The holiday season is upon us. That leads into one of the great periods of the basketball season as holiday tournaments start on December 26th all across the state. So in the spirit of the holidays, here's a look at some of the gifts for basketball fans at this season's holiday tournaments.
If you're a fan of big games, there's no better place to be than Bethel. The top half of bracket is the strongest group of 4 teams assembled anywhere in the state this holiday season. #1AAA St. Paul Johnson, #5AAAA Minnetonka (with Cole Stefan), #10AAAA Mounds View and Eden Prairie (with Ethan Wragge), who was ranked #7 in AAAA until losing to Chaska on December 16th, are the 4 teams. They all play December 27th in the night session. The team that survives 2 very difficult games in that half of the draw will likely play Wisconsin commit Mike Bruesewitz, Valpo commit Chris Halvorsen, and #2AAAA Henry Sibley in a terrific final on December 30th.
Moving north and west of the metro, there's a very strong field in the Breakdown's Granite City Holiday Classic at St. Cloud Apollo. The opening round features #5AAA Monticello taking on the hosts #6AAA Apollo on December 29th. Apollo's Andre Garth against Monticello's Tom Sawatzke is a compelling battle of guards. The projected final has #7AAAA Osseo and Gonzaga recruit Sam Dower in the post against Ra'Shede Hageman and #2AAA Minneapolis Washburn who has one of the best guard tandems in the state in Cedric Martin and Texas State commit Dylan Hale in one of the top games outside of the metro this season. That game would be December 31st. One of the state's top junior guards, Dyami Starks, is also playing in the tournament.
Moving south, there are 4 games in the southwest section of the state that attract attention. First on that list is a pair of top post players in that section of the state as #4A Ellsworth and Trevor Gruis take on Marshall and Tyler Gimmestad on December 31st at Southwest Minnesota State. Gimmestad averaged 23 points and 10.5 rebounds in the 2 games of the Breakdown Tip-Off Classic earlier this season. Gruis is now the top player for the Panthers with the graduation of the state's all-time leading scorer Cody Schilling.
Redwood Valley projects to face Sibley East in their holiday tournament. One of the top junior post players in the state, Marshall Bjorkland will be on display for Sibley East. That inside play will be a contrast to senior Mike Felt and his shooting for Redwood Valley. There's also history from last year in this game. Sibley East defeated Redwood Valley 64-62 last season in the opening round of this tournament. The Southwest Conference has a third noteworthy game as #4AAA Mankato West travels to Worthington and opens with the #8AAA hosts on December 29th.
In the southeast section of the state, the Rochester Rotary Tournament is projected to provide some interesting games. Apple Valley is attending with star sophomore Thomas Schalk. Northfield and Northern Colorado recruit Emmanuel Addo, Stillwater and post Ryan Duxbury along with another top sophomore Cole Olstad of Plainview-Elgin-Millville are also playing. Any combination of these 4 teams will be interesting in the semifinals and finals.
Moving towards the metro, the Hastings final could have 2 premier shooters firing away. Jacob Thomas of Columbia Heights is one of those shooters. He scored 37 points against St. Louis Park on December 19th. Mike Fitzgerald of St. Thomas Academy is the other shooter. The Cadets enter the tournament at 1-3 after being ranked #5 in the preseason AAA poll but they've played a brutal schedule. Their 3 losses are by a total of 14 points to #4AAA Mankato West, #8AAAA Cretin-Derham Hall and Northfield. Their one win was against #3AAA Minneapolis Henry on December 20th. That final is on December 31st.
Staying just outside the metro, the Lakeville South tournament projects to have a battle of forwards that will play division 2 basketball next season. On one side, you have Lakeville North's David Berthene who will attend Bemidji State. On the other, there's Billy Giddings (SW Minnesota State) and Dylan Rodriguez (Minnesota-Duluth). Both teams return large portions of last season's rosters and look to contend for conference titles this season. That game would be on December 30th.
Finally, returning to the metro, top sophomore post players will go after each other as Chaska and Jake White try to continue their hot start against Waconia and Shelby Moats. That game is December 29th in the Edina Holiday tournament. The Catholic Spirit tournament at the University of St. Thomas has its share of star power. Jordair Jett and AA power St. Bernard's are a favorite in their half of the bracket. The tournament also welcomes St. Thomas of Houston, Texas. The Eagles have a star in 6'1" senior point guard Blake Jolivette who has signed with American University. Roseville and Bucknell signee Mike Muscala play them in the tournament opener for both teams on December 29th. The winner of that game will likely play Cretin-Derham Hall with football star Seantrel Henderson and emerging sophomore Raijon Kelly.