There’s probably still an unsettling feeling for Jamestown, Sheyenne, Bismarck and Davies after they reached the final four last year only to have the tournament get called the day of the semifinal round. The good news is that those four teams should all be right in the mix again this winter. Find out how I ranked the teams and check out my players to watch for the 2020-21 season.
Boys Class A
Does the target remain on your back when you’re technically the reigning state champs, but that title came two seasons ago? It’s an odd question, but in the midst of a pandemic, we have a lot of those lately.
My take is that the Blue Jays remain the team to beat, after all, they were one of the final four teams left standing when the pandemic brought the Class A state tournament to a halt. Despite losing the ND Gatorade Player of the Year Boden Skunberg (now a freshman with Bison hoops), Jamestown has a strong contingent back. The senior class is loaded with talent including Carson Lamp (15.9 PPG, 104 Assists), Brooks Carroll (14.7 PPG, 78 Treys), Jacob Hilgemann (7.1 PPG, 98 Assists) and 6’6” post player Keith Levin (9.3 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 33 Blocks). Jacoby Lloyd’s team averaged just under 80 points per game last year, a number that ranked 2nd behind Bismarck’s revamped up-tempo offense. The Blue Jays have such a great mix of offensive skill that they’ll be able to hurt teams in multiple ways.
Defensively, Hilgemann leads a group of long bodies that will make things difficult on opposing shooters. If you attack the paint on the Blue Jays, you can expect Levin or 6’7” junior Luke Van Berkom to meet you there. I see the Blue Jays flying high again this winter.
I don’t know if anyone was playing a more dominant brand of basketball late in the year last season than the Mustangs. After losing just two games in the regular season (both to Davies), Sheyenne responded by blowing out every team in the EDC tournament capped off by a 20-point victory over the Eagles in the championship game. They followed that up with an 81-55 victory over Dickinson in the state quarterfinal round.
The task for Tom Kirchoffner is to fill the spots left behind by a senior class that was both talented and full of good leadership qualities. Tyler Terhark, Zion Dettman, Blake Berg and Chuck DuBois all played huge roles for the Mustangs the past couple of seasons. Early on, look for Sheyenne to rely on its bigs because they have two of the best in the state in 6’10” Jacksen Moni (11 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 22 Blks) and 6’8” Jah’Heem Leake (7.4 PPG, 5.7 RPG). Those guys will be matchup nightmares for EDC teams to contend with, especially considering Moni’s ability to shoot the trey. He knocked down 34 triples a season ago. The size doesn’t end with those two. The Mustangs also have a pair of 6’6” juniors in Dominic Dosmann and Michael Nhial that are expected to contribute this season. NDSU football-commit Barika Kpeenu adds strength and leadership to the group. He’s a good ball-handler and will be asked to contribute more offensively. Gage Anderson is another guard that I expect big things from this winter. He showed great athleticism this fall on the football field and he’ll be given the opportunity to make a significant impact on the basketball court this winter.
Sheyenne has established a winning culture, going 64-12 over the last three seasons. I expect more of the same for the 2020-21 season.
If you had to pick one team that really grabbed people’s attention last year, it would be the Bismarck High Demons who finished in the final four after failing to reach the state tournament the year prior. Head Coach Jordan Wilhelm instituted a new up-tempo offense predicated on attacking the paint and attempting a lot of 3-pointers. The defensive philosophy changed, as well, with the team pressuring full court most of the game and utilizing the depth on the roster.
The results? The Demons jumped from 7th to 1st in the WDA in 3 pt FG attempts, shooting 753 of them which was over 200 more than the next highest total. They also jumped from 66.1 PPG (6th in WDA in 2018-19) to 84 PPG (1st in WDA in 2019-20). The defensive changes led to the team racking up an insane 297 steals, which ended up leading the WDA by more than 100. The Demons return their top four scorers from a year ago and they each averaged double figures in scoring: seniors Gunner Swanson (14 PPG), Max Tschosik (11.7 PPG), Logan Schaubert (10.3 PPG) and junior Treysen Eaglestaff (11.6 PPG). Swanson has already signed to play college ball at U Mary. His diverse skill set and ability to defend the opponent’s best player makes him one of the top players in the state.
The Demons are going to frustrate a lot of teams this year and time will tell if it results in their first state championship since 2010.
4. West Fargo
There’s a buzz surrounding this year’s West Fargo squad. I’ve heard from a lot of coaches that expect big things from the Packers in the 2020-21 season after finishing 13-11 a year ago.
6’5” senior Carter Birrenkott (12.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG) is entering his third year as a starter and will be the leader of the group. The junior class has a lot of great contributors led by 6’3” Carson Hegerle and 6’1” Brett Limke. Hegerle’s athleticism is off the charts which will help him on both ends, while Limke is a floor general that can fill it up from outside. They’ll need to replace All-EDC performers Matt Miller and Hunter Lyman, but I think Head Coach Adam Palczewski has the roster to do that. Palczewski says, “We need to focus on being more aggressive on the offensive end as we had a down year scoring. Defensively we also need to play much harder and smarter.” I see the Packers taking a big step forward this season.
The 2019-20 Davies squad was loaded with seniors and that helped them run up a 23-2 record, finishing their season in the semifinal round due to the pandemic.
This year’s roster for the Eagles will look a lot different with just one main contributor returning in 6’7” senior Owen Hektner (13 PPG, 5 RPG, 47 Treys). Head Coach Bart Manson has some high praise for Hektner, “(He’ll) be one of the best players in our league and the state. He can do it all. He can make the three and he can also score from the block.”
A lot of the guys you’ll see on the floor for the Eagles this winter were part of a JV team that finished 19-2 overall. Junior Ian Motschenbacher takes over the point guard spot. He’s great at distributing the ball and finding his own shot. He’ll be one to watch. Senior Latrell Davis is an athlete that put in a lot of work in the offseason according to Manson. I expect him to be an impact player for the Eagles, as well. With all the roster turnover, I was teetering on including Davies in my preseason top five. But, you have to go all the way back to the 2012-13 season to find the lAst time that Davies failed to reach 20 wins in a season. That’s a remarkable feat and this program deserves to be a top-five preseason squad despite the question marks surrounding that departed senior class.
Bubble Teams: Legacy, Century, Mandan
Buzzer Beater Thoughts
I had a difficult time with the four and five spots. I would’ve felt comfortable putting West Fargo, Davies and Legacy in any order.
The Sabers are the team I left out, but I could see them contending for a WDA title when it’s all said and done. Jason Horner’s team was forced to mature lAst year dealing with multiple injuries. Senior Nick Kupfer only played in six games last season after averaging 11.7 points per game as a sophomore. The team also gains Lyric Hoffman who sat out last year with a knee injury. The Sabers are going to be fun to watch this season.
I think Century is poised to bounce back after a .500 season last year. Ian Ely returns after averaging 11.7 PPG last season. The sophomore class has some gems in it led by 6’2” guard Anthony Doppler who scored 6 points a contest during his freshman year.
Mandan graduated with some good talent highlighted by Elijah Klein, but this group still has some good pieces highlighted by senior guard Jayce Lowman. Brandon Schafer should have his team right in the mix come playoff time.
Top 10 Players to Watch
- Carter Birrenkott, Sr. West Fargo: 12.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 17 Blks
- Brooks Carroll, Sr. Jamestown: 14.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 78 Treys
- Carson Hegerle, Jr. West Fargo: 11.2 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 80 Ast
- Owen Hektner, Sr. Davies: 13 PPG, 5 RPG, 58 Stls, 47 Treys
- Nick Kupfer, Sr. Legacy: 10.9 PPG, 5.3 RPG
- Carson Lamp, Sr. Jamestown: 15.9 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 104 Ast
- Jayce Lowman, Sr. Mandan: 13.8 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 61 Treys
- Deonte Martinez, Sr. Minot: 11.2 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 80 Ast
- Jacksen Moni, Sr. Sheyenne: 11 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 22 Blk
- Gunner Swanson, Sr. Bismarck: 14 PPG, 5 RPG, 67 Treys