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.
Just when it looked like a young and upcoming Hopkins squad was ready to take the lead in the super-competitive Lake Conference, Minnetonka and Wayzata have risen to the top.
Hopkins, which rose to No. 2 in the Class 4A rankings by Minnesota Basketball News, lost consecutive road games last week at Wayzata and at Minnetonka, leaving those two teams as the only unbeatens in conference play.
Wayzata, runner-up to Park Center in last spring's Class 4A state tournament, lost its first three games before starting its current 10-game winning streak. The Trojans (10-3, 3-0) went from No. 3 in preseason rankings to out of the rankings before climbing to their current No. 9 position.
Minnetonka (9-2, 2-0), which lost two of its first three games, has won eight in a row and is ranked seventh while seeing improvement within its own ranks. Senior Ibrahim El-Amin has increased his scoring average to 15.9 points per game, getting a big boost from a 27-point showing in an 83-73 victory over Hopkins. Junior Greyson Uelmen's average went up to 9.2 points per game after scoring 20 against the Royals.
Wayzata lacks the individual star power it had over the previous few seasons, but the Trojans certainly don't lack the talent. Senior Hayden Tibbitts is averaging 16.3 points and junior Jackson McAndrew 16.2. Seniors Jake Schmitt and Spencer Hall each average around 10 points per game.
There is plenty at stake for both Orono and Benilde-St. Margaret's in this matchup of top-ranked Class 3A teams on Monday night. But it is just the first of what both teams hope and expect to be three meetings this season.
As Metro West Conference members, the teams will play again on Feb. 24 in Orono. As the highest-ranked teams in Class 3A, Section 6, it is possible and predictably likely, that these teams will face off a third time in the postseason for the opportunity to play in the state tournament in March.
No. 2-3A Benilde-St. Margaret's (10-2, 2-0) has the early advantage in the conference race. No. 4-3A Orono (9-2, 1-1) lost unexpectedly last week at Chanhassen to fall a game behind the Red Knights. A victory for Orono could close that gap.
But both teams have a bigger prize in mind, and Monday's game is the start of a much longer game in getting to that prize. Mound-Westonka beat Orono in last spring's Section 6 championship, and now the Spartans have a young and rising Benilde-St. Margaret's squad to contend with.
Monday's game will be the fourth over a span of eight days for both teams. The Red Knights are coming off a weekend loss to Middleton, Wis., while Orono rebounded from its loss at Chanhassen with victories over Richfield and New Prague.
Isaiah Hagen leads the Spartans, turning in 21.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game. Nolan Groves averages 15.9 points and Kyle Kallenbach 14.5. Versatile Grant Gunderson averages 8.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 6.4 assists.
Jalen Wilson leads the young Red Knights, scoring 17.7 points per game. Wilson, Jaleel Donley and Abu Keita, all sophomores, combine for 42.5 points per game, while junior Jayden Daisy adds 14.2 points per game.
Hermantown is a hockey town, and that's not likely to change any time soon. But make way for basketball, because the Abraham Soumis-led Hawks are seeking a second consecutive Class 3A, Section 7 championship. And a matchup with Princeton, also seeking a return trip to the state tournament as the Section 5 champion, should provide plenty of excitement in a decidedly hockey town.
Soumis, a 6-foot-4 junior, is a 20-point scorer who leads a group of capable scorers that includes 6-foot-7 senior Blake Schmitz and 6-foot-1 seniors Keaton Christianson and Broc Sundland. They have guided the Hawks (10-2, 5-0) to the No. 8 ranking in Class 3A after advancing to the state tournament last spring.
Princeton (10-3, 4-1) provides one of the biggest tests yet for Hermantown, which has a victory over No. 10-3A Delano already to its credit.
The Tigers, the defending Class 3A, Section 5 champions, are looking to change directions after two losses in their past four games. Princeton fell out of the Class 3A top 10 following losses to Rocori and Columbia Heights.
But Princeton, 12th in the current rankings, remains a top contender with 6-foot-5 senior Cooper Drews (23.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 6.7 assists) leading the way. And the Tigers likely will be focused and motivated this week with two important conference games before the Saturday meeting with Hermantown.
The Tigers play Becker, which enters the week tied with Princeton at 4-1 and in second place in league play, on Tuesday. On Thursday, Princeton gets a rematch with league leader Cambridge-Isanti (5-0), which dealt the Tigers a 98-88 defeat on Jan. 6.
Mankato East vs. Austin, 7:30 p.m., Friday, Jan. 27. Is this the week when Mankato East (11-2, 8-1) takes control of the Big 9 Conference race? The Cougars face the teams in their immediate rear-view mirror, Austin (9-4, 7-2) and Northfield (9-4, 7-2), on Friday and Monday.
Alexandria vs. Brainerd, 7:15 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 26. Alexandria (9-1, 6-0) has won nine in a row after a season-opening loss to No. 2-3A Benilde-St. Margaret's. But Brainerd (9-2, 6-0), which has lost only to Class 4A powers Minnetonka and Eden Prairie, is a real threat to end that winning streak and take the conference lead.
Watertown-Mayer vs. Perham, noon, Saturday, Jan. 28. Two contending Class 2A schools meet in an early matchup during the St.Michael-Albertville Breakdown Community Classic. Perham (13-1, 5-1) has won three in a row since a loss at Heart O' Lakes Conference-rival Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton.
The MN Basketball Hub poll is for entertainment purposes only.