EDIT March 5: Isle is my 1st pick to go away, losing to Pine River Backus 60-52 in a section 5A semi-final. Clearbrook-Gonvick, who I labelled a threat but not a favorite in section 8A also went down on Tuesday night.
EDIT March 10: I got everything else right include #2 Ada over #1 Parkers Prairie in 6A.
We're about a month away and it's not too early to anticipate what we might see at Target Center and Williams Arena.
Class A Thursday March 14 Williams Arena
11 a.m. Section 1 vs. Section 5
Section 1 should be represented by #1A (QRF) Goodhue (20-5) or #3A (AP poll) Faribault Bethlehem (20-4). I'll go with BA because they won at Goodhue 60-57 about 10 days ago. Either way you'll see a superb Class A guard in BA's Jessica Mathews or Goodhue's Mikayla Miller. Blooming Prairie (16-8 with a win at Faribault BA) and defending section champion Spring Grove (20-6) are also threats. The Section 1 rep will probably be favored versus the Section 5 rep, especially if it's 1 of the big 2.
The Section 5 rep will either be Isle (#8 QRF, 18-5) or Upsala (#13, 19-3). Upsala defeated Isle 52-48 but that was at Upsala way back on January 3. Either way you'll see a superb Class A guard in Isle's Andrea Zimpel or Upsala's Jamie Pelzer. But then again Pine River-Backus (19-3), led by superb Class A guard Tatum Sheley, could surprise. Probably the most competitive Class A section.
1 p.m. Section 3 vs. Section 7
It's a shame Class A doesn't seed because Minneota (#7 QRF, 22-2) and Mountain Iron-Buhl (#3 QRF, 22-2) would surely be among the top 4 or 5 teams. MIB would be #1 or #2, Minneota #4 or #5. Of course, 1st they have to get here.
In Section 7, MIB will have to avenge a loss at North Woods (20-2) but that's exactly what happened last year. MIB lost to North Woods during the regular season, then won the Section 7 title (though they didn't actually beat North Woods; North Woods lost to Barnum, who then lost to MIB). MIB will bring 1 of the state's most dynamic guard groups to the tournament, with 8th graders Mya Buffetta and Chelsea Mason in the starting roles.
Minneota counters with 6-2 center Taylor Reiss. As a hoops fan, I must say it's a shame she's more committed to volleyball because she is not much short of spectacular on a basketball court. And it's a shame that either of these 2 teams won't be in the semi-finals of Class A.
3 p.m. Section 4 vs. Section 6
2-time defending state champ Maranatha (#2 QRF, 20-4) looks like a lock in Section 4 while Section 6 looks highly competitive. You may interpret that to mean that Maranatha looks like a lock to advance at least to the state semis, and you'd be right.
Parkers Prairie (#6, 19-1) and Ada-Borup (#18, 20-2) are both perennial powers associated with John, Sari and now Micaela Noga (Parkers) and Dave, Nicole and Kelli Smart (Ada) over the years. But despite still having a Noga on the roster versus no Smart girls for Ada anymore, and despite Parkers' higher rating, I kinda like Ada, partly on the basis of their recent rout at highly regarded Win-E-Mac. That and the fact that no team ever comes into a game better prepared than a Smart team. But, unfortunately, all the preparation in the world is not going to be enough to overcome Maranatha's talent advantage at state.
5 p.m. Section 2 vs. Section 8
Probably the weakest match-up of the day, I'll probably be bailing after the 1st 3 games to head over to Target for the Class AAAA semis. Sorry.
The likely match-up is newcomers Mankato Loyola (#5 QRF, 22-2) and Win-E-Mac (#15, 21-1), though Clearbrook-Gonvick (#26, 20-2) is also a threat in Section 8. Still, I'll go with Win-E-Mac both in Section 8 and in this quarter-final match-up. Win-E-Mac has 2 genuine go-to players in junior forward Shelby Kaster and 9th grade guard Madison McKeever. Loyola is led by coach's daughters Lindsay (8th grade) and Jordyn (11th) Theuninck, and 11th graders Aunikah Bastian and Annie Nawrocki, but none of them is the equal to Kaster or McKeever. So 2014 is more their year.
Semi-Finals and Finals
Mountain Iron-Buhl and Maranatha, assuming they get that far, are prohibitive faves to get to the final, which will be a replay of last year's 49-37 Maranatha win. This year, MIB has already defeated Maranatha 65-57 at MIB. So this year's game will be higher scoring than last year, but on a neutral court I think Maranatha will repeat, let's say 53-51.
BA beats Win-E-Mac for 3rd place.
This is my all-tournament team.
C- Taylor Reiss, Minneota. Probably won't make all-tournament as a result of the 1st round loss, but the fact is she'll be the best player in the field.
C- Onye Osemenam, Maranatha
F- Allie Knuti, Mountain Iron-Buhl
G- Maddy Lee, Maranatha
G- Chelsea Mason, Mountain Iron-Buhl