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Top-seeded De Smet favored heading into State B tournament

DeSmet boys basketball coach Jeff Gruenhagen, center, watches as his team practices Wedndesday in Wachs Arena. The Bulldogs are among the eight teams competing for the South Dakota Class B championship. Photo by John Davis taken 3/17/2021

They are the top seed, haven’t lost to a Class B team in two years, and are favored to win this weekend’s Class B State Boys’ Basketball Tournament at Wachs Arena. The De Smet Bulldogs feature a veteran group motivated to avenge a loss in the last State B tourney game played, the title contest in 2019.

“We are excited to make it back to the State B for the third straight year and our expectations are high. A goal we set early on was to win the State B this year,” said De Smet coach Jeff Gruenhagen. “The cancellation of last year’s tournament never gave us a chance to fulfill last season’s goals and has been fuel for the fire this season.”

Ask any of the other coaches in this year’s tourney and they all point to De Smet as the favorite to win the state title.

“Until someone beats De Smet, you have to say that they’re your favorite,” said Aberdeen Christian Coach David Rohrbach. “Other than that, I think it’s completely wide open for somebody to get there and challenge them.”

De Smet features a little bit of everything.

“They’re a good basketball team,” said White River Coach Eldon Marshall. “They’re all-around athletic, physical, they can all shoot the three, they can all run. They’re a well-rounded team.”

The Bulldogs are unbeaten against Class B competition the past two seasons.

“De Smet is the odds-on favorite as the number one seed and only loss this year to Class A Sioux Valley,” said Viborg-Hurley coach Galen Schoenefeld. “There’s a lot of other good teams as well and a lot of good teams staying home.”

De Smet was also the top-seeded team at last year’s event before it was canceled.

“Obviously, you look at the track record, De Smet hasn’t lost to a Class B team the last two years,” said Dell Rapids St. Mary Coach Colby Fitzgerald. “I think they’re the team to beat, but obviously there’s eight great teams and anything can happen.”

While the Bulldogs are the top dog, there are also plenty of capable foes among the field.

“De Smet is the most likely prohibitive favorite,” said Lyman coach Cooper Garnos. “With that being said, I think it is a very balanced field and whichever team can string three solid performances together could win.”

Lower Brule draws De Smet in the opening round.

“De Smet is the by far the number one team,” said Lower Brule Coach Brian LaRoche. “To match up with them is a good opportunity for us.”

Canistota played De Smet during the regular season. Hawks Coach Pat Jolley said De Smet is the real deal.

“They have no weaknesses,” Jolley said. “They’re really solid. They’re well coached, experienced, have all kinds of leadership and they play defense as well or better than anybody I’ve seen all year.”

Today’s pairings have De Smet vs. Lower Brule at Noon, Viborg-Hurley vs. Lyman at 2:15 p.m.; Canistota vs. Aberdeen Christian at 5 p.m., and White River vs. Dell Rapids St. Mary at 7:45 p.m.

Here is a look at each team in the tournament field:

De Smet Bulldogs (22-1)

Key players: Kalen Garry (22.9 points per game), Rett Osthus (10.7), Damon Wilkinson (8.3), Ethan McCune (7.4) and Cody Cavanaugh (7.0).

Thoughts on opening round opponent Lower Brule: “Lower Brule is a really talented team. All five guys they have on the floor are good long-range shooters and good ball handlers that can drive and score or kick out for open looks,” said De Smet Coach Jeff Gruenhagen. “Keshaume Thigh is a really good guard with nice moves to the basket and length at 6-3 and can really hit from 3. Gavin Thigh is a 5-9 G that is really quick on the dribble and has some nice moves to the rim. Brian LaRoche JR is a really good long range shooter and can get shots off with little space. They play fast paced and come right at you so we will have to be ready for this quick, athletic team that has defeated some really good teams this season. They play some zone and man-to-man with some full court pressure so we will have to be ready to go.”

What the Bulldogs need to do to have success in the tournament: “Our key this season has been that we play together as a team on defense and offense,” Gruenhagen said. “We like to play man-to-man and apply pressure in the half court while contesting every shot whether it is from the perimeter or the lane. We know sometimes a guy will get beat and everybody else is there to be the help guy and cover that up without placing blame or judging each other. Offense is much the same. We are led by Kalen but our ball movement and balanced scoring is really hard to contain when the defense tries to focus on just one guy. They are all willing passers and have confidence that their teammate will hit the open shot. Defense is our main focus and has to remain that way into the tournament and I think good defense will lead to good transition offense.”

Canistota (21-2)

Key players: Chase Merrill (17.3), Tyce Ortman (16.1), Isiah Robertson (10.2), and Cole Papendick (7.6)

Thoughts on opening round opponent Aberdeen Christian: “It’s a really good team for a seventh seed. They’re really good. They’re long inside. They’ve got three-point shooters. I don’t think we’ve played a team that shoots as many threes or shoots threes as well as they do,” said Canistota Coach Pat Jolley. “They’re a very talented team and they can score in bunches. We’ve got our hands full to stop the inside game and then if we try to help on that we can’t leave shooters open on the outside, so it’s going to be a challenge for us.”

What the Hawks need to do to have success in the tournament: “We’ve been playing good defense all year. They say defense wins championships, but you still have to be able to score,” Jolley said. “We’re going to have to shoot the ball well from outside, because we’re a small team. We can’t pound it in to a 6-5 kid, so if we get our transition game going, take care of the basketball and get some outside shooting, I think we’ve got as good of chance as anybody.”

White River (17-5)

Key players: Joe Sayler (29.3), Dylan Marshall (15.7), Colbe Scott (13.5), TJ Beardt (4.8)

Thoughts on opening round opponent Dell Rapids St. Mary: “They have the Libis kid. He’s their main gun. We have to try to slow him down to start with and then slow them all down,” said White River Coach Eldon Marshall. “They’re a solid team. They’ve got shooters. They’ve got drivers. They’ve got big guys. They’re pretty good at rebounding and playing defense. We’re going to have to play a great all-around game. They taught us a lot on what we needed to work on (the first time we played them).”

What the Tigers need to do to have success in the tournament: “We’re still just looking to improve in all areas. Team defense, rotating, communicating, being physical, being stronger physically and mentally, rebounding. We need to do all of those things first before we even worry about getting the ball,” Marshall said. “I think we have matured offensively, too, just playing together, knowing where everyone is supposed to be, where they may be and working the ball together and getting great shots.”

Viborg-Hurley (17-5)

Key players: Gradee Sherman (21.5 points, 12.5 rebounds), Eli Boomgarden (13), Hayden Gilbert (8.3), and Grant Mikkelsen (7.5)

Thoughts on opening round opponent Lyman: “I have been able to see a few Lyman games and look forward to a good matchup,” said Viborg-Hurley Coach Galen Schoenefeld. “Their leading scorer is their post, just like for us. They have decent length on the perimeter as well, just like us. Both teams prefer man defense, but can throw some zone at people as well.”

What the Cougars need to do to have success in the tournament: “I think we need to keep our turnovers down. When we’ve had some rough games that’s been an issue,” Schoenefeld said. “And defensive intensity, we want to get after it defensively. I feel like we can. In certain games we’ve definitely shown that, but unfortunately not all the time, I would say. I think at this point the kids will be focused defensively. If we take care of the ball, I think we’ll definitely compete well and show well.”

Lyman (19-4)

Key players: Toby Estes (16), Cruz Garnos (13), Tyson Floyd (10), Stockton McClanahan (9), Sam McClanahan (7).

Thoughts on opening roung opponent Viborg-Hurley: “Viborg is a big, strong, athletically gifted team. We will have to do all of the little things to be successful; rebound, defend, execute,” said Lyman coach Cooper Garnos. “VH has a very good post player who we will need to contain on the block and minimize his rebounding. They have a very good wing player who we will need to contain/limit. Overall, they are a very good team and it will be important to not let any of their players get going.”

What the Raiders need to do to have success in the tournament: “Take one game at a time. String three really quality performances together,” Garnos said. “As with all teams, we will need to rebound, defend, execute at both ends (offense and defense), and play with few mistakes, have good decision making, and play with high energy and passion.”

Dell Rapids St. Mary (19-4)

Key players:

Connor Libis (22.6), Sam Palmer (11.5), Ashaun Roach-Valandra (11.5 points, 7.5 rebounds), Max Herber (7.7)

Thoughts on opening round opponent White River: “They definitely have a rich tradition in basketball, said DRSM Coach Colby Fitzgerald. “The last time White River hasn’t been in the state tournament was the last time St. Mary was in the state tournament (2004).” Fitzgerald knows all about standout Joe Sayler. “He’s definitely a handful. I’ve watched him a couple of times. He definitely draws a lot of attention to himself. His teammates play off him and he plays off his teammates really well. He’s definitely going to be a challenge for us to slow down.”

What the Cardinals need to do to have success in the tournament: “Obviously a lot of attention gets drawn onto Connor (Libis),” Fitzgerald said. “It’s just going to take a team effort. Someone different stepping up, maybe scoring a few more points than what they averaged throughout the season. We’re just trying to stay loose and play together and play the way that we did to get to this position.”

Aberdeen Christian (18-4)

Key players: Malek Wieker (13), Ethan Russell (11.2), Brent Ekanger (10.6 points, 9 rebounds), Jackson Isakson (10.5), and Jett Becker (8.8)

Thoughts on opening round opponent Canistota: “They definitely have a couple of nice pieces,” said Christian Coach David Rohrbach, pointing out Tyce Ortman and Chase Merrill. “We definitely have to make sure that we keep them in front of us. They do a bunch of different things. They’ll spread you out. They’re good off the dribble. They’ve got a bunch of guys that are very willing shooters. They can shoot the three ball. When they’re at their best is when they kind of have you on your heels. We’ll definitely do what we can to make life as difficult as we can for them and not let them get going early.”

What the Knights need to do to have success in the tournament: “You have to let your defense feed your offense,” Rohrbach said. “If you rely on your offense you’ll kind of be up and down, but you have to be able to defend if your shots aren’t falling. Then when your shots do go, that does give you that extra energy, extra boost and propels you even more.”

Lower Brule (16-7)

Key players: Brian LaRoche Jr. (16.6), Keshaune Thigh (16.2 points and 7.4 rebounds), Gavin Thigh (11.8), and Shane Grey Owl (9.7)

Thoughts on opening round opponent De Smet: “They can play. They can open the floor up,” said Lower Brule Coach Brian LaRoche. “They can move the ball. It’s not about just one guy. They can play team ball. That’s a really good team for us to match up with.”

What the Sioux need to do to have success in the tournament: “Playing team ball, moving the ball, sharing. That’s what we’ve been about since the beginning and really good defense,” LaRoche said. “We have to be really quick on our feet and move our hands. That’s what we’ve been focused on all year. It’s always been said that defense will make our offense and that’s what we really believe in. So we’re going to stick with that all the way through the finish.”

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