Bijiek Ruot Bijiek 6'8" | PF Valley | 2022 State IA (12.8). Bijiek holds a handful of mid-major offers, and at 6-8 with his ability to both stretch the floor and protect the rim, is the modern big personified. Senior guard Mason Morrow Mason Morrow 5'11" | CG Valley | 2022 State IA (4.7) and wing Cade Grevengoed Cade Grevengoed 6'1" | SG Valley | 2022 State IA (2.2) saw some time last season and look ready to emerge into bigger roles, while senior big Jake Auen (1.2) can provide some depth and physicality in the paint. Expect to see plenty of freshmen Curtis Stinson Jr., the son of former Iowa State point guard Curtis Stinson. Junior is a 6-2 lead guard with high basketball IQ, great court vision, and the ability to get to the rim. He can defend as well, which is key if you’re going to play for BJ Windhorst. There is a chance that freshman wing Kiki Deng could see some time as well. Valley has loads of talented athletes throughout the school, and if Raridon is playing, they’ll be extremely dangerous with their size and athleticism.
5.) Cedar Falls (State semifinalist, 20-1 last year, 36.7% of scoring returning)
The Tigers were dominant last year, winning games by an average of 26 points a game before stubbing their toes against Johnston in the state semifinals. They’ve averaged 21.7 wins a year over the last six seasons, and the talent pipeline isn’t drying up anytime soon. Senior point guard Trey Campbell Trey Campbell 6'4" | PG Cedar Falls | 2022 State IA (13.9, 5.0 assists) recently committed to play at Northern Iowa. A lightning-quick guard with excellent court vision, Campbell uses his speed and length to impact the game on both ends of the floor and has really improved as a shooter, knocking down nearly 39% of his 3-point attempts last year. Junior wing Dallas Bear Dallas Bear 6'8" | SF Cedar Falls | 2023 State IA (5.1, 41.7 3P%) is a knockdown shooter at 6-8 who is ready to step into a much larger role this year following the graduations of four starters. Bear holds Division I offers from Bryant and Augustana (SD), and that list is going to explode before too long. Senior guard Hunter Jacobson Hunter Jacobson 6'1" | PG Cedar Falls | 2022 State IA (5.0, 41.2 3P%), the son of UNI coach Ben Jacobson, is another knockdown shooter with a high basketball IQ. The addition to the varsity roster of sophomore wing Cade Courbat Cade Courbat 6'7" | PF Cedar Falls | 2024 State IA will be an added boost. Courbat, the younger brother of UNI big Chase Courbat Chase Courbat 6'9" | C Cedar Falls | 2021 State IA , is an explosive wing who can fill it up from all three levels. He’s one of the top players in the state in the 2024 class, and should make an immediate impact for the Tigers. There is talent galore in the Cedar Falls system, and with Campbell and Bear leading the charge, they look like they’ll be the class of the MVC.
6.) Ankeny (10-10 last year, 84.7% of scoring returning)
After winning the 4A title in the 2019-20 season, we knew the Hawks were going to take a stepback with all of the losses to graduation. But they actually performed better than expected. They bring back five of their top six scorers, and add a transfer from crosstown rival Centennial, giving them a slew of talented pieces to build around. Senior forward Ryan Crandall Ryan Crandall 6'1" | SF Ankeny | 2022 State IA (11.0, 7.3 rebounds) led the team in scoring and rebounding last year, and is a strong defender as well. Sophomore lead guard Carson Johnson Carson Johnson 5'9" | PG Ankeny | 2024 State IA (8.1, 42.0 3P%) is one of the top point guards in the 2024 class and is an excellent floor general who sees the floor well and is a knockdown shooter. Juniors JJ Kohl JJ Kohl 6'8" | PF Ankeny | 2023 State IA (7.4) and Karson Wehde Karson Wehde 6'4" | SG Ankeny | 2023 State IA (3.3) gained loads of valuable experience last year, and seniors Braden Simonsen (6.6) and Brady McCullough (4.9) provide additional experience and versatility. They’ll also add sophomore wing Lio Aguirre Lio Aguirre 6'3" | SF Centennial | 2024 State IA , who averaged 9.5 points a game last year for Centennial. Aguirre is a big, physical wing who can get to the rim and distribute. In Johnson, they have a dynamic floor general, and the Hawks have a ton of depth. This team is going to be very good.
7.) Waukee Northwest (New school)
The brand new Wolves are a difficult team to rank without knowing exactly what the team is going to look like, but they will be led by junior wing Pryce Sandfort Pryce Sandfort 6'6" | SF Waukee Northwest | 2023 State #168 Nation IA (7.8, 50.0 3P%), who was recently named a top-100 player in the 2023 class nationally and is hearing from the likes of Gonzaga. He’s a long, 6-6 knockdown shooter who has really developed his all-around skill set and looks primed to emerge as a dominant two-way player after being a vital role player on the Waukee championship team last year. The other key piece for Northwest (that we currently know of) is junior point guard Cade Kelderman Cade Kelderman 6'0" | PG Waukee | 2023 State IA (2.5). He’s a heady lead guard who can get into the paint and kick out to open shooters or finish, and he’s a knockdown shooter as well. Sandfort and Kelderman is a great place to start, and the Wolves are sure to have plenty of other talent on the roster as well. The Waukee school district is loaded with talented athletes, and plenty of them will emerge for this new school.
8.) Centennial (14-5 last year, 44.7% of scoring returning)
Since becoming a school before the 2013-14 season, the Jaguars have compiled a strong 125-57 record. Expect that strong performance to continue this season, despite the loss of the top four scorers from last year (three to graduation, one to transfer). They’ll be led by a trio of senior perimeter players in Chris Louis Chris Louis 6'0" | SG Centennial | 2022 State IA (9.0), Caden Kelling Caden Kelling 5'10" | SG Centennial | 2022 State IA (7.9), and Jackson Snyder Jackson Snyder 6'0" | SG Centennial | 2022 State IA (4.7). Louis is a quick and athletic lead guard who can score from all three levels and get others involved. He’ll have the ball in his hands plenty this year following the graduation of Jaron Crews Jaron Crews 6'1" | PG Ankeny Centennial | 2021 State IA . Kelling is a dynamic defensive player who can really lock down opposing scorers, and Snyder is a big, physical wing who attacks the rim and can defend as well. The key for this group, however, will be the development of some of their younger players. Sophomore forward Reece Robinson Reece Robinson 6'7" | SF Centennial | 2024 State IA (1.8) is oozing with potential on both ends of the floor and should become a relied upon player this year. Expect to see sophomore forward Chase Schutty Chase Schutty 6'4" | PF Centennial | 2024 State IA and junior guard Drew Schreurs Drew Schreurs 6'1" | PG Centennial | 2023 State IA also become key pieces for the Jags. Schutty is a big, physical forward who does a great job defending in the paint without fouling, while Schreurs is a good shooter who will provide some scoring punch off the bench. Coach Bob Fontana does a great job coaching up his teams on the defensive end, and this could be one of the best defensive teams in 4A with their athletes on the perimeter and big men protecting the rim.
9.) Indianola (16-7 last year, 67.7% of scoring returning)
In 6-5 junior wing Drew Kingery Drew Kingery 6'4" | SF Indianola | 2023 State IA (18.0), the Indians have one of the state’s elite scoring threats on the perimeter. Kingery has tremendous length, a silky smooth jumper, and is a high-level two-way player who scores from all three levels, impacts the game on the defensive end, and doesn’t force anything. He’s primed to have a massive junior year. But he’s far from alone, as three of the top four, and six of the top eight, scorers from last season return. Senior point guard Cooper Nailor Cooper Nailor 5'11" | PG Indianola | 2022 State IA (10.0, 3.7 assists) will have the ball in his hands a ton following the graduation fo CJ Kuehl CJ Kuehl 6'0" | PG Indianola | 2021 State IA , who led the team in assists last year. Nailor is a crafty lead guard who sees the floor well, plays downhill, and thrives on getting others involved. Junior wing Casey Glascock Casey Glascock 6'0" | PG Indianola | 2023 State IA (7.5) reminds me of Ballard wing Ashton Hermann Ashton Hermann 6'4" | SG Ballard | 2022 State IA , an athletic two-way wing who plays with a bit of an attitude. The key player if this group wants to reach their full potential will be 6-5 combo forward Charlie Willmott Charlie Willmott 6'4" | PF Indianola | 2023 State IA (5.0). A versatile combo forward who can score inside and out, Willmott was unstoppable when we saw Indianola play at the Winterset Shootout in June, and if he can play like that consistently, watch out, because this group could be extremely potent offensively. Kingery is one of the state’s best players, there are a lot of quality scoring options returning, and they have a potential breakout candidate in Willmott who could help push this group over the top. Playing in the 3A Little Hawkeye Conference can hurt them come postseason time, but this team has the talent to overcome that and make their first state tournament since 2003. (NOTE: After publishing, we learned that Ankeny guard Brayden Drea Brayden Drea 5'10" | PG Ankeny | 2023 State IA (7.0) has transferred to Indianola. That gives the Indians another solid ball-handling option who can score from all three levels, when he becomes eligible.)
10.) Iowa City West (4-9 last year, 81.3% of scoring returning)
The Trojans were never really able to get into rhythm last season, starting the season late due to Iowa City schools being in online learning, and then having a 24-day break between games due to COVID exposures in January. The start-and-stop of the season never allowed this group to build the chemistry and get into rhythm. Still, with the exception of a 28-point loss to Senior and 12-point loss to Kennedy, the other seven losses came by a combined 25 points, an average of 3.6 points a game. The top three, and four of the top five, scorers return. They’re led by senior forward Peter Moe Peter Moe 6'9" | PF Iowa City West | 2022 State IA (21.9), who burst onto the Iowa scene after moving from Indianapolis with a 41-point outburst against City High in his West debut. A 6-9 forward who can score inside and out, Moe is a dominant scorer whose 8.1 free throw attempts per game was tops in 4A. Fellow senior point guard Christian Barnes Christian Barnes 5'10" | PG Iowa City West | 2022 State IA (10.5, 3.7 assists) is a talented two-way player with quickness and good court vision, while sophomore wing Kareem Earl Kareem Earl 6'5" | SF Iowa City West | 2024 State IA (7.3, 36.8 3P%) is a good shooter who is rapidly developing his all-around offensive game. Savion Taylor Savion Taylor 6'4" | SF Iowa City West | 2023 State IA (5.8) is a big wing who can defend and shoot it, knocking down 40.4% of his 3-point attempts. And the Trojans will add Jack McCaffery to the lineup. The 6-6/6-7 son of Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, he’s big, long, and talented. It may take him a little while to acclimate to varsity play, but he’ll be the key piece for this program for the next four years. West had a down year last season, with COVID-related postponements playing a large part, and a largely new roster also playing a role. With continuity and a more regular schedule, the Trojans should be back to being formidable again this year.
Ten more teams to watch
*Teams appear in alphabetical order*
Cedar Rapids Washington (14-8 last year, 57.9% of scoring returning)
The Warriors finished above .500 for the first time since the 2014-15 season last year, and return three starters from that group. They’ll be headlined by the junior trio of Traijan Sain Traijan Sain 6'5" | SF Cedar Rapids Washington | 2023 State IA (11.8), Jesse Sellers Jesse Sellers 5'9" | PG Cedar Rapids Washington | 2023 State IA (9.7), and Jaden Harris Jaden Harris 6'0" | PG Cedar Rapids Washington | 2023 State IA (8.2), while sophomore lead guard Willie Hodges Willie Hodges 5'10" | PG Cedar Rapids Washington | 2024 State IA (4.2) looks primed to emerge as a big contributor for them this season. Sain, a 6-6 wing, is one of the best players in the state in the 2023 class, a versatile and long wing who impacts the game on both ends of the floor. Sellers and Harris were knockdown shooters last year, burying 40.4% and 48.4% of their 3-point attempts, respectively, and Hodges is a lightning-quick lead guard who can break down a defender and get into the paint. Depth may be an issue, especially early on, but their talented quartet to build around will win plenty of games for the Warriors, and they should have a real chance at breaking through and making it to the state tournament for the first time since 2011.
Des Moines Lincoln (5-13 last year, 65.2% of scoring returning)
The Railsplitters got off to a solid 3-1 start last year before dropping 12 of the final 14 games. They weren’t competitive against the better teams on the schedule, but they were also extremely young last year, and they looked much improved when we saw them play this summer. Sophomore lead guard Trovary Cavil Trovary Cavil 5'9" | PG Des Moines Lincoln | 2024 State IA (15.0) is coming off a superb freshman year, and looks like he has really improved his efficiency. He shot 37.8% from the floor last year, but appears to be primed to get that number up into the mid-to-high 40s at least after a strong summer. He has a dynamic mid-range game, has the ball on a string, and with a year of experience playing in the rugged CIML, he should be ready to lead this group to success. Fellow sophomore, forward Ja’Vion Bell Ja’Vion Bell 6'4" | PF Des Moines Lincoln | 2024 State IA (6.4, 5.4 rebounds) is an athletic forward who runs the floor and rebounds it well, and junior forward Jamal West (6.1) is another good athlete in the paint. Victor Hatungimana Victor Hatungimana 5'11" | SG Des Moines Lincoln | 2022 State IA (5.3) is a good, but streaky, shooter who could give them some big production as a senior. Cavil is ready to emerge as one of the better players in the CIML, and Lincoln should be much improved.
Hoover (13-5 last year, 59.0% of scoring returning)
A young Huskies team had a bit of an up-and-down season last year. They’d post an impressive win over Southeast Polk, but lose by 28 to Ankeny. They’d knock off a very good Valley team, then lose to Ames by 31. They need to become more consistent, and that should happen with more experience. Leading scorer Manny Austin Manny Austin 6'3" | SG Des Moines Hoover | 2021 State IA graduated, but they bring back a pair of big-time scorers in juniors Chase Henderson Chase Henderson 6'0" | PG Hoover | 2023 State IA (17.4) and Elijah Vos Elijah Vos 6'4" | SF Hoover | 2023 State IA (12.9). Henderson is a volume scorer with limitless range who has really improved his all-around abilities. He’s cat-quick, and can get to the bucket with ease, and as he has continued to mature physically, he’s become a better finisher. He recently picked up his first Division I offer from South Dakota, and he averaged 5.2 assists a game last year in addition to his scoring. Vos is a big, physical wing at 6-5/6-6 who posted 51-48-77 shooting splits. With Henderson and Austin on the floor last year, Vos didn’t get as many touches as he probably warrants, and that should change this year. He’s a very talented scoring threat who can take advantage of bigger defenders with his quickness, or smaller defenders with his size. Their defense was dealt a bit of a blow with the transfer of Kir Diew Kir Diew 6'8" | PF Valley | 2022 State IA to Valley, but coach Courtney Henderson always has this group ready to compete on the defensive end. With Henderson and Vos leading the way, the Huskies should be very formidable again this year in the CIML.
Kennedy (15-8 last year, 49.2% of scoring returning)
The Cougars fell just short of the state tournament last year, losing to eventual runner-up Johnston in overtime in the substate final. Leading scorer Caleb Schlaak Caleb Schlaak 6'7" | SF Kennedy | 2021 State IA has moved on to Truman State, but three players with starting experience return in junior lead guard Kenzie Reed Kenzie Reed 5'10" | PG Kennedy | 2023 State IA (9.9, 5.8 assists), junior wing Colby Dolphin Colby Dolphin 5'10" | PG Kennedy | 2023 State IA (8.1), and senior forward Jackson Bowman Jackson Bowman 6'7" | PF Kennedy | 2022 State IA (6.3). Reed is one of the better pure lead guards in the state, a strong ball-handler and decision-maker who values possessions, and who has really improved as a shooter. He knocked down 41% of his 3-point attempts last season, and will be asked to play a larger scoring role this year. Dolphin is another quality shooter (40.4 3P%) and defender on the perimeter, while Bowman is an athletic big man who rebounds well and finishes at the bucket. Craig Mills Craig Mills 6'5" | PF Kennedy | 2022 State IA (3.8) and Connor Jeffords (2.1) also return with experience, and coach Jon McKowen is one of the best coaches in the state. He always has his teams ready to compete on the defensive end. Kennedy should once again be a team on the verge of the top-10 throughout the course of the season.
Linn-Mar (8-11 last year, 57.2% of scoring returning)
Four of the Lions losses last season came by one or two points, so they were extremely close to having an inverse record and some positive momentum heading into this season. They bring back two starters from that group, including leading scorer Jaxson Young Jaxson Young 6'2" | SG Linn-Mar | 2022 State IA (11.2). Young is an athletic wing who can score from all three levels and looks primed to have a big senior year. Cam Guenther (5.5) is the other key returnee on the perimeter, a solid shooter who can stretch the floor and open things up for Young and his dribble penetration skills. Jayden Hill (4.7), Jackson Severson Jackson Severson 5'11" | PG Linn-Mar | 2023 State IA (4.2), and Ian Mindrup Ian Mindrup 6'3" | PF Linn-Mar | 2023 State IA (3.7) all saw significant playing time last year and should be improved with the experience. Linn-Mar will always be competitive, and Young should be one of the top scoring threats in the MVC.
Marshalltown (7-13 last year, 82.6% of scoring returning)
The Bobcats gave 4A champion Waukee their toughest postseason game last year, falling by just six to the Warriors in the substate semifinals. That game showed some of the potential that this group has, and they’ll be looking to build on that heading into the 2021-22 season. The top three scorers return in senior guard Armonniey Thomas Armonniey Thomas 6'2" | PG Marshalltown | 2022 State IA (16.6) and juniors Prince Jallah Prince Jallah 6'1" | SG Marshalltown | 2023 State IA (12.3) and Drake Kapayou Drake Kapayou 6'0" | PG Marshalltown | 2023 State IA (9.1). Thomas is an athletic freak at the lead guard spot, a 6-0 guard with a huge wingspan, springs in his legs, and the ability to get to the bucket at will. He has picked up a Division I offer from FIU, and can stuff the stat sheet on both ends of the floor. Jallah is a 6-3 wing with length who can be a good perimeter defender, and who does a great job on the glass, while Kapayou is a fantastic 3-point shooter who is a great complement to Thomas and Jallah. Look for Bul Chol Bul Chol 6'6" | PF Marshalltown | 2022 IA to emerge as another key piece for the Bobcats, a 6-6/6-7 wing who moved to Marshalltown from Kentucky. Thomas is one of the best players in the CIML, and the Bobcats proved they can play at a high level with that narrow loss to Waukee and a win over Ames last season. Consistency will be key for this group.
North Scott (12-8 last year, 50.3% of scoring returning)
The Lancers got off to a strong 10-3 start before stumbling down the stretch. Coach Shamus Budde will always have the Lancers locked in on the defensive end, and last year was no exception, allowing just 43.3 points a game. Some of that can certainly be attributed to the deliberate style they play offensively, but watch them play and you’ll see – they really get after it defensively on every possession. They lose leading scorer Landon Eiland Landon Eiland 6'4" | SF North Scott | 2021 State IA , now at Truman State, but the next three scorers from last season return in Oliver Hughes Oliver Hughes 5'11" | PG North Scott | 2022 State IA (11.7), Drew Kilburg Drew Kilburg 5'10" | PG North Scott | 2023 State IA (7.0), and Cole Kilburg Cole Kilburg 5'11" | PG North Scott | 2023 State IA (6.2). Hughes is a good shooter, while the Kilburg boys are both quality defenders and lead guards who protect the ball and get others involved. They’ll need to find some new pieces to fill the holes left by a slew of graduated role players, but the Lancers will always be dangerous due to their defense and style of play.
Pleasant Valley (State qualifier, 19-4 last year, 45.1% of scoring returning)
The Spartans play the most deliberate style in the state, taking plenty of time off the clock to look for an efficient shot on the offensive end, and really locking in on the defensive end. That style wins them a lot of games, but can certainly make them vulnerable against teams they’re better than. They lose four of their top five scorers from last year’s team, but return senior guard Ryan Dolphin Ryan Dolphin 5'8" | PG Pleasant Valley | 2022 State IA (11.0), a good shooter who can get to the rim and who also distributes it well. Joel Lawlor Joel Lawlor 6'0" | PG Pleasant Valley | 2022 State IA (4.7), Bryce Rubel (2.7), and Zach Boekhoff (1.1) also saw significant time last year. Despite not having many players with experience returning, PV is the type of program that re-loads, not rebuilds. With their lockdown defensive and deliberate offensive styles, they’re bound to win plenty of games and frustrate opposing teams on a nightly basis.
Prairie (4-9 last year, 60.9% of scoring returning)
Another team that was greatly impacted by COVID last year, the Hawks played just one game between January 16 and February 12, a one-point loss to Liberty. That loss was one of six that came by single digits, including four by either one or two points. They bring back a pair of double-figure scorers, and add a big piece back into the lineup, so expect to see Prairie get back to being a formidable foe in the MVC. The senior backcourt of Jake Walter Jake Walter 5'10" | CG Prairie | 2022 State IA (16.0) and Elijah Ward Elijah Ward 6'2" | CG Prairie | 2022 State IA (12.9) leads the way. Both are good scoring threats who can fill it up from all three levels, and both do a great job attacking and playing downhill. They will get senior big man Gabe Burkle Gabe Burkle 6'7" | PF Prairie | 2022 State IA back in the lineup after he missed last year with an injury. Also a dominant football star, Burkle has good footwork, great hands and is a big, physical presence in the paint on both ends of the floor. His ability to control the glass will be big for a team that was undersized last year. Look for increased production out of junior wing Jack Wagemester Jack Wagemester 6'1" | SG Prairie | 2023 State IA (0.4), and for junior guard Makelle Taylor Makelle Taylor 5'10" | PG Prairie | 2023 State IA to emerge as a solid player for this group. Everett Koch (5.1) was a key role player last year and should be a solid piece this year as well. With more consistent practice and game play, and the addition of Burkle back into the lineup, Prairie should be back to being a solid above .500 team.
Sioux City West (11-11 last year, 80.9% of scoring returning)
If the Wolverines want to make some noise and make it to the state tournament for the first time since the Kirk Hinrich days, they’ll need to improve on the defensive end. In their 11 wins last year, they allowed 52.3 points a game, but in the 11 losses, that number ballooned up to 74.4 points a game. Of course, those losses came against much better teams, but they have to find a way to either slow the game down, or play better defense if they want to be a serious contender. There are plenty of offensive weapons here, led by the dynamic backcourt of junior Keavian Hayes Keavian Hayes 6'2" | SG Sioux City West | 2023 State IA (17.4) and senior Keeon Hutton Keeon Hutton 6'3" | SG Sioux City West | 2022 State IA (16.7). They are explosive, athletic, long, and quick, and they can create issues on both ends of the floor. Lamarion Mothershead (7.9), Master Brooks (3.1), and Mabior Akuien (3.0) return with experience as well, but this group is going to go as far as Hayes and Hutton, and improvement on the defensive end, will take them.