Boys basketball: Section 1AAA playoff preview
Red Wing is the favorite. This time, there is no doubt about it.
Red Wing is the favorite. This time, there's no debating it.
But that still doesn't assure anything as the Wingers enter the Section One, Class AAA boys basketball playoffs.
"Believe me, we won't be overlooking anybody," said Red Wing coach Doug Toivonen, whose team hosts Albert Lea on Wednesday in the first round. "We know that anything can happen in tournament play."
Red Wing understands how tough it is to actually get to state, having been in the section title game three straight years and been denied a state berth each time. The Wingers have also learned that they can be beat this season, suffering surprising losses in two of their last five games, after winning their first 21.
Still, there's no getting around it. Red Wing is very, very good.
"These kids have been so willing to do what we've asked them to do; they know their roles," said Toivonen, who directs a senior-laden team. "The No. 1 thing about these guys is their togetherness. And the No. 2 thing is their commitment to defense. Our defense and the way our kids play together has been our m.o. all year."
With its 24-2 record, two wins over Class AAAA power Rochester John Marshall (including one to end the regular season), and it's No. 2 state ranking, the Wingers have spent almost all of this season acting and looking like the real deal.
Now it's time to continue that in the post-season, the final one for 12th-year coach Toivonen, who's stepping down at the end of the season.
Here is a look at the top Section 1AAA contenders:
No. 1 seed Red Wing (24-2)has one of the better one-two inside punches in the state in 6-foot-4, 205-pound Travis Toivonen and 6-7, 195-pound Joe Sevlie. The seniors average 19 and 13 points, respectively, and provide a physical presence and dominant rebounding. Toivonen grabs 10 boards per game, Sevlie nine. Red Wing has had two signature wins, both against powerful Class AAAA team John Marshall. Red Wing ended its regular season with a 64-59 win against the Rockets. Before that was a short bumpy stretch. The Wingers, who had won their first 21 games en route to being ranked No. 1 in Class AAA, dropped two of four games before beating JM. Red Wing has a senior-dominated lineup, including excellent guard Ben Munson, who scores 15 ppg. The Wingers are trying to get to state for the first time since 2004. They fell to New Prague in last year's section final.
No. 2 seed Austin (21-5)is undersized, with nobody taller than 6-4. But the Packers have mostly made up for that with plenty of skill and balance. Four players average at least 7 ppg., led by Duoth Gach at 14 ppg. Duoth is a 6-3, sweet-shooting sophomore who is also athletic. Jace Murray is a 6-3 senior forward who scores 10 ppg. Austin's trouble has been matching up with tall, talented teams. That has spelled losses to two teams fitting that description, Red Wing (twice) and John Marshall (twice). Austin can score in bunches, though, managing at least 70 points this season 15 times. Austin's losses to No. 1-seed Red Wing have been 62-53 and 56-47.
No. 3 seed Northfield (17-9)has spent time in the state's top 10 in Class AAA. The Raiders have done it behind one of the section's top players, 6-9 senior Luke Harris. Harris averages 17 points and eight rebounds per game, and can hit from inside and outside. But he's not been going it alone for Northfield. Forward Hunter Koep (6-4) averages 15 ppg and guard Tanner Ernste 13 ppg. The Raiders literally get a big boost from 6-2, 300-pound Chris Antoine. The football star averages 11 points and six rebounds, and sets devastating picks. Northfield has not fared well against the best teams, losing twice each to Red Wing, Austin and John Marshall.
No. 4 seed Winona(11-15) is not quite in the class of Red Wing, Austin and Northfield. Still, the Winhawks have finished strong, including a 78-71 victory against vastly improved Mankato East. Winona enters the tournament on a roll, winner of eight of its last 10, including victories against solid Owatonna and Faribault teams. But Winona was blasted 83-59 by Northfield last week. PJ Appicelli, a 6-5 senior forward, leads the Winhawks. He averages 14 points and five rebounds. Dakota Matthees (6-4 sophomore) has recently been inserted into the starting lineup and scores 12 ppg. Oscar Hedin (6-5 forward) and Kale Milek (guard) both score 10 ppg. Hedin averages six rebounds.
No. 5 seed Kasson-Mantorville (13-13)seems better than its record. The KoMets have some notable wins, including beating No. 3-ranked (Class AA) Lake City, and Byron twice. The KoMets also have one of the top handful of players in the section in 6-5 senior Braxton Raymond. K-M's all-time leading scorer averages 24 points per game, as well as nine rebounds and three assists. Guards Brendan Knoll and Cole Kremers average 13 and 11 ppg, respectively.
No. 6 seed Byron (15-11)has shown that it can compete with top competition. It played powerful Austin to end its regular season and lost by a single point, 59-58. It was one of a bunch of serious tests down the stretch for Byron, which finished on a four-game losing streak. It also fell to strong teams Lake City and Kasson-Mantorville in that span, as well as Park of Cottage Grove. Byron has one of the better individual talents in the section in Michael Coble, a 6-1 sophomore guard. He averages 15 ppg. It's a balanced Byron team, with Bjorn Knutson at 10 ppg., Nate Lillestol at nine and Caden Blazing at nine. Byron has gone 3-4 against Section 1AAA competition this season.