The question of the year 2012 is the same question as most every other year: Can anybody beat Hopkins? Well, Benilde-St. Margaret's has already done it. But I mean, can anybody in Class AAAA beat Hopkins when it counts, at the state tournament or in section 6AAAA? And, if Hopkins cruises to a 4th straight AAAA title, will Benilde still be in the conversation as the possible #1 team in the state?
1. Hopkins 11-1. OK, Benilde beat Hopkins, Eastview beat Benilde. Under ordinary circumstances, I would rate Eastview #1AAAA on that basis. But these are not ordinary circumstances. Hopkins is currently 3rd boys team ever to win 3 straight state titles at the highest level. (Edina 1966-67-68 and Mpls. North 1995-96-97). As such, until somebody beats 'em at crunch time, they're #1. Coach Kenny Novak has his kids just flying right now, out-scoring opponents by an average of 89-60. I think they'll skate through the toughest conference in the state and finish up with a 25-1 record. Projected section 6AAAA champ and #1 seed.
2. Eastview 9-0. I hear ya. But I don't think they'll get through the tough South Suburban Conference undefeated and, in fact, I think they'll take their 1st loss this week yet--either Tuesday at Lakeville North or Friday at Apple Valley. 24-2 sounds about right for the regular season. Still, ya gotta see 6-8 forward Joey King. Great high school player. And hats off to coach Mark Gerber. This is a great high school team, out-scoring opponents by an average of 78-50, but 2nd to Hopkins until they beat 'em in the post-season. Projected section 3AAAA champ and #2 seed.
3. Lakeville North 10-0. Coach John Oxton is another great high school coach who's got his team to where it can contend in the South Suburban and at the sectional level year in and year out. Out-scoring opponents by an average of 65-55. Projected section 1AAAA champ and #3 seed.
4. Osseo 11-0. 6-8 sophomore center Ian Thiesen, son (obviously) of coach Tim, will be one of the best by the time he's done. Out-scoring opponents 71-52. Projected section 5AAAA champ and #4 seed.
5. Eden Prairie 7-2. Another perennial under coach David Flom, with sophomore guard Andre Wallace leading the way. Out-scoring opponents 70-57. Projected section 2AAAA champ.
6. Wayzata 12-0. Out-scoring opponents 69-54, but no signature win. Will face Hopkins in section 6AAAA.
7. Apple Valley 9-1. Sophomore guard Tyus Jones is regarded by many as already the best high school player in Minnesota, and will certainly be the most heavily recruited Minnesota boy by the time he finishes his high school career. And the Eagles have other weapons as well. Only loss is to Eden Prairie by 4. 2 games each vs. Eastview and Lakeville North give 'em a chance to move up. Out-scoring opponents 80-68. Will face Eastview in section 3AAAA.
8. Minnetonka 10-2. Rebuilding in a hurry under coach Tom Dasovich. Lost to Benilde by just 3 (Hopkins lost to Benilde by 5, Eden Prairie by 12). Out-scoring opponents 76-63. Will face Hopkins in section 6AAAA.
9. Tartan 8-2. Lost to Apple Valley and #2AAA Spring Lake Park. Out-scoring opponents 64-51. Projected section 4AAAA champion.
10. Chanhassan 7-4. A young program very much on the rise. 3 of its 4 losses are to Hopkins, Lakeville North and Eden Prairie. Out-scoring opponents 66-64. Let's be honest, there's a big drop-off after the top 6-8 teams. Will face EP in section 2AAAA.
11. Duluth East 3-7. Ordinarily a 3-7 team wouldn't get a sniff of my top 20. But East has played the toughest schedule known to man, including Hopkins, Eastview, EP, Tonka--all without superstar guard Johnny Woodard. Guard Taylor Stafford stepped into the breach, scoring as many as 45 points one night and into the 30s routinely. Then, Woodard returned against Rice Lake (WI) in the Timberwolves Shootout last Saturday and scored 31 as East defeated Rice Lake 86-74. If the chemistry is right, East can play with the big boys. Projected section 7AAAA champion.
12. Woodbury 8-2.
13. Roseville 7-2.
14. Mounds View 8-2. Top contenders in wide open Suburban East race.
15. Mahtomedi 7-1. Unbeaten against Minnesota competition. All 4 will face Tartan in section 4AAAA.
16. Maple Grove 8-2.
17. Champlin Park 7-3. Both will face Osseo in section 5AAAA.
18. Moorhead 7-1. Projected section 8AAAA champion.
19. Prior Lake 5-5. Playing all comers. Middle of the pack in section 2AAAA.
20. Rochester Century 8-2. Will face Lakeville North in Section 1AAAA.
State tournament semi-finalists--should be the #1 through #4 seeds Hopkins, Eastview, Lakeville North and Osseo, but I'll predict that Eden Prairie will upset somebody in the 1st round, with Osseo the most vulnerable of the four seeds. It depends on the draw, of course.
1. Benilde-St. Margaret's 9-1. Beat Hopkins, Tonka, Eden Prairie, lost to Eastview. The only AAA team that can and does compete with the elite AAAAs. Out-scoring opponents 72-62. Projected section 6AAA champion and #1 seed.
2. Spring Lake Park 10-1. Shocked #9AAAA Tartan on its home court in the Tartan holiday tournament, but lost to Eastview 86-63. Sean Scott is a multi-skilled scorer. Out-scoring opponents 75-61. Projected section 3AAA champion and #2 seed.
3. Mpls. Washburn 7-1. Lost only to #3AAAA Lakeville North. Out-scoring opponents 73-53. Paired with Benilde is section 6AAA.
4. Grand Rapids 9-1. Destined to be highly rated for a long time, as its stars are junior guard Austin Pohlen and freshman post Alex Illikainen. Out-scoring opponents 67-52. Projected section 7AAA champ and #3 seed.
5. Blake 8-1. Knocked off DeLaSalle to open the year, lost only to AAAA Chaska. Out-scoring opponents 64-45. Also paired with Benilde and Washburn in section 6AAA.
6. Mankato East 8-1. Out-scoring opponents 85-64. Projected section 2AAA champion and #4 seed.
7. DeLaSalle 7-2. Out-scoring opponents 77-48, but paired with Spring Lake Park in section 3AAA.
8. St. Paul Johnson 4-3. Losses only to AAAA Hopkins, Lakeville South and Roseville. Projected section 4AAA champion.
9. Willmar 6-1. Out-scoring opponents 65-51. Faces Mankato East in section 2AAA.
10. Zimmerman 7-3. Faces Grand Rapids in section 7AAA.
11. Waconia 7-4. 3 of 4 losses vs. AAAA opponents. Another section 2AAA resident.
12. Austin 6-2. Knocked off Mankato East but lost to Rochester Mayo. Projected section 1AAA champion.
13. Richfield 6-4. Another 6AAA resident.
14. Duluth Denfeld 8-2. Paired with Grand Rapids, to whom they have already lost 70-58, in section 7AAA.
15. Little Falls 8-1. Projected section 8AAA champion.
Section 5AAA favorite--Rocori 7-4.
State tournament semi-finalists--should be the 4 seeds Benilde, Spring Lake Park, Grand Rapids and Mankato East, and I don't see anybody else crowding any of these out.
1. Perham 9-1. Dropped all the way to #5AA after loss to Ellsworth, but I think they're still the best team in AA. Defeated then-#2AA Pelican Rapids as well as AAA St. Thomas. Projected section 8AA champ, gets section 1AA champ in 1st round, then section 4 vs. 5 winner.
2. Waterville-Elysian-Morristown 7-1. 2 starters back from last year's state tournament team, plus a big-time foreign exchange student was added. Explosive. Projected section 2AA champ, gets section 7AA in 1st round, then section 3 vs. 6 winner.
3. Watertown-Mayer 10-1. Lost only to AAA Waconia. Projected section 5AA champ, gets section 4AA in 1st round, then 1 vs. 8 winner.
4. Maple River 10-1. Paired with WEM in section 2AA. A serious threat to go all the way.
5. Redwood Valley 9-0. Features superstar Michael Busack, defeated Marshall and Windom in Southwest conference already. Projected section 3AA champion, gets section 6AA in 1st round, then 2 vs. 7 winner.
6. Pelican Rapids 7-3. Lost only at Perham, and to AAAA Minnetonka and Moorhead. Projected section 6AA champ, gets section 3AA in the quarter-finals, then the winner of the 2 vs. 7 game.
7. United South Central 9-2. Lost to WEM, beat Maple River. Features 6-8 forwrad Kyle Bauman. Another section 2AA resident.
8. Braham 10-1. Lost only to Hopkins. Led by coach Bob Vaughan and son Tyler. Projected section 7AA champion. Gets section 2AA in 1st round, then section 3 vs. 6.
9. Montevideo 7-3. Lost only to AAA Spring Lake Park, Mankato East and Marshall, then turned the tables on the latter. Will face Redwood Valley in section 3AAA.
10. St. Peter 9-1. Another section 2AA resident.
11. Hayfield 10-3. Also a 2AA resident.
12. Fairmont 8-2. And another 2AA resident.
13. Long Prairie-Grey Eagle 11-0. Defeated defending sectional champ Upsala, another 6AA resident.
14. Plainview-Elgin-Millville 9-3. All losses are to AAAA and AAA opponents.
15. Byron 8-1. Lost only to Hayfield, defeated AAA Red Wing. PEM or Byron is projected as the section 1AA champion. Gets section 8AA in the 1st round, then the winner of section 4 vs. 5.
Section 4AA favorite--toss-up among New Life, Concordia, Minnehaha, St. Croix Lutheran.
State semi-finalists? You tell me. OK, I'll go with Perham over PEM, Watertown Mayer over whomever, Waterville over Braham, with Redwood and Pelican a toss-up. Then Perham and Waterville. But this one is wide open. Darn near everybody through #15 is a threat.
1. Southwest MN Christian 6-1. The four-peters from 1999-2002 will contend again, starting right now. Out-scoring opponents 75-40. Lost only at AA Worthington by 1 point. Projected as section 3A champion, gets section 6A in the 1st round.
2. Dawson-Boyd 7-1. Outscoring opponents 77-43, lost only at AA power Montevideo 74-63. Also a section 3A resident.
3. Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa 9-0. Senior-dominated state runners-up of 2011 give way to a young Jaguars squad this year. Out-scores opponents 73-48, has had just 1 winning margin in single digits so far. Projected as section 6A champion, setting up a #1 vs. #3 in the 1st round.
4. Prairie Seeds Academy 8-0. Turned some heads with a state record 165-37 win over Math & Science Academy. Out-scoring opponents by an average 106-55. Projected as section 4A champion, getting section 5A champ in the 1st round and the winner of sections 1 vs. 8 in the semis.
5. Browerville 9-1. Outscoring opponents 67-49. Projected as section 5A champion, getting the 4A champ in the 1st round.
6. FAIR Academy 10-1. The Mpls. charter school has lost only to Prairie Seeds 84-83. Out-scoring opponents 83-55 on average. Will face Prairie Seeds in section 4A.
7. Lakeview Christian 8-2. Out-scoring opponents 88-73 behind the scoring exploits of Anders Broman, who as a junior is well on his way to becoming Minnesota's all-time leading scorer. Projected as the section 7A champions, getting section 2A in 1st round state tournament action.
8. Mountain Lake-Butterfield-Odin 9-1. Fresh off 50-48 win over Ellsworth, out-scoring opponents 61-51. Projected as section 2A champions, drawing section 7A champ at state.
9. Ashby 8-0. Walloping opponents 76-49. Opposite BBE in section 6.
10. Rushford-Peterson 10-2. 2-time state champs are projected as section 1A champ, and draw section 8A champ in 1st round.
11. Battle Lake 9-0. Out-scoring opponents 58-33. Section 6A.
12. Ellsworth 8-4. Recently lost Casey Schilling to a wrist injury, possibly for the season. Section 3A.
13. Russell-Tyler-Ruthton 9-1. Lost only to Ellsworth. Section 3A.
14. Goodhue 7-3. Section 1A.
15. Cass Lake-Bena 9-1. Lost only at Red Lake 112-107 in OT. Projected as section 8A champ.
16. Fosston 6-0. Section 8A.
17. Spring Grove 8-2. Out-scoring opponents 74-43, lost to Rushford-Pete and Goodhue. Section 1A.
18. Faribault Bethlehem 9-2. Section 1A.
19. MCCRAY 7-3. Section 3A.
20. Maranatha Christian 5-4. Section 4A.
State semis might feature Lakeview Christian and Anders Broman vs. Southwest MN Christian, and Rushford-Peterson carry good old public school pride vs. Prairie Seeds Academy.
Tyus Jones, Apple Valley, 6-3, soph., G, 28 ppg, Player of the Year
Siyani Chambers, Hopkins, 5-11, sr., G
Joey King, Eastview, 6-8, sr., F, 28 ppg
Sanjay Lumpkin, Benilde-St. Margaret's, 6-6, sr., G
Rashad Vaughan, Robbinsdale Cooper, 6-5, soph., G, 29 ppg
Anders Broman, Lakeview Christian, 6-1, jr., G, 46 ppg
Kyle Bauman, United South Central, 6-8, sr., F
Michael Busack, Redwood Valley, 6-4, sr., G
Tyler Vaughan, Braham, 6-0, sr., G
Sean Scott, Spring Lake Park, 6-4, sr., F, 26 ppg
Johnny Woodard, Duluth East, 6-3, sr., F
Taylor Stafford, Duluth East, 6-0, sr., G, 33 ppg
Zach Stahl, Hopkins, 6-5, sr., F
Mark Schumacher, Perham, 6-6, sr., C
Marcus Marshall, St. Paul Johnson, 6-2, sr., G
Coach of the Year
Mark Gerber, Eastview