Each night of the first week of boys basketball from the holiday break has included some quality matchups but the brunt of the schedule is set for this weekend. Virtually every class features some highly anticipated contests on Thursday, Friday or Saturday and we take a look at the best pairings.
PHOTO PROVIDED BY VAN HOLLIS
Saturday filled with 3A Top 10 Battles
Games this Saturday pit #5 Kent Denver on the road to #6 Eaton and #2 Sterling visiting # Manual. Neither game is a conference matchup but the results will play a role in where teams end up in the 32-team state tournament bracket in late February. Two other good matchups involve Colorado Springs Christian trying to take out a ranked opponent. They face top ranked St Mary’s on Friday and then host #10 University on Saturday.
Both Kent Denver (5-0) and Eaton (6-0) entered the week unbeaten but that changed on Wednesday night when the Sun Devils were upset by Academy 88-85. Saturday’s matchup will be a game of pace. The Reds have allowed just 56 points per game defensively but the Sun Devils have scored at least 100 points in three of their five games played. The Kent Denver offense centers on the three point line as they’ve averaged almost 40 attempts per game thus far this season. They have 65 makes including 30 from leading scorer Ethan Levin (27.0). Jay Royal adds another 21 points a night. Eaton of course will try to slow the pace but if unsuccessful, they will need points from the trio of Zach Grable, Walker Martin and Mitch Hayhorn as all three average either 15 or 16 points a game.
Despite the distance, Sterling and Manual has turned into a nice rivalry as Saturday marks the seventh meeting since 2016. Sterling has won six of those matchups with the lone loss coming in the 2019 state tournament as the Thunderbolts raced to the 3A championship. The Thunderbolts moved to 3-2 by whipping Stargate 75-29 on Tuesday. Deshawn Fox (27) and Curshawn Dickey (21) combined for 48 points and helped Manual get to the line 31 times. Sterling (6-1) has played just two in-state opponents; routing Academy and Denver Christian by a combined 72 points. Jackson Keil (20.3) and Ryder McConnell (16.1) pace the Tigers offense.
University (6-1) played a difficult December schedule and dropped only a wild overtime game to Highland to close the month. They should grab their seventh win over Weld Central before lining up against Colorado Springs Christian on Saturday. The Lions may be tired as that game is on the back end of the rivarly game with St Mary’s the night before. The Pirates force you to play an up tempo game so the back-to-back challenges will help the Lions see what they’re made of. They’ve won five straight since an opening loss to Faith Christian (61-28).
One game of note in the classification was already played as #5 Colorado Academy edged Englewood 52-50. The Pirates had spent time in the top 10 during December and entered the game with just one loss. Both clubs are expected to be 3A state qualifiers.
Ranked Teams in Class 2A Face Challenges
#1 Yuma, #2 Limon and #4 Sanford each face strong opponents on Friday and Saturday and wins could set them up for a strong second half to the season. Yuma meets #4 Haxtun (1A) on Friday and then stays home against #6 Holyoke on Saturday. Both opponents are Lower Platte rivals but only the Haxtun pairing is a league game this weekend. The Indians tangle with Holyoke again on February 4th for the conference contest.
For the Indians, the Friday game is their first court action since closing December with a 70-68 double overtime loss to Eaton. That great game decided the Yuma tournament championship. The Indians allowed 10 three pointers but also limited the Reds to just 37 percent shooting inside the arc. Haxtun is considered a strong contender for the 1A title and they’re 3-0 against teams in that division. They have just five more 1A opponents on their schedule with all the remaining action against either 2A rivals or teams from out of state. Their lone loss to date came against 2A Holyoke in a 62-53 non-league contest last month.
Holyoke also sees action on Friday as they meet winless Burlington. That will give them a nice tune-up before challenging the top ranked club in Class 2A the next day. The Dragons rely heavily on Wyatt Sprague (16.7) and Ethan Johnson (15.5) on the offensive end.
Limon has a critical league game with #5 Genoa Hugo (1A) on Friday before facing #5 Denver Christian (2A) on Saturday. The first game could determine the Union Pacific championship as the Badgers and Pirates are the two conference favorites with Stratton and Byers serving as the top challengers. Huge will be a tough out. They’re 5-0 including a nice win over Cheyenne Wells in overtime last month. Trey Smith poured in 30 points in that win and the sophomore is averaging 20 points per game after scoring just six as a freshman. Wyatt Miller added 15 in the quality win.
Limon (4-1) has one blemish; falling to 3A Eaton 50-43 in the opening round of the Yuma tournament last month. Brady Rockwell (12.3) is the lone double figure scorer but the Badgers have the ability to control the boards on both ends as Treyton Marx (9.7), Kaden Becker (8.0) and Eli Weisensee (7.0) combine for nearly 25 rebounds per game.
Denver Christian met Gilpin County on Wednesday so the Thunder will have one game under their belt this month before facing Limon on Saturday. They’ve been tested with losses against 3A top five clubs Colorado Academy and Sterling. They also have a good win over Peyton. Ben Buhler’s scoring is down from last year, but he still leads the team (14.8) overall while chipping in three steals per game. Xander Neu is playing well on the interior with 10.4 points and a team-leading 8.8 rebounds.
Sanford has a top 10 date with #7 Mancos on Saturday but can’t prep for the Bluejays because they face a very good Pagosa Springs club on Friday. The Pirates are 5-3 with losses to Durango, Salida and Montrose. Juniors Gunner Dozier (15.1) and Kayson Shahan (11.1) lead the offense with Dozier getting 22 of the team’s 38 three-pointers. Shahan leads the club with over five rebounds a game.
Mancos at times was missing three starters due to injury in December but still managed to win five of seven games in the month. Connor Showalter is playing at a very high level; scoring 26 points a game to go with 13 rebounds. He welcomed back the return of Eli Sehnert who scored 20 points in the win over Ouray to close December. It was his only appearance of the season thus far.
With four of five games decided by four points or less, Sanford is among the most battle tested team statewide. The Indians opened 4-0 but dropped a tough 50-48 decision to 3A Colorado Springs to finish up the pre-Christmas schedule. McCray Larsen leads the team in both scoring (11.0) and rebounds (8.2) with Cash Caldon and Kelton Gartrell each chipping in nine points a night.
2A Santa Fe Favorites Clash This Weekend
It’s very early in a long conference schedule but two games this weekend will help shape the final standings. Both games involve Holly as the Wildcats host Rye on Friday and then visit Fowler on Saturday. Holly and Fowler have finished 1-2 for the last few years but Rye heads to the weekend with the best record of the three (6-1) and the highest ranking as they sit 10th in Class 2A. Fowler also gets in a nice non-league test with #9 Thomas MacLaren on Saturday so all three clubs have a tough weekend slate.
One team to watch in the conference could be Las Animas. Granted the schedule has not been that difficult, but the Trojans are out of the gate at 6-0 and already have the most wins in a single season since going 6-14 in 2014-15. The Trojans are favored at Swink on Friday but could be challenged by Crowley County in conference play on Saturday. The Chargers are 5-2 and have their own thoughts of pushing for a top three league finish.
Opening Night in the 1A High Plains
We’ve mentioned the key league games for 1A ranked Haxtun and Genoa Hugo and a third key battle can be found inside the High Plains as Cheraw goes to McClave on Friday. Granada and Cheyenne Wells are considered the top two conference teams but both the Wolverines and Cardinals have enough talent to make a league title run. Friday’s winner stands a good chance for a top three league finish. McClave is coming off a 47-45 win over Holly to land third place at the Lamar Holiday Tournament and that win followed up a tremendous effort in a 62-59 semifinal loss to #2 Granada. Cheraw (4-2) fell to #1 Evangelical Christian and #8 Denver Waldorf in December. They responded to those losses by beating Kim/Branson 47-35 in their final game before Christmas. They’ve won five straight against McClave and nine of the last ten.
Chaparral Opens Second Half with Top 5 Challenges
Ranked number three in Class 5A, Chaparral will get heavily tested in their first two games back from the break. First up on Thursday is a date with 4A #1 Lewis Palmer and then two days later, the Wolverines take on #4 Denver East. Neither will be easy but both will get the Wolverines ready for the rugged Continental run which starts later this month.
Seniors Luke Williams (17.9) and Joel Speckman (16.0) are 1-2 in scoring for Chaparral and with a combined 14.6 rebounds per game, also lead the Wolverines in that category. They’ve pushed the Wolverines to a 8-1 start but were held to a combined 27 points and eight rebounds in the lone loss to Fossil Ridge. Denver East is 9-1 and they also have a loss to #2 Fossil Ridge. They’ve won eight in a row since that setback including a very impressive 87-50 blowout of #10 Douglas County in their final December contest. They opened the season unranked but have climbed all the way to fourth in this week’s polling.
Lewis Palmer grabbed their 10th straight win to open the season on Tuesday; downing Pueblo East 52-44. Cameron Lowe and Eli Robinson each netted 16 points and Brady Jones was next with 14. That trio has led the Rangers throughout the season; averaging 48 points a game so the 46 combined points against East was right at that season average. The Rangers, after meeting Chaparral, open the Pikes Peak conference schedule on Saturday against a good Discovery Canyon club that is ranked 8th in 4A this week.
Longmont Looks to Rebound from Loss by Beating In-City Rival
Longmont is ranked 10th in Class 4A this week but dropped to 7-3 overall with a difficult 23-point loss to 5A #2 Fossil Ridge earlier this week. The loss ended a four-game winning streak carried over from December. They seek a return to the win column on Saturday against Silver Creek. The rivals have played 29 times with Longmont winning 23 including last year’s 52-35 decision. This year’s battle should be tight as Silver Creek moved to 7-1 on the season by downing Prairie View 63-54 this week. The Raptors also play 4A defending state champion Mead next week so this is a fun stretch for them to see where they stack up against two high quality programs.
Tanner Call and Andrew Scott both dropped in 20 points against Prairie View as they combined to hit 13 of 22 shots. Scott finished with four treys and Call led the Raptors with seven rebounds. Those two will try to counter the 1-2 Longmont punch of Brendan Barcewski (16.9) and Keegan Patterson (15.6).