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Top Games: Defending state champions clash as Minnehaha Academy takes on Wayzata

By Mark Hvidsten, SportsEngine, 01/10/22, 4:00PM CST


Jan. 11: The Redhawks are back in Class 2A and looking to re-establish themselves after Suggs, Holmgren and two years in Class 3A.

Photo by SportsEngine

We task our reporters with identifying several intriguing games throughout the state to assemble our Top Games of the Week. The matchups are presented in no particular order, and when there are additional games we want to highlight, we’ll include them with brief notes.

Minnehaha Academy vs. Wayzata

7 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 11

It is a strange season indeed at Minnehaha Academy.

First, the defending Class 3A state champions are back in Class 2A. And, while the Redhawks continue each night to put on the floor a talented group of players that still draws attention from college recruiters, there are no more five-star prospects and top-10 NBA draft picks on the roster.

Second, the Redhawks (1-4, 0-0) have lost four consecutive games. Senior Prince Aligbe, who has been a starter since his freshman season, had been on the losing team just six times in his first 80 varsity games before this season.

That record is largely a result of Minnehaha Academy's usual schedule of games against some of the state's best teams. The Redhawks remain fourth in  the Minnesota Basketball News Class 2A rankings released Jan. 5 because of strength of schedule. The team's losses have been to No. 1-2A Minneapolis North, No. 5-4A East Ridge and Class 4A schools Eastview (out of the top 10 now but previously ranked fifth) and St. Louis Park.

Tuesday's nonconference game against No. 3-4A Wayzata (7-3, 0-0) is another big test for the new-look Redhawks, who despite their 1-4 record have a point differential of just minus-24 (347-323).

The 6-foot-7 Aligbe, averaging 26 points, continues to be a versatile and productive player for the Redhawks. He had been overshadowed by the likes of Jalen Suggs and Chet Holmgren his first three seasons. Mercy Miller, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, averages 26.3 points.

Wayzata is in a bit of a transition, too. The Trojans claimed the school's second state championship (the first was in 1959) last spring but lost starters Eddie Beeninga (14.8 points per game), Kody Williams (8.5 ppg) to graduation and Purdue commit Cam Heide (17.9 ppg) to a transfer.

Carter Bjerke, a 6-foot-9 senior and a dangerous three-point shooter, and Drew Berkland, a 6-foot senior Trojans coach Bryan Schnettler has called perhaps the school's best athlete, remain on the roster. Bjerke, a St. Thomas commit, is averaging nearly 20 points a game; Berkland averages about 11. Senior Hayden Tibbits has picked up some of the scoring slack with his 14.6 points-per-game average.

This week will be a test for the Trojans, who will have to look toward Thursday's game against No 4-3A Lakeville North as soon as Tuesday's game ends.

Mankato East vs. Mankato West

7:45 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 11

Mankato East and Mankato West will play on the big stage on Tuesday night. The intracity rivalry game will be played at Minnesota State-Mankato with a primetime 7:45 p.m. start.

It's a fitting setting for a rivalry that was reignited last season. After losing eight consecutive games to Mankato East, the Scarlets broke the spell held by its rival in a big way. Mankato West split the season series but went on to win their first conference title and make their first state tournament appearance in 11 seasons.

With seniors Mekhi Collins (16.4 points, 8.5 rebounds last season) and Louis Magers (10 points, 6 rebounds) back on the roster, the Scarlets (7-1, 5-0) are ranked seventh in Class 3A. Both players are capable of scoring 20-plus on any night; both teams passed that mark in a 67-54 victory over Rochester Mayo on Dec. 17.

Mankato West's only loss this season is to No. 3-3A South St. Paul (78-62) on Dec. 30 at the Capital City Classic. But the Scarlets won't be able to overlook Mankato East (4-4, 3-3).

The Cougars have an imposing front line in 6-foot-9 senior B.J. Omot (21 points, 8 rebounds last season) and 6-foot-6 Poulrah Gong (15 points, 5 rebounds in 20-21). Add transfer Meer Othow (Worthington) and senior guard Sean Clement (11 points in 20-21) and Mankato East has plenty of firepower. The Cougars came within four points (66-62) of defeating South St. Paul at the Breakdown Tip Off Classic on Dec. 11.

The teams meet again Feb. 18 at Mankato East.

Blake vs. St. Paul Academy

7 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 11

COVID-19 killed Blake's golden opportunity last season. The Bears were forced to forfeit their quarterfinal game in the Class 2A, Section 5 playoffs in a season in which Minnehaha Academy was in Class 3A and section rival Minneapolis North was not at its peak.

While Blake returns leading scorers Grayson Okoronkwo and Theo Liu, the Bears lost a lot of talent and leadership to graduation in Robert Grace IV, Jasper Liu and Gabe Ganz. So the Bears once again will be slugging it out with powerful Independent Metro Athletic Conference and section rivals, including Tuesday's opponent St. Paul Academy (7-1, 1-1).

The Bears' 66-43 loss to Providence Academy last week came after a 15-day layoff caused by the cancelation of its Granite City Classic holiday tournament and gives this game added importance to Blake (5-2, 1-1).

Okoronkwo and Liu form a high-scoring duo in the Bears' backcourt. Okoronkwo, a 6-foot-1 sophomore, averages 24.6 points and Liu, a 6-foot-5 senior, averages 19.9. 

St. Paul Academy, meanwhile, is nearing is 2020-21 season victory total. The Spartans finished 9-8 overall last season and reached the the Class 2A, Section 4 semifinals.

Sophomore Ethan Carter (14 ppg) leads a balanced scoring attack that includes Brandt Baskerville (13.5 ppg), Tysen Hayes (11.5 ppg) and Clark Baskerville (9.9 ppg).

Tuesday's game could be the Spartans' biggest test until a three-game road swing from Jan. 27 to Feb. 4 that includes Minnehaha Academy, Blake and Providence Academy.

Other games to keep an eye on

Edina vs. Minneapolis North, 7 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 12. Edina (6-4, 0-1) fell out of the Class 4A rankings but only after losses to No. 1-4A Park Center, No. 2-4A Shakopee and No. 8-4A Osseo. The Hornets will test their abilities in a nonconference matchup against the No. 1-2A Polars (4-2, 1-0 ), which is coming off a 91-76 victory over No. 2-3A DeLaSalle.

East Ridge vs. Stillwater, 7 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 12. Stillwater (7-3, 3-1) could challenge No. 5-4A East Ridge (7-2, 3-0) in the Suburban East. The game features two of the state's best scorers in Ponies junior Max Shikenjanski (28.7 ppg) and the Raptors' Kendall Blue (22.8 ppg).

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