With three weeks remaining in the regular season, the stretch drive officially begins for boys basketball teams across the state. Our weekly Notebook takes a look at the top efforts for teams over the past seven days as clubs continue the effort to landing a league championship.
Like the girls report for this week, the Notebook takes on a different look and feel with bullet points instead of the traditional paragraph format.
- Our schedule this past week allowed us to get our first in-person look at the Haxtun Bulldogs. They’ve been up and down this year but we saw a good effort in their win over Caliche. Actually may get another look at them on Tuesday when they face unbeaten Briggsdale as that could easily be a preview of the district championship game. Those two along with Merino are favored to land the three spots but the bracket to be honest, is wide open. Think Max Tempel is the key for the Bulldogs. He provides good size and activity on the inside but he also has the ability to hit the three pointer, especially on the trail of a semi fast-break. Senior Owen Knode has a never ending motor with good speed that can get to the basket almost at will.
- We mentioned District 4 could be unpredictable and Fleming is one of the teams that could surprise. They had just one win when they upset Merino earlier in January and then also stunned #2 Briggsdale on Saturday before falling 49-48. The Wildcats are just 5-8 overall and have dropped four of their last five but with some confidence, they could spring an upset in the district bracket. Braylen Feather is their leading scorer at 15.8 points per game
- Top ranked Granada continues to work their way through the schedule without a loss. They’re 12-0 after downing Springfield and Manzanola by 39 and 63 points respectively. Finishing unbeaten is not a given as they have tough battles with Cheyenne Wells, Wiley and McClave left on the slate. Individually, Brandon Gonzales connected on nine three pointers and finished with 31 points against Springfield.
- The 5280 could be the hard luck conference in Class 1A this year. The league has routinely had three and for a couple of weeks, four teams ranked in the top 10. But under the current playoff format, only two clubs can reach the state tournament. The top two teams from the district tournament will be paired with the Western district for two regional finals with the winners moving to the Great 8. One of those teams could easily be Denver Waldorf. The Spartans have a league loss to Front Range Baptist and fell to 2A ranked Lotus school for their only two losses but they also posted a big 57-51 win over 3A Jefferson Academy last Thursday. Dylan Quinn scored 19, Will McHenry 19 and Jonah Carr 11 in the win and those three will lead Waldorf into an important battle with Belleview Christian on Tuesday. The Bruins are the defending state champions and the contest could serve as the district finals preview. Front Range Baptist and Denver Jewish Day are two other strong contenders.
- Going to start with Denver Christian as we were courtside for their hard fought win over 3A Highland. The game ended Highland’s 70-game conference winning streak and likely gave this year’s championships to the Thunder. The game was the most intense we’ve witnessed this year and even though it occurred in January, it had a late February or early March playoff feel to it. There were major battles for each rebound and loose ball. The Thunder played well and they seem to be adjusting well to new coach Kevin Boley. He slowed tempo late in the first half and ran somewhat of a spread game; and the Thunder had enough patience to earn three consecutive layups and buckets to get the game in their favor. They employed the same strategy in the final few minutes and while not as effective compared to the first half, they made enough plays to gain the road win. Ben Buhler is leader of the club and hit several big shots with key rebounds but the glue seems to be Xander Neu. The post player doesn’t care about points; all he does is rebound, defend and block shots and whatever else is needed to help his club win. He also nailed a huge three pointer to close the third quarter to help end a quick Highland run. Freshman Andrew Schneider also provides the Thunder with a nice scoring boost off the bench. Looking down the road, the Thunder have the pieces to make a serious title run.
- What a turnaround for Limon late in the week. We watched the Badgers struggle mightily on offense last Wednesday where they mustered only 29 points but it was enough for a two point win over Simla. They apparently left their offensive woes in that gym as two days later the Badgers went on the road and toppled Wray in a state finals rematch. And then on Saturday, the Badgers took out Merino. The up and down week improves Limon to 11-3 entering February and league play dominates the upcoming schedule as the next three games are against Union Pacific rivals Stratton, Burlington and Byers.
- The Western Slope standings changed quite a bit on Saturday as Meeker upset #7 Vail Mountain 52-50 and Cedaredge stunned Vail Christian 69-44. Those results leave Meeker, Vail Christian and Cedaredge tied for the conference lead. Meeker and Cedaredge play on February 11th and that’s the only game left between the three conference leaders. Luke Maxey scored 24 and Gideon Gilmore 20 for Cedaredge in their upset. Maxey’s effort included four three-pointers.
- Heritage Christian appears to be a team ready to make a strong February run. The Eagles opened 3-4 but have won five straight. Samuel Lundy is a main reason why as the senior is averaging 20 points in the six games he’s played. The senior totaled 21 points and 10 rebounds in the most recent win over Front Range Christian. Should Lundy stay healthy, they could easily challenge Denver Christian for a district title and possible regional tournament at home. With the recent success, the Eagles are also up to #10 in RPI.
- Not sure what to make of Thomas MacLaren at this point of the season. The Highlanders are 11-1 and sit 8th in the RPI while also appearing in the top 10 last week. They’ve beaten the likes of 3A Banning Lewis and Vanguard and 1A defending state champion Belleview Christian but also have a 28-point loss to unranked Fowler. We may get a better read on them when they line up against #9 Peyton on Thursday as the outcome likely determines the Black Forest champion. Peyton has four fewer wins and four more losses (7-5) but their overall schedule has been much more difficult. Should the Highlanders win that one, they may gain even more statewide respect and could finish the regular season 18-1 as they will be favored in their remaining six games after Peyton.
- Outside the consistent play of Colorado Academy, it’s been difficult to get a read on the Metro divisional race this year. The Mustangs are 4-0 in conference play and alone in first with Faith Christian and Kent Denver one game back in the loss column. Lutheran, Manual and Prospect Ridge all have two losses and remain in contention for a top two league finish. Last week, fans saw Faith Christian upend Kent Denver and Prospect Ridge stun Manual. Lutheran meantime also has a win over Faith Christian to results day-to-day are unpredictable. Colorado Academy has a quality win over Faith Christian but has yet to face Kent Denver or Manual. They could also get tested by Prospect Ridge on Wednesday.
- For Prospect Ridge, their win over Manual (74-68) could be their best in conference play since joining the league. They got the win despite 43 points from Jordan Reed as he connected on five three-pointers. The Miners countered with balance as Max Vacco (22), Stockton Rhodes (17), Andrew Cuss (14) and Nathanial Estrada (13) all reached double figures.
- Faith Christian had a strong week. We mentioned their win over Kent Denver (74-65) last Wednesday and the Eagles also played well in a six point loss to top ranked Sterling (46-40). A couple of weeks ago, we recommended the Eagles to be ranked and we repeat that sentiment again this week based on those two outcomes. Carson Jasa netted a career high 35 in the Kent Denver win.
- We’re excited about the newly scheduled game between #3 Aspen and #8 Highland. Both teams needed a game and they’ve decided to square off on February 10th in Ault. Should be a good contest and both clubs will benefit in RPI. The Skiers moved to 12-0 with an important league win over Grand Valley last week as the Cardinals may be their most difficult test in the WSL. Highland battled but did not shoot well in the tough loss to Denver Christian on Saturday. The Huskies are talented but may be a year away as much of their roster is underclassmen. Really like their freshman Sawyer Morgan. He averages a double-double on the season and his effort against Denver Christian was high level. He had 17 points and seven rebounds. Hyatt Tolle had four treys and closed with a team high 19 points. Colton Steinke and Carson Steinke each finished with 12 but the Huskies overall shot just 33 percent from the field.
- DSST-Green Valley Ranch is our favorite to land the Confluence championship. The Raptors are unbeaten in the conference (3-0) but they became our favorite after beating Thomas Jefferson (47-42) and Kent Denver (73-58) in their last two games. Asher Sikle and Jordan Babineaux combined for 33 points against TJ and then boosted that number to 43 in the win over Kent Denver. Freshman Tong Bot also had a nice game with 13 points on six of eight shooting. Green Valley Ranch has already beaten 2A ranked Lotus in conference play so they could run the table and earn the top district seed.
- Alamosa’s second win over Pagosa Springs puts them to 3-0 in the Intermountain League and keeps them one game up on 5th ranked Centauri. The two leaders have not met but the first meeting in this Friday in Alamosa. They also battle again on February 15th. The Moose have four players averaging between 9-12 points including Damian Orozco (11.7), Jayr Almeida (10.8), Donovan Ramirez (9.5) and Brant Jackson (9.5).
- What a fun team Pueblo South is this year. Made the drive to the State Fair Events Center last Thursday to watch their top five showdown with #5 Pueblo Central. The top ranked Colts got the win 76-53 and showed why they are the number one team in the division. They will not scare anyone coming off the bus as the starting five is probably all six foot and under. But man, they are quick and their motor does not tire. TThere is also a trust factor on offense as the Colts registered 22 assists on 25 made field goals. Tarrance and Maurice Austin are tremendous basketball players and Ray J Aragon has great bounce in his game. They can score quickly and the defense pressures the full 94 feet the entire game. They were outsized inside by 6-8 Kadyn Betts but used the double team extremely well to stop his spin move on the inside. Each time, he turned to the lane, two Colts were there to frustrate him. The Austin’s combined for 30 points and Aragon added 16. Jace Bellah battled foul trouble but still managed 14. They picked off 13 steals.
- Also took in the Saturday non-league matchup between Severance and 3A #8 Eaton. The Silver Knights led from start to finish on their way to an impressive 82-59 win to end a short two-game losing streak. The Silver Knights got a high level performance from 6-8 junior Ty Adam. He poured in 32 points with 11 rebounds and six assists. Liked his game quite a bit as he displayed good range with three treys and then was able to dribble drive past the defenders for layups when they rushed to guard the three. Despite the win, Severance sits just 6-9 which shows the great depth of Class 4A. They are 31st in RPI and will make the tournament.
- Riverdale Ridge is playing just their fourth season of varsity basketball and they go into February with a sparkling 14-3 record. They are 11th in RPI and in position to earn a first round bye and home game in round two of the state tournament. The Ravens have a huge game with Frederick coming up on Wednesday and that game should determine the Longs Peak championship. Frederick (7-0) leads by one game over the Ravens (6-1). Ryan Leopold (14.8) and Brady Greene (11.8) are the top two scorers with Greene also topping the rebound charts (6.8).
- Despite the loss, Central is a good basketball team. Defensively, they played well for three quarters but could never gain consistency on offense against the pesky Colts defense. Success did come in the second half when the Wildcats isolated Betts in the paint which did not allow the Colts to double-team. Could see more of that when the two teams pair up again on February 15th.
- Not surprised that Longmont got a win over Mead. It’s a good rivalry game and Trojans Jeff Kloster is a master of controlling pace against quality opponents. Mead had just 44 shots on the game and Longmont collected ten steals. On offense, Cole Corner scored 15 points; Brendan Barcewski 14 and Caleb Johnson 10. Both teams also entered the game coming off different results against Windsor; the Mavericks gained a 59-51 win and the Trojans fell 49-44. Those results lead Mead (6-1), Holy Family (6-1) and Windsor (5-1) sharing the Northern conference lead. Longmont is alone in fourth at 5-2. Next up is a Tuesday battle between Holy Family and Longmont.
- Palmer has strung together seven straight wins and is suddenly 11-5 going into Tuesday’s game with Harrison. They beat the Panthers 63-61 in a great first meeting. That was an important win and so was last week’s 71-62 decision over Mesa Ridge which gave the Terrors sole possession of the CS Metro South lead (5-0). Jaelyn Robinson had 19 points to lead Palmer. Freshman Jackson Weber was next with 12, Jaiden Flowers added 11 and Xavier VanDemark Conway and Melvin Safford both scored 10. Palmer also won the rebound battle 45-40 and committed eight fewer turnovers (18-26)
- Just when you thought Regis might be on the verge of dropping out of the top 10, the Raiders score a very big win over #3 Denver East. The final on Saturday was 73-68 as the Raiders earned a second straight win following a two-game skid with losses to Mountain Vista and Chaparral. The upset of Denver East should keep Regis in the rankings and possibly move up a couple of spots when new polls are out on Monday. A big challenge with #1 ThunderRidge is set for this Saturday.
- ThunderRidge again displayed why they’re favored to land another state championship as they moved past #4 Rock Canyon 63-50 on Saturday. The Grizzlies took control midway through the game; outscoring the Jaguars 27-13 over the second and third quarters. Joey Bilello netted 16 points and Andrew Crawford scored 14 for the Grizzlies. The game though was another example that the Grizzlies get every opponent’s best effort and their road to the championship may not be easy as some predict. Five of their 15 wins this year are by single digits.
- Eaglecrest enters February with the Centennial lead thanks to their 72-63 win over Smoky Hill on Saturday. The win also avenged the Raptors only conference loss to date as they fell to the Buffs 78-60 in their first meeting. Mostapha Elmoutaouakkil dropped in 26 points with 12 rebounds to pace the Tapros. He also had five assists and five steals in maybe his best all-around game of the season.