In our mind, the Class 1A boys basketball tournament is the most unpredictable of any this week. While there are probably two to three favorites in every other bracket, we could make a case for at least six of these clubs to end up with the championship on Saturday night. All four of the quarterfinals on Thursday are considered toss-ups in our mind so no results will be considered surprising on our end.
PHOTO BY OT SPORTSCHECK
Even the 1-8 matchup between Sierra Grande and Dove Creek could come down to the wire. On paper Sierra Grande is unbeaten and should be highly favored but of the eight teams in the bracket, the Panthers have probably faced the least strenuous schedule. By comparison, Dove Creek is coming off a wild upset of defending state champion Belleview Christian in the regional finals and won’t be intimidated in Thursday’s matchup.
Got a very good individual matchup in this one. Isaiah Chairez leads Sierra Grande with 21 points and nearly eight rebounds a game. Kade Hankins of Dove Creek counters with 23 points a game and is near double figures in rebounds as well. Both players will draw major attention from defenses and that could open up some shots for the respective supporting cast.
That group for Sierra Grande is led by Brian Ontiveros. The young sophomore chips in almost 11 points a game and has a good touch from the outside. And despite his smallish frame, he’s not afraid to mix it up with drives on the inside. Three others, Lennie Valdez, Thomas Archuleta and Jeremy Martinez each contribute seven to eight points a game with most of the production coming from offensive rebounds and steals.
For Dove Creek, Ryan Jarman, Chorbin Cressler and Tanner Williams all provide almost seven points per game and if one of them steps in with a big effort, the Bulldogs could pull off the shocker.
Caprock Academy and McClave also sit on the upper half of the bracket as they collide in the four-five game. Haven’t seen the Eagles in person this year but we’ve really liked the development of McClave throughout the season. Saw them early at the Lamar Holiday Tournament and while they were talented, the Cardinals were still developing some team chemistry as two foreign exchange students had been added to a talented mix of returnees. Then we caught McClave in their win at Cheyenne Wells and right then thought they could win the state championship. And since that game, they have recorded two wins over #3 Granada who was our pick at the start of the season as the team to beat.
One of the exchange students is McClave’s leading scorer as Edguardo Verdu averages 16 points per game. He’s also a very good point guard who understands the game and gets the ball to players where they can score.
The second exchange student is Ricardo Cazzaniga. Scoring nearly 10 points per game with five rebounds as well, he is effective at the high post with the ability to knock down the 15-footer.
There’s much more talent as well. Aiden Martinez provides 14 points, eight rebounds and four steals per game and Aydin Gomez and Conner Forgue combine for 14 points and ten boards a contest.
Caprock Academy has 20 wins overall and is unbeaten against 1A clubs but they’re also making their first ever state tournament bid. That’s always a question mark on how teams will respond to having to win three games in three days against top flight competition. Regardless of the outcome this weekend, the Eagles are on the rise as the program won just four games two years ago.
They prepped for the tournament in a big way as their 48-43 win over Denver Jewish Day in the regional finals last Thursday was considered by man as an upset. It was their 13th straight win since falling to 2A Meeker on January 21st.
A major reason for the Eagles improvement is the senior tandem of Johnathon Abshear and Andrew Jordan. Together, they average 31 points and 15 rebounds a game. Hayden McDonald also provides eight points and four rebounds each outing.
Almost impossible to pick a favorite to reach the state finals from the lower half. As we mentioned, Granada was our preseason pick and has spent most of the season ranked in the top three spots in Class 1A. Haxtun has put together a late surge and has experience from winning the 8man football championship last Fall. Evangelical Christian has good size and rallied from a 15-point halftime deficit in the regional finals win over Genoa Hugo and Merino has arguably the most talented roster in the field but has been inconsistent through much of the season.
Granada and Merino are both returning semifinalists from last year so of the four teams, the Bobcats and Rams have the most basketball postseason experience. The Bobcats pushed eventual champion Belleview Christian (58-46) in the state semifinals and return almost their entire roster from that club plus added a couple of talented freshmen. Merino lost to DeBeque 47-43 and also a good amount of talent from that loss back on the floor this year.
Granada’s leading scorer is Dominic Coleman (14.4) but much of the offense goes through post standout Jon Hainer. With his big frame, Hainer (13.3) can score effectively in the post but is also well schooled at kicking the ball back out to three-point shooters at any spot on the floor. Coleman benefits from that as does his younger brother Maddox Coleman (13.0). Brandon Gonzales (7.9) is another good shooter with 43 three-pointers including a season best nine in a win over Springfield. Another consistent scorer is Elijah Rodriguez (8.0).
Haxtun is similar in structure as they seem to be at their best when Maclin Temple is heavily involved. The junior is not as thick as Hainer but can look him in the eye and probably has better range with 12 three-pointers on the season. He’s averaging 13 points per game which is second to point guard Owen Knode (15.6) who never runs out of energy or pace. He adds five assists and nearly five rebounds from his point guard spot.
Other offensive production for Haxtun comes from David Avery (9.6), Michael Gerk (7.60 and Isaac Anderson (6.7). All were major contributors during the state championship football run so they won’t shy away from the big moments this weekend.
Evangelical Christian showed some championship chops in the regional final as they outscored Genoa Hugo 31-11 in the second half to win 48-43. They prefer a slower paced half court game where they can take advantage of their size on the inside with Michael Mann (11.9), RJ Wagner (10.9), Jared Guest (8.6) and Jon Bunker (5.2). Those four also pull down 25 rebounds a game. Point guard Michael Kim (8.9) directs the attack and hands out five assists per game.
Depth is a concern for the Eagles as they will often use just one player off the bench so foul trouble is a concern each game out.
While foul trouble is a concern for ECA, consistency is the biggest issue for Merino. They’ve played a tough schedule and throughout the season have dropped games you didn’t expect and then won some that were surprising as well. When at a high level, the Rams are a strong championship contender and can win it all despite sitting as the seventh seed.
Derrick Alber (13.9) is a player to watch for Merino. The 6-5 senior has played heavy minutes since his sophomore season and this will be his third consecutive Great 8 appearance. Helping Alber on both ends is the trio of Tyler Miller, Kaden Piel and Chance Everhart who combine for 27 points a game.