The tournament field is set, and now the seeds and match-ups, too. I'm moving my earlier tournament previews from 5 weeks ago up so they're located right behind this new preview, at least for the moment, because, well, 24 of the 32 entrants are the ones I picked way back then. 30 of my 32 picks got to their section finals where they won 24 and lost 6.
Quarter-final action starts on Wednesday.
Class AAAA Wednesday at Target Center
Hopkins (28-1) gets the #1 seed and remains the favorite, as they have been all year long. Forget that little blip where they lost to Centennial and fell out of the #1 spot, because I can assure you the teams still playing have forgotten about it. Hopkins has bounced back with 15 straight wins and should be playing with confidence. The only issue for the Royals is integrating guard T.T. Starks back into the lineup after a 2-month absence due to a knee injury. She came off the bench in the section final. We'll see what coach Brian Cosgriff has in mind for her at Target Center.
Kennedy (26-3, #2 seed) and Eastview (27-2, #3) are the only teams with the talent to challenge Hopkins. If it's athleticism that you like, then Kennedy's your challenger. If it's precision execution, then Eastview's more your style. They split 2 regular season games, and they're likely to play their rubber match on Thursday night in the AAAA semi-final.
St. Paul Central (26-4, #4) and Osseo (21-8, #5) got the final seeds and so get dark-horse designation. But Hopkins has beaten both by 41 and 46 points, respectively, so a semi-final upset in this bracket is out of the question. They meet at noon on Wednesday to decide who gets blown out by Hopkins again.
As for the unseeded: Anoka (20-9) and St. Michael-Albertville (24-5) bring a lot of depth to the tournament but lack the superstar player like a Nia Coffey (Hopkins), Kenisha Bell and Jade Martin (Kennedy) and Maddie Guebert (Eastview) who can put her team over the top. Rochester Mayo (21-7) is the darkest of the dark-horses. A win by any of these 3 would be among the greatest upsets in girls tournament history. And so the specific match-ups probably don't matter a whole lot. It's just a question of whether they'll get bludgeoned or sliced-and-diced. But for the record the match-ups are:
• #1 Hopkins vs. St. Michael-Albertville, 10 a.m.
• #2 Kennedy vs. Anoka, 2 p.m.
• #3 Eastview vs. Rochester Mayo, 4 p.m.
Don't Miss: Kennedy vs. Eastview in the semis. Either way, the final will again be an anti-climax as Nia Coffey proves herself to be the unofficial MVP of Class AAAA.
Class AAA Wednesday at Williams Arena
In AAAA the 4 and 5 seeds look like close-enough calls, but here it starts right at the top. I mean, how do you deny one of only 2 unbeatens left in the state? But, how do you deny the 2-time defending state champs? Or a returning state runner-up on a 21-game winning streak, including 3 sectional wins by an average of 39 points? Of course, the defending state champ won their 3 section games by an average of 40 points, and has lost only to the #1, #2 and #3-rated teams in AAAA and #1AA. Meanwhile, the unbeaten won 3 section games by an average of 17 and the section final by just 1.
Shake it all together and the coaches came up with this:
1. Richfield 26-3, defending state runner-up, #3 AP, #1 QRF, 69-44 average score
2. DeLaSalle 25-4, 2X defending state champ, #2 AP, #5 QRF, 72-48 average score
3. Fergus Falls 29-0, #1 AP, #7 QRF, 68-42 average score
You could argue this any way you want, but I happen to think they got it wrong. A 2X defending state champ deserves the #1 seed among 3 deserving teams, more so than even an undefeated record or a 21-game win streak.
Likewise you can argue #4 and #5 any which way but I think they got that one right, though one might have hoped for something other than a match-up of 2 teams that have already played one another twice--rivals in what may soon be a defunct conference, the Missota. Not that the match-up isn't without intrigue. Red Wing, after all, swept New Prague, yet the Trojans finished in 2nd in the conference at 10-4 with the Wingers 4th at 9-5. It's also true that Red Wing finished the regular season on a 4-5 run, New Prague on a 5-0 run, but of course both won 3 straight games in the section. I say 3 on a match is tough, and New Prague should prevail here. They play at noon on Wednesday.
Chisago Lakes, Hill-Murray and Monticello get the deserved but thankless job of meeting #1, 2 and 3 in the 1st round. A win by any of these 3 will be, well, an upset. For the record it will be:
• #1 Richfield vs. Hill-Murray, 10 a.m.
• #2 DeLaSalle vs. Chisago, 2 p.m.
• #3 Fergus vs. Monticello, 4 p.m.
The big point is that Richfield won't have to play one of the other big 3 until the finals, whereas DeLaSalle or Fergus will have to beat 2 of the big 3.
Don't Miss: I think DeLaSalle will in fact beat the other 2 of the big 3 and the one not to miss, then, is DeLaSalle and Richfield in a repeat of last year's final. Tyseanna Johnson will show that she rates ahead of Jessica January on the individual list as well.
Class AA Wednesday at Target and Williams
No seeds to worry about here, so all you've got to worry about is the 2 top teams facing off in the 1st round. Or, like, the 2nd and 3rd best teams.... Well, not to worry, that's a crisis that has been averted in AA (not so much in A).
If there were seeds they'd be #1 Providence, #2 New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva, #3 Braham and #4 Sauk Centre, and all 4 are likely to make it to the semi-finals. If so, RE-MATCH is the word for AA. A Providence-Braham semi would be a rematch of the 2011 final. That was "elbow-gate," when a Rebekah Dahlman elbow put Leah Szabla on the deck and threw Lions coach Ray Finley into a lather. Braham went on to win that game and the state title 68-61.
A NRHEG-Sauk semi would be a replay of last year's semi won by Sauk 56-39. You might recall that the Sauk defense shut Carlie Wagner down, relatively speaking (15 points compared to 43 and 48 in her other 2 games). Granted, Sauk has lost superstar Kali Peschel to graduation, but frankly the Sauk D won't look a whole lot different. Can Carlie and coach Jon Schultz and the Panthers find a way to up the offensive output?
Anything other than a Providence-NRHEG final will be a huge surprise, it's true, but Dahlman getting into the Lions' heads and the Mainstreeters D could produce just such a surprise. Providence vs. NRHEG may not be the slam dunk it appeared earlier in the year.
1st round games:
• Pine Island vs. Providence, 6 p.m., Target
• BOLD vs. Braham, 8 p.m., Target
• Mpls. Washburn vs. Sauke Centre, 6 p.m., Williams
• New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva vs. Pelican Rapids, 8 p.m., Williams
Don't Miss: Braham-Providence in the semi. Will Rebekah Dahlman get into the Lions' heads again? Win, lose or draw, I think Dahlman will actually out-shine Carlie Wagner for unofficial MVP of Class AA.
Class A Thursday at Williams
The spotlight in Class A has shifted from the small towns (Fosston, Fulda, Ada) to the metro (Maranatha is 2X defending champ with wins over Nicollet and Mountain Iron-Buhl in the past 2 finals). A three-peat is only ever so slightly less likely than in AAAA and AAA, but Mountain Iron-Buhl comes in rated #1 with Maranatha #2, MIB having defeated Maranatha 65-57 in January and having a 28-2 record to Maranatha's 26-4. But that game was at MIB, so somewhere from toss-up to a slight favorite for Maranatha is perhaps the most reasonable expectation. But we'll just call it a toss-up.
But unlike AA, 1st you've got an unfortunate 1st round match-up. It's entirely possible that MIB and Minneota (27-2) may be the best 2 teams in Class A, or at least #2 and #3, and they'll square off at 1 p.m. in the 1st round. Too bad. Maranatha has a much easier path to the final in Ada-Borup (26-3 but not the powerhouse they were in 2008-2009) (at 3 p.m.) and then either Mankato Loyola (26-3) or Win-E-Mac (27-2), who meet at 5 p.m.
Once again, rematch is the word: Maranatha defeated MIB 49-37 in last year's final, and it seems likely they'll meet again.
The other 1st round game matches Faribault Bethlehem and Jessie Mathews vs. Upsala and Aimee Pelzer inthe lid-lifter at 11 a.m.
Don't Miss: Minneota vs. Mountain Iron-Buhl in the quarter-finals. It may be your only chance to see the great and powerful Taylor Reiss of Minnesota in the state tournament again this year. In just 1 game, she will establish herself as quite obviously the best player in the Class A field and will of course therefore not make the all-tournament team.