Ending the summer of basketball is always the Pacesetter Sweet 16 as top players in state regroup with their high school teams after a month of traveling nationally with AAU programs. The Sweet 16 comprises four teams of each of Minnesota's four classes of basketball and as usual the Hopkins Royals are the favorites to bring home the championship. Without St. Paul Johnson or DeLaSalle in the field it looks like Benilde-St. Margaret's will be the top contender but three Lake Conference schools as well as Waconia will have their say.
For previewing purposes Minnesota Preps is grouping the 16 into four different brackets naming them A-D. Today we work with A and B.
THE A BRACKET
The A Bracket kicks off at 10 am Saturday with Hopkins going face to face with Waconia. The Royals are coming off yet another state title while Waconia returns big man Shelby Moats from a 22-4 team. Considering the way Ross Travis is playing the Minnesota Preps prospect rankings should now be considered outdated. Be that as it may, this first round game has 2011's top two prospects in the state of Minnesota in Moats and Joe Coleman of Hopkins. Both have offers from Minnesota and both are looking to jumpstart their senior seasons with a strong performance at the Sweet 16.
Coleman definitely has the advantage in help from teammates with Northern Iowa commit Marvin Singleton manning the post, junior Zach Stahl returning, and Rivals top 100 2012 guard Siyani Chambers running the point position. All four of these players have been hardened by an off-season with the Howard Pulley Panthers and considering that Coleman, Singleton, and Chambers have been competing on the same AAU team for the past four months they shouldn't skip a beat with their high school squad. Also look for Hopkins to showcase some more of the younger talent this weekend like guard Demetrius Martin and forward Nick Jorgensen.
The Royals must stop Moats both from behind the arc (where his stroke can be deadly) and on the inside (Shelby will have everybody on the floor by four inches). Waconia will certainly compete as the team returns not just Moats but a total of five of their top six scorers from last year. Ben Korteum and Bronson Scheff were regular double figure scorers last season, Alex Schmidt is ready for a bigger role, and sophomore-to-be Wylie Ferron looks like the next Waconia star. Can the Winhawks handle the Hopkins machine of athletic ability, team defense, skill, and discipline? Will Hopkins be upset by Moats and his experienced, skilled teammates? It's a certainly an exciting first round contest.
In the other A Bracket contest 2010 state participant Windom faces Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa who was 25-4 last year. Both teams return forwards who can go and that's why they were given the honor of playing in this year's Sweet 16. BBE will rely on the ability of "Special K", a pair of 6-foot-4 senior forwards named Kevin Kuefler and Brady Koehler, as well as 6-foot-5 junior forward Connor Goodwin. They aren't skyscrapers by any means but they aren't short stacks either and along with the frontline is a quality guard in senior Bennett Weller.
Windom can certainly challenge B-B-E's long list of forwards as they return the Holt brothers, juniors Jake Holt and Lee Holt, who stand 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-3 respectively, as well as 6-foot-3 senior forward Travis Mattson. Jake Holt is the lefty and he's the player capable of going off for 35 or 40 points along 15 rebounds and if you aren't sure on that just check with Murray County Central. His brother Lee is also a tough player capable of double-doubles on a regular basis. Leading this group in the backcourt is 5-foot-9 senior Levi Gotto.
THE B BRACKET
Looking for a guard match-up? Try Apple Valley and Tyus Jones going at Braham and Tyler Vaughan. Jones has been ordained the next state of Minnesota basketball superstar after amazing performances as an 8th grader at Apple Valley and with the 16s bunch playing with Howard Pulley. Vaughan has been known state wide for three years because it wasn't that long ago that we were all hearing about the numbers he put up as an 8th grader. Vaughan and Jones played together for the last three months on that Pulley Panther squad and now they have the chance to lead their high schools against one another.
Up front who is going to stop Apple Valley big and William & Mary commit Thomas Schalk? That's a good question as Schalk put up 22.5 points per game in the Lake Conference last season as a junior. The Bombers will have something up their sleeve as you don't go to six of the last seven state tournaments and not have an idea of how to counter talent (they still beat Sibley East despite Marshall Bjorklund putting up state record numbers). Vaughan has to be slowed down from scoring 30 something points plus the Bombers have another quality weapon in 6-foot-3 Ben Thiry who has to be guarded with active hands. Josh Johnson and Gavin Bronson are seniors for Apple Valley who will have increased roles this year stepping in as potential full time starters.
The bottom half of B Bracket is Orono against Ellsworth in one of those match-ups you can only see in a tournament like this. Orono returns backcourt senior scorers in Jordan Smith, Brady Wohler, and Chase Myhran while Ellsworth will counter nicely with juniors Dalton Huisman, Nick Nolte, and Casey Schilling. The problem is size up front. Who handles Jeremy Borg from Orono? At 6-foot-6 with active length Borg will require an Ellsworth body on him nearly like glue at all times which likely means the 6-foot-5 length of wing Casey Schilling will have to step up front. But then what do you do about the pull-up jumpers and three-point shooting from Jordan Smith? Or the active penetration of Brady Wohler? Ellsworth will have to guard these players with shorter, younger defenders if Schilling steps to Borg and you would like to use Schilling's length there. Can Trevor Gruis play one more game?
On the other hand, Orono has to defend the multiple offensive options of Ellsworth, a team that has played in the last five state tournaments resulting in two state championships and two runner-up trophies. Schilling and Huisman look like budding stars. Casey has already scored 963 points in his varsity career while Huisman has totaled 612. And while we are talking numbers, Jordan Smith has worked his way to 1,811 points in his high school basketball career meaning he has a very good chance of finishing in the top ten of all time in Minnesota. That would put him up their with names like former NBA first round draft picks Troy Bell and Sam Jacobson as well as Isaiah Dahlman, Kevin Noreen, Cory Johnson, Casey Schilling's brother Cody Schilling, and others.
Check back later this week as we look at the C and D brackets which includes the following match-ups: Minnesota Transitions vs. Eastview, Benilde-St. Margaret's vs. Waterville-Elysian-Morristown, Lakeville South vs. St. Cloud Apollo, and Plainview/Elgin-Millville vs. Sebeka.