Clockwise from top left: Leo Torbor, Park Center; Carter Bjerke, Wayzata; Nasir Whitlock, DeLaSalle; Patrick Bathl, Totino-Grace. (Star Tribune and SportsEngine photos)
CLASS 4A BOYS’ BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
8 p.m., Williams Arena
Park Center (No. 1 seed, 30-1) vs. Wayzata (No. 3, 27-4)
Why Park Center will win: The Pirates are easily the most talented team in Class 4A and added more talent with the addition of sophomore guard Cash Chavis, who started the season with Class 3A finalist DeLaSalle. They showed a side of themselves rarely seen this season, leaning on intense on-ball defense and the ability to recover to hold Eastview to 29.5% shooting from the floor and a season-low 39 points. They have two Division I signees in Braeden Carrington (Minnesota) and Leo Torbor (San Jose State). With just one loss, they know how to close out games.
Why Wayzata will win: The Trojans’ 2021 state-title run paid dividends in the semifinals. They kept their composure despite trailing Cretin-Derham Hall 39-35 with 6:19 remaining and went on a game-clinching 19-3 run. No team plays in a more connected fashion than Wayzata, which has no weak spots in its eight-player rotation. Their hallmark is their team play and consistent motion and all of them are threat to score. At 6-9 and blessed with a terrific outside shooting touch, Carter Bjerke presents matchup problems for defenses. Since the first of the year, Wayzata has been nearly unbeatable, having won 17 straight and 22 of 23.
One thing to know: Park Center beat Wayzata 66-62 at the Breakdown Classic in early December.
The quote: “They're one of the most talented teams in the state, if not the most talented team, but we’re ready for that challenge,” Bjerke said. “ We lost to them early in the year and we’re still bitter about that. We’re going to come out swinging. We want to repeat.”
CLASS 3A BOYS’ BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
5 p.m., Williams Arena
No. 1 seed Totino-Grace (25-6) vs. No. 3 DeLaSalle (22-7)
Why DeLaSalle will win: Defense and chemistry. The latter was resolved through roster changes in the weeks following the Islanders’ 61-58 loss Dec. 18 at Totino-Grace. “We play way better team basketball,” DeLaSalle coach Travis Bledsoe said. “Our chemistry is at an all-time high right now.” As for the defense, the Islanders made believers out of Princeton. “Their speed and athleticism kind of kept us contained,” Tigers senior guard Cooper Nowak said. “We couldn’t get to the hoop as easily as we have against the other teams we’ve played.”
Why Totino-Grace will win: Depth. Mankato East coach Joe Madson meant it as a compliment, the fact that he didn’t notice Eagles guard Taison Chatman in terms of scoring in the semifinal. While Chatman scored only five points (to go with 11 rebounds and nine assists), Totino-Grace still blew the Cougars off the Williams Arena raised floor. “They’ve just got a lot of options,” Madson said. “[Chatman is] the kid you’re probably putting at the top of the scout sheet, but the bottom of their scout sheet is also really good.”
One thing to know: DeLaSalle, located in Minneapolis, has won 12 state championships, its most recent coming under Bledsoe’s watch in 2019. Totino-Grace,in Fridley, has never played for the title.
The quote: “Totino’s got the studs on the offensive end, but I think DeLaSalle is going to be able to get stops,” Princeton coach Brett Cloutier said. “The size of Totino-Grace is going to be pretty intense. And the [Nasir] Whitlock-Chatman matchup is going to be a really, really good one. Two junior guards. That’s going to be a fun matchup to watch.”
DAVID LA VAQUE