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.
Forward-looking basketball fans in the Twin Cities might see Wednesday's game at East Ridge as a preview to a potential Class 4A state tournament matchup.
Those with an even longer view might be interested in the game as a first look at the University of St. Thomas' incoming freshman class.
East Ridge's Kendall Blue, a guard averaging nearly 22 points a game, and Wayzata's Carter Bjerke, a forward with three-point range who is averaging 18.4 points per game, will be freshman teammates with the Tommies in the fall. Those two, along with forward Ahjany Lee (Totino-Grace by way of Byron) and guard Andrew Rohde from Brookfield, Wisconsin, form an exciting recruiting class for the first-year Division-I program from St. Paul.
You could call Wednesday's game between ranked Class 4A teams a St. Thomas preunion. But, for now, Wednesday's game should be an enticing matchup of two of the state's best teams and a few of the state's best players.
No. 8-4A Wayzata (12-4, 4-1) fell from the top third of the Minnesota Basketball News rankings after a 60-53 loss to unranked Eden Prairie last week but rebounded with a 72-57 victory at No. 4-4A Minnetonka. The loss to Eden Prairie snapped a six-game winning streak.
No. 3-4A East Ridge (13-2, 9-0) takes an eight-game win streak into Wednesday's game. Junior Alex Mattes averages nearly 19 points and gives the Raptors a strong scoring combo along with Blue.
The teams, both coached by former St. Thomas basketball players, play a similar style and have similar resumes this season. Despite playing in difference conferences, the teams have played six common opponents so far this season. The Trojans are 5-1 and the Raptors 4-2 against Cretin-Derham Hall, Lakeville North, Lakeville South, Edina, Hopkins and Eden Prairie. Wayzata's loss came against Eden Prairie; East Ridge lost to Lakeville South and Edina.
As for the reunion part of this game? East Ridge coach Josh Peltier played for St. Thomas from 2007-10 while Wayzata coach Bryan Schnettler played for the Tommies from 2004-07 and ended his playing days as the all-time leading three-point shooter in Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference history.
Unbeaten and No. 3-3A South St. Paul seems to have a tight grip on the Metro East Conference race. But there's a logjam in the race for second place, and Wednesday's game at Tartan could create a little separation among that group.
Tartan (11-2, 6-1) leads a four-team group that includes Mahtomedi (9-4, 5-2), St. Thomas Academy and Simley (both 4-3 in conference play). A victory for the home team would give the Titans a stronger grip on the spot behind South St. Paul.
Tartan's only losses have been to No. 6-4A Hopkins and South St. Paul. A balanced scoring attack led by seniors Sam Yanz (14.4 points per game), D'Marco Chelley (13.2 ppg) and AJ Burns (12.2 ppg) has helped the Titans to four consecutive victories.
Mahtomedi has won six consecutive games after a 3-4 start. Junior Owen Carlson averages 23. 2 points per game. Two more juniors, Cole Armitage (14.2 ppg) and AJ McCleery (12.2 ppg), give the Zephyrs plenty of scoring options.
These are different teams from a year ago, but if last season's matchups have any bearing on this season, the game could be close. Tartan won both games the teams played in 2020-21 by a total of six points.
DeLaSalle coach Travis Bledsoe kept his team in the locker room for nearly half an hour after a 75-60 loss at Columbia Heights on Jan. 11. Bledsoe's team was sloppy against the Hylanders' pressure and was outscored by 21 points in the second half and the Islanders coach was not happy.
Something Bledsoe said must have taken hold in his players' minds because No. 4-3A DeLaSalle (10-5, 6-1 Tri-Metro) won its next four games by a combined 102 points. It's certain neither Bledsoe nor his players expect that trend to continue, because Friday's rematch against No. 2-3A Columbia Heights (14-0, 7-0) starts a nine-game regular season-ending stretch that includes a lot of tough competition.
Besides the Hylanders, DeLaSalle faces Blake, No. 4-4A Minnetonka, Cretin-Derham Hall, No. 8-4A Wayzata and No. 6-4A Hopkins to close the regular season.
DeLaSalle annually plays one of the toughest schedules in the state and this year is no different. The Islanders' losses at the beginning of the season came against No. 1-4A Park Center, No. 1-3A Totino-Grace, No. 1-2A Minneapolis North, No. 2-3A Columbia Heights and Minneapolis South.
The Islanders have won seven state championships since 2012 and have been to the state tournament 22 times since 1990. How the team plays down the stretch could have something to tell about how the Islanders will fare in this postseason.
The Hylanders, meanwhile, remain unbeaten as of Jan. 31 and, at least for now, have bragging rights over the Islanders.
Caledonia vs. LaCrescent-Hokah, 7 p.m., Friday, Feb. 4. Caledonia (14-0, 3-0) has owned this Three Rivers East Conference matchup since it started in 2016, winning all 14 games by a combined 418 points, or an average of 30 per game. No. 2-2A Caledonia should win again, but the Lancers (12-3, 3-0) could make it close this time.
Cherry vs. Hayfield, 12:30 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 5. Losses to Nevis and No. 2-1A Cass Lake-Bena in the second half of January knocked Cherry (12-3, 3-0) out of the Class 1A top 10 and now the Tigers face the top-ranked Class A team at Hayfield (16-1, 10-0).
The MN Basketball Hub poll is for entertainment purposes only.