A regular feature of our boys basketball coverage this year will involve at least a weekly and sometimes twice a week notebook where we look at top teams, top wins and top players across the state. Our first edition comes at the conclusion of week two with several teams making some noise in early competition.
PHOTO PROVIDED BY OT SPORTSCHECK
Even though we are just two weeks in, there’s a good chance that both Sierra Grande and Evangelical Christian could finish the season without a loss. Both 1A teams had strong wins to close the week; especially ECA who moved past both #7 Cheraw and #3 Belleview Christian on consecutive nights. The Eagles have a late game with a young Simla squad on February 15th but that might be their only remaining hurdle of the regular season. Sierra Grande downed Kim/Branson 58-43 on Saturday and moved to 5-0. Other than the game with Cheraw on February 3rd, the Panthers are likely heavily favored in every remaining game.
The Panthers are always well conditioned and it showed up against Kim/Branson as they outscored Kim/Branson 14-7 in the second quarter and 16-8 in the fourth. Over those two quarters, the Panthers won 30-15 and the final margin was 15. Isiah Chairez is a 6-1 senior who tops the team with 20 points and 11 rebounds a game.
ECA has been balanced this year with five players averaging between eight and 14 points a game. The same five also average at least six rebounds so the Eagles share the ball and spread the work load around on the glass. Michael Mann is a senior with good size (6-3) and he leads the Eagles in both points (13.5) and rebounds (9).
We mentioned Simla as a possible tough opponent for ECA later in the year. The Cubs are just 2-2 out of the gate but getting many minutes from a very talented freshman class. Those kids will have close to 15 games of experience before they line up against ECA and will be a much different club at that time of the year. They showed their potential over the weekend with a very good win over top 10 ranked Merino. That followed up losses to 2A opponents Peyton and Crowley County at the Limon Tournament in week one.
Limon is the number one team in Class 2A pending new rankings out on Monday and two of the teams chasing them are #4 Peyton and #5 Denver Christian. They met up in Denver on Saturday with the Thunder holding on for a 51-47 victory. Saw this game in person and there’s plenty of talent on both squads.
Let’s start with Peyton. The Panthers suffered their third loss of the young season but the others are against Limon in week one and last Friday to 3A Colorado Springs Christian. All close battles and tough losses to accept, but the early slate will benefit the Panthers in February and probably into March. They also have Sanford in the opening round of the Fowler Tournament this coming week so the list of quality opponents will continue. Despite those two losses, the Panthers should remain in the 2A Top 10.
They have good talent in the backcourt including Gibson Gellerman (16.5 pts) and AJ Lashley (12.2). Both hit big shots late in the fourth quarter to give the Panthers a chance after trailing by 11 with seven minutes left. In fact, Gellerman’s three with 17 seconds remaining cut the margin to just two (49-47).
Evan Neumeier is another solid contributor for the Panthers and gives them a nice presence on the inside when called upon. He averages 10 points and nearly five rebounds in the early going.
It was just the second game of the season for the Thunder who lost their season opener to 3A ranked Colorado Academy. A good sign moving forward is they got the win without much offensive production from Ben Buhler. A 20-point game a scorer as a junior, he was held below well below that number by the Panthers defense but he also nailed the two clinching FT’s following Gellerman’s three-pointer.
Two players that made major contributions for the Thunder were Xander Neu and Andrew Schneider. Neu grabbed a ton of rebounds on both ends and scored several crucial points on the inside or on mid-range jumpers at the high post. Schneider is only a freshman but should get more minutes as the season moves on. He scored five straight points in the first minute of the fourth quarter; moving the Thunder from up six to an 11-point lead at 42-31. Schneider also netted 16 in the loss to Colorado Academy.
One other note on D-C. Kevin Boley is their new coach and we welcome him back to the sidelines. He had great success in developing the Legend program and after a few years away it was nice to see him coaching the Thunder on Saturday.
Mancos opened last week ranked 7th in 2A but with an unexpected loss to Lotus School in the Meeker Tournament quarterfinals, the Bluejays may fall from the rankings when a new round is released on Monday. But please note they were missing three starters due to injuries suffered by players during their great football run. They should be healthy after Christmas and ready to battle Ignacio for the San Juan league championship and another trip to the state tournament. They also bounced back from the Lotus loss to win their next two games in Meeker.
The Bluejays also celebrated a big number for Connor Showalter earlier this month as the senior went over the 1,000 mark for career points. Likely would have gotten there as a junior but that season of course, was limited due to COVID.
In Class 3A, Aspen and University are two unbeaten squads we want to mention in our report. Aspen is ranked 6th and has very high expectations this year. So far so good as they’ve rolled to a 4-0 start including a nice tournament title at the Meeker Shootout on Saturday. They’re still a bit untested at this point as they have three wins against 2A schools in Lotus, Meeker and Vail Mountain. Coal Ridge is probably their top challenger in league play; based on final scores to date. Those two collide on February 17th; very late in the season.
University is not ranked, but maybe voters should start making room for them. They won their own tournament title by beating DSST-Montview in overtime on Saturday. That followed up a very physical win against a solid Alamosa club in the semifinals the night before. Tayt Chacon is a 20 point a game scorer and went for 36 in the tournament finals. Dezmond Williams is another key Bulldog and is averaging 14 points and eight rebounds a game. Both can take over a game and if they’re consistent each night out, the Bulldogs will be a tournament team and in the Patriot league mix.
University has two very good tests this week against Faith Christian on Tuesday and Highland on Friday. Faith Christian is unbeaten and went 3-0 at the Glenwood Springs tournament over the weekend. A lot of tradition in the Eagles camp. Highland (3-1) lost some firepower to graduation but can still score as they’re averaging nearly 87 points a game thus far. That average includes 83 in a three-point loss to Eaton last Friday.
In Class 4A, voters strongly should consider moving Montrose back into the top three. They started the season there and despite going unbeaten in the first week, tumbled down to sixth. They went 3-0 at the Glenwood Springs tournament last week and now sit at 5-0 overall. They’ve lost just one game in the past two years; the state championship battle with Mead last Spring.
And they return the top five scorers from the state runner-up club including Luke Hutto. He’s averaging 13.5 points and 6.5 rebounds a game this season. Fletcher Cheezum is the top scorer at 14.3 per game. The Indians have three games this week but will be favored against Roaring Fork, Pagosa Springs and Palisade so they should enter the Christmas break unbeaten. Right after the break, the Indians face Rampart and Pueblo West so they will be tested there.
Getting excited about the two meetings between Pueblo Central and Pueblo South coming up on January 27th and February 15th. Those two games should decide first and second in the 4A South Central and both clubs could get consideration for a top four or higher playoff seed. Each team has a pair of excellent scorers that can go for 30 or more on any given night. Central is led by Kadyn Betts (21.8) and Syris Williams (20.5). They also combined for nearly 15 rebounds a game with Betts blocking five shots per game and Williams collecting nearly five steals.
South is led by Tarrance Austin and Maurice Austin who both score 23 points a game. Together they also provide 11 steals, 10 rebounds and 13 assists per game. They’re 6-0 on the season and have outscored opponents by 225 points. Central is 8-0 with a total margin of 241 points.
A couple of 4A teams to keep in mind that could be newcomers to the statewide rankings are Centaurus (5-0) and Frederick (4-1). Both are worthy of a top 10 spot but if only one team gets in, Centaurus should get the nod as they have the better record and a head-to-head win in the season opener between the two. Frederick’s argument comes down to a more difficult schedule as they have wins over Thomas Jefferson and #3 Longmont.
Centaurus has a solid 1-2 punch in JT Lewicki and Kevin Bedford. Lewicki tops the Warriors with 14.6 points a game but Bedford provides a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. They battle both Mountain View and 5A Broomfield this week.
Frederick features four double figure scorers and a fifth scoring nine points a game. Luke Justice leads the Warriors with 15 points a game and Alex Sturn is the top rebounder (6.5). Following their win over Longmont, they continue to battle that city this week with matchups against Silver Creek and Skyline on tap.
Got an early glimpse of the 5A state quarterfinals or maybe even the semifinals at the ThunderRidge/Chaparral tournament this past week. ThunderRidge, Chaparral, Fossil Ridge and Smoky Hill were all ranked in the top seven going into the event and all had their highlights. ThunderRidge ended up winning the championship and remains favored to repeat as state champions. They are long, talented and experienced and it will take a strong effort from any opponent to beat them this year. The Grizzlies were pushed by Smoky Hill in an overtime semifinal but held on for that win and then downed Fossil Ridge in the championship game.
Fossil Ridge is probably the team that gained the most in the rankings and post-season bracketing. Their win over #3 Chaparral in the semifinals should move them up the polls quite a bit. They also have a win over Denver East so it’s a high quality club from up north. Brock Mishak, with 23 points and four assists per game, is very talented and Nick Randall, with 20 points and nearly 10 rebounds is a more than adequate second option on offense.
Smoky Hill did not recover from the overtime loss as they came up short to Chaparral (68-48) in the third place contest. The Buffs though have more than enough talent to win the Centennial title and make a deep post-season run.