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.
It's possible, and not at all implausible, that we could some day soon look back on Friday night's game at Park Center as the true state championship game.
Both Totino-Grace (Class 3A) and Park Center (Class 4A) have been ranked No. 1 by Minnesota Basketball News for most of this season, although the Eagles were overtaken by Columbia Heights this week. Nevertheless, both are on a trajectory that could lead to a state championship at the end of March.
But the visiting Eagles (15-5, 12-1) beat Park Center on their home court on Jan. 21, and a victory Friday on the Pirates' court would give Totino-Grace a season sweep and a strong argument as the better team should both teams finish the season with state championship trophies.
Totino-Grace beat Park Center 64-61 on Jan. 21 despite Patrick Bath and Taison Chatman both being held well below their scoring averages. Zy'lerre Stewart nearly tripled his average with 14 points in the victory.
But the victory did come at a cost for the Eagles, who have lost three of the seven games since that victory, including one to conference rival No. 8-4A Osseo. Park Center, meanwhile, has won six in a row since that loss.
Only two of the Eagles' five losses have come against Minnesota teams. Caledonia beat Totino-Grace 68-67 on Jan. 29. And that loss could eventually add an interesting wrinkle to a possible "true" state champion discussion, because the Knights are the top-ranked team in Class 2A.
Whether or not these teams take home state titles in March, Friday's game is sure to provide plenty of entertainment and competition nearly at a college level. At tip-off on Friday night, no starter will stand shorter than 6-3 Braeden Carrington, and the Pirates' leading scorer will be playing next season at the University of Minnesota.
A Metro East Conference championship is almost certain for South St. Paul if the No. 3-3A Packers (20-0, 10-0) can win at Tartan (15-3, 8-2) on Friday night.
If that seems like a bit of a pedestrian accomplishment, consider this: South St. Paul finished winless in league play six times in the nine seasons between 2010 and 2019 and won just six of 144 conference games in those years.
So, yeah, a second consecutive Metro East Conference championship is a pretty big deal. A possible unbeaten regular season and a chance to play in the state tournament for the first time since 1970 is also a big deal.
The Packers' rise was swift. After going 1-24 in 2016-17 (the team's seventh consecutive season with at least 21 losses), South St. Paul went 7-19 in 2017-18 and 8-18 in 2018-19 as young players such as Devin Newsome and Alonzo Dodd developed.
Two years ago, the Packers went 10-6 in the conference and 17-9 overall and reached the Section 3 semifinals. Last season, South St. Paul won the league title with a 15-1 record and finished 19-2 overall but lost to Richfield in the section championship.
Newsome (19.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists per game), Dodd (17.8 points, 10.4 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 4.5 steals) and Shawn West-Zimpel (12.2 points) are seniors now and the Packers will have to try to continue their upward swing without them. But, for now, the Packers are focused on going somewhere no South St. Paul boys' basketball team has gone for more than 50 years.
Tartan, meanwhile, will try to even the season series with the Packers. South St. Paul won 79-62 on its home floor on Jan. 18. The Titans start the week a game and a half up on Mahtomedi and St. Thomas Academy in the conference standings and have both teams remaining on the schedule, including Wednesday's game at St. Thomas Academy.
D'Marco Chelley averages nearly 15 points per game to lead the Titans.
Hayfield won a Class 1A state championship last spring, then lost the 2021 Class 1A player of the year Ethan Slaathaug to graduation.
A rebuilding year for the Vikings?
Hardly. Hayfield is ranked No. 1 in Class 1A and has won 19 consecutive games since an early season loss to Section 1 rival Rushford-Peterson, now ranked ninth in Class A.
On Friday, the Vikings (21-1, 14-0 Gopher) face perhaps their toughest test before the playoffs begin when they travel to No. 3-1A Martin County West (17-2, 11-1 Valley).
The Mavericks (19-2, 12-1 Valley) won their first 16 games before losing two of their last five. They have just one regular-season game left after Friday's game against Hayfield.
Cretin-Derham Hall vs. Irondale, 7 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 15. Tre Holloman scored 36 points but it wasn't enough to prevent Irondale to escape with an 81-80 double-overtime victory on Jan. 7. With both teams battling for second place in the Suburban East, Holloman and the Raiders go to Irondale with a chance to avenge the earlier decision.
East Ridge vs. Minneapolis North, 3 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 19. No. 2-2A Minneapolis North hosts another high-profile opponent when No. 4-4A East Ridge comes to town. The Polars already have hosted No. 1-4A Park Center, No. 4-3A DeLaSalle, No. 7-4A Hopkins and play No. 3-4A Wayzata on Feb. 28.
Minnetonka vs. Hopkins, 7 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 15. No. 5-4A Minnetonka left the Hopkins gym with a 73-72 victory on Jan. 21. No. 7-4A Hopkins gets the opportunity to reverse the decision on the Skippers' court.
The MN Basketball Hub poll is for entertainment purposes only.