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.
Winning the Northwest Suburban Conference race, for most teams, likely is a more difficult task than winning a section championship. Need proof? Just check in at Andover, where the Huskies have a 10-game winning streak in progress and are ninth in the Minnesota Basketball News Class 4A rankings.
The Huskies' high-octane offense looks pretty good against most teams. Led by senior guards Ben Kopetzki (25.8 points per game) and Sam Musungu (20.1 ppg), Andover averages 84.2 points per game, or 15.8 points per game more than their opponents.
But against top-ranked Park Center, Andover's strength just might not be enough. The undefeated Pirates (21-0, 15-0), who haven't lost a game in 13 months, average 91.3 points per game and have hit the 100-point mark seven times.
More discouraging to Park Center opponents is that defense is the Pirates' top priority and greatest strength. And that's the conundrum for Andover, which could very well take the top seed into the Class 4A, Section 7 tournament in a couple of weeks.
Andover (17-5, 14-1) can stay alive in the conference race with a victory over Park Center. A final regular-season game against No. 1-3A Totino-Grace would be one last brutal hurdle.
While the Huskies certainly won't surrender the outcome to Park Center, they will more likely be looking at winning smaller battles such as finding matchups that can work in their favor and playing at their best against their strongest competition of the season. It is possible the teams could meet again in the state tournament, where the Pirates are defending champions out of Section 5.
Park Center, meanwhile, is hoping to get rested and refreshed for the playoff push ahead. A few players, including leading scorer CJ O'Hara, have missed games in the past few weeks.
O'Hara and JJ Ware, each averaging 18.8 points per game, lead a group of six players averaging nine or more.
Maranatha Christian Academy (20-2, 13-0) has grinded its way to a successful season and the No. 3 ranking in Class 2A. But the Mustangs might be a little undersized and undermanned on Tuesday night against No. 1-2A Holy Family Catholic (20-2, 7-0).
Junior Trell McCrimmon, who averages 12.7 points, has missed a few games in January. And senior Nick Anderson, Maranatha's tallest rotation player at 6-foot-6, will stand in the shadows of the Fire's two 6-foot-11 frontliners, Boden Kapke and Collin Mulholland.
But the Mustangs are not likely to allow any free passes to Holy Family Catholic. Maranatha has a lineup full of capable scorers, has not lost a game since Jan. 14 and has not lost to a Minnesota team since Dec. 29 against Class 3A Princeton.
To the winner of Tuesday's game goes the psychological edge heading into the Class 2A ,Section 5 tournament, where both teams have visions of taking home a championship plaque and a trip to the state tournament.
Kapke is the centerpiece of the Fire lineup. He averages 22.5 points and 13.5 rebounds. Guard Kole Hanson averages 21.9 and Mulholland 14.3. Holy Family Catholic has won nine games since its last loss, against No. 1-4A Park Center.
But things have changed at Two Harbors over the past 14 months. The Agates (19-3, 4-0) are approaching 20 victories and have worked their way into the Minnesota Basketball News top 20 in Class 2A. They are no longer a pushover.
Still, Esko (17-3, 3-0) remains a challenge for Two Harbors. The Eskomos are ranked 11th and have been in the Class 2A top 10 for much of the season. And Makoi Perich, a 6-foot-1 junior and last season's All-Polar MVP after averaging 27.4 points and 8.1 rebounds as a sophomore, remains at the top of the Esko lineup.
Cuinn Berger, a 6-foot-1 senior who averaged 19 points and five rebounds as a junior, is a solid No. 2 for Esko.
Two Harbors' success begins with Gomez, a 5-foot-11 senior who averages 24.3 points, 6.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists. He also is shooting 61% from the field, including 42.6% from three-point range. Bopp, a 6-foot-4 senior, adds 13.4 points per game and junior Isaiah Hietala adds 12.7 points and 4.4 assists.
Whoever wins Thursday night's game gets a leg up in the conference race but won't necessarily have the final say at season's end. Both teams are top contenders in the Class 2A, Section 7 tournament that begins in a couple of weeks.
Pequot Lakes is the reigning Section 7 champion and has beaten both Esko and Two Harbors this season.
St. Paul Johnson vs. St. Paul Central, 7 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 22. The second of two matchups in the last few weeks of the regular season pits the two teams at the front of the St. Paul City Conference race. Johnson (15-7, 10-1) beat Central 57-54 on Jan. 26. Central (15-6, 9-2) is out to end a two-game losing streak. It is the final conference game for both teams.
Benilde-St. Margaret's vs. Orono, 7 p.m., Friday, Feb. 24. No. 2-3A Benilde-St. Margaret's (19-3, 9-1) beat No. 6-3A Orono (17-5, 7-3) at home on Jan. 10. The Spartans get their opportunity for payback on their home floor this week.
The MN Basketball Hub poll is for entertainment purposes only.